13 May 2011

Enjoying amusement parks with little kids

I grew up going to Disneyland. My extended family lives in Southern California, so every few years we'd pile into the car and visit the park for the day. I was the youngest, the shortest, and the most frightened of rides, so my memories of those trips are mainly:

  • trudging long distances in the heat,
  • standing in lines for hours, and
  • having the crap scared out of me when we'd finally get onto rides.

There's a bit of family lore that includes my letting out horror-movie screams the entire length of "Inner Space."

Isn't it ironic that I enjoy Disneyland so much more as an adult?

I would NEVER say "Don't take your kids to an amusement park!" because, really? Who are we kidding? Amusement parks are magical places, full of wonder and excitement for kids and grownups alike. But there are plenty of tips we could share about how to make an amusement park vacation as fun as possible, while minimizing the inevitable pain of standing in line, managing strollers, fear of rides and terror at the sight of oversized, walking cartoon characters.

So! Let's swap some amusement park hacks! 

Mine:

Think about planning your visit once all kids are ambulatory. Amusement parks really ARE more fun without strollers. Some may disagree, but I think the minimum age for kids should be about five; if your kids are tightly-wound, perhaps even six or seven. Younger kids will have fun, but you may not with all the stroller wrangling, diaper changing, and napping needs -- not to mention the rides' height restrictions.

Two adult minimum. That way you can "baby swap" on rides (some parks let the patiently-waiting adult go to the front of the line when it's his or her turn). You can also have a backup when your kid is SURE she wants to go on a ride, stands in the line, but then gets scared when it's time to get on. Take it from one who knows: pushing frightened children onto rides rarely ends well.

Go for more than a day (preferably weekdays), and spend the night at a nearby hotel. Visit the park early in the morning, leave the park at lunchtime for a swim and a nap, and return in the evening.

Study the park map before you arrive. Give some thought to the rides and attractions you most want to experience, and do those first.

Keep portable, non-melty snacks, water bottles, hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen in your bag. Better yet, have everyone in the family wear small backpacks and carry their own stuff.

Create a loose itinerary. Make an agreement ahead of time that morning is for rides and shows, afternoon (as you leave the park) is for shopping, and evening is for rides and shows.

Amazon: Motorola MH230R 23-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio (Pair)Make an "if you get lost" plan. Show the kids how to identify a park employee badge, and instruct them to ask those people for help (that way they can walk into any store). Take a camera phone picture of your kid so you have one on hand in case you get separated. Write your cell phone number on your kid's belly. Agree upon a meeting location in case you lose each other. Some folks like to use walkie talkies.

Give kids a spending allowance.

Make dinner reservations. No one likes to be stuck wondering where to eat with hour-long waits while everyone's hungry.

Leave the park BEFORE a kid melts down. The "just one more ride" phenomenon is so tempting: resist.

Surrender to the experience. You WILL get hot and tired. You WILL eat junk food that costs too much. You MAY get a little jaded about the commercialism. You will also have a wonderful time and your kids will remember the trip for years to come. This is a chance to throw off the mantle of grownup reserve! Immerse yourself! Hug the characters! Skip through the park! Eat a churro! Focus on the joy and make those memories happy ones.

Just to kick the conversation up a bit, allow me to include a little giveaway:

*heart beating with excitement*

The giveaway has ended.

Universal Orlando
Yes, indeed. I'm giving away two (2) four-packs of tickets to the Universal Studios Resort in Orlando, Florida. Which means, that, if you win one of the prizes, you and three people you love (presumably your family) will get to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And that's only one of the attractions at Universal Studios Orlando. WAHHH!

I'm hosting this giveaway in conjunction with a press event sponsored by Universal, which I will be attending with my family next week. It's an unbelievable opportunity, and I am so thrilled to be able to share it with you. I'll post updates to Twitter and Facebook from the event; Twitter hashtag #UORfamily.

So! To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post answering the following question:

What is your best tip for enjoying amusement parks with little kids?

I am giving away two packs of four tickets each, so there will be two giveaway winners, which I will randomly choose from all who enter. Good luck!

Update for mobile users: Those of you reading this on your smart phones are probably cursing the heavens as comments aren't visible on the mobile version of the site. Please email your comment to hacks at parenthacks dot com with the subject line UNIVERSAL GIVEAWAY and I will enter it myself.

One entry per person. Comments will close at 10am PST/1pm EST on Thursday, May 19, 2011. Entrants must be residents of the United States, and 18 years old or older. Tickets will be mailed on or after June 11, 2011, and will be valid until June 11, 2012. Before you enter, please read the official terms and conditions, as there are additional restrictions.

Disclosure: While I am not being paid to host this giveaway, Universal is covering travel and entertainment expenses for me and my family. The giveaway is a voluntary part of my participation in #UORfamily.

The giveaway has ended, but the comments left here are as useful as EVER.

Your comments

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Best advise, TWO adults! One to stay off rides with scared or tired kids, one to hop on the rides or hit the restroom or grab a snack, etc. And don't forget to pack snacks!

Have fun! No, seriously, that's my tip. Let go of all the parental shoulds and shouldn'ts (actual safety issues notwithstanding, of course) and try to enjoy. The more you immerse yourself in the fun of it, the more your kids will enjoy, and the fewer head-butting battles you'll have.

Don't feel pressured to see and do everything. If you can, buy an annual pass so that you can come and go as you please (Disney has a payment plan to spread out the cost--no finance charge!). I took my 22-month old twins to Disneyland for the first time on Monday--by myself! We stayed for 3-4 hours and it wasn't without its difficulties, but overall it was a lot of fun and a day I'll never forgot!

My best tip is one you already said, which is that you need at least 2 adults to make it an enjoyable experience--even if you don't have any babies. Kids have such different interests, and so little patience at an amusement park. The other one I would say is to make sure, if it is a young child's first amusement park experience, don't go on a ride in the dark! That freaks out many children their first time out, and we made that mistake with our at-the-time-3-year-old daughter. We took her on the ride inside the Epcot dome, and even though it's not scary, she was freaked out by not knowing what was coming up next, being in the dark, etc. So even though you have a kid who's not afraid of the dark (and our 3-year-old has never been afraid of the dark), that doesn't mean they won't freak out at not knowing what is coming up next, unless they have gotten used to the whole "ride experience" in the light first! :)

Oops, I meant don't take your child on a ride in the dark for their *first* ride. Let them get used to outdoor rides, where they can see what happens, first, and then try an indoor one...

If you can take extra adults (family friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents) to help with the kids, even better. Know that everyone will be running on adrenaline and excitement so just be patient with each other.

Best tip: sunglasses for everyone! We haven't taken our kids yet to an amusement park. Next year, maybe!

I live in the Orlando area and have taken my now one year old since he was born to all three major parks. My best hack, an ergo carrier (or knock-off). Baby is happy close to Mommy, sleeps there during naps, and can be held tightly while on rides with no height restrictions. We did a full day at Disney twice now and it went great! The other hack if you are going with young children is to utilize the baby center at DW and Seaworld, sadly Universal does not offer this option.

Travel with the grandparents! This way there is always someone who is willing to sit with the kid(s) when the older children/adults want to experience some of the older oriented parts of the park as well. Also allows for an in park nap if you are unable to leave and come back. Have plenty of water, snacks and a few things (toys, candy, favorite lovey) to distract that if a potential meltdown coming. Favorite cup also does wonders when you are trying to keep a younger child hydrated in the heat.

Tip you already said...Baby Swap Hands Down!!! Makes the day so much more enjoyable!

I'll let you know after we return from Orlando in June. :) But, I plan on going for just a few hours a day.. no more than about 3-4. Worn out kids and adults alike are bound to be grouchy.

I think just having low expectations as to what rides you will do is key. Just pick a few that are must dos and all the rest is bonus!

If you have young (i.e. short) kids, finding a good spot AHEAD of time for a parade can be useful. This likely means finding out where the parade starts or ends, then setting up shop 20 or 30 minutes ahead of time, BEFORE the ropes go up. For example, at Disney's Animal Kingdom, there is a tucked-away bench directly opposite the entrance for Kilimanjaro Safari and adjacent to the large doors behind which the parade both begins and ends. This is when it helps to bring along grandparents who may not be too keen on rides, but who don't mind sitting somewhere for a few minutes (or treating the grandkids to a few trinkets).

These are fantastic tips. We haven't yet attempted the amusement park trip, but perhaps we'll win this one, or get to go sometime soon, all the same :-)

I haven't taken my son yet because I'm waiting until he's five! But my advice would be get advice from friend's who've done this before.

Best tip I have is well fitting, even if expensive, shoes for the kids. Yes. Seriously. My family had a standing rule that any trips to vacation destinations like Disney World included a trip to a specialty running store to have kids fitted for good shoes. I am the Queen of penny penching, although my mom Is the Queen Mother, but it really does make a difference for the kids to have really good tennis shoes and it's totally worth the extra $ to be able to enjoy the inevitable treks at the parks. No blisters, no "my feet hurt", no whining because of said feet hurting... It probably cut down on family stress by 150% on a week long trip. Were going to DW this fall with my inlaws and I already have a trip to the running store for my 2.5 yr old planned. I hope it works as well on her as it did when we were kids!!

My tip....eat a good breakfast. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you should eat donuts and soda for breakfast. With good nutrition in the belly kids (and parents) are able to last longer at the park.

My best advice would be to go with grandparents and/or another family, so that the adults can have a break from never-ending kiddie rides. Also, although I haven't done it yet, I've heart that it is wise to plan a day off the theme park during a 3-4 day Disney or Universal-like excursion to enjoy the hotel pool and amenities, and not be going from sun-up to sundown for 3-4 days straight! When you pay that much to get into a park, you don't want to cut the day short, but 3 days straight for a small child (or the parents) can be a bit much.

water and long lasting lollipops. disney has the best ones! and dont expect too much!

My best tip is 2 adults at a minimum & enforce a nap break. Even if you're not feeling tired, a nap is essential for the kids to head back to the park & have a good time.

Also, if you're going to a park that makes sense, I seed in relevant toys (stuffed animals, figures, etc.) to prep them & also to cut down on buying too many unneeded toys in the park. Save the money for keepsakes they will care for longer than a simple toy...

Extra socks! After a day on your feet, it is bliss to switch socks. Take care of your feet and they will take care of you.

My advice is to take a weekday off (preferably on a school day) and avoid weekends. It can be extremely frustrating for both parents and kids to spend ninety percent of your time at the park in line.

Stop and take snack breaks every 2 hours so everyone stays energized!

My tip would be to utilize the FastPass type of options many amusement parks (like Disney) offer. This allows you to "make reservations" for the busier rides - less time in line = more fun for everyone! Grab a FastPass from the kiosk, enjoy a nearby ride, and come back to a shorter line when it's your scheduled time.
Check out park maps in advance, as suggested, to plan which rides you will get a FastPass and which ones you will visit in the meantime.

WOW! Great giveaway! I would agree with not going when the kids are too young. Also, remember you know your kids best and what they can handle - don't do the dark rides or haunted house if yours can't handle it!

Dress for success! Comfortable, layered clothes for the whole family, with pockets that zip closed.

My best tip for non-ambulatory kids is to ditch the stroller and use a baby carrier - we had an Ergo at Disneyworld while my husband ran in the marathon, and it was so much easier getting around than with a stroller.

I'd also scope out height requirements before going and make sure you have an adult for each height group.

I have no advice, which is why I read this post; I've never taken the kids!(they are only 2.5)!

Will bookmark this for the future!

#1 hack after two trips to Disney this year: WATER BOTTLES FOR EVERYONE. Parks get HOT and even water is expensive. Take water bottles and refill often (fountains are near all restrooms).

The key for kids(at least at Disney) is 40" tall. You can't ride much if you aren't tall enough. They've got to be young enough to still believe they are meeting real princesses, but big enough to ride Splash Mountain.

Plan on spending a lot of money and be flexible!

Just one tip! That's tough.

Mine would be to get there early as the crowds are so much lighter first thing. When it starts to get busy, do the shows. Take a long lunch, and lots of breaks, and use FastPass. No ride is worth a 2 hour queue, but you should be able to ride anything you want without queuing excessively, if you get up early.

I'm not a resident of the USA, so I guess I can't win :(

We haven't braved an amusement park yet, but I think the best advice would be to remember that this is fun. It can be super stressful, I would imagine, but it's not worth pushing if no one is able to enjoy it.

Bring the grandparents if possible. Extra hands and eyes are always great!

And. Don't expect to do an entire themepark in one day with kids. They just don't move that fast, and you need down time to eat and potty and nap and everything else. Set your expectations a little lower, and you can have a much more relaxed time :)

Take a stroller, even if your kids don't use one at home. When we went to Disney, we ended up with the baby in an Ergo carrier and the 6 year old in the stroller. Even with his long gangly legs hanging out of the stroller, he didn't care...he was tired!

Take lots of baby wipes. They wipe off sticky faces and hands as well as diaper messes.

Eat a big breakfast and don't expect to eat a great meal at the park.

Keep a beach towel in the stroller. It makes a good impromtu bed, blanket, sarong, pillow...remember "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy..."

Take pictures when you first get there, then put the camera away and enjoy being with your kids. They'll get all grubby and grumpy later and not want to pose for pics.

Thanks Asha, what a great giveaway! This homeschooling family could use a break! :)

Have the kids study the map ahead of time and agree on one or two things they 'have' to do. These are all great hacks...

My tip would be hydrate, hats and sunblock. You are in the sun ALL DAY.

Learned the hard way: don't feel like you have to tackle EVERYTHING or you'll be running around all day and everyone will end up cranky by the end of the trip . . . have one or two MUST DO things in mind and just go with the flow for the rest.

Wow, what a completely fabulous giveaway! My best advice: lower your expectations. Things might not go smoothly, someone will cry at least once during the time you are there, but just let it all go and savor it as part of the experience.

While we've only done small parks with our kids, my best advice is to let the kids be in charge. If they want to ride the same thing 3 times in a row, let them. The day is supposed to be fun, not full of parental bossiness! Just relax and have a good time.

Best tip for me is just to remember to relax. I won't be able to see everything I'd like to, so I just remember that I'll likely have the chance to be back again some day. For me, relaxation and going with the flow make for a much better vacation.

Get a Fast Pass if it's offered, definitely! And if you're staying for more than a couple of days, purchase a meal plan.

Camelpacks (water hydration systems) are great as they are worn like a small backpack (and don't stick out as much), hold a lot of water, and also have enough storage for a few diapers, or sun screen, or small snacks! We always use ours for the State Fair and trips to the amusement park or hikes.

My favorite hack is to go to amusement parks on days that are slightly rainy but without thunderstorms. You have to plan ahead on getting wet, but you need to do that anyway given the number of water rides at parks. With a light rain to keep many folks indoors, you can often ride even the popular rides with little wait. On average, we'd usually ride at least twice as many rides on a rainy day than on a beautiful sunny day.

I very much agree with the tip to wait until kids are 5. I've never understood taking 2 and 3 year olds to major amusement parks. Tips: Limit what you carry. Bring one backpack instead of a purse. Arrive 20 minutes or before it opens. That first hour before it fills up can be the most enjoyable. Alternatively, with older kids, take advantage of evening hours. So many people leave at dinner time.

We always dress our three boys in the same brightly colored shirt. When one wanders away a little bit it's easy to quickly scan the crowd and spot the kid in the orange, yellow, etc shirt.

My tip is to eat a good, hot, healthy breakfast before heading to the park, and then eat a picnic-style lunch while you are there... granola bars, fruit, nuts, etc. that have been packed into everyone's backpack.

Be flexible. If the child is tired, take a break. If the kid can't handle the line, go somewhere else. Don't be afraid to change up your plans if it will prevent a meltdown. I don't get to do all the things I would without the kid, but it's worth it to see how happy she is.

With younger kids, some of the smaller parks can be really fun. My young son had a good time at Epcot, and we enjoyed eating our way around the park. :)

Low expectations for the park itself, and things that you can do away from the crowds (pool, hang out and watch a movie, etc) for when people (adults and kids!) need a break.

Do NOT go during the summer! It gets HOT here in Florida and the parks are CROWDED! Your best bet is to go Oct-March. The weather is nice, you can breeze through the lines and it's SO much more enjoyable. Oh yeah and it's also usually a lot cheaper!

I haven't done it yet! But, I'm planning to make a loose itinerary, packing essentials, and heading out early to take a break.

Buy your tickets online ahead of time! This would have saved us over an hour of waiting to get into the park last time we went. After an hour and a half in the car to get to the park, who wants to stand in line for an hour? Make it so that you can avoid lines as much as possible and go have the fun that you're paying for! :)

Hats for everyone, plenty of sunscreen, and a break for a picnic lunch in the shade during the hottest hours of the day.

Fanny packs! Sure, they are fashion suicide, but I think those things are made for amusement parks. :)

Food, snacks, drinks, and more food. A full stomach (though it may be incompatible with some rides) eliminates tons of whining.

Also love the one I read here just yesterday (linked to in the post): Give the kids an allowance. Let them decide what treats and toys they want to buy. No arguing. Why didn't I think of that?

If you can, go when it is least crowded! We took our 15 month old to Disney World during one of the least crowded weeks of the year (mid-November) and had a wonderful time. Practically no lines for anything, we could come and go from the parks as we needed to for naps/meals, and the weather was fine!

My tip - keep everyone hydrated and fed. Hot, tired, and hungry = cranky!!!Great giveaway, thanks!

we have been waiting until ours turned 3 before we took he to disneyland. my mom take all the kids when they turn three. going with grandma is my best tip!

I have not taken my four year old to an amusement park yet, however we are planning a trip in the fall. I am concerned about him waiting patiently in line because patience is not something he understands now! That is why we plan on going when hopefully the lines are not so long. I plan on keeping him distracted by playing games like I Spy, or an animal guessing game, and having some very small toy or activity that will fit in our bag. I don't have an Iphone, but if I did, I would download a few kid friendly apps to help keep his interest while waiting.

My tip is go online to look at park restaurant menus before you go (lots of Disney fan sites out there have full updated menus and reviews; mouseears.net is a fav). There are delicious non-junkfood Quick-service meal options at all (Disney) parks if you know where to look. Several restaurants serve large portions that can be shared amongst kids (ex. one meal that include 1/2 BBQ chicken, 1/2 rack of ribs and a generous side dish).

Also, hubs and I took our 6 mo old daughter to WDW and had a great time! She flew on my lap for free, got into the parks for free, loved all the sounds and colors, and napped easily in the crowds when she needed. Hubs and I got to enjoy ourselves and it wasn't a big deal to tote around a little extra stuff (in fact, the stroller is a great way to carry our extra sweatshirts/rain gear without having to lug them around in overstuffed backpacks).

My best advice is not to go when the kids are too young. My daughter is almost 3 and I can't imagine taking her to an amusement park yet. She gets overwhelmed by crowds and still takes a 2 hour nap. That said, I am eagerly awaiting the day that we can take her -- maybe 3 years from now. :)

We've taken a 2-1/2 year old to WDW, and then last year went with a 1 year old and a 4 year old. What we learned is:

1. Get a stroller. If the kid walks, great - throw your bag(s) in it.
2. Accept that you're not going to see everything. Plan ahead. Figure out 2-3 things that are important to you and plan around them.
3. If you can, plan to go back to the hotel for a nap.
4. Let the kids be kids. If you want them to see the parade but they're having fun playing in the fountains, skip the parade. It'll still be there the next day.
5. Try to stick to as normal a meal schedule as you can. Of course, since everyone else will be doing that too, plan ahead. With Disney, you can make dining reservations 180 days out. Do it.
6. Talk with your kids about the ride. Don't tell them it's not scary, ask them why they think it will be scary.

My tip: Bring lots of snacks and water, saves money and your kids will always want something from a vendor stand.

Oh man what an awesome giveaway! My tip (from my own memories, not current experience) is 1. hats and 2. fluids. Everyone gets super grouchy when they're dehydrated.

Best tip: extra snacks and re-fillable water bottles but plan on (and budget for) one meal in the park.
Have fun!

My advice is to enjoy yourselves and don't stress about money. I totally agree with you on don't go until your kids are walking and older. It makes a world of difference and the parks are still magical to them.

Go to an amusement park that allows outside food to be brought in! Kennywood, in Pittsburgh, has a large picnic area where you can safely leave coolers all day (or, you can leave them in the car and go back to them to get lunch). I'm not saying we NEVER buy food at the park, but it's a lot nicer to make our own sandwiches than wait in a long hot line for a hot dog.

Don't worry about "getting your money's worth" if going with very young kids It's more important to move at their pace, take breaks, and leave while everyone is still happy than to get in an extra hour or two that make EVERYONE want to wail.

Without the perceived pressure of getting value or taking every opportunity, I relax more.

Also- read online tips about going to that park with kids before your trip. www.HolidayWorld.com (awesome park in the Midwest- y'all come visit!) offers park-specific tips (like starting at the back kids' area or the waterpark in the morning and traveling TOWARD the front gate as the day progresses.

Take breaks and wear all the same color shirts. Growing up, when we went to a park, we wore the same shirts. This way we could easily pick each other out.

My best advice would be to take a little baggie with you of things you might need - pain reliever, a couple of band-aids, travel-size sunscreen, wet wipes (no matter the ages of your kids), antacid, etc.

Best advice I have ever gotten is to purchase the refillable cup- it not only makes a great sovenir, it also allows you to get refills at over half the cost & almost ALL amusement parks give out FREE water, you just have to ask! Even if it's just a plain cup with no lid, when you have kids who are overheating this is perfect way to cool off & you can reuse them to disperse the free refills after... No need for everyone to share the same cup.

My best advice for the theme parks is timing.

Never go on the weekends or holidays. Summer is for the truly masochistic. Best times tend to be in the middle of the week and early December. Early January is a good time as well.

Bring a stroller/wagon and park it in one spot (in places like Disneyland, park it in each "section" as you explore that ares). Fill it with your snacks, goodies, and change of clothes. You only need to use it at the end of the day when legs just can't make it to the car. Bring a small backpack to stuff snacks into, but this way you can revisit and refill occasionally.

If you do it right (and it takes some practice) it works very well! No renting a locker, if a kids gets really tired in the "shopping time" it's easy to rest and rejuvinate.

Also, make shopping time around lunch, or just after. The stores are MUCH less crowded than at the end of the day and it's just enough time to really decide what you want to purchase.

One tip I've read about but never tried myself is for rides that are popular but have very limited capacity (like Dumbo at Disney). If you know about how many people the ride can hold at once, send adult #1 with the child into the line. Adult #2 waits until at least one full ride's worth of other people join the line, then gets in the line alone. If the kid wants to ride again after the first time, adult #1 passes him or her to adult #2. That way, your kids can ride again if they want to without having to wait the full length of the line every time, and you can always duck out of the line if they decide once is enough.

We stayed at Disney for a conference when my daughter was just 1. We didn't go anywhere but the hotel resort pool, but we observed many tired strung out families at dinner. Dinner at the hotel was one of those multi-cuisine places ranging from hamburgers to Italian to Chinese. Everyone could get just what they wanted without waiting. Big win!

WHOA!! Coolest giveaway ever!! I'd agree FastPass is manna from heaven. And lowering your standards - you won't get to see everyhting, so just stay intent on enjoying what time you DO have where you are. And TONS of water and snacks!!

My best advice is to stay cool! Drink plenty of water and take a break from the sun often. Overheated kids are NO fun.

Have the vacation begin prior to the trip. Have fun with your child researching the park a bit! Get online and talk about the rides and areas -- that way it's not overwhelming and there is a loose plan in place. My son is 6 and has Asperger's disorder, so too much "random" stimulation is difficult -- I think that can apply to any child, however! Also, in our case, my son would love to "design" his own "park" at home on mural paper with crayons and other arsty things before we go, just to get the momentum going. We can pair this with actual learning also: study how a rollercoater is built or whatever facet might interest your child. It will give you something to talk about while waiting in line. Since kids tire out easily on vacation (and since time goes fast), these ideass extend the vacation without the "grumpy/whinies" or feeling like you missed something if you have to cut a day short. I am a recent breast cancer patient so my energy runs low also, as does the pocketbook. We get creative! On the plane ride home, let kids begin a scrapbook of drawings from their trip -- add photos, parent notes, etc., when at home.

If you go to any of the Disney parks, take advantage and plan out your FastPasses. Not having to wait in at least some lengthy lines will greatly improve your day. Choose to get passes for the rides with the longest waits and while you're waiting for those passes to become available, go ahead and go on the less popular rides. You can only have one FastPass at a time, so once you've used one pass, immediately send a family member to the next ride you want one for, while the rest of you snag a place in another ride line.

A minimum of two adults for sure! But don't just take anyone with you, make sure that whoever wins the "golden ticket" to come along isn't someone who will make the trip more work/frustrating/upsetting than it should be. It is about having fun :) And I think you've pretty much covered most everything else! Thanks for the giveaway. Please pick me LOL

We just did Disneyland with our 3.5 year old and then three month old. My tip is go while the sibling is tiny. Seriously, just go! Plane ride was a breeze, I could wear her on tons of rides or we could easily baby swap. She was young enough to sleep everywhere and garnered a ton of positive attention from the characters that big sister just ate up.

So if you've got a recent addition on the way DON'T go super pregnant (what a drag for mom) and no need to wait until the little on is a more appropriate 2-3 years old (what a long wait for the older sibling). Go in the 2-4 months window. So much easier than it sounds, I promise :)

Dress your kid in something brightly and unusually colored, like a bright orange shirt. Sure, there will be a hundred other kids in a similarly colored shirt, but there probably won't be a thousand kids in the same color. It'll help when you're doing the quick "oh-no-where's-my-kid" scan of the crowd. Dull colors like navy blue, white or brown too easily fade into the background of khaki pants, blue jeans and bare legs.

I second the Ergo/Baby Carrier tip, too. Absolutely priceless if you have a little one.

i think an important factor when visiting the "hardcore" parks like disneyland is to not get too wrapped up in a timeline or rigid plan. if you have young kids, every part of these parks are made to thrill and mesmerize them...so you don't make it onto a small world or the line for the matterhorn is just too dang long...relax! enjoy what parts of the park you make it to instead of stressing out about the parts that aren't in the cards for this round! remember: kids are extremely perceptive and if you are having a bad time because things aren't working out exactly like you wanted, they will notice on some level and you may just break the magic spell these parks are going out of their way to weave. ;)

For Disney - spend a few dollars to get access to Tour Guide Mike - so much great information - he made our trip pretty painless. Also, check out your local amusement park - in New England we have some classics like Storyland that are just brilliant for the younger crowd.

Take your time! Rushing from one attraction to another all day long with no rest breaks will only result in grouchy kids and grouchy parents. It's far better to hit a few less rides and have an enjoyable day than to hit ALL the rides and have to fight off the desire to scream and/or cry at the end of the day.

I recommend burning a sick day with your spouse and roller-coastering to your hearts content without the kids once a year. Makes you much more patient when you are standing and watching the little bees circle the hive in the kiddie area. And we only take the kids to parks that cater to them-- for us that means Dutch Wonderland and not Hersheypark.

I have my fingers soo crossed for a win-- I will be in Orlando on my Potter-loving son's 9th birthday and would love an excuse to take him along...

If possible, stay in a resort attached to the park. Plan on taking a break midday. Go back to your hotel, take a nap, take a dip in the pool, etc. This will not only give YOU a break, but it will help to boost your kids energy. It may only be a 2 hour break...but enough to make the rest of the day enjoyable for the entire family!

For those of us with a special needs kid (plus a couple siblings too), it's all about pre-production and prioritizing. Involve the kids in the research phase of the trip, and make a plan together for what you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY must see and do (for us, it would be The Wizarding World of Harry Potter)! Other than that? Comfortable shoes, small first-aid kit, and snacks!!!!

WET WIPES!

Those misting squirt bottles with the little battery-operated fans are great for cooling down on hot, humid days.

I haven't been with the kids yet - we have two 4 year olds and one 3 year old. We were planning to go in the fall and our plan was to try to stay on property or as close to on property as possible to be able to rest during the day.

Do NOT over plan!

Plan ahead and have a game plan! And take a nap break (for everyone!!)

Take the grandparents! Grandparents never get a chance to go to theme parks, so it is usually fun for them to occasionally go. Often you can divide up into little kid riders and big kid riders, someone can be waiting in line for food while kids are riding. We have grandparents who live far away, so sometimes instead of visiting them or them visiting us, we will make plans to meet at an area with a fun theme park, then everyone is on vacation!

Make some memories for everyone. That means no fast-paced rush-through-gotta-visit MANIA. Let everyone pick one thing that they want to do (so everyone is happy) and then relax and enjoy the day.

We have a 5 year old and a 3 year old and haven't gotten to take them yet but my advice would be the same when planning ANY outting with kids... Have a plan and take nap break (for the grown ups too!)

If parents make the choice to visit with younger kids (under 5), it's really important to follow the advice to leave the park in the middle of the day for lunch, nap, and a break from the constant stimulus of the park environment. Little tykes do better with a break, which means everyone else (including all other park visitors) have a better time.

Enjoy your visit to FL!

Love the giveaway! My biggest tip is this: Bring your own food. Not only will you save a ton of money but your kids won't crash after eating all of the not-so-healthy-food served at amusement parks. You'll save time by not waiting in food lines, too.

If you're heading to a place with water rides, don't forget to have some plastic bags in your backpack so you can seal up anything you don't want to get wet!

Sunscreen and snacks!!!

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