A theme park may seem like the most family-friendly vacation destination, but that's not always the case. Along with the rides, attractions, and cartoon characters come to life, you and your child might well encounter long lines, high temperatures, and frayed nerves.
Still, a theme park can be an ideal vacation spot if you both plan your days and stay flexible. Take your cues from your child: If she's tired, take a break. If she's scared of heights or dark places, avoid rides with those features, and if she's shy, don't force her to pose for a picture with Snow White. Here are a few other tips:
Even the most diligent parents can lose sight of their child among throngs of people. Dress your child in a brightly colored T-shirt so she's easily visible. To make sure someone can contact you if she gets lost, write your name, hotel, and phone number on an index card and stick it in her pocket. Point out park personnel to your child if she's old enough to understand, and tell her that if you get separated, she should find one of these people.
Plan your strategy
Because theme parks can be costly, you'll probably be tempted to pack in as many attractions as possible. But nobody has fun when the kids are tired or hungry. If you intend to stay several days, choose a hotel close to the park so you can go back to your room whenever you feel like it -- for naps, meals, a swim. Even if you're not staying nearby, plan to take several breaks for snacks and rests to give everyone time to get a second wind.
Most folks have a strategy for avoiding lines. Some parents prefer to arrive even before the park opens so they can be among the first to get in. Then they make a beeline for the most popular rides. Others prefer a more relaxed approach, arriving later and saving the high-volume attractions for mealtimes, when most people are off having lunch or dinner. To make sure your day goes smoothly, form a game plan that suits your child's needs and temperament.
Whatever approach you decide on, though, rent a stroller if you have a young child. That way, you'll save your back when she tires of walking.
Beat the heat
Soaring temperatures and high humidity can deflate even the most enthusiastic child. Be sure yours eats regular healthful meals to keep her strength up, and take along bottled water to keep her well hydrated. Your whole group should wear hats to protect their eyes and faces from the sun's rays, and remember to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you head out; reapply it according to the instructions on the label.
Navigating the crowds and strategizing about your plan of attack may not seem like much of a vacation, but it'll be worth it when you see the look on your child's face as she meets Mickey Mouse or takes her first ride on the ferris wheel.
Parentcenter.com, Secrets to a Great Theme Park Visit
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, Bob Sehlinger, Hungry Minds, Inc.
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, Bob Sehlinger, Hungry Minds, Inc.