Theme parks are the sugar cereal of family holidays – they’re highly coveted, brightly colored, and plastered with animated characters, and sooner or later, most kids can talk hesitant parents into tossing them in the basket. However, this rite of passage doesn’t have to be a trial by fire, and can genuinely create loving lifetime memories. Here are a few tricks to taper down the sunburn, long lines, and price tags, so that you can focus on those mild but wild thrills.
Swim away from the high tides
If you can, go during the off-season, when lines will be shorter and entry fees are often discounted. Better yet, plan ahead and buy your tickets for Orlando parks online before you leave home. If you absolutely must go during spring break or midsummer, however, you’ll want to get creative. If going early still doesn’t help you beat the crowds, stay late – the parks will thin dramatically during the last hour or two of sunlight. Don’t shy away from rainy days – a poncho will get you through those shorter lines, and sunburn and dehydration will stay at bay.
Team up, then divide and conquer
If your family has a wide age range, it can be hard to cater to everybody. Try traveling with cousins or friends, then grouping up those with similar interests. Take one for the team and have a round on the kiddie rides, then swap with Aunt Nancy and take the teenagers to the tower of terror. Kids are also more likely to be patient in line if they’ve got a buddy to distract them.
Find something for everybody
Do a bit of park research ahead of time to make sure everyone gets to see something they want. A little planning goes a long way – if you’ve just got one or two kids to cater to, try niche parks they’ll enjoy that are further from the mainstream crowds, like Legoland in California or the American Girl Museum in Chicago. At the big ones, have a look at the park map beforehand and make a note of the can’t-miss rides. Then pressing past the crowded rides at the front and work your way backward, going against the flow of traffic to shorten up line time.
The vacation instinct will be to avoid the alarm clock, but you’ll pay for it later. Get in right when the park opens for the shortest lines and smallest crowds. Buying your tickets in advance will save even more time, and you may even get online offers or express pass deals for free.
Don’t fall victim to “Hanger”
“Hanger (n., abbrev. hunger-induced anger): dangerous international predator that preys on all ages, nationalities, and genders. Often found lurking behind sunny sidewalks, ready to pounce on the weary, exhausted, or impatient.”
Kids aren’t the only ones who get cranky when they want some snacks – hanger can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. Waiting for 45 minutes in the sun to buy a $13 soft pretzel isn’t anyone’s idea of the Disneyland dream, so come prepared. If the park doesn’t allow outside food, make sure to have a hearty breakfast and stash away a granola bar or two if you can.