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NEW YORK: Visiting theme parks is always a popular pick for family vacations, and this year is no exception: According to a recent survey by AAA, a membership-based federation of motor clubs, more than one in three people who are planning a family vacation this year will visit a theme park. AAA’s research shows that the Orlando, Florida area, which has the largest number of theme parks in the United States, is expected to be the most visited destination in the country this summer. In addition, southern California, also home to many theme parks, is expected to be among the top five most visited destinations.
“Theme parks are definitely the biggest draws in both places,” said Bryan Shilling, AAA’s director of travel services.
How do you make that theme park getaway as fun as it’s supposed to be? And, what are some ways to get the most out of the trip?
Below, a guide to theme park smarts:
Tickets to theme parks can be expensive. Is there a way to save money on general admission?
Usually, yes, according to Shilling and Eileen Ogintz, who writes a syndicated weekly column on family travel called “Taking the Kids.”
If you’re headed to a Walt Disney World park or to Universal Orlando, it’s most cost-effective to buy a package that includes airfare, hotels, entrance tickets and, possibly, meals. Shilling said the savings could be up to 20 per cent, compared with buying each component of the trip individually. AAA, Walt Disney Travel Co., Expedia.com, Southwest Vacations and Funjet Vacations are some of the companies that sell such packages.
If you are planning to hit a lot of Southern California theme parks, CityPASS can help you save significantly on Disneyland, SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland.
Ogintz also said that it’s often cheaper to buy tickets to theme parks through their websites in advance of your visit. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., for one, which has 18 parks in the United States, sells discounted tickets online to its different parks throughout the year, particularly just before holiday weekends such as Labour Day. The company also has a partnership with Coca-Cola: A visitor can exchange a can of Coke for a savings that’s usually about US$15 (S$21) on a ticket.
In some cases, you can save money by buying an annual pass, especially if you’re visiting the theme park for more than one day. For example, the annual pass for SeaWorld Antonio starts at US$79 while the daily ticket price is US$59.
Is it worth it to pay extra for passes that let you skip the line that are sold by some theme parks?
Shilling said that these passes are usually worth it, particularly during the times of year when parks are likely to be crowded, because you can save several hours of waiting time.
A Universal Express Unlimited Pass to Universal Orlando starts at US$89.99 a day. It allows you to bypass the regular lines an unlimited number of times by providing express ride access to most attractions at both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme parks. A ticket to a Disney park in Orlando that includes FastPass+ allows you to access and bypass the lines on three rides,though once you’ve used your three passes, you can get more for no additional charge through an in-park kiosk or by using Disney’s app on your cellphone.
What times of the year are theme parks busiest?
Busy times include the entire summer — especially holiday weekends like Labour Day — as well as the December holidays and on weeks when schools have winter and spring breaks. If you’re planning to visit a theme park during a busy time, Ogintz advised arriving early because some parks can reach admission and parking capacity by the afternoon.
And here’s an insider tip to help beat the crowds from Shilling, who formerly worked at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando: When you enter a theme park, always go to the left. “Most people are right-handed and naturally gravitate to the right, so the bigger crowds and longer lines are usually toward the right,” he said.
Are there perks for staying at a property affiliated with a theme park?
For the most part, yes.
There are “extra magic hours” for guests staying at Walt Disney World hotels before and after regular park hours, for example; at Universal Orlando, those staying at certain resort hotels get front-of-line access. Legoland Florida Resort has a separate admission line for guests staying at its hotels and also offers them free parking.
Are thrill rides safe for children who meet the height requirement?
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions notes that the chance of being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride at an amusement park in the United States is 1 in 17 million. According to the organisation, in 2016, about 372 million people safely enjoyed 1.7 billion rides at 400 amusement parks in the country.
But even if your child is allowed to go on a particular ride, don’t push it if he or she is scared by the prospect, said Dr Lori Storch Smith, a pediatrician in Westport, Connecticut. “Thrill rides can be traumatising for children, and forcing your child to go on one could turn them off to theme parks altogether,” she said. She suggested sticking to rides that your child feels most comfortable with and is excited to go on.
How can I save on food costs in theme parks?
If the theme park allows it, bring your food, Ogintz said. She suggested packing snacks such as nuts, whole fruit and popcorn, along with sandwiches and reusable water bottles that you can fill at water fountains throughout most parks. “Save your food budget for special treats like Mickey-shaped ice cream,” she said.
What should I do if get separated from my child in a theme park?
Have a plan in advance in case you do get separated, said Rainer Jenss, the president and founder of Family Travel Association, a trade group for family travel. “First, have a designated meeting point that your child clearly understands, such as the entrance to a particular ride,” he said. “Then, tell your children that they should look for a uniformed park employee and say that they are lost and need to meet you at your designated spot.”
Can tweens and teenagers navigate theme parks on their own?
Probably, Jenss said. “Older children can usually spend a couple of hours in a theme park without adult supervision,” he said. (Jenss allowed his children to do so when they were teenagers). He advised keeping in touch with your children through cellphones. And in case their battery (or yours) runs out, he suggested having a meeting point at a set time.
My child has autism spectrum disorder. Are theme parks out of the question?
Some theme parks are making accommodations for children with autism spectrum disorder.
Employees at Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, for example, recently completed training on autism sensitivity and awareness, and the park has two quiet rooms with adjustable lighting for those who are getting overstimulated and need some downtime.
Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, Massachusetts has a sensory friendly-family bathroom with flush and faucets that are manually operated and help reduce loud noises, a common source of agitation for children with autism spectrum disorder, Storch Smith said. The park also has a quiet room with velvet walls, dim lighting and soft toys.
And Morgan’s Wonderland, in San Antonio, Texas, is a theme park for children with special needs.
By Shivani Vora © 2018 The New York Times