Summer break is a great opportunity to do fun things together as a family. For most of us, we get a break from the constant dashing from one activity to the next that typically occurs during the school year and accompanying extracurricular activities. One of my family’s most anticipated family vacation spots is the amusement park. We live less than an hour away from Kings Dominion so it is an easy day trip for us. After a couple of stressful, unhappy attempts, we learned a few tricks that make these trips MUCH more enjoyable.
Just 15 minutes of advanced planning can make the difference between a fun-filled day and a day of misery. Here are some things you can do ahead of time to avoid stress and frustration during your visit:
- Search for deals on tickets. There’s nothing worse than standing in line shelling out $60 a ticket listening to the person entering the park bragging about how they can’t believe they got tickets for their whole family for $50. Check RetailMeNot.com for the theme park you are visiting. They will show you the most current, reliable coupon codes and discounts. Most parks have cheaper ticket prices available online so always purchase your tickets online ahead of time. Also, look into season tickets if you think you may visit the park more than once since they usually equal the cost of two 1-day tickets. Another bonus is that season tickets are often good at several parks (e.g. Our Kings Dominion season passes are also good at Knott’s Berry Farm, Carowinds, Cedar Point Soak City and many other amusement parks across the country). The one place you are sure to NOT get a deal? At the gate on the day you are visiting.
- Check the weather report. This probably seems obvious, but since it took us one visit during a rainstorm and another during a heat wave to learn this lesson, I figured it was worth sharing. Even if you can’t change your date, checking the weather will help ensure you bring the right gear (e.g. rain slicker or portable fan).
- Explore the park’s online map and make a very general (or super specific, if that’s your thing) plan for your visit. Knowing in advance the layout of the park will help you manage your time, budget, and expectations better (more on this later).
- Read the park’s policies. You might think you can skip this since you weren’t planning on bringing a keg and yelling profanities at strangers, but many parks have some not-so-obvious policies that you will want to be aware of before you show up (especially if it’s several hours away from your home). For example, my husband recently took our kids to Kings Dominion to visit just the waterpark section. Since they weren’t going to visit any other parts of the park, my youngest daughter was in her one-piece swimsuit and a pair of shorts. It turns out this is against the park’s policies. Thankfully, my husband had an extra shirt for her to put on. Another policy that will affect your visit is the park’s stance on bringing in food and beverages. Ideally, you’ll carry as much as possible in with you since it’s VERY expensive in the park, but most parks prohibit it. Find out what you’re allowed to carry in so you can plan accordingly.
Consider Staying Overnight
Many parks have on-sight or nearby lodging and campgrounds. Before you start to get upset about the added expense of staying overnight, consider these benefits:
- These facilities usually have shuttle service that delivers you directly to the park entrance. This door-to-door service becomes really attractive after a long day in the park, especially if you are toting/dragging a little one along and the alternative is parking 1/4 to 1/2 mile away from the entrance in the parking lot.
- Depending on how expensive the park tickets are, you may feel compelled to get the most bang for your buck by…
- Getting to the park the minute it opens. This is usually a great strategy for avoiding long lines since the park fills up as the day drags on. However, depending on what time the park opens and how far away you live, this could also mean a pre-dawn departure. I don’t know about you, but waking my kids up early is not the recipe for a fun day in my family. Arrive the night before, let the kids wake up naturally and still have time to grab breakfast before the park opens.
- Staying until the park closes. Don’t underestimate how tired you will be after spending all day out in the sun, walking around and keeping kids entertained, fed, and happy. Rather than hit the road tired and possibly aggravated, you could get a good night’s rest and tackle the drive bright-eyed the next morning.
- For many parks, a 2-day pass costs just a little more than a 1-day pass so you can explore the park at a leisurely pace and even work in a few breaks/naps.
Pack The Right Gear
Here’s a list of some essential items to take with you into the park:
- Backpack (to keep everything in)
- Hats or sunglasses
- Camera – Make sure you offer to take a pic of another family when you see mom or dad getting the rest of their group and they will very likely return the favor so that you will end up with at least one photo that has mom, dad AND all the kids.
- Refillable water bottles – Most parks will let you bring these in and some will even let you refill with ice and tap water once inside the park
- Wet wipes – It’s been years since I had a baby and I still keep these with me at all times. They are great for cleaning up sticky messes and cleaning your hands when the bathrooms are poorly stocked on soap
- Cell phones – Make sure you and your spouse both have your phones that way if you decide to split up with the kids during the day, you can easily find one another again. As an added safety measure, you should also provide all of your children with both phone numbers so if they are somehow separated from you, a responsible adult can help them find you.
- Ziploc bags – If you are planning on riding any water rides and don’t want to force someone in your group to sit out to watch over cell phones and cameras, resealable plastic bags will save your electronics and your relationship.
You will also want to keep the following items in your car or at the hotel/campsite where you are staying:
- Change of clothes – If you end up getting completely drenched on the water ride or one of the kids spills a milkshake down the front of his shirt, you won’t have to spend the rest of the day miserable.
- Food and drinks – Load up a cooler and picnic basket with plenty of drinks, snacks and lunch items. Even though you may not be allowed to bring them into the park, you might find it preferable to walk out to the car for lunch rather than face the steep prices in the on-site park eateries.
If you broke out into a sweat when you pulled out your credit card to purchase the tickets, you’ll want to prepare yourself and your children for budgetary restrictions while you’re at the park.
- Be aware that prices inside the park are OUTRAGEOUS! Think of airport prices, double them, and then you’ll have an idea of what you can expect inside the park.
- Set a budget for what you are willing to spend on food and souvenirs and then communicate your expectations with your children (e.g. “We’ll buy one treat for each person and that’s it” or “You each have $10 to buy whatever you want”)
If you’ve decided that you won’t be staying overnight, make sure you discuss your expected departure time with the kids so they don’t kick and scream as you drag them out of the park 4 hours before closing time.
Once you are at the park, find a meeting place and make sure everyone knows how to find it. You can establish meeting times so that if you split up into groups you can check in with one another during the day. The established meeting place can also be where you meet if anyone is unintentionally separated from the rest of the group.
Did I overwhelm you? Head over to my printable amusement park checklist to make it easier to keep track of all the planning details.