The holiday season is such a fun time to travel — both before and after your big celebrations. Many American families want to cut back on clutter in their lives, and try to give their kiddos experiences rather than things. Theme park vacations can be a great way to celebrate the season without adding more things to the playroom floor.
While a vacation to Disneyland or Universal Studio is a kid’s dream come true, visiting theme parks with kids also make mom and dad a bundle of nerves and anxiety. From getting the best deals to packing the right things, vacations are stressful even for the savviest travelers.
Here are a few tips to help you travel this holiday season, without losing your cool (or your kids, for that matter!
1. Pack snacks, snacks, and more snacks
Nothing is worse than hungry kids at an amusement park. Even a tiny granola bar can set you back $2 or more. So head to the grocery store before you head to the theme parks and pack a bag full of snacks. Applesauce pouches, granola bars, clementines, and fruit snacks are all easy, portable snacks that fit well inside a small backpack or in the stroller basket. Don’t forget loads and loads of water — or at least empty water bottles to be refilled at water fountains!
2. Have a safety plan
Holidays get busy at theme parks, and families and groups can easily become separated in the crowds. While older children may have cell phones or may know mom and dad’s cell phone numbers by heart, little ones probably don’t. Buy a pack of paper wristbands on Amazon — yes, the kind bouncers used to stick around your wrist in your clubbing days — and write your name and cell phone number as well as dad’s and any other adult traveling with you. Tape this around kids’ wrists (or ankles, if they don’t want it on their wrists) and tell them what it’s there for. Tell them if they get separated, to find an adult who works at the park and have them remove the wristband to locate adults.
3. Schedule a down day
Vacations in my family are usually go-go-go. This makes my husband nuts. I’m the can’t-stop-won’t-stop type. He’s more the relax-on-the-beach type. So compromise is important, especially when the kids are involved. Try to schedule an off day during your theme park vacation where everyone can simply enjoy the beach or the pool, without the stress of amusement park lines or “where to next?” We love scheduling our break in the middle of the week, and we let the kids sleep in, have a lazy breakfast with cartoons on the TV in the hotel room and then head to the pool and relax a bit. It lets us all recoup a bit after two or three full days at the theme parks before we head back for more!
4. Bring the stroller
This may seem silly, especially if your kids are getting older, as mine are. But strollers are great for carrying more than just kiddos! You can pack snacks, ponchos/raincoats, extra layers of clothing for colder months, water bottles, portable phone chargers and the list goes on in the stroller basket. Plus, if you do have kiddos whose legs tend to “give out” after about 3 pm, you don’t have to call it a day. You can put junior in the stroller and keep going!
5. Plan your day ahead of time
This may sound silly. Who doesn’t plan her day ahead of time? But seriously, know which rides are important to hit before you get to the park. Prioritize the rides you absolutely want to hit before the rides you are lukewarm about. This will alleviate the pressure you may start to feel at dinnertime if you haven’t hit your top rides yet. And a great extra tip here? Many parks have the rule that, as long as you are in line for a ride when the park closes, you can ride the ride. This is a great strategy for your favorite ride- especially if you want to end the day with a bang! So pick your top ride, and get in line 5-10 minutes before the park is closing and enjoy your final thrill of the night!
6. Keep the kids busy
My kids start to lose it about 10 minutes into an hour-long wait. This can be so stressful, especially when you know how much they will enjoy the ride if they can just be patient. So bring something small to keep them entertained in line. The Dollar Store and Dollar Spot at Target are great for these type of activities! Crossword puzzles, coloring books, cards- anything that will keeps kiddos from complaining too much about the wait.
7. Financially prepare yourself
There is no cheap way to do the theme parks. Believe me. There are loads and loads of websites dedicated to helping people earn more money or plan Disney or Universal savings accounts because a trip can easily set you back $10K for 1 week of fun with a family of 5. Here is one of my favorite tips I learned early on: when people ask what you want for your birthday, holidays, or any other reason… Ask for Starbucks gift cards. Don’t spend them, save them. Keep them all together. Then you will always have breakfast paid for at Disney or Universal. They have plenty of food choices for kids and adults alike, plus lots of java to put a little pep in mom and dad’s step!
8. If you can, eat the kid’s meal
Not every restaurant will honor this. But if the restaurant will, do it! A kid’s meal usually comes with less food, but it should be enough to fill you up, especially at lunch time. And oftentimes the meal is $5-$10 cheaper than the adult version, which can really add up to savings across multiple days.
9. If the grandparents offer to come along, say yes, yes, yes!
The larger the group, the more challenging traveling can be is generally the rule of travel. However, theme park travel is the exception here. Bringing along a grandparent or two can actually be hugely helpful when it comes to theme parks! They can sit with younger kids who may not be able to ride the bigger rides, or hang out in the kiddie area when bigger kids want to hit to roller coasters. Even better? They can stay in the room with the kids and give you and your significant other a night to relax in the hot tub with a glass of wine or hit the park without the littles!
10. Consider your game plan
Think about what parks you plan to hit for the week. Park Hoppers passes at both Disney and universal drive up the cost of your overall trip. If you are going to Universal to experience Harry Potter World, a park hopper pass is a must. But, if you are going mostly for the younger-kid attractions, a park hopper pass may not me necessary, and can shave some serious money off your bill. Disney is the same way. If you plan to do Epcot one day, Magic Kingdom the next, and so on, one-day park passes will save you money on your bottom line!
Do you have any theme park secrets for making it through parks during the busy season?
Stephanie Jarrett contributed this post as a guest writer. Stephanie is a Midwesterner and total girl mom. Although she now lives in Arlington, TX, Stephanie will always call the Midwest home and is a proud Missouri Tiger. She enjoys reading, running and red wine. When she’s not chasing three little blondes all over DFW, you will find her working from her home office listening to country music.
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