Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Family-Friendly Theme Park Vacation
The pros tell all.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.