Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Family-Friendly Theme Park Vacation

The pros tell all.

Do's and Don'ts of Theme Parks 03:02

Get tips on planning a kid-friendly theme park vacation.

Staying under budget and preventing meltdowns are one of many challenges parents face when planning a family theme park adventure. Luckily, though, real parents and travel experts offered advice for an enjoyable amusement park experience. Watch the video above for their tips.

Now, pick a park!

How to Beat the Lines at Amusement Parks

See All Photos

Ride Popular Rides During Nighttime Shows

Fireworks and parades are great. They’re magical and Instagram gold. But while everyone else is watching, you could be zipping through coaster lines. This is also true for rides open after nighttime performances. Most families with younger children leave the parks at this time, thinning the crowds and cutting down on ride waits.

Photo By: Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney World

Check Wait Times on Apps

See if the park you’re visiting has an app and download it before the trip. These can be lifesavers. The My Disney Experience app tells you ride wait times in real time, saving you a walk across the park if the lines are already one hour plus. It also has a handy restroom locator that uses GPS to tell you the nearest one.

Photo By: Getty Images

Meal Reservations

I pity the hangry family frantically zig-zagging all over the park trying to find a dinner opening. Quick service spots are no help at peak meal times either. It can be a circus of long lines, and once you do get food there are no tables to be found to sit down and eat. Meal reservations take the stress away. Zip in and out of popular eateries and get back to enjoying the parks. But book as soon as you can. Some restaurants, like Walt Disney World’s Be Our Guest, book 180 days in advance.

Photo By: iStock

Or Bring Your Own Lunch

Skip the lunch crowd altogether and pack a lunch. Most theme parks offer locker storage, so bring a cooler with an ice pack and store your lunch. Not only are you saving time waiting in line, but you’re also saving money.

Photo By: iStock

Get There Early

Early bird gets the most popular rides with little wait. But this is a hard reality, especially on vacation. You want to sleep in. You want to leisurely have coffee and breakfast before heading out for the day. But this will cut down on your park time. Take coffee to go. Pack breakfast bars and head out early. Parking won’t be as bad. Lines won’t be as bad. And the sun isn’t as hot early in the morning, making standing in lines more bearable. By the time the crowds peak, you’ll be ready to take a break and cool off at a restaurant. And by the time the crowds break for lunch, you’ll be ready to hit the rides again. This is how the pros do it.

Photo By: iStock

Head to the Back of the Park First

Don’t get distracted by the first thing you see. This is hard because the minute you walk into a theme park, everything is exciting. You’re overwhelmed by all the fun, but this is not the time to cave to the first cotton candy or photo op you see. No, you’re on a mission to avoid lines. Head straight to the back of the park. This is especially true for Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure. Head straight to the back and knock out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before the crowds funnel through.

Photo By: Getty Images

Make a Plan

Before you go, map out a route for the day. Do some research on the park if you’ve never been to understand where certain attractions are located, then schedule rides and shows based on proximity to each other. You’ll cut down on time wasted trekking back and forth across the park.

Photo By: Kent Phillips

Bring Your Own Water

Fill up and stay hydrated on the go. No more waiting in lines at the water fountain or beverage cart.

Photo By: iStock

Cut Down Wait With Single Rider Lines

If you don’t mind sitting with strangers, this hack is a life-saver. Because ride operators don’t want empty seats, they’ll fill in rows with single riders. These lines typically have their own entrance, and the wait is nothing compared to the general line. You may not get to experience a ride at the same time with your group, but you get less time standing in lines. Not every theme park or ride has single-rider lines, so check in advance of your trip.

Photo By: Getty Images

Skip the Lines With Fast Passes

Many popular rides and attractions wouldn’t be possible without fast passes these days. (Unless you like waiting in two-hour-plus lines.) And most theme parks now offer fast passes for free. Reserve passes as soon as you book tickets to ensure you’ll be able to ride all of your favorites. And passes aren’t just for rides. You can use Disney FastPass+ on entertainment like firework shows so you don’t have to stop everything you’re doing to find a primo viewing spot.

Photo By: Kent Phillips

Keep Reading

Next Up

Family Amusement Parks

These amusement parks have something for kids of all ages -- from preschoolers to teens -- with carousels, Ferris wheels and coasters of all shapes and sizes.

Top 10 Amusement Parks

Your favorite theme parks, amusement parks and water parks.

Scary Halloween Amusement Parks

See our list of amusement parks that go haunted for Halloween.

Bert's Top 5: Amusement Parks

Bert lists his top 5 favorite Amusement parks he has ever been to.