Theme Park Survival Guide

Forget the lagging spirits, long lines, and even longer days. We've got the goods on how to beat the theme park rush and make the most out of your next family vacation.
Orlando's Dueling Dragons Roller Coaster at Islands of Adventure  (courtesy, Tourism Orlando)

1. Visit in the fall
The weather's milder, the crowds fewer, and the lines shorter than during spring and summer's the typical high season. But cooler weather also means you should stuff a sweater or a lightweight jacket into your backpack as a cold spell can drop temperatures into the 50s. Also, pack a poncho and umbrella.

2. Don't try to see it all
Set a kid-friendly pace that gets to the must-sees but allows time to explore.

3. Check for discounts
Call the park, your hotel, or rental-car company to find out about current promotions.
Often, the best deals are packages that bundle lodging and theme park tickets. Some throw in car rental and breakfasts. Look at the web pages for the local convention and visitors' bureau as these agencies periodically promote the region by offering discounts to the parks and other area attractions. Also, browse online travel sites as well as the sites for your hotel and for the theme parks.

4. Take advantage of any special programs
Some parks offer VIP tours that allow early entry and let you cut to the head of lines. But such esteemed status comes at a price; Universal Orlando Studio's VIP tour adds $100 per person to park admission, which includes a five-hour guided tour, no waiting in lines, and priority seating at selected attractions. Other benefits may also exist for those properties owned by the park. For example, one of Disney's theme parks opens one hour early or stays open three hours later each day, just for guests staying at a Disney-owned lodging. Check the parks' Web sites for these special experiences.

5. Start at the back of the park
That's because most visitors rush to the attractions nearest the front gate first.
For example, at Disney's Magic Kingdom, don't browse the shops along Main Street, among the first attractions you encounter. Instead, walk as fast you can to Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain, popular rides located further into the park.

6. Divide and conquer
Let one parent tackle the roller coasters with the preteens while the other visits the play land with the preschoolers.

7. Eat early
Avoid the noon to 2 p.m. lunch crush by snacking mid-morning and late afternoon. Not only will you dodge the cafeteria crowds, but you'll find the lines to most of the rides considerably shorter. In general, except for baby bottles and snacks for tots, most theme parks don't allow you to bring food. With increased security measures that require backpacks to be searched, it's not worth trying to smuggle in sandwiches. Resign yourself that over-priced meals and dinks are part of the experience and budget accordingly. To avoid waits at sit-down-and-be-served restaurants, book these ahead of time.

8. Take a break
Get stamped when entering the park so you can go back to your hotel in the afternoon for a swim, nap, and supper, and then return to the park. Don't think of this down time as lost time. This essential relaxation time rejuvenates you for more park fun. Return to the park in the early evening to enjoy the shows, parades, and more rides.

9. Shop for souvenirs at night
This way you won't have to drag that five-foot mouse with you all day, and your kids won't spend all their allowances on the first goody they find.

10. Savor the evening's slow pace
Enjoy the closing fireworks or parade. The mediocre, over-priced food and other little annoyances fade when you see your child‘s wide-eyed stare at the bursting red rockets or a conga line of Muppets.

Published: 11 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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