It’s summer! Let’s go to a theme park!.. you say. It will be fun!.. you say.

It’s the hottest time of the year! Let’s go somewhere that costs a fortune with thousands of other people for attractions that we’ll need to stand in line for, for hours at a time!.. is the reality.

Theme parks do have their challenges. And the best times to go, frankly, are not summer, spring break or around any holidays. But the reality is, those are busy times because that’s when people are more able to go.

So go in the summer if you must. But take this advice to survive with some of your sanity and bank account intact.

1. Plan ahead to save some money.

Pack your own food and drinks. Some theme parks like DisneyWorld and LegoLand allow you to bring in outside food and drink as long as it doesn’t need to be cooled or heated and is in plastic containers. This will save you a ton of money on meals and snacks.

Pre-buy souvenirs, like Mickey Mouse ears if you’re going to Disney, or special t-shirts. These will cost you a small fortune at the park. And when the sun goes down, vendors will come out of the woodwork to sell things that spin and light up and cost about as much as a tank of gas. Instead, we buy packs of glow wands at Walmart ahead of time.

2. Take advantage of line-skipping options.

At Disney parks it’s called Fast Pass, at LegoLand it’s Premium Play and at Busch Gardens it’s Quick Queue. And what it means is less time in line and kids not nearly as cranky as usual.

3. Drink lots of water.

Whether you bring your own or buy it there, you must stay hydrated. This will help you avoid feeling sick, tired and hangry.

4. Pack rain gear.

Pack ponchos for the whole family because you never know when it will rain. In Florida, for example, it will rain once a day every day. Count on it. And you don’t want the trip that you spent a fortune on to be ruined because you’re a soggy mess.

5. Don’t stay all day.

The first time we went to Disney we only went for one day and wanted to pack in all the fun and excitement we possibly could. So we were there when the park opened at 9am and didn’t leave until after the fireworks show at 9pm. 12 hours of Disney with a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old.

At the end of the day the kids were hungry and exhausted and so were the parents. I would have rather paid for an additional day to spread it out more.

6. Build in some down time.

Part of the problem with our marathon 12-hour Disney day was that we were pretty much running all over the park all day, only pausing to eat a quick lunch and dinner.

But after learning that lesson the hard way the first time, we changed things up on our second trip. We made dinner reservations at a restaurant (which you must do months in advance at Disney parks). It was the perfect time to sit, relax and recharge. Disney restaurants are not cheap, but it’s money well spent.

7. Build in a day off.

If you’re going to be visiting a park or parks for multiple days, try to build in a day off in the middle. It’s especially nice if you’re staying at a resort or hotel with a pool. It’s a great time for the whole family to relax, recharge and you’ll appreciate the park more when you go back.

And above all, try to remember why you went and have fun. Take time to watch the amazed and excited expressions on your children’s faces. That makes it all worth it.


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