Planning Tips for Park Visits

Make sure your kids have fun but stay safe during your amusement and water park adventures.


A visit to an amusement, theme or water park is not a hard sell to kids. Tell them you’re all going to Walt Disney World, and it’s unlikely you’ll see tears of sorrow or foot stomping fits.

Americans love their amusement parks. According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), there are 400 parks in the United States (1.5 billion rides). In 2006, 335 million people visited amusement parks, says IAAP, and 50 percent of us will hit a park this year.

The key to a successful and fun visit lies in the planning. Here are some tips for keeping your park visits a fun-filled success.

Amusement Park Dos and Don’ts

  • Definitely plan ahead, says Beth Downing, spokesperson for Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif., near San Diego. “In general, begin your day at the back of the park as most guests start their morning with the first attractions they see, making their way to the rear of the park by day’s end. If you start at the back, you’ll encounter less congestion, shorter lines and you’ll be closest to the gates and parking lot at the end of the day.” Yet, she says, “if there is a hot new ride or attraction, head there first as lines will get worse throughout the day.”
  • A rainy day is a great day to visit if you prefer shorter ride lines, says Mindy Bianca, spokesperson for Hersheypark in Hershey, Penn. Caveat: Not all rides will be open in bad weather.
  • Never, ever bend the rules so that your child can ride a ride they are not quite big enough for, says Downing of Legoland. “Parents will do all kinds of things from stuffing newspaper in their kid’s shoes to teasing their child’s hair to make them appear taller. Keep in mind that the height, weight and age restrictions are made with children's safety in mind.”
  • Familiarize yourself with the park before you go and arrive armed with a plan on what you’ll see and when. “With forty-three square miles, we do recommend having a game plan prior to visiting Walt Disney World,” says Michelle Baumann, spokesperson for Walt Disney World. Baumann suggests guidebooks and online Web sites as helpful for pre-planning.
  • Have a place where you can all reconvene if one member of your family should become separated from the rest. Pick up park maps and entertainment guides as you enter the main gates, suggests Bianca of Hershey. “Use the maps to establish meeting places” in the event someone gets separated. Legoland’s Downing adds: “Be sure that older kids know your cell phone number and that younger kids carry an ID card or paper that includes the names of the parents and children, and phone numbers and the address of your hotel, so that park staff can find you if necessary.”
  • Plan meals for “off times,” suggests Hershey’s Bianca, noting before or after the standard lunch and dinner hours. “Planning an early or late lunch will save you time and allow you to visit popular attractions while everyone else is eating,” agrees Legoland’s Downing.
  • Build in time for rest and naps. It’s tempting to keep going and going and your kids will want to hit every ride but inevitably there will be a meltdown (if not your kids, you). Anticipate this and take time to head back to the hotel for a nap and/or swim. “Be sure to get your hand stamped so you can return later that same day,” says Hershey’s Bianca.
  • While planning is key, you must be flexible, too. “Be sure you don’t try to plan every single detail,” says Disney’s Baumann, “as some of the fondest memories can be those spontaneous moments full of discovery.”

Special Tips for Water Parks

  • Always wear waterproof sunscreen—for obvious reasons. It’s also important to reapply throughout the day, especially after getting repeatedly wet.
  • Make sure to show your kids where the on-duty the lifeguards are, says Disney’s Baumann, so the kids know that they can go to them if they get separated from the group.
  • The IAAPA suggests kids wear water slippers or flip-flops to prevent slipping on wet pavement. Pavement can also get hot, another reason to wear footwear.
  • Use waterproof diapers on babies and toddlers to prevent leakage.
  • Check the weather. If the forecast calls for thunderstorms, you might want to postpone your visit until a better day, or wait until the storms pass if they occur early in the day. A bolt of lighting in the area, and water park rides are shut quickly. Also, if it is a really hot day or heat wave, you can bet the water park will be super-crowded. 

Themes: Amusement Parks, Family Travel

Activities: Parks and Playgrounds

User Comments

Great tips Remember also to have enough cash to FUND spontaneous adventures: Park passes get you in, but sidewalk vendors like caricaturists and professional photographers come with their own sets of fees. Also look into package deals or park rewards systems that come with perks like admission before the park opens to the general public.

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