It’s that time of year . . . Is a trip to a theme park or amusement park part of your summer plan? Unless you live in a city where getting a year-round pass to a park is an option, a theme park visit constitutes a big deal for most families. These tips from die-hard theme park veterans are tried and true. Use these few tricks to help you save time, money and sanity.

  1. Get there in the morning. Thing. Plan to be parked and at the gate before the park opens.

  2. Take pictures. Use your phone wisely. Take a picture of your parking spot. Nothing is worse than dragging exhausted children through rows and rows of cars while you frantically click your key fob. Next, take a picture of each child. Should you get separated, you will have a current photo and will know exactly what your child was wearing. (Now, put your phone in that ziploc baggie you brought to protect it on the water rides.)
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  4. Buy tickets online. Never buy your tickets at the gate. It wastes time and can be more expensive.
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  6. Select a place in the park to meet should your group split up. Advise children to stop moving as soon as they realize they have lost you. Tell them to look for a woman with children to ask for help. 

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  8. Head to the back of the park. When you walk into the park, stay focused and head to the far end. You’ll have the rides to yourself and you’ll be close to the exit by the time you’ve finished going through everything.
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  10. Consider renting a stroller. Even if your children have mostly outgrown a stroller, 5-6 year olds start dragging later in the day and might be happy to put their pride aside and take a rest. Also, if you’re juggling kids, a backpack, water bottles and all the rest, the stroller gives you a place to put everything. 

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  12. Water and sunscreen. Lots of both! If you’re not stopping occasionally to use the restroom, you’re not drinking enough water. Sunscreen in the morning (don’t forget ears and parts in hair) and again after lunch.
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  14. Stay on property. If you’re planning a visit to a big theme park like Disney or Universal, look into the advantages of staying in one of their hotels. Disney often lets guests into the parks an hour early. At Universal, your hotel key card also acts as a fast pass. Another advantage, particularly if you have young children, is that you can head back to your hotel for lunch and naps or a swim and return to the park when everyone is refreshed. 

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  16. Ride during parades. Skip parades an take advantage of shorter lines during that time. 

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  18. Manage lines. Check prices on smart passes. The cheaper the pass, the less likely it is that you will need them. Holidays, spring break and other school holidays are times when they’ll help you the most. If you don’t mind riding on your own, look for the “single rider” line. Finally, take advantage of the “Child Swap” feature – one parent rides while the other stays with the kids and then they swap.

These tips will help you make your theme park visit as fun and stress-free as possible.