Park Like a Pro: 10 Ways to Manage Your Theme Park Adventure

Who doesn’t love disappearing into the enchanted world of a theme park? We’ll skip the obvious rules: no rollercoasters, upside-down rides or anything that spins after a meal (like, EVER). And while toddler meltdowns and dismissive, glacial stares cast by your teenagers are completely beyond our control, we can offer the following advice based on real-life family travel experiences.

  1. Get techy. Check the park website for deals. Examples include multipark passes (like those offered at Universal Studios Florida), state residence discounts and deep-discount days. Next, book your tickets online and print them out before you go. Depending on your travel dates, entrance lines can be insanely long. Off-season weekday visits are often great choices.
  2. Be app happy. Download the park app if one is offered. You’ll get real-time updates on issues like delays and ride closures.
  3. Do a pre-trip family confab. Whether you’ve planned a single day or entire weekend, it can be tough to fit in every single attraction. Many theme parks have online maps you can download or print, allowing your group to prioritize their own personal must-do activities, rides and shows. Make a note on your phone of shows held only at specific times, or super popular attractions you’ll want to hit early in the day.
  4. Establish rules beforehand. These can be as basic as “don’t bring it if you can’t carry it yourself,” or no one leaves without his or her comfiest shoes. And, please: remember what we said about rollercoasters after lunch.
  5. Be realistic. Kids get tired, and so do adults. Be realistic about how much your crew can handle, and plan breaks.

    Multigenerational Family at theme park

    © Balakate | Dreamstime

  6. Split up your human resources. Adults, when it comes to keeping multiple ages happy in a park, there’s no strength in numbers. Divide kids into groups of younger and older, or by interests (extreme riders and those who prefer forays on gentler rides like Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, and park accordingly). This way, you don’t have to listen to the grumbling of your pre-teens about being seen at the kiddie show; and while the younger kids are giggling happily at dancing dolls, older kids can be getting their thrills somewhere else.
  7. Prepare for weather surprises. Light layers (think a sweater or jacket that can be tied around the waist), lightweight, foldable/compressible rain ponchos, sun hats and sunglasses work year-round. Worried about phones and cameras getting soaked? Tuck a few Wander Wet Bags into your daypack. Available in fun patterns and colors, these eco-friendly, water resistant zippered bags have cotton exteriors and come in three convenient sizes.
  8. Pack this … and this: moist hand wipes, sunscreen, hand sanitizer and collapsible water bottles like the Hydaway bottles that save room in your pack and can be refilled at water fountains. If park rules allow, bring easy, non-melty snacks like nuts, granola bars and sliced carrots.
  9. Special needs. If older family members who tire easily or who may not be able to walk long distances are along for the fun, don’t forget to reserve a wheelchair in advance. Supplies are limited, and may or may not be available without a reservation.
  10. Expect lines. There’s a sort of art to waiting in queues, and rock, paper, scissors can get old pretty fast. Instead of fuming over the fact they have to wait, queuing can be an opportunity for kids to learn to engage respectfully with others on line, or to take part in simple games like counting the number of yellow shirts that pass by within a certain amount of time. Spark imagination by making up stories (nice ones) about strangers passing by: Who’s the international spy? The foreign film star? The circus high-wire performer?