Theme Park Smarts | My Family Travels
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How can you find out where the really thrilling new rides are located? Check out this parks guide, along with tried and true tips for getting the most for the least out of your theme park visit with family.

Ever wonder where the very best rides are? Kids of any age will have fun surfing the ‘net to find reviews from other acers about their favorite new thrills. Use their ideas to help shape your next road trip together.  Here are some of the best websites about theme park rides:

themeparks.about.com – Do you want to get in front of the line without having to wait? A comprehensive site offering advice and tips on how to enjoy your theme park experience. Whet your appetite by knowing what’s out there.

www.aceonline.org – Bestows the Coaster Classics recognition award to wooden coasters that are thrilling and safe, most still operational today. 

www.thrillride.com  – Fan reviews of some of the best coaster rides.

Theme Park Safety Tips

No matter where you choose to go, safety should be your priority. Here are Family Travel Forum’s tips for an extra fun and safe day at the theme parks.

 

1.  Buy Season Tickets
Find out whether a season, resident or family pass to your local theme park is a bargain. It often is, and may include admission to a water park which will keep kids busy and cool all summer.  As competition increases, some parks have even begun selling “super” season passes that are valid at all of the companies parks in North America — a great savings for the family traveler!

2.  Get Day Passes in Advance
Avoid your first line at any theme park by buying park passes before arrival. Call the park’s toll-free number to ask where they are sold; AAA offices, travel agents, and local tourist offices often sell single or multi-day passes at a discount. Several theme parks are encouraging web purchases by offering discounts on park passes bought through their own website. In many cases, you can print out your ticket confirmation and just have the bar code scanned to enter through the park’s turnstile.
 
3.  Avoid the Crowds
Visit when schools are in session to get the most for your money. At many theme parks, Tuesday through Thursday prove to be the least crowded days. A survey by the travel site, Travelocity.com, reveals that while 42% of travelers with children visit theme parks in summer, only 22% plan to go between September and November.

4.  Enjoy the Nights See if a park has discounted, evening-hour admission, but just don’t be the last to leave. Traffic to and from the parking lots at closing time is awful. 

5.  Fight the Sun
Be sure to wear sunblock and bring your own water bottles to refill at public fountains. If parks provided shade, it might discourage the purchase of over-priced drinks and ice cream. 
 
6.  Bring Your Own Snacks
If you have young children, load a cooler with beverages, snacks, sandwiches and a water spritzer into your wagon, or rent one at the gates, so you can tote your load and park it as needed. 
 
7.  Come Prepared
If you’re into thrill rides, secure eyeglasses and hats with an elastic strap and bring a waist pouch, to avoid the need for expensive, coin-operated lockers. If you love water rides, wear water shoes and bring a towel and change of clothing, so you can avoid buying unwanted ‘souvenirs.’  Many amusement parks are now offering  Radio Frequency Identification wristbands, or RFID, to eliminate the need to carry cash.  Parents can pre-fund money to their kids’ bands and even monitor the spending, as well as keep track of where their kids are at all times.  Simply wave your band over a special kiosk and a computer generated map will show you where your children are within the park.

8. Request Special Attention
Call ahead to Guest Services if you’re traveling with someone with special needs. Most of the parks can accommodate mobility, sight or hearing-impaired visitors, and may provide a complimentary ‘first-in-line’ pass. 
 
9. Safeguard Your Kids
Worried about losing little ones? Affix a waterproof name tag to each child, show him/her a meeting place, and dress children in the same color to keep track more easily. 
 
10. Allow Teens Freedom
Worried about wayward teens? With cel phones you may feel comfortable allowing them to wander freely to try different rides and attractions.

And by the way, many summer-only parks now re-open over holiday periods such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas-New Years, and Easter. Special live holiday shows (we loved the Christmas Karaoke at Six Flags Over Texas), themed decor, night lighting, holiday foods and toddler activities will keep everyone else busy while teens race off to their favorite coasters.  For three October weekends a year, for example, SeaWorld Orlando’s “Halloween Spooktacular” offers special shows with a creepy twist, trick-or-treating, and seasonal arts and crafts.

Major Theme Parks

Check out the website of your favorite theme park for holiday openings, special rates and park pass discounts, and the schedule of performances.  More information about specific rides and height/age restrictions can also be found on the websites of some of the major theme parks.

SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Discover Cove, Sesame Place and more:  www.cedarfair.com

Disney:  www.disneyworld.com or www.disneyland.com

Six Flags:  www.sixflags.com

Universal:  www.themeparks.universalstudios.com

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This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.