An Amusement Park Survival Guide

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Growing up in the Los Angeles basin, I saw my fair share of amusement parks. Disneyland, the real one, was a yearly trip. Magic Mountain was a mere five or ten miles from my house. I even worked there one summer after high school. We bought passes to Universal Studios back when it was cheap and not half as popular as it is now.

Yes, sirree, I knew exactly how much money I needed to buy a waffle cone, a large, soft pretzel, and a frozen lemonade. And I knew what order to ride the best attractions. And I knew the layout of each park like the back of my hand.

My biggest concern was would the water ride muss up my hair and would I see a cute boy — and would he notice me.

But, it’s different when you’re a mom.

Yes, mussed hair is the least of my worries these days. I love an amusement park just like the next person, but I’ve realized in the two short years since I started taking kids along, that there are some items that will help you survive the day — and even smile.

Here’s my little survival guide for touring amusement parks with children:

1. Pack a backpack with incidentals.

For our family this means the travel potty seat, hand sanitizer, travel size Lysol, bandaids, and spare clothes for the girls, ages 2 and 4. And after the last few outings when more than one person has asked for Tylenol or Advil, I’m adding pain killers to my bag of tricks!

I am the one to man the backpack. The back in backpack is important here. You need to have both hands free to catch wayward children, handle a map, and hold your frozen lemonade.

2. Wear a family uniform.

Yes, I know, it looks a little nerdy. Puhlease, don’t tell my kids! But, trial and much error has proven that we need to be color coded when we go to places like Legoland or Disneyland. The shirts don’t need to be identical, but at least in the same color range.

If I lose a kid — and the chances are great when you have six — I need to conserve every brain cell possible. I can’t be wracking my brains to remember what he was wearing. All I need to do is look at the five kids I still have in my possession. Then I’ll know at least what color t-shirt he was sporting.

3. Splurge on a fun snack.

Some amusement park food is icky, icky, icky. But every park has at least one signature snack that is worth the splurge. Beignets at Disneyland, Apple Fries at Legoland, and the aforementioned waffle cones, large soft pretzels, and frozen lemonades at Magic Mountain are well worth a little coin. Buy a few choice items and split them.

Otherwise, bring food from home or leave the park for a buck-fifty Costco hotdog. You’ll find nourishment without having to take out a loan to pay for it. We’ve packed coolers into Disneyland and passed through security, so I’m under the impression that it’s quite all right.

4. Give each kid a fanny pack.

I don’t care how un-hip you may think hip pouches are. These will save your life. If you let your kids stuff them with the snacks of their choice at the beginning of the trip, you will not have to hear the whines and moans:

When are we gonna eat?

I’m hungry?

Can I have some popcorn? cotton candy? hot dog?

See how annoying that is? Instead the kid is wearing all the junk food nourishment he needs!

5. Bring a stroller even if the toddler insists on walking.

They may give up naps. They may potty train. They may insist on doing what the big kids do. But, don’t let them fool you.

Even though that toddler insists on walking at the start of the day, she will be begging you to carry her by lunchtime. Amusement parks involve a lot of walking and little feet just wear out eventually. Even if you use the stroller to carry everyone’s junk, keep it with you. Eventually she will conk out and you will have help in conveying her about the park.

A little secret? Just park your stroller in a stroller parking section of the park and come back for it later. No one will know that you’re not on that ride right next to it. There are scores of strollers about. Don’t leave valuables behind, but chances are your stroller will be fine. (I’ve heard that dirty diapers are wonderful deterrents to stroller-nabbers, though I’ve never tested the theory.) Remember where you parked it, and come back for it later.

Amusement parks can be a wonderful adventure for kids and adults alike. With a little pre-planning, you can eat good and cheap, go home with as many kids as you came with, andย have a wonderful time.

What tricks do YOU implement at amusement parks?

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  1. These tips are fantastic! It never occurred to me to leave our stroller parked somewhere while at the park until I heard someone mention it recently. It’s a simple yet clever idea that can make our park visits much more enjoyable. Thank you for sharing this helpful suggestion!

  2. Hey Jessica!

    Loved the share ๐Ÿ™‚ I read the same book, did lots of the same tips you had as well. My favorite shared shirt was actually tie-dying the whole families shirts! Well, I did about 3 or 4 for the Guys, and at least 1 for Grandma and Me. The kids had 6 different ones (but they wear smaller shirts and it was easier to dye theirs!) It was a lot of careful thought on my part, using Michaels coupons to buy the largest set of dye kits I could, and buying shirts at Wal-mart. A lot of work, probably more money than you would normally plan to spend – but everyone noticed us in our shirts, it was super easy to spot my kids and family members in the crowd. The extra cool thing about it, since Grandma had one made for her too – we have a delightful family photo taken of all of us wearing our tie-dye shirts. We all love it (Grandma has it on her wall!) and so many people tell me how much they love that photo! As a bonus, I use the tie-dye shirts with my kiddos on our weekly park day. Sometimes so many kids are running around the park, and you can’t always your kids when they run around the equipment. When my kids are all in the tie-dye, it takes less than 10 seconds to spot them all and I don’t have to worry or panic that one of them is missing!

    The only thing about the fanny packs – is they really didn’t like wearing them. Since we had the stroller with us, I just added the snack bags to the diaper bag and piled it at the bottom of the stroller. There was only one moment when we sat down to wait for a ride (Tom Sawyers Island) and while we waited for the fairy – having those snack bags helped pass the time and everyone traded what they wanted and didn’t want with others ๐Ÿ™‚ We went at a super un-busy time of year though ๐Ÿ™‚

    Another tip we did, was in the months preceding up to our trip was have nightly family walks. This helped strengthen the kids legs and give them some stamina when it came to going the distance at DL. We are planning on heading back next February! We just loved it so much!

    1. Tie dye sounds like a great way to stand out from the crowd!

  3. “Go home with as many kids as you came with”


    Sometimes, by the end of a-day-at-the-amusement-park…(seriously, I think a couple of my boys would be happy being left there. They could find a bush to sleep under…bath in the water rides…)

  4. Thanks for the great tips! We’re headed to Disneyland in a few months with three kids (ages 6,4,& 2). We were at Walt Disney World when my oldest was four months old. I was surprised how well the “baby centers” at each park cater to nursing moms. I also found Animal Kingdom very “baby friendly.” I took the baby to many of the attractions.

  5. Great tips, I never thought of parking our stroller somewhere until recently when someone told me that is what they do for a little while at a park.

  6. Great tips!! We bought a bunch of TYVEK bracelets off eBay a year or so ago, and before we go anywhere with crowds or a potential to lose a child, we put the bracelets on the children. They know that if they get lost, they find an employee and show them their bracelet, which has “IF LOST CALL …” with our cell number on it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I have 4 kids and have sworn by the “uniform rule” since my boys were very little (now they are 10,9 and 6). My daughter is 2.5 and we always take the stroller even though she prefers to walk…it gives us a place to store a small cooler and a bag of essentials, and it also has cupholders for our drinks! Plus if she gets tired enough, I can recline the stroller seat for her to nap. We try to do the tamer “family” rides early in the day, and then in the afternoon when my daughter is tired, I take her somewhere quiet so she can rest in her stroller and my husband takes the boys on the big kid rides.

  8. We did the cell phone pics each day we were at DisneyWorld. Each adult took a pic of the kids in the morning while we waited on the bus to the park. Thankfully we never had to use them.

    We took along lids from McD’s drinks to use as drip catchers for frozen treats. The lady at McD’s told me I could take some and we put the stick of the big Mickey shaped ice cream through the upside down lid and it worked great to keep most of the sticky drips off the kids and their clothes. We also brought along flip flops to wear on water rides. They are thin so don’t take up too much room in the backpack and you don’t have to walk around in wet tennis shoes and socks the rest of the day.

  9. I went somewhere where the parents took pictures of their kids /shirts/ and shoes on their cell phone. They had friends whose child was abducted and was found by his shoes.


  10. It would be a good idea to put a little notecard or write inside those fanny packs also with the adult names and cell ph# in case of separation.
    One thing we’re doing this year is taking our older child to an amusement park and leaving the 2.5 year old with Grandma for the day. She won’t be able to ride hardly any of the rides and will be cranky by midafternoon. She’ll have fun with G’ma and we’ll have special time with our son.

    1. @Anna J, glad you mentioned that since I forgot to! I used a sharpie to write our cell phone numbers on the fanny packs. I’ve heard of parents writing it on a kid’s arm, too. Haven’t gone that far.

  11. Mine are older so we have different rules. With older kids you can establish a “meeting place” and you can hand them a budget to get their own snacks, drinks and mementos. The park we got passes to this year doesn’t allow food or drink other than unopened bottled water, so we pack a cooler and tailgate for snacks much of the day(I even allowed the kids to purchase a small bag of bulk candy at SuperTarget for one of their treats) and have a planned lunch and dinner (outside of the park at Wendy’s and MickeyDs since inside would cost us for one almost what outside cost us for 6).

    With older kids the amusement park experience is mainly about the rides anyway.

    On our first trip for mementos I let the kids smush pennies($1.53) since the cost of the tickets was a large expenditure. The second trip at the end of the evening(since there is nothing worse than having to lug around prizes while trying to ride rides) they played games($1 games) and a treat for myself was to buy one of the cheesy pictures taken while on the ride(I had to have a picture that showed 4 kids not fighting and just giggling and posing for what they knew was a camera pic).

  12. “Wear a family uniform” totally made me laugh. I never appreciated that so much before this year. My kids each earned a free t-shirt from the library. They are BRIGHT green, pretty much fluorescent. Naturally, they adore them and wear them often.

    One day at the park, I was having trouble keeping track of my middle son until I realized he was the only kid there in that particular shade of loveliness. Since then, I make sure they wear those t-shirts whenever we are going to be in large crowds. I love being able to find them so quickly!

  13. We’re visiting Sea World next week. Any tips for taking stuff inside?

    1. @Michelle, I haven’t been there since I was seven, so I have no clue. I would check the website and see what their policies are.

      1. @Jessica Fisher, As I recall, Sea World is very picky. They don’t want food (and especially straws) dropped in to any of the open tanks. Even their restaurants don’t serve straws in their drinks. According to their web site, water bottles are the only thing you can bring in. They WILL confiscate juice boxes/pouches or send you back to your car with it. To save money you’ll need to plan on going back to the car to eat your picnic lunch. Or send one adult ahead to go back to the car and get it set up at the picnic tables outside the entrance, then everyone else can go and meet them and not take so much time out of the park. (You can also pay an extra $5 for a closer parking spot. More frugal than feeding a family of three or more in the park.)

  14. Thanks for these wonderful tips! Very timely as we are headed to DLand/California Theme Park next week. I am so grateful to know that you can bring coolers in — we are DEFINITELY going to be packing our lunches now! If the burgers and fries were GOOD, I’d be fine paying the higher prices. But they’re kinda disappointing, sad to say.

    I love the idea posted above about taking a picture when you arrive. That might be good for us too, with our smaller group (only two kids, one of whom will spend a good amount of time in the stroller).

    We are also going to be doing something my mom did with us as kids: we’ll be leaving the park midday to go back to our hotel, perhaps cool off in the pool, and let the baby have a nap. This will recharge the batteries so we can enjoy the parade/World of Color and be there for the park closing.

    Finally, we are heading to the Disney outlet store up the road from us before we go for tshirts. Unlike the Disney Store (are there any of those left?) this store has VERY inexpensive ts, onesies, and stuffed animals so the kids can get their shirts but we don’t have to pay park prices. They’ll never be the wiser. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. @centsability, Reporting back after our trip! I am happy to report that we didn’t buy one lunch or breakfast. We had bagels in our hotel room plus fresh fruit, and brought sandwiches and plenty of snacks to keep everyone happy. And no questions asked whatsoever when we schlepped our food in. What a huge relief!

      We made use of the Baby Care Centers (don’t know about these? FIND THEM ON YOUR NEXT TRIP — they are a heavenly little oasis amongst all the chaos and noise) for lunches both days. I fed the baby in the highchair inside and the hubs and older daughter ate outside (they could’ve eaten inside but they opted not to). Then used their changing tables. They even have private places to nurse!

      On the whole a very pleasant trip. I am SO grateful for the tip about bringing food. We saved a bundle this way. Wonderful.

  15. We recently took a trip to Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO with our 2-year-old. Here are some things we learned:
    1. Measure your kid before you go and look up online which rides they’ll be able to ride. (We learned this the hard way – our kid was 1.5 inches too short do any of the “kiddie” rides)
    2. Consider renting a stroller. You don’t have to worry about anyone stealing it while you’re there. Also, we wish we’d have rented a double stroller just to carry our stuff and carry the kid when he finally conked out.
    3. Prepare the kids ahead of time. For instance, we’ve been making it a requirement that our son has to wear a hat and sunglasses when he goes outside. It made him fight them less when we were at the park. Same thing with hand holding.
    4. Pack extra ziplock baggies (for wet stuff or to keep valuables dry on water rides) and trash bags (make great rain ponchos, shoe guards, laundry bags, and trash receptacles too).
    5. Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours. The face sticks are convenient for this. We tried to do it after we had been sitting for meals or snacks but before we ventured into the park again. My husband was more of a challenge to get sunscreen on than my kid.

    I love this blog. It always addresses exactly the things I am needing to know!

  16. Okay, now I am so sad that I did not know about these apple fries when I went last year! I’m an east coast girl who loved me some Cali! Well, at least I know for next time. =D Great post! I really appreciate your personality that runs through your posts. You seem like a lot of fun!

  17. Doing the “long term stroller” parking thing is genius, thanks for the tip. I’ve heard rumors of friends of friends getting strollers stolen, but I’ve never actually known anyone it’s happened to.

    I have a small child that did NOT like to nap in his stroller. It was too stimulating outside. At Disneyland we took to riding the train for multiple loops. Many times he would fall asleep by the second loop. If after the third he was still awake, we’d give up and go do something else. At California Adventure we’d go to the Grand Californian. Walking the grounds and the lobby was much less stimulating than the parks them selves and that also often (though not always) worked to help put him to sleep.

    On the busiest summer days, cast members at the entrance between the park and the hotel will ask for a room key before they’ll let you use that entrance, but other than that, it’s no big deal.

  18. Packing your own food/buying outside of the park, is definitely one of the best ways to save money in the park. I regularly bring food into Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. They always look at my bag, sometimes even comment if it looks good, but then pass me through. As I understand Disneyland’s rules, they will confiscate sharp knives and glass (no glass mayo bottles for instance) but other than that, you’re golden. I have also seen them escort someone with a large (40 gallon?) hard sided cooler to the picnic area just outside the gates where i presume he was going to have to pay to store it in a large locker.

    Disneyland (and Disneyworld?) also have a free water policy. At any food stand with fountain drinks they will give you free ice and/or ice water. It totally depends on your cast member. Some will only hand you a kids cup with ice in it and point you to the nearest water fountain, some will give you a regular size cup with ice and water and everything thing in between. As far as I know none of the other So. Cal parks have a similar policy. ๐Ÿ™

    Lastly, there are many restaurants just outside of Disneyland, but most convenient is the McDonalds just outside of the main entrance. If you are already near the front entrance it is as quick to get to the McDonalds as it is to get to the back of the park. Look it up on Google maps before you go. It’s a normal McDonalds, as far as prices go, a really large seating area, a super efficient crew, and a fill your own drinks station.

  19. My husband and I were able to go to King’s Dominion for Kingsfest on Thursday as our anniversary gift to each other. We left our three littles with my mom (for the first time ever since our oldest was born).

    We were blown away by how much amusement park food costs- and it didn’t even taste that great! We walked around and around to find the cheapest places to eat at. $20 and $35 were the costs of our two meals that day- and it was just the two of us!

    Unfortunately, King’s Dominion doesn’t allow you to bring in outside food or drink. We even saw them taking people’s extra water bottles at the gate/bag check. Crazy.

    They did have a pretty good “promotion” running though. If you bought one of their specialty cups, refills all day were $1.99 each time. Or you could buy a wristband for $5 and get unlimited refills all day for no extra charge. So we bought the cheapest cup, $8.99, and the wrist band, $5, and got ice water instead of soda all day. It was a miserable hot day, well over 100 with the humidity and heat index, so it was worth the money. One small Dasani bottle of water was $4.

    Overall we had a blast, especially because we got to see some great bands- Finding Favour, Lecrae, David Crowder Band, and Skillet (that was an AMAZING show!!!!). We just weren’t really prepared for how expensive everything at the park was going to be.

  20. I only have two but when traveling with friends or family to a crowded place, we always take a picture on the way in so I don’t have to remember what anyone was wearing.

    1. @Kelly, that’s a great idea. The extra benefit for me with one color is that I can easily scan the crowd and count heads. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. @Kelly,

      I was going to say the same. We take a picture on our phone or camera each trip in case we have to have a security guard’s help to “find” them. {Thank the Lord, we’ve never actually needed to use this photo.}

  21. Nice article, I am a single Grandfather who had to take several trips with my grandson 3 years old. lugging luggage around and keeping track of him was very hard. I bought him a little animal shaped backpack with a hand held leash. I was worried at first that people may think I was nuts, but it saved a lot of stress with him running away all the time. He loved it so much, our travel time was stress free at least for that part. Thanks for the tips.

  22. These are great tips! Thanks! I always enjoy what you share on your blog.

  23. My kids are still very little (3, almost 2 and 6 months), so my biggest tip would be to plan for down-time after lunch. We would either pack the kids into the pram and stroll around a quiet part of the amusement park for a while, or plan to do something a little less stimulating (e.g. a movie house) for an hour or so if available. Better yet, if you live close to the amusement park, get a season pass, get there early, get out by lunchtime and come back another day!