Summer is rolling around and there is a lot of talk about starting to open the country back up mid May. That means being outside and going to fun places for vacations such as beaches, lakes, and amusement parks. Going to an amusement park can be a lot of fun but also a bit of a hassle because of long lines and expensive food. As someone who worked at an amusement park for three summer seasons and has visited several different ones, I can give you advice on how to have the best experience possible. I also asked a friend who still works there for help on things I might be out of touch on as I haven't worked in an amusement park in about three years and some things have changed. Follow these tips and you'll be able to get the most out of your experience.
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Dress for the Occasion
Would it surprise you if I said that some people come extremely unprepared for something they paid $60+ per person to get to? Look up the weather that day, how big the park is, and what you potentially want to do. Some amusement parks, like the one I worked at, had a waterpark attached to it. Be smart. If you're going to the waterpark and also the dry park, bring extra clothes. If it's going to rain that day, see if you can get a rainy day pass from guest services or bring an umbrella and poncho. It is important to note that a lot of amusement parks do not offer rainy day passes so make sure to look into it if you think it might rain that day.
Make sure you also have the right type of shoes on. Ladies, heels might look cute but you'll be doing a lot of walking and I don't recommend wearing anything other than a comfortable pair of sneakers. It's worse if you have shoes that can easily fall off. Let's say you lose it on a roller coaster, you'll have to wait until the park closes for them to bring all the lost items they find to Lost and Found. Due to safety reasons, they do not take down the nets or walk through restricted areas until that ride stops running for the night.
Don't Pack Heavy
One thing I used to hear all of the time were complaints about carrying too much stuff. An amusement park is fun but you definitely don't need your handheld game system to play while you wait for lines. You won't be using it, trust me. I'm not saying to not bring anything, but a small bag with the essential, phone, keys, and wallet will suffice. Things you will need to have on you are:
3. Wallet (RFID with basic items such as your main credit or debit card and some cash)
5. Bathing suit (if going to waterpark)
6. Extra clothes (you never know what can happen)
7. Small bag to keep essentials
8. Park map or park app downloaded on your phone
If you do have more that you need to bring, utilize the lockers that the park has. Prices range from park to park but all day lockers can cost around $30+. Some parks have more than others so make sure to get there early before they run out or make arrangements ahead of time. Always go for the lockers closest to the entrance or near the middle of the park. You don't want to go all the way back to a different part of the park to find your stuff when you're ready to leave.
Also, if you can help it, don't buy things in gift shops until you're ready to leave. I used to have a lot of people buy something like a mug or shot glass and come back later that day with it in pieces. Going into gift shops an hour before the park closes will give you time to shop around so that you aren't there past the time they close.
Another option is utilizing a program a lot of amusement parks use which is when you buy what you want from the gift shops and someone takes it to guest services where it will sit until you are ready to pick it up. There might be a small fee but it is worth it if you prefer to buy things in the moment. Personally, I always look around, leave and then come back if I still want the item. I am prone to impulse buying and regretting my purchases later.
Bring the Right People
Have you ever been somewhere with one of your friends and all they do is complain? It could be a beautiful beach in Hawaii but all they can talk about it how the sand is going to get all over the car later. You don't want that kind of person to go with you to an amusement park where there can be a lot to complain about. Bring the people that want to have fun and go on all of the rides with you. Don't bring Negative Nancy who will only complain about the long wait times and having to walk so much.
Do Your Research
Every amusement park is different even if they are run by the same company. Make sure to take a look at their website so that you are familiar with the one you plan on going to. Things such as dress policies, re-entry, and admission prices vary from park to park. Some parks are free entry but you have to pay to ride. They might sell tickets or wristbands to get on the rides but it's free to walk around. This is great if you have a someone in your group that doesn't enjoy the adrenaline rush but still wants to come and spend quality time with family or friends. Amusement parks that also have a water park have dress codes for each section. Walking around with no shoes and just a bathing suit can attract the attention of security.
Do More Than Just Rides
Check the park calendar on their website to see what events and shows they have going on. They do have different shows throughout the park at different times so make sure to check those out and plan your day ahead so you can see what interests you. Other things can be offered like special rides, discounts, or different experiences. The park I worked at had Dollar Days where select foods and items were $1 to purchase. Amusement parks have a lot to offer and there are more ways to have fun and enjoy your experience than with just rides.
Don't Expect Everything To Be On Demand
If you need a wheelchair, motorized scooter, stroller, or locker, don't expect them to always be available on a busy day. Get there right when they open so that you can get the things that you may need before they run out, bring your own if you're able to, or make arrangements ahead of time with the park. I used to have a lot of people that got frustrated because I ran out of scooters to rent out. That was obviously not my fault because I did not have an infinite number of scooters. People assume that we ran out of scooters because we didn't have enough but there were days where it is very busy and we didn't run out or it was very slow and we ran out within the first few hours of opening. It happens.
Don't Eat Inside the Park
This might sound a bit strange but hear me out. Most parks allow re-entry before a certain time and I suggest you eat outside of the park if you can. As someone who worked closely with the food service workers in an amusement park and did make some of the food myself, it isn't worth it. Unless the food is from Disney or Hershey which sell themed foods, you're not going to be getting a lot of quality. The food in amusement parks is very expensive for something that can be found at McDonald's. Paying $15 for some nuggets and water is something you won't want to do. Before going to a park, research restaurants in the area and plan to visit them while you can still leave the park and come back. This way, you're wallet isn't hurting and your stomach is satisfied.
If you don't want to go through the trouble of leaving the park, a lot of them offer meal plans. They can range in price and offer a variety of options when it comes to dining in the park. Look on the individual park website for more details.
Visit When There Will Be Less People
If you hate long lines like me, do your research and visit during the slower part of the season. I'm not sure how it is for all amusement parks but the one I worked at was slow when they first opened up in May and it slowly picked up closer to July. Mid to late August was when things died down because there were a lot of kids going back to school and summer was almost over. Personally, I always visit at the end of August or beginning of September because that's when there are the shortest lines at the rides while it is still warm. Many parks drastically reduce the price of tickets in September because they know traffic is low and they want people to still visit. Some parks may offer evening discounts for tickets after a certain time. Mondays and Tuesday are the slowest days of the week from what I've experienced and weekends would be the busiest.
Don't go on a holiday. Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor day are all big holidays in the United States where you should be avoiding an amusement park. Independence Day at an amusement park is the equivalent of Black Friday in a shopping mall. Getting around will be difficult because of all the people. You don't want to pay that $60+ fee, wait in a 2 hour long line, and only be able to go on a few rides because it took so long. That being said, some parks do have it where you can schedule your boarding time for a ride through an app or they just give you a ticket and you arrive a bit before that time to be let on. It helps cut the wait time on lines.
Keep an Eye on Your Kids!
One of the worst times I've had at work was when a woman lost her nonverbal autistic child. Lost children are always reported and taken to guest services or a family care center.. I got a description of her daughter and checked with the family care center if she was there while her mother went back out to look her for her. Thankfully she was there and we were able to reunite them but sometimes that might take a bit longer than 10 or 15 minutes. Parks do have programs to track kids in case they do get lost. If you go to guest services or the family care center, they offer wrist bands to kids that have information the park can use in case they get lost.
Leaving your child with someone that works there but does not work at the family care center or guest services does not count as having someone watching over them. I'll never forget the parents that left their daughter near me when I was at an outside stand while they went on a ride. Don't be that parent. A lot of parks offer a parent swap program where if a child is unable to get on a ride but the family wants to, one person stays with the child on a platform while the other person rides and then they swap. This is a much better and safer alternative for your child.
Don't Let a Disability Stop You From Having Fun
As people are becoming more educated and aware, the world around us changes to reflect those things. Amusement parks are no different and many are working hard to accommodate those living with disabilities. Some new things parks are doing is training a certain percentage of the staff on how to assist individuals with autism. Some parks offer special maps and post signs up to inform guests of different levels of simulations that can be experienced. Sensory controlled rooms can be offered throughout the park and there are also Autism Kits available at guest services in most major theme parks that include headphones, tactile toys, etc.
This also goes in with doing the research. This might not be available in every park and some offer more things than others to make sure that guests with special needs can have the best experience possible.
Be Prepared to Spend More Than You Thought You Would
Unfortunately, amusement parks have a heavy demand on things like water and price them higher because of it. A small bottle of water will be about $5, food can be around $15+, and even a small bag of cotton candy will cost you at least $5. Don't be surprised if you end up spending more than you wanted to. Like I said earlier though, a lot of parks do offer meal plans and every park I've been to offer their own seasonal drink bottle that you can refill throughout the day and throughout the season if you do go more than once. Just another small thing, if you find yourself thirsty and don't want to pay for a water bottle, any food stand in the park can give you a courtesy cup of water.
A Few Other Small Things To Know
Honestly, I can write a book about this but I'm trying to keep it short and simple for now. Here are a few other things to know:
1. A season pass is worth it if you're visiting more than two times. There are different perks and add-ons associated with it depending on the kind of pass. Some parks offer a pre-k pass for kids of a certain age or younger.
2. Photo passes are worth it if the amusement park has more than 4 rides that you can take a picture on.
3. The people taking your picture by the park entrance normally do not upload your photo onto a photo pass. Their photos have a separate booth you buy the pictures from. Some parks do have all inclusive photo passes that are the exception.
4. If the claw machine has less than 10 prizes and they're all expensive to buy normally, don't waste your money. Some parks have easy claw machines and some only have the one in a million claw machines and games.
5. The coupon booklet they sell in gift shops (if they have one) is worth it if you're going to play a lot of games and do other activities.
6. Wear deodorant if you are able.
7. Don't eat directly before a big ride.
8. Go to the bathroom frequently and before rides (especially if you have kids).
9. Most parks do have security checkpoints before entry. Get there early to ensure you have enough time to enjoy your day.
Be Considerate of the Workers
This one is huge! I'm not just saying this just because I used to work at an amusement park (though it is a reason) but because we should all have some empathy for others and treat them as human beings. In the park I used to work at, it is a lot of teenagers' first jobs. They are just starting out in the job world and sometimes guests expected too much out of them. A lot of the people you see working at amusement parks work from 35-80 hours a week with no overtime because they're seasonal. They are doing their best to make sure you have the best experience possible so have patience and don't be rude for things they cannot control such as park policy, inclement weather, and ride closings.
Make their jobs easier by throwing your trash away instead of leaving it on a table or returning a wheelchair after you're done with it because they can't go home until they make sure everything is presentable and ready for the next day. Sometimes it can take hours after the park is closed for them to clean up stores, tables, and entertainment areas.
Be Respectful During the Halloween Season
Always be respectful towards the workers no matter what time of the year it is but especially during the Halloween season. A lot of amusement parks offer a fun spooky experience during the end of September through October and it can be great but some people take it too far. I was friends with many people who were actors in haunted attractions and it is was good day if they left their shift without a random person trying to get a swing at them. They want to entertain you and give you an awesome experience, not get hurt.
Please keep your hands and feet to yourself. If you don't touch the actors, they will not touch you.
If you are easily scared and think that you will accidentally punch or kick one of the actors, stay home or don't go into the attractions. This should be common sense but actors do get hurt because of the carelessness of some guests. People who do not respect these rules can face 1-2 years suspension from the park or depending on the severity, they can be prosecuted by local authorities.
See if the park offers anything for people who just want to go on rides or prefer to not get scared when walking around. The one I used to work at sold a necklace for people who didn't want actors jumping out on them as they walked around. These did have restrictions because if you waited in line for a haunted attraction, it is assumed that you do want to get scared. It's okay to just want to go for the rides or the spooky experience without wanting to get spooked but don't expect for the actors to not scare you if you specifically waited in line for a haunted house. I have even had complaints from guests saying that they didn't want to be scared when they came into an amusement park during Halloween season and gone through spooky attractions that are meant to scare them.
The main thing you should take away from this is, plan out your trip. You wouldn't just get on a plane and go to Thailand without planning your trip, don't just walk into an amusement park without doing research. The best experience can be had from knowing what to expect and being prepared.
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