Theme Park Survival Tips

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Long lines aren’t the only thing to worry about when planning your theme park trip.

Here are eight ways to save your sanity when you enter magical kingdoms.

Theme Park
It’s summer, the heart of family theme park trip season. The rides are fun, the lines are long, and everything costs more than you anticipate. Yes, there will be meltdowns—yours and your kids’—but here are some tips to making the most of your theme park vacation.

1. Arrive early.

Be there when the gates open, or even before, if you want to beat the crowds. Walt Disney World and other parks allow guests who stay at designated, on-site properties to enter before others.

2. Have a plan.

Ahead of time, create a list of must-sees with your kids. Limit this to the absolute, have-to-experience rides. Then, set a kid-friendly pace that enables you to get to these attractions, but also gives you plenty of time for adding sites not on your A-list.

3. Start at the back of the park.

Since most visitors rush to attractions near the front, head to the back of the park first and work your way forward. For example, at Disney’s Magic Kingdom forego browsing the Main Street shops that tempt you when you enter. Instead, head to Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad further into the park.

4. Divide and conquer.

Let one parent or adult tackle the roller coasters with the preteens while the other visits the play land designed for preschoolers. Doing this eliminates a good deal of the whining caused by one child waiting for another to finish a ride. Agree on a place and time to meet and keep in touch via cell phone.

5. Eat early.

Everybody wants to eat lunch between noon and 1:30 p.m. Dodge the cafeteria crowds by eating early and consider reservations for sit-down-and-be-served restaurants.

6. Consider special programs.

Think about paying extra for special passes that get you to the front of the lines. With Universal Orlando’s VIP Experience, for example, you get priority access to all the rides plus behind the scenes tours. The privilege is costly, starting at $189 per person, but may be worth it if your time at the park and patience are limited.

7. Take a break.

Make sure to get stamped so that you can re-enter the park later. In the early afternoon, go back to your hotel for a swim and a nap. Don’t think of this as “lost time.” Instead, this essential relaxation rejuvenates you for your early evening return to the park for shows, parades, and more rides.

8. Shop for souvenirs at night.

Buying souvenirs at night means that you won’t be dragging that three-foot-tall mouse around with you all day. Another benefit: your kids won’t spend all their allowance on the first goody they find.