Surviving amusement parks with kids

Coaster graphicI love roller coasters and for the past four years, my family has gotten season passes for the local amusement park, Great America, and we end up going at least four times a year. And yes, I actually enjoy it with the kids! My husband took the kids (ages 6 and 7) while I was at BlogHer and we just went again this Sunday with other family members.

I thought I’d pass along some tips and tricks we’ve developed to not only survive but actually enjoy and look forward to a trip to amusement parks with kids, and specifically, Great America. I’d welcome any other tips as well!

Go early, leave early. Plan to arrive at the gates as close to opening time as possible. You’ll have the run of the park until around lunch time when the not-as-organized families and teenagers arrive. The park typically gets really crowded after 3pm, which is exactly when we head for the exits. Don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth? Be sure to use the online ticketing options which can cut almost half off the price of an adult ticket, and think also about how much happier you’ll all be if you get out while everyone is still in a good mood.

Give the kids a budget for spending. One of the worst things about amusement parks is the whining. Opportunities to spend money are everywhere you turn — from games to cotton candy to tempting merchandise. Our solution: give the kids a set budget and allow them to spend it anyway that they want. We typically give them $5, which allows them to play a game, blow it at the candy store, or buy a coveted necklace or car. Our only rule — they can’t buy/eat candy before lunch.

By doing this, we’ve pretty much eliminated all whining that surrounds spending money. It’s also a nice way to teach them the value of money and have them do math as well. But when the money is gone, it’s gone. It’s hard the first the child realizes they are out of money and can’t do anything, but the next time we go, they really budget their money.

Eat an early lunch. Beat the crowds, avoid grumpy hungry kids, and hit the rides again as everyone else is heading to the cafes. At Great America, the NickToons Cafe is great if you don’t mind your kids becoming video zombies. The cafeteria-style lines can be very long, so this is our trick – seat the kids at a table (they will zombie-out), then grab a fruit salad, a few slices of pizza, and make a stop at the drink fountain. I don’t wait in the line as it’s the people waiting for hot meals like burgers and chicken nuggest. We also invest in two refillable drink bottles that keeps us hydrated all day — I usually fill one with Sprite and dilute it with lots of ice and also some water for the kids. The other I fill with Diet Coke to keep give us the energy to keep up with the kids wired on Sprite. One extra benefit of the bottles — you can use them year after year after year.

– Plan down time. One of our favorite attractions is Scooby Doo’s Haunted River, where kids can float boats down a mountain river. There’s only one entrance and exit, and you can sit on a nearby patio or benches and watch all of the proceedings. Our kids know when they need to take a break and will ask specifically to go there to unwind! We also see shows, go on the SkyTower for great views, and take the cable car to slow everything down.

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~ by charleneli on August 7, 2006.

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