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Saturday, May 19, 2012

How NOT to Do a Theme Park Vacation 5.19.12

There are giveaways galore happening right now. Enter them all with this round-up and cross your fingers! All the things you’ll need for summer travel. Good luck!


Believe it or not, there are things you can do totally wrong when visiting a theme park, especially in the summer. Since we are coming up on June and the kids will be out of school soon. That means shortly after, you’ll be hearing the chorus of “I’m bored!” starting. Hopefully, you’ve already started planning your summer vacation already, but if you haven’t, you need to get on it in order to save any money at all. I read a crazy stat the other day stating that significant percentage of people who book their trips spend less than 10 minutes planning the entire thing. I’m not sure what that says about me who spends hours a day planning my trip, 6+ months before I actually leave, but if you are in the group that has hatred of planning, summer is NOT the time to just “go with the flow” and see what happens.

So, what should you plan for in order to not go broke and make the most out of the budget and time you have? Here is a list of what you SHOULDN’T do when you travel during the summer to a theme park.


Sleep in – You will end up waiting in 2+ hour-long lines during the hottest part of the day and be crushed by the crowds if you don’t get to the park before it opens.

Have no game plan – Get a copy of the park map online before you leave home and map out what rides you absolutely have to do and then come up with a plan on how and when to do them. Also make sure you pencil in any shows, fireworks or parades you want to see and work around those times, otherwise you will find you miss everything good and spent your time going from one end of the park to the next and not really accomplishing anything.


Have no tickets – Don’t be the sucker who makes his kids stand in line to wait to get tickets. Plan ahead and buy your tickets before you leave home. You will save money and time and not have to waste all that time with the other lame people at the ticket booth who didn’t think to buy ahead. The best ticket deals can be found here.



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Buy snacks in the park - $4 for a bottle of water and $6 ice cream adds up quickly, especially if you have to buy for more than one of you and multiple times a day. Pack a bag with healthy snacks like tuna and crackers, fruit, nuts and granola bars, and bottles of water. Not only will you save, potentially, hundreds of dollars over the course of your trip, but you won’t end up standing in an hour line for a churro. (Been there, done that.)


Stay from open to close – After two days of this, you will want to kill yourself, because you will have had so little sleep that you would gladly just give your tickets to someone walking by. Go early, take some downtime in the middle of the day when crowds are heaviest and then come back after a refreshing nap or lunch. If you start feeling sluggish, there’s no shame in just going back the hotel and not coming back until the next day.

Start at the front of the park – 95% of park visitors do this and then by the time you get to the big stuff in the back of the park, it is totally crammed. Head toward some of the bigger attractions near the back as soon as the park opens and save yourself hours of time in line later in the day when everyone else has made their way back there.
Go to lunch at noon and dinner at 6pm – Everyone else has this idea, too, because it’s normal dining times. Go to lunch around 11am and then dinner at 5pm or after 7pm and avoid the crush of starving people. It helps if you also have dining reservations. Once the crowds start flocking to the eateries, you’ll have way shorter lines and wait times.

Stay in the theme park resorts – There is almost no situation in which this will save you money (except probably Paris in the Fall). You are paying for a name and all that goes along with it, but really, how long will you even be in your room? Exactly. So, why spend twice as much on a room that you will barely see? But it comes with a dining plan, you say! If you do the math, you would have to eat a lot of food to even break even on most dining plans, so unless you have some teenage boys in tow, I would skip it and pay for each meal as it comes. The big money is in snacks anyway, and they barely cover them.


Stand in line for hours – If FastPASS or a similar program is in place, make sure you USE it. Get a FP on your way into the short line on a popular ride when you get there early (as you’ve already learned is key) and then ride the ride, go ride something else and then come back at your designated time to ride it again and bypass all those folks who figure waiting in line is fine by them. Suckers!

Assume your kids can keep up – Chances are that your kids have a normal routine at home. It probably includes a nap and regular bedtime. If this is true, then try to keep them on as close a schedule as possible. Keeping them up until midnight when they are used to going to sleep at 7:30 is just asking for a meltdown that will make you all hate each other and get dirty looks from all the park-goers around you. You can fudge the time a bit and keep them up a little later – like 9pm – and then go back and sleep it off until the next day. If you have kids of all ages with different bedtimes, switch off nights to go back with the little ones while the other adult(s) hang out longer with the bigger kids in the park.
Buy everything you see – Buy some small souvenirs in the parks if you must, but if you are going with a crowd, stop by the nearest discount store (i.e. Target, Walgreens) and pick up some affordable items for the kids and save big bucks while also attempting to head off any major hissy fits over buying overpriced stuff inside the park gates.

While there are many other things you can do wrong, these are the major ones. Plan well and you will not only have a great time, but also make the most of your visit and money. Don’t forget to also pack your camera, extra batteries and lots of sunscreen!

What are YOUR best tips on what not to do when visiting a theme park?
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