Gearing up to take the family on a vacation to a big-ticket amusement park may seem daunting, but a little advance planning can make for a much more enjoyable trip. "There's a lot to consider if you want to maximize your time and budget," says AAA Travel counselor Nikki Sprott, who shares her planning tips for your getaway.
Budget Your Time
"With crowds and lines, it might take longer than you expect to get to everything you want to see," Sprott says. She recommends setting aside three days to fully explore any of the larger parks.
Go When It's Slow
If your travel dates are flexible, plan to hit the parks on their least busy days. Your best bet will be weekdays during the school year, naturally. Sprott also suggests arranging to use front-of-the-line passes and other expedited tickets to reduce wait times on popular rides.
Find the Right Mind-Set
It would be nice to visit a park midweek during the off-season. But if a summer Saturday is the only option you have, don't despair. Just mentally prepare yourself for a lot of company.
Hotels adjacent to theme parks come with a lot of perks, which may include early park entry and reasonably priced airport shuttles that save you rental car and parking expenses. "The room may cost you more than off-property options," Sprott says, "but it's worth it."
After parking, snap a photo of your spot. Once you're inside the park, agree on a meeting place in case your group gets separated. Pinning your cell phone number to your young child's shirt is another smart precaution.
Bring Small Items
Better to pack snacks, sunscreen, and other sundries than to pay a markup for them inside the park. Don't forget a reusable water bottle.
Park apps include maps to rides, restaurants, restrooms, and more. Use them to plot your visit in advance or to make decisions while you're there.
Plan Smart Breaks
Theme parks are exciting . . . and exhausting, especially for small children. Don't hesitate to schedule an afternoon nap in your room or a dip in the hotel pool.
Look for Deals
Package deals and season passes might cost more up front but often come with perks such as early entry. Also, AAA sells discounted tickets to parks including Legoland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Disneyland Resort. If you're not already a AAA Member, learn about the benefits of joining AAA.
This article was updated in 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.