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Young guests ride The Flying Fiddler at the new Shamu’s Happy Harbor at SeaWorld Orlando. The Flying Fiddler lifts riders 20 feet in the air and jostles them. The expansion of Happy Harbor includes the addition of three new rides.
AP photo/Orlando Sentinel by Joe Burbank
Young guests ride The Flying Fiddler at the new Shamu’s Happy Harbor at SeaWorld Orlando. The Flying Fiddler lifts riders 20 feet in the air and jostles them. The expansion of Happy Harbor includes the addition of three new rides.

Surviving day at an amusement park
7 tips for grown-ups

By Beth J. Harpaz
AP Travel Editor

NEW YORK — I consider myself an amusement park survivor. I’ve done Disney on two continents, boardwalks on both coasts, Busch Gardens, Hersheypark, Universal Hollywood, haunted Halloween nights, and Christmas at an indoor waterpark. I’ve accompanied a summer camp to Sesame Place and the eighth-grade trip to Six Flags. And despite unbearable lines, whining children, unappealing food and my own terror of roller coasters, I can honestly say there’s no place I’d rather spend the day. Why? Because the children always have so much fun.

But along the way I’ve honed some adult survival techniques, and I’ve also gathered some expert advice. For every parent who is half-dreading a visit to an amusement park this summer, here are seven tips for survival.

1. Buy your tickets online. If you show up with ticket in hand, it’s one less line to stand in at the park. Many parks also charge less for tickets bought online.

Other ways to save money on admission:

n If you’re likely to go twice to the same park, it might be cheaper to buy a season pass than two one-day admission tickets.

n If your family can tolerate a late night, look for discounts for late-day admission. At Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, Starlight admission is $24.95 starting at 5 p.m. daily (4 p.m. when the park closes at 8 p.m.) compared to $41.95 for regular admission. Lines for rides are often shorter at night, and you’re out of the heat of the sun.

n Regional parks often run two-for-one admission coupons on soda cans, milk cartons etc., so keep your eyes open.

2. Don’t spend hours of your precious day waiting in line. Arrive early — before the gates open. Once you’re inside, head to the biggest, newest and most popular attractions. That’s where the worst lines will be later in the day. You can do more rides in the first 90 minutes that any park is open than you can the rest of the day.

“A typical pattern for many people is, ‘We’re on vacation, so we’re going to sleep in.’ Then they have breakfast. They get in the park at 10, 10:30. But if you can get there when the gates open, you’re going to have an hour with not a lot of lines and not a lot of people,” said Christopher Elliott, host of Fine Living TV Network’s “What You Get for the Money: Vacations” show.

Some people even “come early in the morning, stay until 11 or 11:30, go off the property for lunch, hang out at a pool and come back for the evening shows,” Elliott added.

Some parks offer passes that allow you to skip long lines. At Disney, the free FastPass system issues timed tickets that bypass regular lines.

3. Do a little research, but don’t overplan.

Check out height restrictions to avoid disappointment among children who may not be tall enough for big rides. Use Web sites and guidebooks to decide which rides or sections of the park you want to see, and in what order. Consult a map of the park so you don’t spend a lot of time backtracking.

Actors perform during the premiere of “Finding Nemo-The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
AP photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack
Actors perform during the premiere of “Finding Nemo-The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“When you’re presented with that many options, it can lead to fatigue and arguments,” said David Downing, editor of the new Zagat “Walt Disney World Insider’s Guide.” “Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the experience.”

On the other hand: Remember “this is not a paramilitary operation,” said Downing. “You don’t have to do everything. One of my favorite things to do at Disney is to watch parents drag their children from one ride to another. They’re screaming, and nobody is having fun.”

That’s especially true with young children, said Cedar Point spokesman Robin Innes. “They may want to ride the carousel six times. Let them. Take your time. Don’t think, ‘We gotta go here, we gotta go there.’ ”

4. Some parks allow coolers; some don’t. But there are other ways to economize on food besides bringing it from home.

Sharing fries, a chicken basket or a foot-long sandwich rather than buying small portions for each family member can help stretch the budget.

Many parks sell an extra-large hard plastic souvenir drink cup with inexpensive refills. Do the math; if you’re there all day, it might be cheaper to buy one of these for $7.99 and get 99-cent refills than five separate drinks for $2.99 each. Most parks will refill souvenir cups with ice and water for free.

Some parks offer meal deals. Universal Hollywood has an All You Can Eat Pass — online price, $19.40 for guests over 48 inches tall. Disney also offers dining plans.

5. Take a break when the lines get too crazy or the sun is too hot. Most parks have musical revues or other shows, sometimes in air-conditioned theaters where you can sit for awhile. A few parks offer mini-spas or massages; even little children like the 25-cent foot massage machines. An icy fruit smoothie or an ice cream mid-afternoon is often restorative; some parks have beer or cocktails for adults.

6. Reduce whining and your expenses by setting limits. It costs extra for arcade games, rock-climbing, bungee-jumping, karaoke, tattoos, hair-braiding and the like. You could say beforehand, “We’re not doing anything that isn’t covered by the admission ticket.” Or you could give each child $5 or $10 to spend at will, whether on a basketball-shooting game, a virtual reality ride or nail art.

7. Mom, Dad, if you don’t love going on the rides yourself, just watch from the sidelines. Let older children accompany younger children while you chill on the bench or take pictures. Depending on their maturity, adolescents can usually be trusted to go on rides with a friend or sibling and then meet you back at an obvious place. Don’t panic if they’re late — they could be stuck on a long line. Cell phones can make communicating easy if you split up, but remember that phones will fall out of pockets when the coasters go upside-down.

In the end, theme park visits can feel stressful and exhausting to the grown-ups who plan and pay for them. But most children will remember these outings as highlights of childhood. And in the life of a family, you can’t have too many days like that.

Just go ride it

Some new attractions:

  • NASA makes its foray into the entertainment business with the new Shuttle Launch Experience at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor area. The $60 million ride simulates, as its name suggests, a shuttle blastoff and ascent into obit. Astronauts were consulted to make the ride as realistic as possible.

  • Walt Disney World in Orlando opens its new comedy show featuring characters from the popular movie “Monsters Inc.” Instead of collecting screams, like in the movie, the characters try to elicit laughs, or “gigglewatts,” to power Monstropolis. Guests are invited to text their own jokes, and anyone in the audience is fair game to tease.

  • The Blue Man Group debuts at Universal Orlando in a new theater. The bald, blue characters will perform a new show built for the expansion.

  • Mystery Mine at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., isn’t the fastest, but may be the most highly themed new coaster. The ride simulates a spooky, abandoned coal mine and drops 85 feet at 95 degrees. Top speed on the 2-minute, 30-second ride is 60 mph.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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