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Publication: Travel Tips
Surviving Spring Break

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Tips & Advice for the Seasoned and Armchair Traveler Alike! 

Feb. 26, 2008 

Spring break is coming, and you know what that means, right?

Sun-splashed beaches filled with bikinis and guys with 
six-pack abs. Loud music, wild parties, "Girls Gone Wild"
camera crews and beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Sure. If you're 23.

For most of us - those with full-time jobs, mortgage
payments and families we don't get to spend enough time with
- spring break means something entirely different.

This week's topics include:




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Spring break for families usually means one of two things
when it comes to travel.

A) Going to see grandma or grandpa or aunt or uncle wherever
they happen to live. Or,

B) Going to Florida to visit the theme parks.

Orlando, with its Disney World and Universal Studios
complexes, has become the Great American Middle Class Family
Pilgrimage. Millions of people make the trip every year,
hoping for an experience they can remember fondly in their
mental scrap books and brag about to the kids at school. 

Sometimes, however, the experience turns out to be more
about frustration than family fun. Here are some tips on how
to avoid that.

* Timing - Part 1

If you're planning to hit the Disney and Universal parks
during you kids' school break this spring, then you've
already lost part of the timing battle. 

School vacations, holidays, summer, weekends - anytime
children are freed from their one government-mandated
obligation - are potential bottleneck times at any amusement
park, and especially at one of the big Orlando attractions.

If you have children who are still too young for school or
have kids who can afford to miss class for a family
vacation, try to go to the parks during the down times. That
means any season except summer. Don't go during the
Christmas holidays or in April, around Easter, when many
schools have spring vacations.

A few years ago, we took our children out of school for a
week in May to take a family trip to Orlando and the parks.
The crowds were surprisingly manageable, and the kids'
grades were none the worse because of it.


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* Timing - Part 2

If you like waiting for more than an hour in the twisting,
labyrinth lines that form for major attractions, then by all
means, go on a weekend. For a more efficient visit, you're
going to want to aim for mid-week; Tuesday through Thursday.

You are also going to want to arrive early. Very early. I
can't stress that enough.

Having to park a county or two away from the park entrance
and wait in a soviet-era line just to get into the place can
set a tone of frustration and crankiness for the entire day. 

If you've got one of those families that takes a while to
get ready and always has a few false starts, anticipate that
and set the travel alarm even earlier. 

We were among the first wave of arrivals on the day we went
to Epcot Center and had a good couple of hours of nearly
wait-free rides before the park turned into the Florida
equivalent of a New York City subway stop at rush hour. 

* Strategy

A day at a major Florida theme park should be approached as
though it was a military operation. 

The first thing you need to do is prioritize. Everybody in
your group gets to pick their "must see" attractions and
rank them in the order of how miserable they’re going to
make everyone else if they don’t get to them.

Then get a map of the park and a list of the most popular
rides (The ones with the longest lines). You want to hit
everybody's "must sees" early, and hit the most popular ones

Some theme park aficionados suggest starting at the back of
the park and working your way forward. That's not a bad idea
if most of your top-priority attractions are there, because
it will take a while for the lava flow of people to work its
way there. That's never really worked for us, because there
are usually two many oohs and aahs between point A and point
B to allow a brisk, purpose-driven family march.

Use the peak visitor times in the early afternoon to take a
break for a meal and the obligatory souvenir shopping. The
parks tend to thin out again as it gets close to closing. If
your clan has the fortitude to stick it out, you can hit any
of the top attractions you missed then.

* Get V.I.P privileges

Take advantage of the programs offered by Disney and
Universal to cut down on wait times. 

Disney offers FASTPASS tickets for its most popular
attractions. These tickets, given free-of-charge, are
stamped with a time for later in the day. When you show up
at that time, you get to go into a special express lane that
moves a lot quicker than the anaconda of fidgeting families
snaking back and forth in front of the main door.

Universal offers Universal Express, a get-in-quick pass
that's available for an extra charge or for free if you're a
guest of a Universal Resort property. This let's you take
the express lane into attractions, but - unlike Disney -
does not require you to show up at a specific time.

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* Dress for success

Sensible shoes make sense at theme parks. Many visitors will
be walking more than they've walked in years. 

Check the weather report and dress accordingly. Wear layers
you can shed as the day heats up or add as the day grows
cool. Bring a small backpack to keep the extra items in.

Sunscreen. Wear it. Many folks will want to add a hat with a
brim to help shade out the sun. Yes, it will make you look
like a tourist. So what? At a major theme park, everyone is
either a tourist or an employee in a costume, so you won’t
stand out.

* Shopping savvy

If you’ve got kids, don't try to force them through the
aisles of a gift shop before they've gotten a few hours of
rides out of their system. Shopping is an activity you save
for when the attraction lines are really long.

You also don't want to be lugging big bags of Mouse
memorabilia through the park. My personal belief is you
shouldn’t buy anything that's too big to fit in your pocket
or your backpack to begin with. If you must buy a stack of
logo sweatshirts for the folks back home, wait until you’re
on your way out.

If you spot a "gotta have" item early on in your park day,
either make a mental note of the location and come back
later, or ask about picking up your package later in the
day. Depending on the cost, it might even make sense to see
if the shop can ship your purchase to your home address.

* Synchronize your watches

I'm not kidding. Especially if you have a large group or
older children who are itching to go their own way. 

Designate a landmark that can easily be seen from most parts
of the park. Plan to meet there at a certain time if you
split up, or tell the kids and adults in your party to go
there and wait if they get separated from the pack.

Our family carries cell phones, including the youngest, who
is nine. Many families use walkie talkies to stay in touch
during the theme park experience.

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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