I know what you must be thinking — “Theme parks? With children? Am I out of my mind?” They’re fun as adults, and they’re fun with kids. They’re just fun. Well, let me reassure you, dear reader, you are not alone. I, like you, was once a frazzled parent contemplating the same existential question. Sure, the merriest places on earth could also turn into the seven circles of Dante’s inferno when you add a couple of kids to the mix. But hey, don’t be discouraged—I’ve braved the storms, walked through the fire (really, there was that one time at the volcano-themed ride at Universal), and I’m here to help you navigate this tricky terrain!
The Art of Surviving Theme Parks: A Parent’s Guide
Now, we’ve all had moments when we thought it would be fun to round up the squad, pack a picnic and head to the nearest theme park, only for the plan to, quite literally, go down the rollercoaster. Each parenting journey is unique — mine included moments where I questioned the wisdom in my decision of venturing into this ‘so-called’ happy place with a group of cranky and sleep-deprived children.
Remember, a successful theme park visit isn’t about going on the most rides, or eating the most cotton candy (although that can definitely be a contender). It’s about enjoying the journey, the shared laughter, and hopefully minimal tears.
So, let’s break this down, arm you with my tried & tested survival guide, and help ensure your theme park adventure is less ‘Lost in Jurassic Park‘, and more Happily Ever After.
Okay, okay. Here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty. The first hard pill to swallow, my friends, is that your theme park experience, like everything else in life, requires serious planning. I know, I know. You’re on vacation; you thought you left the homework behind. But, believe me, putting in those extra hours prepping the night before will prevent you from veering into a snowballing tizzy of disaster straight out of Home Alone.
Invest in a proper map of the park. Remember that line from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there?” Yeah, it doesn’t quite fit in our scenario. A map becomes your lifeline in that sea of sensory overload. Take time to chart out your course, marking off meet-and-greet spots, restrooms, and eateries that your kids will love. This way, when Little Rider suddenly decides he needs a bathroom in -3 microseconds, you’re not stuck deciding between panic and disgrace.
Now let’s talk about those lines. Ah, the never ending, soul-sucking lines. You look at them and can’t help but think they’ve been plucked out of Dante’s Inferno. But here’s a secret; the FastPass or Genie or whatever is used at the theme park you’re visiting. Many parks offer these golden tickets that cut your wait time considerably. Yes, they cost a bit extra. Yes, they are totally worth it. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to avoid the inevitable toddler meltdown after an hour in line. All the animal crackers in the world won’t save you then. We also often get line-skipping passes. Generally I get them through work, because they’re costly, but time is money!
Then there’s the timing. Believe you me, the early bird doesn’t just get the worm; it gets the parking spot nearest to the entrance, the shortest lines and the pick of the prime picnic tables. Any theme park veteran will advise you– bring yourself, children, sunscreen, and enthusiasm to the gates bright and early. Not a morning person, you say? Well, theme parks could very well change that for you! While the rest of the world is grumbling over their morning coffee, you and the kids will be riding that roller coaster with barely a soul in sight. If the beans weren’t burned, that might be enough to incite a riot.
And speaking of food– always, always pack snacks. I carried more snacks during my theme park days than I did in the entirety of my own childhood, and I was an insatiable snacker. Let me tell you, the sight of an ice-cream truck, when you already have an armor of balanced, nutritious snacks, is a lot easier to manage. Either that, or I’ve just improved my man-to-ice-cream-truck negotiation skills. Either way, if you ask me, it’s a win.
Remember that whimsical map? It’ll make for a great distraction while you wait inline. From experience, there’s nothing like a good, old ‘find our location’ game to keep them entertained. Who knew cartography could be so thrilling? And yet— it also serves a practical function, since it’s no picnic trying to find Looney Tunes Land on your first day, I can assure you.
Finally, don’t forget the essentials. Sunscreen. Water bottles. Sunglasses. A hat. My least favorite, ponchos. The weather has a cruel sense of humor when it comes to theme park days. It’s as if the heavens know we’ve paid a small fortune for the privilege of trawling around a creatively-arranged herd of over-excited children.
Surprisingly, all this doesn’t summarize to avoid theme parks at all costs. Instead, they’re opportunities to make the sort of memories that stick. The sort of memories that, in the depths of teenage disdain, they’ll look back upon fondly. And honestly, there’s no price tag you can put on that.