Surviving Amusement Parks
By Kristen Smith
Ready to get a jumpstart on vacation plans?
Whether you are squeezing a vacation into your PCS travels, taking a week to reconnect as a family or hitting a theme park for the day, navigating an amusement park is best done with some research and a plan.
Research Military Discounts
Busch Gardens, Disney, Six Flags and smaller parks around the country offer discount programs to help the military community make the most of their amusement park visit. Do your homework beforehand. Some discount programs have restrictions on the days or times the tickets can be used or the programs included.
Check out military discounts at:
- Disney – including the Armed Forces Salute Park Hopper tickets, discounted cruises, park hotels and Shades of Green Resort
- Universal Orlando Resort – receive single and multi-day ticket discounts and purchase discounts at your local installation
- Six Flags – select your park to check out discounts and keep an eye open for free military appreciation days
- Busch Gardens & SeaWorld – the Waves of Honor program offers tickets to any one of the six parks across the country
- Knott’s Berry Farm – discounted admission offered at the gate with additional discounts available through online or MWR
- LEGOLAND Florida – active duty service members receive free admission (bring your ID to the front gate) and discounted family tickets can be purchased through ITT offices on your installation
- LEGOLAND California – discounts are available at the gate and at the LEGOLAND hotel, with additional (often larger) discounts available through your installation ITT office
- Check with your installation ITT office for discounted tickets to regional parks & MWR for sponsored trips
Tip: Call the park office and ask if there are any additional specials or offers available to military families. Many parks offer days or special offers, especially during the off or shoulder seasons, with even deeper discounts.
Prep the Kids
Before you head to the park, walk the kids through your plan. They’ll probably forget in the excitement of their big day – but it’s a good reminder.
In particular, go over your behavior expectations. Will everyone stay together? If you’re splitting up, where will you meet and at what time? Review park rules. For most rides, hands and feet need to stay inside the ride and there are height restrictions. Consider allowing kids to earn their “souvenir allowance” in the weeks before your trip. Keeping the amount low will prevent you from having to argue about who carries the enormous stuffed animal.
Check the park’s website for a policy on what you can bring into the park with you. While some have restrictions on the size of bags or food and drinks, bringing in supplies can save serious cash. Prices for everything – bottles of water, snacks for the kids while you are in line – will be substantially higher inside the gates.If the park allows you to exit and return, you can also leave a cooler packed with lunch in the car. Planning to ride roller coasters? Check whether or not the park has lockers you can rent to store the bag if a ride has restrictions.
Start with the Big Rocks
As part of your planning, identify the must-have activities for your family before you arrive at the park gates. Are there shows you want to catch? Is a specific roller coaster on your bucket list? Need to check out a new restaurant in the park? By identifying the key parts of your day, you can fill in the rest of your time with less important fun.
To help with your time management, take advantage of Fastpass+ and similar services that shorten your time in line for high-demand rides, especially for those must-do favorites! Remember that time of day can save you hours of waiting in line. Most theme parks are relatively empty, when they first open. By playing early bird you might be able to walk right onto even the most in-demand attractions.
Plan for Downtime
It is tempting to pack as much action into your day at the park as possible. Instead, avoid frayed tempers and exhausted kids by building downtime into your day. At parks like Disney or Universal with multi-day passes, take a few hours to go back to your room or hit the pool as a break from lines and crowds. Grabbing meals outside the park can also save money along with your sanity.
If you will be staying in the park all day, make meals an opportunity to relax. Consider taking advantage of slightly early or late meal times to avoid peak crowds. Worried about food allergies? Many parks will specify allergy-safe foods on their websites so you can plan!
Theme Park Technology
Smoothing your theme park visit are apps that help you navigate the crowds. Heading to Orlando? Undercover Tourist offers an app to track crowds at Orlando parks.
Your technology might need some protecting, as well. Stash a small freezer bag with a folded paper towel inside your pocket or bag to protect your phone during shows or rides that might involve splashing!
Don’t let long days, big crowds and $4 bottles of water deter you from serious family fun at amusement parks this year. With a little research, some planning and a park strategy, it offers the chance for a fun-filled day of family memories.
About the blogger
Kristen is an Army wife since 2006, herding her 8-year-old son, two dogs and one horse through military life. When she’s not wrangling the Tricare appointment line or building communities online in her role as a digital media strategist, she listens to podcasts, spends an hour longer than she said she would at the barn and Googles the stuff her science-minded kiddo talks about. She celebrates all those spouses creating their own definition of military spouse success at White Gloves, Optional and shares her own trial-and-error attempts at balancing home, work & all that other stuff, too!