By Michelle Shirk
Spring and summertime mean vacation time, with many families heading off to visit theme parks near and far in hopes of riding roller coasters, eating cotton candy and making memories. Whether you’re planning a quick weekend getaway to Six Flags or an extended Walt Disney World vacation, most of us would agree that the time and money spent on this type of travel are precious.
Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to see frustrated and stressed out theme park tourists falling into common time and money pitfalls. One can only assume that these individuals either 1) have not read enough travel articles to know how to plan ahead and avoid these problems; or 2) simply have no interest in saving time or money. If you are a contrarian that falls into the latter category, read on! Following the suggestions below will help ensure that you leave your theme park of choice frustrated, broke and desperately in need of another vacation.
1. Arrive at the park at least two hours after opening time. Who wants to take advantage of lower temperatures and lighter crowds? Not you! Show up around 11:00 a.m. on a day the park opens at 9:00 a.m. and enjoy being greeted by the lengthy attraction queues that have built up over the course of the morning. This tip works particularly well for those visiting during the busiest times of the year.
TRANSLATION: Be sure you arrive as close to opening time as possible and hit the lines for your top rides as early as you can.
2. Don’t consider ticket options until you’re standing at the entrance gate. While there may be better deals or complimentary add-ons available for those who purchase their tickets online, it’s much more interesting to just show up at the park and try to crunch numbers on the spot. One day versus multi-day versus annual pass – who cares? Just pick the admission option that sounds best without worrying about whether it makes sense with your lifestyle or future travel plans. You should also be sure not to check area tourist brochures for coupons or to ask about possible discounts for AAA, AARP or any
similar organizations of which you are a member.
TRANSLATION: Several months before your trip date, spend some time researching ticket pricing and features to find deals that make sense (and cents!) for your family.
3. Avoid perusing a park map or attraction directory ahead of time. If you’re really committed to wasting time, don’t glance at the park’s website or buy a guidebook before your visit. Instead, just wander from attraction to attraction and try to guess whether each one might be of interest to your group. Bonus points if you actually wait in line for a while before discovering a particular ride is far too boring/wild/loud to be appropriate. This tip seems to be practiced by theme park visitors with some frequency, so you will likely notice other patrons in line who also seem to have no idea for what they are waiting.
TRANSLATION: Review the park’s map online to plan your route once inside the gate. It will save you time and help you know when to visit each ride based on popularity and proximity to other attractions and pitstops.
4. Leave all essential supplies at home. You could pack your backpack with the sunscreen, rain ponchos, diapers, camera batteries and over-the-counter medications you already own. Or, you could choose the more adventurous option of waiting until you inevitably need one of these items and then dedicating a chunk of valuable vacation time to hunting for it at various theme park gift shops. Note that if/when you do find the product you need, you will likely pay a substantially marked up price for a brand that may not be your first choice.
TRANSLATION: Just like you pack a diaper bag or a camping backpack, think ahead to the various scenarios you might encounter and bring the supplies you will need to cope.
5. Plan family meals for peak times. If you’re looking for a truly stressful dining experience, expect to eat lunch around noon and dinner at 6:30 p.m. Refrain from making reservations or doing online research to learn which restaurants tend to be the least crowded. After all, there’s nothing quite like waiting in line with masses of your fellow tourists when everyone’s already tired, hungry and grumpy. If you dine at a counter service restaurant, the excitement of your experience will be further enhanced by the possibility that there may not be a table available for you once you receive your tray filled with food.
TRANSLATION: Mealtime is important, especially if you have little ones. Keep everyone’s patience level in mind and use good foresight in planning several refueling times throughout the day.
Following these tips should guarantee that your theme park vacation is an expensive, stress-filled adventure. Of course, if ending your day with a migraine and an empty wallet isn’t your goal and you’d prefer to have a fun, relaxing trip instead, you could always “follow” these tips by doing exactly the opposite!