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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When we took our daughter to Disney World at 5yo, the great tip we received was to bring a solid, compact stroller (like the Combi Flare). Having the stroller let us walk faster than the 5yo's pace, gave her a break between rides, and was a blessing outside of the park moving between buses and the hotel.

We started out safe and slow on the indoor rides by starting with Its a Small World. She was a little nervous at first, not knowing what to expect, but she came out beaming and demanding we ride it again. It set a good foundation for trying other indoor rides.

We're excited to start planning next year's trip when our son turns 5!

Take the Grandparents, so there's always someone to stay behind with or sit out with any of the kids that don't want to ride/do. And use the fast pass if going at a busy time

Try a local smaller park first, before you go spending a huge amount of money at Disney World. This way, you'll get an idea if your kid likes spinny rides or roller coasters and how they handle dark rides or haunted houses.

If getting a hotel room, consider a suite with the bedroom(s) separated from a common room. This will allow you and your spouse to stay up later to read, watch TV, talk after the kids pass out from exhaustion.

I would agree wholeheartedly with the not taking kids under 5. It's so sad to see everyone having a miserable experience because of a tired fussing baby or toddler. If you have to take the really young ones I would say go for only a few hours then take a long nap break. (Also good to nap in the afternoon so you miss the hot sun!)

My tip actually differs from your suggestions in the article. We've taken our kids to disneyland before they were ambulatory, and it worked out really well. Yes, it's a different experience than when you go with older kids, but it's still fun and exciting! You just have to have your expectations set appropriately :)

Definitely agree on having an itinerary. You are guaranteed to have a lot more fun with a plan, than you are wandering around staring at a park map, trying to decide what to do next.

My best advice to bring a few washcloths. We often get them wet and use them to cool off a little bit. Also, I always have extra ziplock bags to hold snacks, various special things my children find, wet clothes/bathing suits etc.

I have multiple tips after just completing our first trip to Disneyland for my sons 5th birthday.

First, take advantage of the fact that young children tend to get up at the break of dawn. This means you can be at the park early before a lot of the crowds. Take the aforementioned "nap break" to decompress and get dinner out of the park (if you are so inclined) then go back for the evening festivities.

Secondly, invoke the awesome power of the "Souvenir Fairy"! Since we were going to Disneyland, I watched sales at the Disney Store at the mall. I stocked up on a few days worth of Disney toys that were on clearance. Prior to leaving the hotel room, one parent would take the kids to the elevator while one hung back and to sneak the souvenirs onto their beds. If the kids ask for an overpriced toy at the park, we would remind them of the souvenir fairy that came to kids who are at theme parks. This definitely helped keep our souvenir expenses down and let our kids focus on having fun instead of shopping for new toys.
Side hack: we encouraged the kids instead to decide on a favorite souvenir and at the end of the week, each kid got to buy that souvenir.

Whenever we go anywhere with the little one and there will be excitement and crowds we involve the little one in preparing for the day - packing water, sunscreen, maps, itineraries, etc. - and play the what-if game on the way there: What if something looks like fun on the other side of the street?; What if we make a rule or decision you don't agree with?; What if we can't hear you call our names?; What if one of us needs a break?; What if you look up and don't see us?; etc.. She's eight now, and we've been doing this with her since she was four. It centers her and makes her feel empowered to make better choices.

Research and plan your trip. There are so many websites now devoted to people sharing their trip experiences (ex. tripadvisor.com, expedia, disboards.com for Disney trip), that you can really learn a lot from other parents and their experiences, problems, etc. BEFORE even leaving the house. We were always very thankful to having an good umbrella stroller with a pouch for snacks, waters, etc. Everyone having a good breakfast to start the day and a sense of humor also very important. Also, good idea to lower everyone's expectations as to what will be accomplished in one day. If it's a trip of more than a few days, don't try to get everything done in one day -- spread it out. And ultimately, yes, surrender to the outing .. easier said than done, but it helps to leave your "control freak" traits at home.

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

Best advice: Do NOT bring a friend of your childs. It doesn't seem to ever work out. Either they hate rides or don't like the same as your child or are too short, etc. It seems like a good idea at first, but it never seems to work out...

My best advice is to make sure the adults always outnumber the children (really, this only applies if the children are young). If there are more adults than children, it's easier to spread the responsibilities around. Plus, if you're organized, you can be assured that there can be at least one adult at all times that doesn't necessarily have to worry about the kids. A break from responsibility can be very welcome during a day at an amusement park.

Haven't been yet with my toddler, but from going as an adult, my best advice would be to start with low expectations-it can only go up from there. Don't try to do everything, you'll spend too much time trying to get here and there and not really enjoy the experience.

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

With 2 different aged kiddo's switch off with the one for you one for them game.
and for those southern climate challenged. SUNSCREEN. apply half hour before hand and every 3-4 hours after. No one wants to spend days with a sunburned anyone.

If you have to bring very young children, bring your cheapest stroller so you're not paranoid about leaving it outside a ride.

Bring a Grandparent who is less concerned about going on the big rides so parents can still ride a coaster while the little ones rest.

Plan a nap break. Even if you just all lay down on a blanket under a shady tree for a half hour it will help avoid the afternoon crankies.

My best tip is to bring grandma and grandpa with you! The grandparents get to see the trip through the eyes of the next generation - and spoil the kids a bit - while also giving mom & dad a chance to do some grown up rides! For some reason, grandma and grandpa don't seem to mind riding the kid rides OVER and OVER and OVER!! :)

Sunscreen, sunscreen, and more sunscreen! I remember my grandparents took me to a theme park when I was 5 or 6, straight from the airport, and I think they had forgotten the sunscreen. My pale white self got a second-degree sunburn that day. OUCH!

Drink lots of water. Meltdowns will happen sooner for children without it, and believe it or not Moms and Dads can meltdown too, especially when dehydrated.

buy less expensive amusement style toys prior to going (works on young kids) to save money at the park. Of course you do need to buy at least one souvenir there though ;(

I love your idea of heading back to the hotel for lunch. But if you're doing a day trip and don't have a hotel, pack a cooler full of lunch and leave it in the car. Get your hand stamped for re-entry and enjoy a little tailgating in the parking lot. That way you spend money on snacks and treats, and save on your actual meal.

SUNSCREEN! I have a very fair complexion. I have horrible memories of getting sunburned on family vacations... which makes for a horrible experience if you're riding rides and running to and fro. No point in being miserable if it can be avoided. Pack the sunscreen.

if it's possible to stay multiple days ... go as early as you can to the parks and spend the afternoon relaxing by the hotel's pool. Much more fun for everyone!

Follow one of the suggested itineraries in the back of the book "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland" (the guide tells you which rides will scare whom, where you can get food, when to ride what so that you avoid lines... all this inside info REEEALLY helps). My laid-back husband at first thought this was weird to follow a set schedule, but then he was totally converted when we tried it... it left the decision-making/planning/bad-cop work to "Mr. Schedule" and let us (mom and dad) just happily follow along with our 5 y.o. son who thought it was super fun to know what the plan was and be able to read it along with us. He didn't argue with "Mr. Schedule". I think half of the stress of being at a park is not knowing what the plan is or wasting time arguing over it. Following one set plan removes that stress for everyone.

Two adults is a must and an annual pass is ideal if one can afford it. That way not so much pressure to cram everything in one day and "get your money's worth"...whihc can seriously stress you out! =)

All great tips BTW!

My advice is to have the kids wear the same color (preferably bright and unusual) shirt. I discovered this in Disneyland when my 6 year old daughter had on a bright yellow shirt. She was very easy to spot in the crowd whereas my 4 year old in his blue shirt just blended in.

Visit smaller, more low-key amusement parks when the kids are little. They're more likely to be manageable and also less expensive!

I'd say that with very small kids in tow, I'd go a lot further than just "two adults." I think it's a two adult minimum, plus another adult per small child. You REALLY don't want to be outnumbered here.

It may seem like a small thing, but the thing that has contributed most to our enjoying everything we do: get there as early as humanly possible. Our kids are early risers, which makes a difference, but we are always the ones waiting for the zoo, the museum, the amusement park to open. The crowds tend to get there around lunch time, so it's less overwhelming. It's less hot and noisy, and the kids are less overstimulated. We get to enjoy the place and by the time the kids (often older, as mine are 7 and under) are arriving in full force, we're ready to leave. I'm willing to go to all kinds of places (my fear of crowds notwithstanding) because we all know we're going to be in and out of there before the place gets to be really awful, and my kids are going to be wiped out!

Since I haven't actually been to an amusement park with my boys yet I have no tried and true hacks but I love the cell phone number in sharpie on the tummy in case they get lost and I think the two adult rule is another great one. I think the boys would love the walkie talkies and the allowance for the trip is another one I would love to try.

Get there as early as you possibly can. You'll have an hour or so before the crowds really get thick. Also, go in the opposite direction of the people traffic.

Try to go to the park more than one day, to be sure you have enough time to do everything. Once you're there, take frequent breaks to eat/rest/cool off as needed. I remember going to Disneyland in the 80's when I was 6 and my brother was 4, and our parents pushed us to keep going through exhaustion, hunger, and feeling overheated (we weren't used to California heat); our visits to the park were cut short each day due to unrecoverable meltdowns that could have been prevented with a little patience.

What an exciting giveaway!

I definitely think waiting until the kids are older is necessary. A lot of parks now have great programs for avoiding lines, too, which are worth taking advantage of.

We just got back last week from Disneyland with our 4.5 year old. We were able to successfully keep her unaware of the Disneyland component of our trip until 15 minutes before we walked through the gates. This helped keep her expectations low, so we were not subject to whining about what she wanted to do or see. Everything was, in her eyes, a bonus!
Because we were only spending one day in the park, we made decisions about what was important to our family. No 90-120 minute waits for character photo-ops, at all.
We booked a hotel across the street from the park, which allowed us to check in early (locked luggage room) and park for free. We walked to the park, rented a stroller (we'd forgotten ours at home!) which helped with the tired feet problem, as some parts of Disney are quite far from each other.
Think: Flexibility - instead of her usual after-lunch nap, we headed back to hotel for pre-dinner nap that gave us all the stamina to keep at it until 10 pm.
Strategic breaks: ice-cream, a show (Fiddlers!) that didn't require standing in line. Waiting until 9 pm to wait for Dumbo.
Use smart phone apps - especially those that tell you where the nearest bathroom, restaurant are (and provide menus!) - much less stressful.

I know this won't work for a lot of people, given the cost involved, but staying at a Disney resort allowed earlier access to the parks, and they immediately whisk you right to a coveted attraction (for Epcot, we went straight in to Soaring). Plus getting there earlier is always good in any case!

pay attention to your kids - don't just herd them from one place to the next. watch what they enjoy, and be willing to deviate from your plans if they really love splashing in a wet play area or going down a slide or playing bubbles with an employee. and especially pay attention to their hunger & exhaustion levels - hungry, tired kids are cranky kids, and when the kids are cranky, no one has any fun!

If at all possible, bring a friend. We just did our local park with two three year old buddies, and they entertained each other while the babies nursed and had melt downs.

We've done Disney twice with our kids, none of whom are 6 yet.

If you're taking little kids, take a big ol' horkin' stroller. Let them take turns riding in it when they're tired. Use it to hold drinks and haul your stuff. You don't want a little umbrella stroller, you want the Land Yacht stroller. Trust me.

Stay at a hotel close by. That way you can go back to the hotel in the middle of the day for a nap/recharge. It beats those mid-afternoon meltdowns.

We went to Disney for Spring Break this year. My parents gave my son a book about Disney (for kids), which really helped across the spectrum. It had tips that he bought into (e.g. arrive at the opening) instead of us having to drag him, it showed the thrill level of rights which helped him choose ahead of time, etc.

Also, I wrote (with a sharpie) our cell phone numbers on those little bracelets that you often get when you go to a concert and put new ones on each child in the morning. Saw a pack of 25 at the dollar store and picked them up. It was easy and fun.

Ok I just came back from Disneyland with a 3 year old and 1 year old. First tip. borrow, buy, use GOOD double stroller/jogger if you have one. This way they can sleep comfortably if they happen to tucker out! Next freeze water and bring snacks. We took a ton of breaks and utilized the baby centers in Disneyland and areas such as the water area for small kids in Cal. adventure and the imagination station room (i think that's what its called)for a cool quite place to relax as well. We also took advantage of the parades and shows they also have running almost all day. As for rides, choose the pinocio or snow white to give an intro to scary rides...if they like it, then you can do rides like pirates...if not..stick to the slow stuff! Character breakfast...so great (minnie and friends) kinda pricy but well worth getting to meet a lot of the characters without waiting in line and you can gorge yourself with food! One last tip. find a map before your trip so you can map out everything you want to see without stress! Most importantly...wait till they're 4! lol!

Apply sunscreen before you get in the car to go the park. I feel so bad for all involved when I see mom trying to apply sunscreen in the parking lot of the park and the kids want to go!!!!

Glo necklaces are fun to pull out in the parks after dark.

Take turns taking kids on their favorite ride. I think I rode the haunted house at Disney World with my uncle, my mom, my dad, ... anyone who would take me.

Our best tip is to appreciate the small, local amusement parks closer to home. While we are saving up for the big "D-Land" pilgrimage, small kids don't necessarily need the biggest scariest rollercoasters in the world to be entertained. They have lower thrill thresholds.

Love the giveaway and all the tips! Would simply add to enjoy the magic through your kids' eyes :)

We always dress our boys in the same brightly colored shirt. When one of them wanders away it's easy to quickly scan the crowd and spot the bright orange, red, yellow, etc shirt. Easy to remember what color to look for when they are all wearing the same color.

To save park time for what you can do only when you're there, go to a merchandising place near home in advance. Show them they can buy all the fun stuff some other time, and explain that you want to keep park time for those things they can only do there. I'd also discuss what's important - figure out how much the kids really care about the characters vs. the rides vs. the play areas. Also keep in mind the energy levels - our son REALLY needs exercise - is the park well suited to him getting his run time? Or is it more sitting/riding stuff that will end up making him cranky?

If there are any water rides, bring a zip-lock plastic bag for items like cameras and phones.

For kids (and adults) of any age, try to structure the day with sitting, whether that be on a ride or in a restaurant or watching a show. Plan on eating at least one meal indoors where you can sit and get some much-needed air conditioning!

We went to Disneyland with a four year old and although she doesn't usually use a stroller, we decided to buy a cheap umbrella stroller (was also cheaper then renting). The experience wasn't too bad. If you're taking a stroller, make sure to tag it in some way that it's completely identifiable and also if you can make it look undesirable, that will also decrease the chance of it being taken. However, since it was a cheap stroller, it wouldn't have been a huge loss, and we could also opt not to take it back on the plane with us.

Drink lots of water. Dehydrated kids are no fun.

Definitely lower your expectations about rides! It's simply not possible to go on as many rides with little kids as you can when everyone in your party is older. Also, if the parks offer a fast pass type option, take advantage of it. You're already going to spend a ton of money and it's worth spending just a little bit more to bypass the lines.

Plan a lunch with characters or in a special place. It gets everyone inside (in blessed AC) and sitting down, yet doesn't feel like you're missing out on the general excitement if there are characters visiting the table or if there's a giant aquarium to watch. Also, there is no such thing as too much sunscreen or water bottle refills (and associated bathroom breaks.) But most importantly, GET THERE EARLY. You can do more in the first 90 minutes a park is open than you can do the rest of the day.

Instead of giving kids a certain dollar amount that they can spend my parents told us at the start of our trips that we were each allowed to buy one souvenir. They made a point of telling us ahead of time and it always worked well. When we asked for something the answer could be "Yes, but this is your one thing." It worked well for every trip, including the one where we were 3 and 5.

My tip is to pass on the park food... Except for an ice cream or lollipop here and there of course! My kids are much happier after eating oranges, pbj, fruit squeezes, nuts, trail mix, etc. then after eating pizza, fries, and soda for every meal. Fewer meltdowns too!

Dressing the kids (and the adults!) in matching colors makes it MUCH easier for everyone to keep track of each other in a crowd. Before I had kids I used to see families doing this and think they were dorky. Now it's one of the many un-cool things that turn out to be worth it in the mom world.

We just did Disney World with a 1 year old & 4 year old before my husband left for deployment #4... and surprisingly had a great time! We were lucky enough that my mother came & helped w/ the kids, but my best tip is to not have high expectations! I over-research all trips, so I made an itinerary with the five things we wanted to do/ see each day we were there, and if we did at least 3 of 5 I was satisfied :)

Waterproof baggies for phones/valuables. Even if you avoid the water rides, there's always the possibility of rain and better safe than sorry!

bring your own water. that gets ridiculously expensive and always decided it is needed RIGHT THAT VERY SECOND OMG I DONT CARE EVEN THOUGH IT'S $10 AT THIS STAND GO GET IT NOW NOW NOW NOW

I would say my best tip is to try and go off season if possible. Less lines and heat make for less meltdowns and more smiles and more rides. We would always go the weekend after labor Day and there were no lines. It was amazing how much of a difference it was just by waiting a few weeks. :)

my best tip is to pack plenty of those disposable rain ponchos. they come in handy when the unexpected storm arrives and are so small you can tuck them into your purse.

Two tips:

1. If your kids are small, but beyond the stroller age, consider renting a stroller anyway. (Yes, this in contrary to one of your tips, but I'm allowed, right?) The stroller gives you a place to keep your water bottles and snacks and such, and it's a lot easier to give your kid a ride in there than to carry him when he's exhausted at day's end.

2. If at all possible, stay at an onsite hotel. You won't need to drive or worry about parking and you'll be close enough to go back to the room for a siesta if needed. At Universal Orlando, staying at one of the onsite hotels has the super added bonus of providing you with front of the line access to all rides! Soooo worth it.

Remember that you can always come back!!! Don't try and do it all at once and make sure to watch your kids closely for signs of tiredness. Amusement park meltdowns are NO FUN!

If you have a kid with special needs, you can go to Disney's City Hall, or the guest services office at any park and ask for a Guest Assistance Pass, which lets your WHOLE party go to the front of the lines. They can't legally ask what your child's diagnosis is, but they will ask what the general issue is (can't climb stairs, wait in line, etc.). They don't publicize the pass, but it DOES exist.

Memorize the location of every. single. bathroom. And the quickest routes to one of them from every major landmark in the park you're at.

We went to Disneyland for two days last October for my son's 4th b-day. The first day I had a map on hand if needed (hah!), which resulted in several near misses and one more than near miss, if you catch my meaning. So that night I did what I have just told you to do and it made a world of difference. Those precious seconds that you spend figuring out where you (are on the map), where the nearest bathroom is, and the fastest way to get there, can mean the difference between dry drawers and having to shell out $40 of your souvenir money on Disneyland pants.

jibssa at gmail dot com

I took my then 3 year old to Disney world with the family and was amazed at how great he was. I was a nervous wreck but after the first day I realized I didn't have to be. He was curious and talkitive and for that one magical week he listened to me and was a perfect kid. It is great to go with multiple family members because you can trade off and get a break and everyone has fun!

I actually disagree on the idea of not going until they're older, at least for Disney. We went to DL two years ago with a 4.5 year old and a 7-month old. It was challenging at times, but there's something to be said for your kids experiencing Disney when it's all still truly magical. Even now, I know my daughter wouldn't see it as all sprinkled with fairy dust the way she did then. We are hoping to go again in another year or two so my son can get the full experience too. Yes, you give up the chance to go on some of the bigger rides, but I still think it's worth it.

(And I'm Canadian, so no need to enter me in the contest, as wonderful as it would be!)

Many newcomers to parks don't know that often, theme parks have a parent or concierge room. A place to nurse, relax, let babies or small toddlers play. Disney World even provides some supplies like diapers if you've run out. Ask at the entrance or ask an employee!!!

Great advice. I'm taking my niece and nephews to Universal and Disneyworld for their 10th birthday in August and can't wait. My tip (for myself) is to not stress and remember this is for the kids and to let them enjoy it at their pace.

My tip for Disney World is to go early, then return to the hotel for pool and rest time in the late/hot afternoon eat a nice dinner and head back to the park for the night! We haven't been to Universal yet - hopefully we'll win this trip and get to go soon:)

We're newbies at this, these all sound like great advice. Thanks!

After doing WDW this spring break and nearly divorcing (not really, but at the time...) in Epcot mainly d/t overtiredness: Fit in flexible but mandatory rest breaks (not necessarily naps)at least for meals and snacks, allow "sleep-in" days during multiple day visits, and be flexible with those, and I agree with the poster re: fastpasses - best things ever! 2nd worst part of WDW was the rides we could have FP'd but didn't and ended up waiting in endless lines! Even tho there were only 2-3 of these, they were truly painful. I would have a plan for touring WDW to at least loosely follow. And although I strongly recommend sleep-in days (which are dear to my heart), truly our most productive days were when we got up early, if that's important to you. Therefore a mix is probably best. Interestingly, my 5 y/o did much better than hubby and I through the whole trip!

Bring along a "normal", bland snack--pretzels, PBJ--something entirely different from all the junk food, because it will be appreciated to

My tip would be to put some planning into what you will be doing while you are standing in line - do your Google homework to avoid playing I-Spy again ... and again ... and again. :)

Expect and accept at least one melt-down per person, per day. Don't stress about it, just know that everyone is entitled to their one, and then move on. :)

Yup, even the mommy.

I've got a few...

Visit during the off-season. Early autumn is a great time; the weather is more temperate and you'll avoid the summer crowds.

Bring a mostly-empty tote for carrying extra dry socks (walking around with wet socks after a water ride is no fun) and items purchased at the park.

Try to catch a show or enjoy a nice sit-down meal in the middle of the day to give you an opportunity to rest while still enjoying the park.

Bring an empty Zip-lock bag to store your cellphone, watch, and other electronics to keep them safe on water rides (you might as well keep your extra pair of dry socks in there, too).

Bring your own reusable water bottle and fill it up at drinking fountains throughout the park and stay hydrated without having to pay high prices for bottled water.

Bringing an extra pair of shoes and switching mid-visit can be a huge relief to your feet and help you to avoid foot blisters.

When you first get to the park, agree on a place to meet (such as a large fountain, tall clock, or other landmark) should anyone get separated from the group. Teach small children what the name of the place is and remind them of the place throughout the visit.

If your phone supports it, temporarily change your screen's background or wallpaper to list "If found" information. This can be done by writing the information on a piece of paper and taking a picture of it. Provide your full name, email address, and alternate phone number.

Budget realistically... know that you will get ripped off and get it over with at home so it doesn't make a bad mood there... And let loose and enjoy all the careful planning you've done!

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen...Our rule was if we were eating , we also put on sunscreen again. For a family of fair-skinnned folk, this is essential!

Best tip? Pay the extra price to stay in the park itself. It's more than worth it when you know that your room, supplies, or a brief interlude for swims and naps is merely a short shuttle ride away!

Strollers for those with kids under 3, lots of snacks and go slow and don't try to do it all. I think getting a season pass to the park closest to you is the best way to really enjoy it.

What?! Holy cow - great giveaway. I totally agree with your age recommendations. As much as I was tempted to take my daughter to a big theme park while she still believed princess's were REAL, it just wasn't realistic for our family. The first time we went to a park (LEGOLAND - LOVE) our youngest was 4. we had an AMAZING time - and the kids were great.
My tip would be... go off season. We all hate crowds. Also, don't go somewhere JUST to go to a park. Find out what else is near (usually a beach!) and spend equal time there!

Take a second pair of shoes for everyone. That way you avoid pain in the same spots every day.

We've done several trips with our large family and have learned a lot by trial and error. We have had the most success when we can stay at a nearby hotel and bring the kids back to the hotel for a nap and some down time. May I mention that my husband and I needed it too? This way we all are ready for round two. Older kids can put in the marathon day at their own pace while the younger kids cool off in the pool or with a nap. Thanks for the great give-a-way.

Two tips: extra sunscreen, and sharpie your contact information on your child's tummy in case they're separated from you!

Places like Disneyland charge a high price for bottled water and packaged drinks, but you can ask for a cup of water from any restaurant or food vendor and refill empty water bottles at all the water fountains to stay hydrated for free. Fastest way to ensure a miserable time is to try to tackle a crowded park while dehydrated.

Additionally, save the air conditioned/shaded rides for the hot times of day and they'll provide a nice, cool break (i.e. Tiki Room or Haunted House) from the sun and the crowds. They help everyone in the group recharge and last longer if you don't have the option of heading back to your hotel for an afternoon nap and swim.

When visiting an amusement park with children of different ages, it helps to have one parent go with an older child to enjoy age appropriate rides/activities and for the other to take the younger one. I also find it is much easier to follow the younger one's lead. Mine may like the same spot for a long time and rather than trying to see and do everything, it is smoother to allow the little one to set the pace.

For smaller/younger children, research what rides they can ride before you go in too far (most parks have guides and maps near the entrance), and steer clear of the ones that they can't ride. Nothing kills a joyous outing faster than a meltdown because a toddler doesn't understand that he/she is too young/short to ride on the flying elephants (or whatever). As an additional precaution, explain in advance that not every ride is suitable for him/her so it's not a shock if you can't avoid all the off-limits rides. My 3-year-old was determined to ride the Barnstormer (high-thrill pendulum rider) and the Tornado (high-thrill roller-coaster) at Dollywood, and it took a lot of redirection skill to keep this from ruining the day [my wife is awesome]!

It's OK to split the pack.

Parent 1 & big kids hit a few serious rides, while Parent 2 & little ones do ones that would bore the big kids to tears. There are plenty that everyone will enjoy too, so rendezvous at the common interests.

As a grandmother, with multiple trips to D-land (we live in OC), my advice would be to limit the "carry ons" to bare necessities. Keeping track of jackets, sunscreen, water bottles, toys, hats, candy, balloons, strollers, etc. becomes a chore that distracts from the fun. (And often falls to the elder.) Also - don't turn your nose up to a wheelchair rental - great way to hall grandparent, stuff, tired child.

If at all possible, avoid going to the Florida theme parks in the summer heat.

My tip is to have your lunch and dinners early to beat the crowds. If you eat lunch around 11:00 and dinner around 5:00 you won't have the long wait. And when you're finished the lines will be shorter because everyone else is eating.

Give your kids a nap when they need one! Pushing them past their limit is not helping anyone.

Before you go talk through the experience with your children in a story-like fashion. Describe how you have to wait and how it will be tiring, how sometimes we all get tired and frustrated. Then talk about how many memories your time together will produce. It worked like a charm when I took a 3 month, 2 year old and 10 year old on the long journey from Minneapolis to Orlando and still does now that they are 4, 6 and 15!

I bring special snacks that they don't normally get so they'll actually eat! Then no one gets cranky from lack of wanting to eat. (They're all picky eaters.)

I make sure we're all dressed in the same color and that the boys don't wear sports jerseys with their names on them (unsafe). We look a bit dopey, but at least I can find them in a crowd a bit easier. We hadn't taken them to any of the big parks, believing in not upping the ante any sooner than necessary. Last summer the schools gave away free Six Flags tickets for having read enough books during the year, and that was that. Ante up. Both of them like the big rides too, so it becomes Mama who is the only one scared.

This is specific to Disney parks, but I'm sure other parks have them too. The Babycare centers are amazing. Take advantage of them. The one in Animal Kingdom is fab- air conditioned room, bathrooms, places to nurse, change baby, and a big cool room with a Disney movie playing for older sibs to hang out while parents are tending to baby. Also, they have everything you might ever need for sale there- sippy cups, diapers and wipes, Tylenol, baby food etc. I've even brought bigger kids there just to chill out for a little break from the parks!

Ask for gift cards to the park for Christmas before you plan to go. That way the pain of spending is reduced for parents, and knowing you have X dollars on the gift card gives you an excuse to say yes when your kids ask for random snacks, drinks, toys.

Also, I'd disagree with the no strollers idea. We took two strollers, both little umbrella ones. We had a 5yo and almost 3yo, and they were both relieved to take a break from walking and we were relieved to be able to go at our speed (not theirs) and to give them a break from the trudging in the heat. Park was good about having spots to park strollers, and it also gave us a place to stash sweaters and snack bags. We loved having strollers! :)

Thanks for the giveaway! *fingers crossed*

My best advice is if you are bringing a stroller to pack it full of non-perishable food. You can still eat one meal or so at the park, but the little snacks the kids want throughout the day won't cost you $10 a pop.

I agree with the tips on younger kids and babies. For older kids (8 and up), we've had the most fun when my kids each brought a friend with them. That way, they always have someone to join them on the rides they like and less in-fighting between the siblings.

I make sure we're all dressed in the same color and that the boys don't wear sports jerseys with their names on them (unsafe). We look a bit dopey, but at least I can find them in a crowd a bit easier.

We hadn't taken them to any of the big parks, believing in not upping the ante any sooner than necessary. Last summer the schools gave away free Six Flags tickets for having read enough books during the year, and that was that. Ante up. Both of them like the big rides too, so it becomes Mama who is the only one scared.

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