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Fyllis: Surviving a Theme Park
Tips for Surviving a Day
At a Theme Park

By Fyllis Hockman

t's that time of year again when kids everywhere start clamoring for that most dreaded of family excursions -- the annual trek to a nearby amusement park. Whether it's Great America, Six Flags or DisneyWorld, theme parks are among the most sought-after family attractions but the hot sun, long lines and walk-weary kids can turn the most promising outing into a disaster. A little advance planning and theme park strategy can go a long way to ensuring a successful visit to the midway.

July and August, of course, are the busiest months but if you can schedule your visit mid-week, you can still avoid the crowds that descend en masse on Saturdays and Sundays. Better yet, either go early in spring or consider putting off your visit until September, when there are a lot less people to contend with.

Some parks vary their starting times depending upon the number of visitors they anticipate on a particular day. Call ahead of time to see when the gates open, and then get there before then. You'll start reaping the benefits of an early arrival long before you get to the attractions in the form of empty parking lots and entry gates. If you have older kids – and they’re still willing to be seen with you -- consider a night-time visit; the parks take on a special glow in the evening and the lines are generally shorter.

entrance to a theme park

Most people tend to stop at the rides, pavilions and shops they see when they first enter. Resist that temptation; start your day at the far end of the park and work your way back. That way you'll miss the biggest lines and end up near the exit late in the day when you're tired and ready to leave.

Lunchtime is an opportunity in disguise. While the rest of the troops are heading for the fast-food stands and restaurants, you head for the rides. They will have traded one line for another while you, if you can wait to eat until later in the day, can avoid both lines. Bringing a snack or a juice pack to keep the kids busy while on line may help temper the long wait. Arriving around dinnertime can accomplish the same thing.

Don't expect everyone in the family to want to see and do the same things. Get several maps of the park and select the must-see attractions of general interest and plan the order in which to visit them. If part of the group separates to pursue different interests, decide on a definite time and place to meet. Make sure it's somewhere easy to find and has a name to it, so it can be easily described when asking for directions.

crazy ride at a theme park

Because there's so much to see and do, families often try to do more than they have the time or the energy for. Hitting all your favorite rides and shows may seem like a good idea at the start of the day -- and a frustrating impossibility by day's end. Kids especially wilt under a hectic pace and often need some extra time to just relax along the way. Be flexible; and be prepared not to do everything on your list.

Many theme parks rent strollers and wagons for easier transportation that goes a long way to maintaining a young child's enthusiasm as the day wears on and the child wears out. Dressing in loosely fitting clothes and comfortable sneakers also helps.

children with parents at a kiddie ride in a theme park

With theme park ticket prices skyrocketing almost as high as the roller coasters they entitle you to ride upon, you might give some thought to other ways to save while traipsing around Busch Gardens, Water World or Disneyland. Food at parks, like at airports, is priced according to the captured audience syndrome; you pay their prices or go hungry. Instead, bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on a shaded bench while people watching.

Steer clear of machines, games and arcades that cost extra money. Kids can quarter and dollar you to death so be clear on the ground rules ahead of time. The same for souvenirs. Young children are as happy with a $1 balloon as an $8 hat. If you know you can't convince your kids to leave empty-handed, try to budget ahead for something you know they'll want and need, such as a T-shirt or baseball cap. Be sure not to buy those items in the weeks before your trip to the park. And stick to whatever monetary limits you set.

roller coaster at a theme park

Wait until you get to the park and can check out prices before promising any extra shows or treats. Costly sideshows often sound more appealing than they actually are. Focus instead on free street entertainment such as mimes, jugglers and musical groups. Once again, letting your kids know ahead of time what to expect often diminishes disappointment. Emphasize all that they are doing and seeing to take the attention away from what they might think they are missing.

Anticipate a wonderful time. Be prepared for setbacks. And remember that whatever the realities of the day's outing, when you hear your children describe it to their friends, it'll sound just AWESOME!

(Posted 6-22-2011)



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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!

Fyllis

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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in travelingboy.com about the Garifuna.

Fyllis

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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Fyllis

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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy


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Venice street musicians
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Go There

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People often asked about my favorite travel apparel and gear. This happened to me at the airport recently. One question came as I was putting back on my clothes after going through the TSA checkpoint striptease. Before leaving the area, I heard a soft voice say, "hey, I really like your boots. Where did you get them?" Looking up, I found a uniformed employee staring at my feet.

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