Planning your next getaway? For many people, especially families with kids, amusement parks and adventure parks are high on the list of popular travel destinations. Whether it’s Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Cedar Point, or any number of other parks, you’re likely to have an amazing time twirling, swooping, spinning, and splashing through the rides.
Because many of the biggest amusement and adventure parks are very popular (and expensive), it can take a bit of planning if you want to maximize your fun given the crowds and costs you can encounter. That’s where some vacation strategy comes into play.
Here, you’ll learn the smart tricks and tips that can help you make epic memories when visiting adventure and amusement parks.
Best Times to Visit to Avoid Crowds
If you love big roller coasters, water rides, haunted houses, and other heart-pumping rides, you are not alone. Lots and lots of people head to the parks in a typical year. For instance, the most popular theme park of 2022, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Florida, welcomed more than 17 million visitors.
This means that many of the most beloved adventure parks can get quite crowded. If you are trying to book summer travel, schedule a spring break vacation, or travel over a holiday weekend, expect that many other people are also trying to visit a theme park at those same popular times.
While there may never be a time when there aren’t any crowds at some of the larger amusement parks, traveling midweek or during the offseason may help you avoid some of the crowds.
5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Amusement Park Trip
Here are a few of top tips for getting the most out of your amusement park trip:
1. Go Early
One of the best budget-friendly travel tips is to get to the park early. In many parks, crowds tend to only get bigger as the day goes on. If you’re there right as the park opens, you may be able to minimize the lines for rides and do more during your time at the park. Starting your day early may help keep you out of the sun with lower overall temperatures.
2. Prioritize Your Top Rides First
Along those same lines, you’ll want to take a look at the top rides that are most important to you. Prioritize riding those early in the day; you will likely avoid the disappointment of showing up midafternoon and discovering an incredibly long wait.
Most amusement parks have one or two new or really popular rides that generate the biggest crowds. Or perhaps it’s a forever favorite, like Space Mountain at Disney or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. Lines for these rides tend to only increase as the day goes by, so if you want to ride, make a beeline for those attractions.
3. Make Reservations for Meals
Many restaurants at large amusement and adventure parks work on a reservation system. That means that you can’t just show up to the restaurant at noon and expect a table. Instead, you could wind up wandering around in a hangry state, unable to find what you want to eat.
You might be able to make reservations through the park’s mobile app. Another option: You can often stop by the restaurant earlier in the day to make a reservation for when you want to eat.
4. Bring the Right Gear
It can be smart to bring the right gear when you go to a large amusement park. This could include things like sunscreen, water, umbrellas, and/or ponchos. It may be difficult, costly or impossible to get some of these essentials inside the park.
If you’re traveling with infants, toddlers or young children, you want to make sure that you have all the essentials for them as well. Check your park’s policy on strollers and other large bags to make sure you’re not turned away at the entrance.
On the topic of planning ahead: When booking a trip to a park, you may want to consider getting travel insurance to protect your investment in your vacation. You may be covered by credit card travel insurance or want to buy a separate premium.
5. Pace Yourself
While it can be tempting to turn your day at an amusement park into a marathon, it’s wise to be flexible about how long you spend at a park. If you get there when the park opens, don’t feel that you have to stay there the whole day. If you do, make sure that you take frequent breaks so you don’t wear yourself (or your family) out and can get hydrated and oriented, especially if you’ve been doing a lot of spinning rides.
If your schedule allows and your park permits it, consider leaving the park during the hottest part of the day, going back to your hotel to relax, and then returning for the evening. Many small kids really enjoy this kind of pace, with pool time or a nap in the afternoon.
How to Help Young Kids Have a Good Time
Amusement park trips can be wonderful for young kids…or something significantly less than that.
Recognize that many parks are loud, crowded, and have lots of exposure to the elements (sun, humidity, rain, etc.). Waiting in line isn’t easy for little ones, nor is walking from one end of a park to the other. All of this can lead to kids being hungry, tired, and cranky.
Some advice to make the most of your visit to a park:
• It can be wise to prioritize the kids’ top choice in terms of rides. This should help minimize aimless wandering and disappointment over missing their favorite rides.
• Make sure that you have snacks and drinks on hand for them. Take frequent breaks to rest and refresh. Bringing your own food can also be a way families can afford to travel.
• Acquaint yourself with where bathrooms are as soon as you enter the park.
• Explain height requirements to kids, and figure out beforehand which rides they can go on so you don’t wait in line and then get turned away.
• Also, many kids go a little souvenir-crazy while at the parks. It can be wise to set a budget in advance and help them understand how much they have to spend and that once it’s gone, it’s gone! That may help them spend wisely on souvenirs they won’t regret buying.
Ways to Save Money on Your Theme Park Visit
While many large theme parks are quite expensive, there are a few ways that you can save money on your visit.
• Look for discounted tickets, either through a big box store, online deal, or at a travel agency. You can also look at staying at a hotel that is affiliated with the park which may reduce or eliminate park admission fees; while these accommodations may be pricier than other rooms, the bonus free park access could wind up making it a way to be a frugal traveler.
• Don’t forget to see if you can use credit card rewards to buy down the price of your trip.
• Bring your own snacks to the parks, including drinks (avoid glass bottles as some parks don’t allow them inside). Bottled sodas and water can be $5 or more at some of the most popular parks.
• Also know that many theme park restaurants and snack stops will give you a free cup of ice water upon request.
• If you do eat at the parks, consider sharing a meal. Portions as well as the price tag can be hefty.
• See if you can snag discounts with memberships like those at AAA or Costco. Those can sometimes lower everything from hotel prices to car rental costs.
Recommended: Ways to Save Money on a Disney World Vacation
Many large amusement or adventure parks are magnets for family travel, but they can also be quite expensive and crowded. Consider traveling in the off-season, arriving at the park early, and taking frequent rest breaks throughout the day as a few strategies to maximize your enjoyment at the park. Also bring some key supplies (sunblock, water, snacks) before you hit the parks.
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How do you beat the lines at an amusement park?
A couple of the best strategies to beat long lines at an amusement park: Travel during a less-crowded time of year, arrive at the park as early in the day as possible, and make sure to prioritize the most popular rides early in the day.
Are adventure park rides safe?
Many adventure park rides are regularly inspected, either by the park itself or certain independent or government inspectors. While amusement park ride injuries are rare, they do happen. You’ll want to do your own research to decide what parks and what rides you feel comfortable with.
What should I bring to a theme park?
Basics like water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate rain gear are good things to bring to a theme park. If you have young children, you’ll want to make sure that you have all the supplies that they will need as well.
Photo credit: iStock/wundervisuals
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