I grew up going to Disneyland. My extended family lives in Southern California, so every few years we'd pile into the car and visit the park for the day. I was the youngest, the shortest, and the most frightened of rides, so my memories of those trips are mainly:
- trudging long distances in the heat,
- standing in lines for hours, and
- having the crap scared out of me when we'd finally get onto rides.
There's a bit of family lore that includes my letting out horror-movie screams the entire length of "Inner Space."
Isn't it ironic that I enjoy Disneyland so much more as an adult?
I would NEVER say "Don't take your kids to an amusement park!" because, really? Who are we kidding? Amusement parks are magical places, full of wonder and excitement for kids and grownups alike. But there are plenty of tips we could share about how to make an amusement park vacation as fun as possible, while minimizing the inevitable pain of standing in line, managing strollers, fear of rides and terror at the sight of oversized, walking cartoon characters.
So! Let's swap some amusement park hacks!
Think about planning your visit once all kids are ambulatory. Amusement parks really ARE more fun without strollers. Some may disagree, but I think the minimum age for kids should be about five; if your kids are tightly-wound, perhaps even six or seven. Younger kids will have fun, but you may not with all the stroller wrangling, diaper changing, and napping needs — not to mention the rides' height restrictions.
Two adult minimum. That way you can "baby swap" on rides (some parks let the patiently-waiting adult go to the front of the line when it's his or her turn). You can also have a backup when your kid is SURE she wants to go on a ride, stands in the line, but then gets scared when it's time to get on. Take it from one who knows: pushing frightened children onto rides rarely ends well.
Go for more than a day (preferably weekdays), and spend the night at a nearby hotel. Visit the park early in the morning, leave the park at lunchtime for a swim and a nap, and return in the evening.
Study the park map before you arrive. Give some thought to the rides and attractions you most want to experience, and do those first.
Keep portable, non-melty snacks, water bottles, hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen in your bag. Better yet, have everyone in the family wear small backpacks and carry their own stuff.
Create a loose itinerary. Make an agreement ahead of time that morning is for rides and shows, afternoon (as you leave the park) is for shopping, and evening is for rides and shows.
Make an "if you get lost" plan. Show the kids how to identify a park employee badge, and instruct them to ask those people for help (that way they can walk into any store). Take a camera phone picture of your kid so you have one on hand in case you get separated. Write your cell phone number on your kid's belly. Agree upon a meeting location in case you lose each other. Some folks like to use walkie talkies.
Give kids a spending allowance.
Make dinner reservations. No one likes to be stuck wondering where to eat with hour-long waits while everyone's hungry.
Leave the park BEFORE a kid melts down. The "just one more ride" phenomenon is so tempting: resist.
Surrender to the experience. You WILL get hot and tired. You WILL eat junk food that costs too much. You MAY get a little jaded about the commercialism. You will also have a wonderful time and your kids will remember the trip for years to come. This is a chance to throw off the mantle of grownup reserve! Immerse yourself! Hug the characters! Skip through the park! Eat a churro! Focus on the joy and make those memories happy ones.
Just to kick the conversation up a bit, allow me to include a little giveaway:
*heart beating with excitement*
The giveaway has ended.
Yes, indeed. I'm giving away two (2) four-packs of tickets to the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando, Florida. Which means, that, if you win one of the prizes, you and three people you love (presumably your family) will get to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And that's only one of the attractions at Universal Studios Orlando. WAHHH!
I'm hosting this giveaway in conjunction with a press event sponsored by Universal, which I will be attending with my family next week. It's an unbelievable opportunity, and I am so thrilled to be able to share it with you. I'll post updates to Twitter and Facebook from the event; Twitter hashtag #UORfamily.
So! To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post answering the following question:
What is your best tip for enjoying amusement parks with little kids?
I am giving away two packs of four tickets each, so there will be two giveaway winners, which I will randomly choose from all who enter. Good luck!
Update for mobile users: Those of you reading this on your smart phones are probably cursing the heavens as comments aren't visible on the mobile version of the site. Please email your comment to hacks at parenthacks dot com with the subject line UNIVERSAL GIVEAWAY and I will enter it myself.
One entry per person. Comments will close at 10am PST/1pm EST on Thursday, May 19, 2011. Entrants must be residents of the United States, and 18 years old or older. Tickets will be mailed on or after June 11, 2011, and will be valid until June 11, 2012. Before you enter, please read the official terms and conditions, as there are additional restrictions.
Disclosure: While I am not being paid to host this giveaway, Universal is covering travel and entertainment expenses for me and my family. The giveaway is a voluntary part of my participation in #UORfamily.
The giveaway has ended, but the comments left here are as useful as EVER.