Peak summer season on theme parks in North America and Europe sometimes means sky high prices, long queues on major attractions and overpriced food. On our field trips in the last 7 years we learned from mistakes and experience and now offer you this small survival guide to outsmart theme parks innuendos.
Book your flight at least 6 months in advance. The lowest international fares are found by booking a lot earlier. On most airlines, international flights open up for sale 335 days before departure, according to recent studies apart from last minute opportunities they don’t typically drop that much from their initial price. Instead, they stay fairly flat for a few months, then start to creep up slowly, until about 90 days before departure when the pace of increase starts to accelerate.
Hotel booking. Chose a boutique airport hotel from a big international brand. To stay at the park is always a wonderful experience but at peak season may lead you to bankruptcy. To stay at a budget hotel or even a hostel was our solution for many field trips (too many if you ask me!) and city hotel never gives you the value for money that you need for a short stay. At major airports, there are hotels with good last minute deals for short stays. Also the airport itself would have a range of services you can rely upon if anything goes wrong (car wreck, all food outlets closed, theft/security concerns).
Book early, online and on weekdays. The best time and day to visit a theme park may vary. In general, weekdays are often the least crowded, while Saturdays and Sundays are often the busiest. You can most likely find discount codes or season specials when purchasing online. Plus, you’ll save a ton of time at the park entrance. If you’re travelling alone, look for the single riders line. Also, take a picture of your car in the parking lot and designate a meeting spot should your group get split up.
Keep an eye on the weather report and dress smart. During summer to beat the heat, wear light-colored clothing, sunglasses, gentle footwear and a hat, and bring along a washcloth in a plastic bag that you can soak in water throughout the day for instant relief. If rain is in the forecast, take with you ponchos (also can be bought at the parks general stores). Don’t forget to bring a small rechargeable battery for your phone and cameras
Plan your visit. Once you get inside the park the first thing you need is the park’s map (we even download and study the park’s map a week before a field trip). Don’t just follow the herd from one attraction to the next. Make a list and go for your favourite attractions starting at the back of the park. Don’t dawdle at the front of the park, where most visitors slow down and get on the nearest ride; instead, head to the back of the park, which will be nearly empty if you’ve arrived early in the day. If like us coasters and thrill rides are your passion, get on those rides first so you can check them off your must-do list early in the day. Also keep an eye on the map for special events such as shows, character parades, fireworks and laser displays. It’s also a good strategy to go on rides during parades and fireworks shows.
Buy a fast pass or not. This an endless big debate with no definitive conclusion so far. My theory: for major theme parks (like Disney, Universal, Six Flags and Europa Park, PortAventura, Gardaland in mainland Europe) on a busy day the fast pass is good value for money. In smaller theme parks, off peak season it’s not money well spent.
Never buy anything inside a theme park you can buy outside. Have a good meal before you go inside. Have a backpack with water, fruits and wealthy crunch bars. Leave the park (they stamp you on the forearm and let you leave but sometimes only to the carpark. Even so, it’s a support for a refill for water and fresh food).