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Publication: Travel Tips
Avoiding Theme Park Headaches

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Tips & Advice for the Seasoned and Armchair Traveler Alike! 

June 3, 2008 

It's summer and the smell of cotton candy is in the air.

Over-scheduled kids throughout the United States suddenly
have too much time on their hands, and overworked parents
and overworked parents feel guilty even as they pop handfuls
of Advil and hear themselves saying, 'I wish I had time to
get bored."

The combination all but guarantees a family trip to an
amusement park before school begins again in September

This week's topics include:




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Personally, I like amusement parks. As a kid, we had entire
family vacations that seemed to consist entirely of long
stretches of driving and different theme parks. 

Of course, my parents are members of the Great Generation.
They were born in the depression and helped win World War

My wife and I aren’t so tough. 

Although they can be tons of fun, theme parks are also often
the scene of petty family dramas, searing childhood
disappointment, and hours of waiting in the kinds of lines
that have become intolerable since the fall of the Soviet
Union. And don’t underestimate the ability of amusement
parks to not only drain all the cash from your wallet, but
to empty any disposable income available through an
automatic teller machine as well.

The secret, we’ve learned is planning. And Advil. Lots and
lots of Advil.

With that in mind, here are some tips:

* Become an insider

Check out Theme Park Insider
This award-winning site - created and maintained by a former
Disney park employee and professional online journalist -
provides ratings and safety reports for thousands of rides
across the country. 

Believe it or not, theme park safety incidents are not
something any one federal agency or official keeps track of.
This site does, based on reader reports that the site
attempts to confirm. Often, it’s stuff that appears in local
papers that visitors from out of town would otherwise not
hear about.

On Friday, for example, 15 people were stranded on the
Volcano suspended roller coaster at King’s Dominion in
Virginia and had to be plucked from the ride by a cherry
picker. Two of them suffered minor injuries.  How is that
reported on the park’s official Website? 

"Volcano, The Blast Coaster, is closed today."

* Don't buy at the gate

Most parks give you at least some discount for buying
tickets online at their Web sites, and promotions have
become common even during "high" seasons

Look for discounts on admission, or buy tickets in advance
at reduced costs. Many companies have promotions that offer
discount coupons to particular parks.

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* Time your trip

If you're planning to attend a theme park during July or
August, you might hold off on buying tickets until the
latter part of June. Theme parks typically don't decide
whether to roll out summer promotions until they see how
much attendance they get during the first couple of weeks of
summer, Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, recently
told MSN.

In general, to avoid crowds stay away from weekends when
parks are most likely to resemble a pedestrian version of
rush hour in Los Angeles. Parks vary, but midweek is usually
the slowest time.

* Flash your card

Use your memberships. Your AAA, AARP or other club
memberships could win you discounts.

Also, you may be able to trade frequent traveler points for
tickets. Hilton and Marriott hotel chains, for example,
allow you to trade points for 3-Day Park Hopper tickets at

* Look for events

Sometimes the Parks will have light shows, fireworks, and
parades or live music only on certain days. The Parks
publish schedules with this information. These can be found
by directly contacting the Parks and are also available at
some tourist information centers and local hotels. 

* Make a battle plan

Think of your visit as a military assault and turn your
kitchen into a war room. Get a list of the rides and a map
of the Park and include everyone in the planning. 

Some of the Parks are so big that you won’t be able to see
everything, even if you have more than one day at the Park.
That means you need to prioritize. Everyone gets to pick one
‘Must See” attraction, and the remaining stuff gets
prioritized after that. 

* Arrive early

Get to the park right when it opens and ride the most
popular attractions on your priority list first. Plan a
logical route of attack that will let you pick off the
priorities as you go, hitting the rides with the longest
lines before the lines have a chance to form.

But be flexible. A normally popular ride can sometimes have
a lull, and a typically small-line ride may have an
unexpected flood of  fans at the particular time you reach

When in doubt, go left; the herd tends to move through parks

Speaking of animal behavior, visit any animal exhibits
early. In general, they are most active in the morning. If
morning isn’t possible, try to find out when feeding time

I mean, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe a rare 
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* Don’t be a Griswold

Wally World - before it became slang for Wal-Mart - was the
amusement park Mecca of the Griswold family in National
Lampoon‘s original “Vacation“ movie. The clan, led by Chevy
Chase when he was still funny, traveled across the country
only to find that it was closed. 

Minimize surprises: Call ahead. If a favorite ride is down
for repairs or renovation, it’s better your children know
that before they walk through the gate.

Also, remember that some of the rides have height
restrictions and health restrictions. Find out ahead of time
if a member of your party is going to end up a wall flower
because of pregnancy, a bad back or heart trouble. Motion
sickness and panic attacks - both child and adult - also
need to be considered when planning your park rides. 

* Fill your bellies

Make sure everyone has a good breakfast or is well fed
before you enter the park. Otherwise, you’re going to end up
dropping a wad of cash on fried dough and snow cones before
you board your fist ride. 

Food is expensive in theme parks, so smuggle in as many
snacks and drinks as you can. 

* Be a souvenir Scrooge

Avoid buying overpriced souvenirs as much as your loved ones
will allow it. Set guidelines from the beginning, like
“everybody gets to buy ONE souvenir.” It‘s good to set this
bar pretty high from the start because - in my experience -
you‘re going to end up with about twice as many souvenirs as
you plan for anyway.

You also want to save your souvenir shopping until toward
the end of your stay at the park. That way you tend to avoid
impulse buying and spending more money than you planned. 

Be careful, though. Gift shops near the entrances and exits
of parks tend to be more expensive than those in its nether

Well, that's it for this week, group. Thanks again for 
reading, and please keep those comments, complaints and 
questions coming in. 

You can send me an e-mail message at: Email Pierce

Until next week, thanks for reading.   

Your Tipmeister,   



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