Things to Pack and Avoid for a Full Day at the Theme Parks

February 14, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

As a veteran of the Orlando-based theme parks, I’ve seen it all. Families who plan for every contingency, and shove it all into a backpack whose size and weight would make a soldier nod quietly in appreciation.

People who come in so woefully unprepared that they spend $50 – $100 just to satisfy some small-but-nagging need they didn’t plan on, like a sweatshirt on a chilly day.

And people who know how to pack and plan for an entire 15 hour day, bringing the things they need and avoiding the things they don’t.

Here are a few things you should pack and not pack if you’re going to spend an entire day at Disney, Universal, Sea World, King’s Island, Six Flags, or any of the many theme parks dotting the country.

Things to Bring

A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) straps on a backpack while laying back on the pack, then rolling to one side and raising up from all fours. If you have to do this to pack for a day in the theme parks, you're taking too much.

A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) straps on a backpack while laying back on the pack, then rolling to one side and raising up from all fours.

  • Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats): It doesn’t matter what time of year you’re in the parks, or even if it’s a cloudy day, you can still get a sunburn. So take some sun protection, especially sweat-proof sunscreen, and use it regularly. Wear the hat and sunglasses to avoid getting a burn on your face and to protect your eyes.
  • Snack foods: Even if it’s just for a quick burst of energy or to tie you over when your kids are hungry two hours before dinner, take some granola bars or other individually-wrapped snack items. I personally like Clif bars, because they’re dense and filling despite their size. I used a few of these on my recent #DisneyParksChallenge.
  • Rain ponchos: If you come to Central Florida in the summer, it’s almost certainly going to rain in the afternoon. Buy some cheap ponchos at a Walmart and stuff them in your bag and wear them as needed. Pitch them at the end of your trip, because you’re not going to get them folded that small again. Hint: A lot of theme parks clear out when the rains come, so don’t leave when it gets rainy. Summer rains here last no more than an hour, but the parks will be a little emptier. Make lunch reservations for 1:30 or 2:00 because that’s when it usually starts.
  • Battery pack: For some reason, cell phones burn through their batteries more at the theme parks. (You can slow it down if you shut off Bluetooth and wifi.) But that may not be enough, so it helps to have some kind of battery backup. Whether it’s a 20,000mAH battery pack or one of those credit card-sized one-off chargers, you’ll need something to juice up and get you through the rest of the day.
  • Cell phone charger
  • This one is optional, but very helpful. Stuff a 3′ charging cord and cube into your bag just in case you find an electrical outlet during a rest break. Some restaurants have them tucked away in the corners, and you can occasionally find a plug in a bathroom. Even 10 minutes in a plug can buy you an hour of power. And if the universe is smiling on you, you’ll find an empty plug when you sit down for your lunch or dinner break.

Things to Avoid

  • A stroller: Unless you’ve got one of those all-terrain strollers with dual shocks and a portable generator, don’t bring a stroller with you. You can rent them inside every park everywhere, so there’s no point wrestling with one on the trip down and back.
  • Extra clothes: Unless you know for sure that you’re going to get cold, don’t take extra clothes “just in case,” or a change of clothes for a messy toddler. Similarly, if the morning is cold, but the day will warm up, try to tough out the cold temps rather than carrying around a sweatshirt or jacket all day. Keep in mind that we crank the AC up pretty high here in the summer and you can get cold if you spend a lot of time indoors. So if you get cold easily, take the sweater. Otherwise, don’t plan on every contingency. Check the weather before you go and pack accordingly.
  • Three days’ worth of diapers: You’re only going to the park for a single day. That requires at most six diapers. Don’t fill up your bag with the whole week’s worth of diapers. Just take what you’ll need each day. And put some wipes in a Ziploc bag, rather than taking the entire package. A lot of new parents pack up their kid’s entire changing table for day trips, and end the day with a bag that’s just as full as when they started.
  • Big bottles of water: Yes, you’re going to get thirsty. Yes, you need to stay hydrated. And yes, park water is expensive. But there are some parks that will give you water for free. You can get ice water when you sit down for lunch and dinner. And you can fill up your water bottle in a bathroom sink or special water bottle refill station. So there’s no need to bring a 1.5-liter bottle of water with you into the park. That’s 2.2 pounds of extra weight you’re carrying. Bring a smaller bottle and refill it as needed.

There are other things that are optional, but I tend not to carry just because of the weight, like a camera (my phone takes great pictures) or a guidebook (you can download an e-version on your Kindle app).

If you’re not sure of whether you should take something, think of the worst case scenario if you don’t have it, and decide whether you can live with that. Forgetting diapers for your 1-year-old can be a disaster, but leaving your guidebook behind won’t ruin your day.

What are your must-pack and must-avoid items on your theme park days? What do you absolutely need to have? Share your suggestions on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

A Regional Guide to U.S. Amusement Parks: Southwest

November 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 6 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the different amusement parks throughout the United States. We’ve covered the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Northwest, and now we’re covering the American Southwest.

Those of you who live in the American Southwest don’t have to worry about frigid and bitter winters, which gives you a little more leeway in your winter fun. And if you’re vacationing in the region to escape the snow and cold, maybe you can visit one of the region’s amusement parks while you’re there.

This time, we’re covering Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, and California. (We’ll throw in Hawaii as a bonus, which has an interesting theme park). According to my count, there are 129 amusement parks in the region, with 56 of them in California alone. This makes California the leader in theme parks, as Florida only has 50. (Which, as a new Floridian, fires up my competitive spirit a bit.)

While California may have one of the largest concentrations of amusement parks, the other states still have plenty to do too. Here are a few of the places I’d like to visit, if I ever get the chance.

First, if you’re a Six Flags fan, you’ve got a few choices. There’s Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA, and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Six Flags Magic Mountain, both in Valencia, CA. There’s also Six Flags Fiesta Texas (San Antonio, TX), Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (Arlington, TX), and Six Flags Over Texas (also in Arlington). Six Flags always offers some of the fastest coasters and thrill rides in the country, but they have something for younger kids as well. So if you’re looking for a Six Flags adventure this winter, chances are you’ll be able to find more than one.

They may be closed for the season, but Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico is open every day from April through October, and they’ve got plenty of thrill rides to make it worth the wait. There’s the Cliff Hanger, a 120 foot vertical drop; the 3,000 feet long New Mexico Rattler (one of the top 25 wooden roller coasters in the country); and, the Fireball, an 80 foot looping roller coaster that will take you upside down 13 times.

Knott's Berry Farm, one of 56 amusement parks in California

Knott’s Berry Farm, one of 56 amusement parks in California

It may have started as an actual berry farm in the 1920s, but Knott’s Berry Farm is now the 12th most visited amusement park in the country. You can see why, when thrill seekers flock to the Supreme Scream, a 252 feet faster-than-gravity vertical drop that reaches speeds of 50 mph on the way down. There’s the Silver Bullet, an inverted coaster that takes you through a spiral, corkscrew, cobra roll, and a 109 foot initial drop. And then the Xcelerator, which goes from 0 to 82 in 2.3 seconds, and then hurtles you 90 degrees straight back down. Seriously. Straight. Down. (Watch the video to see how it looks.)

If you find yourself in Hawaii, be sure to visit the island state’s only theme park, Sea Life Park in Honolulu, on Oahu. While it’s not a traditional theme park, with rides and characters, it’s filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like swimming with dolphins, having encounters with sea lions, and even swimming with Hawaiian native reef sharks and rays. If you’ve ever wanted to experience marine life up close and personal, Sea Life Park Hawaii needs to be on your bucket list.

What’s your favorite amusement park in the Southwest? Do you have a favorite from your childhood, or do you have a go-to theme park for you and your family? Share your favorite, or your best memories, in the comments below on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

A Complete Guide to U.S. Amusement Parks: Southeast

October 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 5 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the lesser-known and smaller amusement parks throughout the United States. We’ll cover the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest.

If your part of the country is getting a little colder, you’re probably interested in heading down south to get that last little bit of warmth before winter sets in. Or maybe you’re looking for a place to go during Winter or Spring Break.

While most people will head to Florida, there’s still plenty of warm weather in other parts of the Southeast. That’s why a lot of families head down to the U.S. Southeast for some amusement park fun. There are more than a few of the favorites you might want to check out when you head down this way.

When it comes to the Southeast states, we’re including Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and of course, Florida. As near as we can tell, there are roughly 107 theme parks, amusement parks, and themed attractions in the Southeast, with 50 of them in Florida alone. We decided to skip Disney World and Universal, since they’re already so well-known, and picked a few of the smaller amusement parks in the region.

Anyone who has ever stepped on a LEGO in the middle of the night knows their kids will absolutely love Legoland Florida (Winter Haven, FL). Located about 45 miles southwest of Orlando, Legoland is built on the former site of Cypress Gardens. Since the park is geared toward younger visitors, there are plenty of kid-friendly rides for everyone. Ride the Dragon, an indoor-outdoor roller coaster; the Coastersaurus races by life-sized LEGO dinosaurs; or pedal your own speed on the Technicycle, where riders can go higher based on their own pedal power. And don’t forget the Legoland Florida Water Park, with water slides, water rides, and wave pools.

Baton Rouge Park, Dixie Landin', one of the many amusement parks in the American Southeast

Baton Rouge Park, Dixie Landin’ as seen from I-10 (Wikimedia Commons)

Next time you’re in Louisiana, you’ll want to check out Dixie Landin’ (Baton Rouge, LA). It’s got one of the biggest roller coasters in the state, the Ragin’ Cajun, which clocks in at 14 stories tall; the Hot Shot, a 200 foot combo drop; and the Splinter log flume ride, with 26 and 50 foot drops. There’s also the Blue Bayou Water Park, if you’re looking for a little wet and wild fun. Be sure to float along in their Lazy River; drop down Lafitte’s Plunge, a 90 foot water slide; and ride the waves in the Hurricane Bay wave pool.

If you’re a Six Flags fan (and how could you not be, since they’ve had amusement parks in every region we’ve covered), be sure to check out Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, GA, 20 miles west of Atlanta). There are 35 rides for thrill seekers, as well as young families. Whether it’s the all-new Blue Hawk, the 2800 feet long roller coaster, the Acrophobia’s 200 foot drop, or the Georgia Cyclone, the wooden roller coaster, there’s something for everyone who wants to feel their stomachs in their throats. Check out the Hanson Cars, Yosemite Sam’s Wacky Wagons, and Rabun Gap Railroad Station for the little ones.

Folks in Alabama will want to check out the Alabama Splash Adventure (Birmingham, AL), which was recently purchased by the same family that owns Holiday World in my old home state of Indiana. There’s the Splashdown water slide funnel, the Rampage roller coaster, and the Teacup rides for the little ones. And the Kochs have brought Hoosier Hospitality to Alabama, as they offer free soft drinks all day long.

And if you find yourself in either North or South Carolina, check out Carowinds in Fort Mill, SC, which crosses the border between both states. Roller coaster fans will want to try out the Carowinds, because they boast 13 of the biggest, baddest coasters in the country, including “two of the tallest and best steel coasters in North America.” There’s the Fury 325, which has a 325 foot drop, and is 6,602 feet long with speeds up to 95 miles per hour. And The Intimidator, inspired by Dale Earnhardt himself, with speeds up to 75 miles per hour, and a 74 degree drop that’s 211 feet long. And if that’s not enough, check out the Afterburn, an inverted steel coaster with six inversions, including a space drop, vertical loop, a batwing, and an immelman. I don’t know what that last one is, but it sounds dangerous, so you guys go on ahead. I’ll be in the 20-acre water park, Carolina Harbor, listening to you scream.

What are your favorite amusement parks in the Southeast? Where do Southerners go when they want to have some warm weather fun? Leave us a note about your favorite in the comments below on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

A Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks: Northwest

September 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 4 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the lesser-known amusement parks throughout the United States. This week, we’re covering the Northwest US, including a couple of the Plains states.

The Northwest United States is known for its cold winters, which means fall is already starting to cool the region off. But it’s not so cold you can’t still hit one of the amusement parks over a weekend. Depending on where you live, you can take a quick trip and have some family fun.

Enchanted Forest Theme Park in Salem, Oregon, one of the amusement parks in the Northwest

Enchanted Forest Theme Park in Salem, Oregon

If you live in one of the Northwest states — ND, SD, MT, ID, WY, OR, and WA — there aren’t as many choices as, say, the Northeast (which we previewed last month) or the Southeast (next month). According to UltimateRollerCoaster.com, there are 12 amusement parks in our Northwestern states, which may make it harder to find one nearby. Washington has five, Idaho, South Dakota, and Oregon each have two, Montana has one (sort of), and North Dakota and Wyoming don’t have any. Keep in mind, some of these parks are smaller, and only have a few rides. Others are only open on weekends at this time of year.

If you live in Montana, you can visit the Amusement Park Drive-In in Laurel, the only drive-in movie theater with a roller coaster. As a big fan of drive-in movies, I like the idea of having rides, although these are more for children, so don’t come out expecting a blow-your-face-off roller coaster thrill ride. Still, I loved the drive-in movie experience when I was a kid, and we’ve shared that same experience with our own children. If you can get out to Laurel for a couple movies, this will be one of the more memorable drive-ins your own kids will ever visit.
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A Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks: Midwest

September 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 3 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the lesser-known and smaller amusement parks throughout the United States. This week, we’re covering my old stomping grounds, the Midwest

It’s September in the Midwest, and it’s starting to cool off a bit. Maybe not the crisp fall weather we’re known for, but at least people aren’t afraid to go outside anymore. For those of you who aren’t ready to stop playing outside, a theme park is a great place to spend your weekend, well into the fall.

The Vortex roller coaster at Kings Island in Mason, OH, one of my favorite amusement parks.

The Vortex roller coaster at Kings Island in Mason, OH.

If you live in one of the Midwest states — OH, MI, IN, IL, WI, IA, MN, MO — you have dozens theme park choices available to you. We were originally inspired by the Travel Channel’s Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks, but soon realized they didn’t cover every amusement park in the country, so we wanted to feature a few theme parks in different regions..

This won’t cover all of the Midwest amusement parks, of course, since I counted nearly 30 of them. Instead, we’ll pick a few regional favorites, but if I miss your favorite, leave us a comment and a favorite story in the comments section below.
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A Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks: East Coast

August 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

This is part 2 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the lesser-known and smaller amusement parks throughout the United States. We’ll cover the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest.

Last week, we rushed to cover the Northeast theme parks, because New England starts getting a bit chilly in the fall. Of course, the East Coast isn’t too far behind, weather-wise. For those of you who still want a little summer and warm fall fun, there’s plenty of time to visit the theme parks.

Sky Princess roller coaster and Log Flume at Dutch Wonderland theme park in Lancaster, PA.

Sky Princess roller coaster and Log Flume at Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA.

We’re calling this section the East Coast, because it’s not quite the Northeast, and it’s not in the South either. Plus, there are just so many great theme parks in the region that we didn’t want to overlook any.

If you live in one of the East Coast states — NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, and VA — you have dozens of theme park choices available to you. We were originally inspired by the Travel Channel’s Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks, but soon realized they didn’t cover every amusement park in the country.
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A Complete Guide to US Theme Parks, Part 1: American Northeast

August 12, 2016 by · 3 Comments 

This is part 1 of a 6-part series reviewing some of the lesser-known and smaller theme parks throughout the United States. We’ll cover the Northeast, East Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest.

With summer drawing to a close, the weather will soon start getting cooler. Here in Florida, that means nearly 85 degrees, but in the Northeast, you’ll be in the 60s by October.

Lake Compounce Main Gate, one of the theme parks in Connecticut

Lake Compounce Main Gate in Bristol, CT

There’s still time to hit the theme parks before it gets too cold. Plus, if you’re like me, you want to miss all the crowds. So the best time to go is now. Now, after school has started. Now, after kids are back in sports, and going to tournaments on the weekend. Now, before you can’t ride roller coasters and thrill rides without getting frostbite from the wind chill.

If you live in the American Northeast, you have several amusement park choices available to you. We did a little research, including checking out the Travel Channel’s Complete Guide to US Amusement Parks, which inspired us to look at theme parks in different parts of the country.
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