The first of many decisions that you will have to make when planning a theme park vacation is choosing where to go. With so many incredible parks and resorts along the East Coast and just a short plane ride away in Orlando, some might say it is the hardest part. And that’s just the beginning.
Then there’s picking a place to stay, making sure you get reservations at the restaurants you want to visit and more. We know there is a ton to think about, but it’s nothing you can’t handle with a bit of thoughtful organization. It will all be worth it when you’re off having the time of your life.
Picking the Right Theme Park
Your first step will be to choose the perfect theme park for your family. Your decision will be based on a number of factors, including distance, cost, and the ages and interests of your kids.
Distance: The theme park you choose may depend largely on where you live and how much time you have to travel. We all know that Florida and California have the most variety, but almost every state in America has a theme park or two. You have plenty of options, no matter where you live, but remember that the farther your destination, the more time and money you’ll spend to get there.
Cost: Ticket prices vary from park to park, but you should be prepared to spend anywhere from $35 to $100 per person for a one-day ticket. If you’re a AAA member, you can save on admission to many parks when you buy tickets in advance at any AAA branch or at AAA.com. Be aware of extra costs like parking, concessions and access to special attractions. The cost of your flights, car rental, gas, lodging and food all add up. Be sure to do your research and create a budget long before your trip. And make sure to use your AAA discounts on hotels, resorts, airfare and rental cars, too.
Ages and interests of your kids. A large part of deciding which theme park to visit will depend on your kids. Are they old enough to enjoy a theme park vacation? What are their interests? Many of the largest and most famous theme parks focus on the characters your kids have seen on TV and in movies, but there are also parks based on wild animals, popular toys and distant lands.
You can take a successful theme park vacation with kids of all ages, but perhaps the best time to bring them is when they are between ages 4 and 12. A 4-year-old will be able to walk by himself for part of the day and 12-year-olds still believe in the magic and excitement that a theme park provides.
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Choosing a Place to Stay
Once you’ve selected a theme park or two, you can start hashing out the other details. Most parks provide a wealth of lodging options, from budget hotels to upscale resorts. On-site lodging will help you save on transportation costs, spend more time in the park and possibly even skip ahead in lines. While this option is often more expensive, the added perks can make them worth the splurge.
Most standard-size hotel rooms are suitable for four people. Larger families will need to look for a larger suite of rooms. Suites come equipped with separate sleeping quarters and a kitchen, so guests can make their own meals. If you don’t reserve a room with a kitchen, be sure to find a resort or hotel that has an on-site restaurant. And remember, you can call AAA Travel or stop in at any AAA branch to meet with a AAA travel agent. These industry experts can help you plan and book nearly every aspect of your trip at a discounted price.
Planning Your Meals
Theme park restaurants can be a circus of long lines, tired children and crowded tables. The last thing you want from your vacation is a meltdown at every meal, so it’s important to prepare well in advance. Here are some tips to take the stress out of mealtimes.
Eat a healthy breakfast at your hotel. Breakfast may just be your most sane meal of the day, so make it count. If you’ve got a kitchen in your room, prepare breakfast yourself and take this time to relax a bit before heading out. Otherwise, take advantage of your hotel’s on-site restaurant to fill yourself and your kiddos up with a nourishing meal before heading to the park.
Pack snacks and water. Most theme parks won’t allow you to bring in full meals or coolers, but snacks are usually allowed, and they can be a lifesaver if your kids become grouchy while you’re standing in line. Stash granola bars, fresh fruit and trail mix in your backpack for emergencies.
Make reservations well ahead of time: Did you know that many theme park restaurants allow you to make reservations months in advance? It’s true, and if you build the rest of your day around meals, you can minimize meltdowns from tired, hungry kids. Make your reservations during off-hours to avoid crowds. If you can do lunch at 11 a.m. and dinner at 4 p.m., you will have more time to relax and even a little peace and quiet when you sit down to eat.
Follow these tips to make sure your theme park vacation is one your family will remember for all the right reasons. Take a little time to do some research and plan ahead and you will see nothing but smiles (hopefully!) when vacation time rolls around.