When it comes to making cherished childhood memories of summer adventures, it’s hard to beat the thrill of a theme park. With adrenaline-fueled rides, crowd-pleasing entertainment, and festive refreshments (is it just us or does the crisp fizz of a Coca-Cola taste even better on vacation?), it’s no wonder visiting a favorite theme park is something the whole family anticipates all year.
Theme park newbies may not know where to start planning a trip, so we’re offering six theme park hacks from seasoned moms who know these destinations better than their local grocery stores.
Catherine Guggenheimer Pearlman, a mom based in Southern California, recommends resisting the urge to rush through the experience. “There is a temptation to try to do everything and rush around because the costs can be high to visit a theme park. But less is more,” she tells SheKnows. “Kids do better on a slower pace. It’s OK not to hit every ride or attraction. Slowing down allows families to focus on what is actually fun for the kids. If they love an exhibit, stay longer. If the kids are showing no interest, move on.”
Taking the time to savor the experience makes it even more enjoyable and, we’d argue, gives your kids stronger memories to fondly look back on. A win-win in our book.
Divide and conquer
For families with older children, sometimes splitting up for a bit can be better for everyone. “I was all about staying together as a family,” says Dawn Allcot of Long Island, New York. “Then we had a daughter tall enough to ride roller coasters and a son who hates them. Now, some of my best times at parks are when I go off with my daughter to ride a coaster while my husband takes my son to find air conditioning, video games and food. We meet up sometimes, and also trade kids on occasion, but this means everyone has a good time and gets to do their favorite things. Plus one-on-one time with mommy or daddy!”
Avoid line fatigue
Depending on when you go, there may be lines at popular rides, and it pays to be prepared. Most of the moms we spoke with agreed that snacks and drinks are key for preventing crankiness, and many parks’ annual passes come with the benefit of discounts at local eateries — so take advantage. For example, at SeaWorld Orlando you can buy an All-Day Dining Deal that allows you to eat and drink at select stands and restaurants in the park once an hour for a flat fee. (And yes, that includes Coca-Cola refills.) SeaWorld annual pass holders can receive All-Day Dining Deals at a discount.
And to help pass the time waiting for popular attractions, like SeaWorld Orlando’s Infinity Falls, having things to keep tiny hands occupied can be a savior. Tarah Chieffi of New Albany, Indiana recommends packing or purchasing a few small toys for younger kids. “I like to bring a [hand-operated] bubble [machine] — sounds annoying, but I loved when other people were blowing bubbles near me last time!”
Be aware of special needs resources
As a mother of a special needs child, Bay Area-based Julie Lieberman Neale recommends researching what resources are available. “It’s important for parents whose children have special needs to know that parks typically make accommodations to help your children have a good experience,” she tells SheKnows. “Call or write ahead to find out what their policy is and check in at the Customer Relations office or Town Hall of the amusement park to get your special passes.” SeaWorld Orlando, for example, is a Certified Autism Center with a Ride Accessibility Program.
Keep safety in mind
From extreme temperatures to fatigue and sunburn, there are a few common threats to watch out for when navigating a theme park with kids. Susan Abrams Pollack has these tips: “Have a picture of your kids on hand in case you get separated. Wear the same color shirts (if you don’t want outright matching shirts) so you don’t forget what they’re wearing.” A variation on this theme is to take a family picture on your phone before you leave your hotel each morning so you have a record of what everyone is wearing each day for identification purposes in case of separation. Other moms we spoke with suggested writing your phone number on your child’s park wristband as an additional measure.
Pollack is also a big proponent of sunglasses and sunscreen. Stash some of your favorite high-SPF lotion in your bag or backpack for the day and don’t forget to touch up. When you take a break for meals and snacks is a great time to lather up and will probably be timed in conjunction with the recommendation on the bottle of sunscreen. This will also allow it to have some time to soak into everyone’s skin before you head back out into the sun.
Pick a nearby hotel
Sure, you can save a bit by staying farther from the park, but you may improve your family’s overall experience by staying nearby — and that can be worth its weight in gold. When visiting SeaWorld Orlando, you can save yourself time and enhance your overall experience by staying at one of the SeaWorld Official Hotels. Kristen Kralovenec Roy and her family stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the park that also gave them free passes (SeaWorld Official Hotels offer guests complimentary front-of-the-line Quick Queue passes) to highly sought-after rides. “It was a huge help!” she says. Check online to see which local hotels offer perks before booking — it may be worth any extra costs.
Starting your theme park adventure with these proven tips and even just a loose plan will help you make the most of your time and money. Be sure to review the park map and pinpoint your must-do activities, whether a thrill ride like Infinity Falls at SeaWorld or a favorite restaurant. Most importantly, enjoy yourself! You may not be able to fit everything into one visit, but that just gives you an excuse to come back.
This post was created by SheKnows for Coca-Cola and SeaWorld.
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