Tips to make your Amusement Park visit fun, not stressful
Updated: Jan 6
My family of seven, plus my parents, visited an amusement park at the end of June. I want to share my tips and tricks to help your next visit to a theme park be a fun one and not a stressful one.
Know before you go. The park we went to, Cedar Point, is one that we have been to many times before so we know the lay of the land, so to speak, but we still did some research before we went. Things are always changing at some of these parks and it helps to know before you go. For example: we had the option to purchase an unlimited drink package. It made sense for us to buy this because on some of the rides you can’t bring anything with you and if we each drank three drinks it would cover the cost. If you are going to a new or otherwise unknown park then do your homework. Online is a great place to start with so many park enthusiasts having a website and/or videos that can help you see what you might want to do and if certain amenities are worth the money. Also, go ahead and download the park app to your phone at home. These apps usually at least have a map and wait times.
Watch the weather. I like to add the location we are going to to my weather app a bit before we go. This allows me to notice patterns in the weather and plan accordingly. For example: by watching the weather I can see that it rains most afternoons in central Florida, or it gets cool quickly as the sun dips behind the mountains in Utah. This allows me to pack accordingly. If we were going to Disney World I would pack ponchos and have a plan for indoor things while it rains. If we were going to go somewhere in Utah I would make sure we had packed sweatshirts.
Manage expectations. If you have little kids then they might not be able to ride some things because of height restrictions. If you or someone in your group is large then you might not be able to ride because the seatbelt/safety bar can’t safely close. Knowing these things before you go will help to manage expectations about what everyone can do. You also need to manage expectations about how much you can do. Crowds might mean that only your highest priority items get done. Weather might mean that certain rides close down. Little kids might get overtired and need a nap. If everyone knows ahead of time that not every ride is going to get ridden then it makes it a little easier to handle the disappointment. We have everyone pick one “must do” that they really want to do then prioritize those things and anything else we get to do is gravy.
Plan some down time. A lot of amusement parks are open long hours and if you are going from park open to park close that is a long day. If you are doing just the one day with older kiddos then maybe you can do twelve hours but if you have other plans or little kids then you might need some down time. Even just sitting down for an hour in an air conditioned space can feel very restful, bonus if you can eat a nice meal at the same time. On our last trip we went back to our room for an hour mid-afternoon for a nap (some napped and some watched a movie). This left the adults ready to stay to park close.
Have a budget. Most parks are going to have extras that cost money on top of the tickets, the hotel, and the food. It is not cheap to go to an amusement park so knowing what you can afford will keep the stress level down because you will know that you have the money set aside. Talk as a family about the money situation (you don’t have to use specific numbers with the kids) so everyone knows why you are saying “no” to an extra activity or a souvenir. For example: “We can stay at a nicer hotel, or stay an extra day, but we can’t do both. Let’s talk pros and cons,” or “We can bring our own food and snacks and buy everyone one souvenir, or we can eat at the park and no souvenir.“ This is where some research ahead will be very helpful. Maybe the only park food is hamburgers and hot dogs and you would rather bring your own food. Maybe you can’t bring a bag on the rides so someone has to stay with your bag of food or souvenirs or rent a locker. Maybe the food is awesome (looking at you Disney) and the thought of eating granola bars instead of Via Napoli in EPCOT breaks your heart. That being said, eating out every meal is expensive! We tend to pack a lot of snacks and then do one nice large sit down meal or several smaller meals purchased at the park. Pro tip: bring your own glow sticks or other light up stuff for after the sun goes down. I haven’t seen a park yet that doesn’t sell some sort of light up stuff and your kids will want it.
Plan contingencies. I like to keep a couple back up plans in my pocket. One of them is dividing up the group so the big kids can do some stuff only they can do while the little kids do stuff they can do. I also always bring swimsuits if there’s a pool even if we don’t plan to swim because a rain day might mean the pool is an option. A board game or pack of cards can also save a rainy or sick day.
Move like a team through the park. Crowds with interesting things and people to see is a recipe for a lost kid. I minimize this with a few easy steps. One, talk to kids about what it’s going to be like. Two, know where you are going so you aren’t wandering aimlessly around. If you need to make a game plan, move over to the side to let those with a plan move freely. Three, walk in a single file line with a parent in the front and in the back. Think Van Trapp family crossing the mountains at the end of “The Sound of Music.” Four, consider wearing matching shirts like a team. The last time we went to Disney we actually made our shirts look like team jerseys. Even the same color will help keep track of little ones. Five, take a picture of each kid the morning of. This will remind you of what they were wearing, how they were wearing their hair, etc. which will hopefully help locate them faster. Six, show your kids who the employees are so they know who they can ask for help if they find themselves separated from the group. Employees will be easiest to find at a food stand or in a store.
Come home gently. Do you ever feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? Coming home gently will minimize that feeling. I know vacation days are precious and we all want to get the most out of them but giving yourself a cushion day, a day to be home before you go back to work, will do the trick. Having a day where you can unpack, order takeout, have groceries delivered, and talk about the great memories you just made will keep the vacay vibes going. If this is just not possible then there are some things you can do before you leave that will make your landing softer. One is having the clothes you need to wear to work clean and ready to go. Another is picking up takeout and a grocery order on your way home from work. This will give you time to unpack and snuggle your kiddos close that first couple of nights home.
Remember to smile. If everything goes perfectly then you won’t have as many good stories to tell. The time the ride got stuck and the teens behind you sang “Frozen” songs the whole time? We still talk about it five years later.