Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Planning a Visit to a Theme Park

One place that has been a part of my summers for as long as I can remember is the amusement park. This year we are planning to spend a day with the family at Sesame Place.

As the name might suggest, Sesame Place is based on the show Sesame Street. It is considered an ideal first theme park experience for children who are two to seven years of age. My kids are definitely in the target age group, but it won't be their "first" theme park experience. The kids have been to the indoor water parks a number of times and we typically make a trip to Cedar Point each year.

My kids don't watch Sesame Street itself, but Elmo was an early favorite with both of my kids and they recognize all of the characters from storybooks. All I have to do is say "Elmo's World" to my daughter and she breaks out in the theme song. Last fall, we had the opportunity to have breakfast with Elmo. It was held at a local Science Center in conjunction with a Sesame Street The Body exhibit. When we were sitting at our table, Elmo was very exciting, but as soon as we made the walk to the front of the room to get pictures, she was no longer interested in seeing Elmo. It should be interesting to see how she responds to meeting the characters of Sesame Street when we visit Sesame Place.

Having been a mom for a few years now, I know only to expect the unexpected in an outing. As such, I want to make sure that we are prepared for the visit, so that we can all enjoy our day. Based on my experience, here are my thoughts on planning a trip with kids to a theme park.

  • Plan your day, but don't over plan. With young children, it is important to be flexible and pay attention to their response. If they aren't enjoying an activity or seem overly stimulated, move on. We tend to plan things from the overarching perspective and then, let the details happen. For Sesame Place, you can visit their website to learn more about their rides, shows, dining experiences and more. Pick out the things that you definitely would like to do, especially those that have limited performance times so that you can make sure to catch those events. Some things, like dining with the characters, might require advanced reservation to confirm a seat, so planning ahead for this type of event can be very important. Beyond the 'must do' list, get an idea of the other activities that you would like to do.

  • Consider what you will need for the various activities you have planned. Some parks have water attractions - some where you get a little wet and others where you are swimming. Make sure you have the gear, a change of clothes in case you get too wet and/or a swimsuit for the water activities. Don't forget a towel. As you plan your day, consider the right time of day for water activities. Look into locker rentals, changing rooms and the like at the theme park. We tend to leave the added gear in the car and plan a walk to the car as part of our day. Time this with snack time and you get a bonus unwind period for the kids as you sit at your car and munch on a snack.

  • If your children are young, bring a stroller or wagon or plan to rent a stroller at the theme park. Even if your children normally would walk, if they are younger, they are likely to get worn out walking around the theme park. Plus, it is easier to keep an eye on them if they are in a stroller. Again, you might want to check and see if you can reserve these ahead of time, especially if you are looking for a double stroller.

  • If your children are still napping, have a game plan in place so that they can get their rest and recharge. If you are staying local, have your hand stamped for readmission and head to the hotel for a mid-day break. If you aren't staying local, plan to park yourself in a shaded area and allow them to unwind at the very least. Young kids can become quickly overwhelmed and tired, so taking a break can make the whole family's experience better. Everyone will be more refreshed heading into the second part of the day.

  • If you are a nursing mom, find out about the accommodations they offer to nursing moms. Some will let you use their first aid stations, others have special mother's rooms available.

  • Find out the policy on picnic lunches and beverages. Many parks provide a picnic grove that you can use for eating a picnic lunch - many are outside of the park, adjacent to the parking lots. Packing a lunch can save you some money and provide a healthy alternative to the concessions offered at the park. Many parks will also provide complimentary water at the concession stands. Again, look into this policy. Chances are, even if they don't offer it at concession stands, water fountains will be available. Water is a better hydrator than the standard sugary drinks.

  • As a mom, I like to be prepared for anything which usually means bringing a lot of stuff. When it comes to a theme park, my advice is leave it in the car (or rent a locker). It is great to have that sweatshirt in case it is cold or an extra pair of pants if there is an accident or the kids get wet on a ride, but toting all of the "just in case" around, can be burdensome. Consider that on many rides, you can't take bags on with you - you will have to leave it in a bin at the loading point for the ride or with your stroller.

  • Pictures! Pictures! Pictures! Capture your memories on film, so that you can look back and relive those memories with your kids, but make sure that you get out from behind the lens to enjoy the moments live.

In looking into Sesame Place, I found some great tips about preparing your young child for a trip to a theme park. I was glad to see that many of them are in line with what has worked for me.

One tip that was new to me was the recommendation that when your child meets the characters, have them ask the characters "yes" and "no" questions. That way, the child can interact with the character who can answer their questions by shaking their heads. Also, be willing to spend some time, like my daughter at Breakfast with Elmo last year, the kids might be very excited to meet a character, but will not be comfortable approaching them right away. Give them some time, sometimes, sharing space with the character will build some comfort. If your kids aren't comfortable up close, then don't go too close. You don't want to ruin the child's day or your day by forcing the issue and upsetting the child. There is always the next time.

For more tips and tricks that work, check out Works for Me Wednesday.


Baby ChubChub said...

Great tips! We love amusement parks! We still use a stroller for my DS5--by evening all the "big kids" are melting down but he's still happy as a clam!
We've streamlined our gear as DD2 doesn't need as much "upkeep" but I will not enter a park without at least 2 water bottles per person--they're .12 each from Costco, and at least 2.50 each at Disneyland/Sea World/Legoland/etc.
Have a fun summer!