Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to Avoid Crowds at Amusement Parks

Avoid Large Crowds at Theme Parks © Katrena
Amusement parks can be great fun for a family vacation. Many parks offer a wide variety of rides, shows, and activities designed to entertain families for hours. The downside to amusement parks is that they tend to carry a large price tag and often have long lines. Spending a large percentage of time waiting in one long line after another may limit the opportunity to experience all areas of the park. Careful planning may prove to be invaluable in helping you to enjoy an amusement park without feeling like you've spent the day winding through lines.

How to Avoid Long Lines at Amusement Parks - Photo by Rennette Stowe
Do Your Homework

Before visiting an amusement park, check their official web site. They are often open different hours on different days, and various parts within the park may have shorter hours. If folks in the family especially want to see a certain show or ride a particular ride, the web site will usually list a schedule of events and may publish scheduled closings. They may have a rotating schedule for closing a couple of rides each day for maintenance, etc., so this information may be very helpful when planning a vacation. If an amusement park offers bring-a-friend days for a discounted rate during the busy tourism season, the crowds may be higher on those dates.

Official web site information can change! I remember planning a vacation after checking an amusement park's web site. They listed an opening date and we decided to plan a week vacation with a trip to the amusement park planned as part of that week. We headed out for our vacation, happy as larks. Apparently, the opening date was changed after we left, and we had no computer access during the vacation. We ended up driving hours across the state to discover that the park was closed. It was sort of like that scene with Chevy Chase when the family arrived to Wally World to discover that the them park was not open. I think this was rather unusual, but I speak from a bad experience that it can happen.

Research height restrictions for rides and the heights of your family members. The park's web site will likely list height requirements. Nobody wants to wait in line an hour to be told that a child is too short to ride, but nobody wants his/her child's safety or life to be endangered while riding a ride. They will usually post height information at the entrance to the line. It is a good idea to have a child's height checked upon entering the park so there won't be any surprises. Some rides may also have weight or circumference restrictions. If the seat belt or safety harness won't lock, this will land you on the sidelines as well.

Some amusement parks may offer options for shorter lines. I particularly like theme parks that offer this for free. If you have older kids and don't mind taking the chance of riding in separate cars/coaster, opting for a single rider line will often give you the opportunity to squeeze onto a ride quicker. Those with smaller children may wish to check whether or not the park offers rider swap options where a young child can remain on a ride so that the other parent can switch and ride with the child. Those who have special medical needs and/or mobility issues will want to check with guest relations for special passes and instructions.

Tips for Planning a Vacation at an Amusement Park - Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Make a Plan

Involve the kids in planning rides, shows, and other activities. Get an idea of what attractions may be the most interesting to each member of the family. Have each person choose a couple of activities that are on their "must do" list and prioritize the day accordingly. If the web site offers a map of the park, plan a tentative route. The newest rides often have the longest lines, and those lines may get longer throughout the day. Rides with small children and those that load small numbers also tend to move more slowly. Roller coasters that have two or more trains on the track will tend to have faster moving lines. Find out the priorities in your family: would you rather ride more rides that might not be the highest on the priority list or would you be willing to ride fewer rides just to get the chance to check out the most popular rides in the park.

If you have more than one adult in the party and children of different ages or interests, it may be helpful to split up at least part of the day so that the kids can enjoy more riding and less waiting. Carry cell phones so that you can communicate if you need to change plans. Make sure batteries are charged, ringers are on, and that you can pick up a signal before splitting up. Watch out for roaming fees in some areas.

Plan to arrive before the gates open and be prepared with any necessary supplies. Keep in mind that it will take time to park, apply sunscreen, gather supplies, get tickets, go through metal detectors, etc. Some amusement parks offer tickets that can be purchased online – you might save money and can save yourself time bypassing the line to purchase tickets before entering the park. Bathrooms near the entrance are often more crowded than bathrooms in less obvious places.

Determine meal plans ahead of time if possible. You might grab an early breakfast before arriving to the park. If you plan to exit the park to eat, ensure that you know all policies for re-entering the park. At one amusement park, I left my husband and kids in the park and hurried to the car to get rain ponchos. I got my arm stamped but it rubbed off when water dripped on my arm as I was going out of the turnstile. My husband had the receipts with him. You would not believe how much trouble I experienced trying to get back into the park, even though I reported the rubbed off stamp as soon as I stepped through the turnstile and you could see the smeared ink on my arm.

Look for blogs, forums, reviews, and social media sites like Facebook for information about the amusement park. People who have visited the area may offer great insider tips and ideas for getting the most out of your day. You might try posting specific questions to see if others may have information that you find helpful. Travel books may also offer specific guides and plans for enjoying the park. If you have friends and family members who have visited that park, ask them for tips too.

How to Plan a Family Vacation © Katrena
Be Flexible if Possible

Amusement parks will generally be more crowded on weekends, holidays, and when they have popular guest appearances or are offering certain themed experiences. Each park will usually have dates or seasons in which they can predict higher and lower numbers. If you have a flexible schedule, this can certainly be to your advantage. Visiting the park during the off season or mid-week, such as Tuesday or Wednesday, may make a huge difference.

Weather can also greatly affect how crowded the park will be. Severe weather will often close certain rides and attractions at an amusement park, but a quick thunderstorm may come in quickly, leave quickly, and those who stay can often enjoy much shorter lines. The family might want to take their chances, wear some ponchos, and brave a few sprinkles to enjoy much more of the amusement park than if the weather had been picture perfect. Count the cost and your comfort level – once you pay and go through the gate, sales are final. Choosing this option carries less risk if you have season passes.

Sometimes plans have a way of twisting and turning like a kaleidoscope. Perhaps if you alter the game plan accordingly, you might come away with some pretty creative and colorful memories!

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