How to Do Theme Parks With Toddlers

Photo courtesy of the author.

Ah, the theme park: a wonderland of people dressed as giant novelty animals; exhilarating (or stomach-churning, depending on your outlook) white-knuckle rides; sweet, sweet candy floss; and a general escape from the shackles of work, chores, and responsibility.

It’s good for the kids, too.

If you’re looking to blow your toddler’s beautiful, growing mind — in a good way, of course — a trip to your local sweet treat and rollercoaster ride emporium makes for a great day out.

That said, going to a theme park isn’t a cheap venture — but there are ways to do it for less, and I’m going to tell you how.

Travel light

A colossal number of ambitious parents take everything but the kitchen sink to a theme park, adopting a “just in case” mentality. This approach, I’ve found, is a fast-track to an expensive daily locker charge and time wasted sifting through your various belongings. I’ve done this before — and, while chasing Sid as he was trying to chase an Alton Towers mascot with the gusto of a cheetah hunting a spritely gazelle, I dropped all of my pocket change over the floor, losing most of it. There went my arcade fund.

Here are the essentials you should take to a theme park with your toddler, as learned from experience:

  • A waterproof jacket or poncho if it threatens to rain
  • Sunscreen and a hat if it threatens to be sunny
  • A large bottle of water
  • A small bag of lunch and snacks
  • A site map, which you can usually collect for free upon theme park entry (or a mobile app if you’re being super-savvy)
  • The usual essentials your individual toddler needs (from diapers to a favorite toy)
  • A compact stroller

If possible, you should condense all of these things into a backpack (except the stroller, perhaps) for maximum convenience and toddler-chasing capabilities.

Collect coupons

Many theme parks let children under three years old enter for free — but entry for two adults can be quite wallet damaging. So we look for ways to cut the cost.

To gain half-price entry to Alton Towers, my wife and I watched for coupons on cereal boxes, clipped them, and presented them on entry. We got in for a total of £50 ($65), rather than the full price of £100 ($130). (Well, £52 if you count the cereal.)

If you can’t find coupons for your theme park of choice, most parks release seasonal offers or voucher codes online. Subscribe to the right mailing lists and you’re sure to connect with an excellent deal.

Bring snacks and food

Theme parks are notorious for massive markups, especially on food. Once you’ve gone through the gates, you’re at their monetary mercy.

So, if you’re going with your toddler, not only should you ensure you’re equipped with a host of snacks and plenty of water, but you should always pack a nice lunch and enjoy it at one of the theme park’s communal dining or leisure areas.

Sidney is a hungry young man, and to satisfy his appetite, we feed him little and often. A small piece of fruit, little chunk of cheese, half a cracker here or there — you get the picture. If we took him to Alton Towers without bringing an ample supply of snacks, we’d probably have to remortgage our house.

Plus, sitting down and eating something you’ve prepared together is quite satisfying, even if you have to sit under cover and the sandwiches get a little soggy because it’s raining.

By my ham-fisted calculations, the picnic cost us around £12 ($15), but if we’d decided to buy our food from the park, it would have cost us £32 ($41) — and that cost doesn’t include snacks.

Time it right

Value for money isn’t always about saving cash in a literal sense; it’s also about maximizing your time and getting the most from your experience. This means you need to think about when you plan to attend the theme park, as well as the time of day you take your toddler.

If you go on a weekday at the very start or end of the season, you will queue less, find it easier to get around the park, and be able to enjoy your day even more. We went at the very start of the season and by braving the rain (ponchos at the ready), Sid was able to go on the In The Night Garden (a very popular and somewhat psychedelic infant TV show in the UK) ride thrice, allowing him to believe that he’d crossed the fourth wall and entered the television. It was a delight to watch.

Also, we got to the park half-an-hour after it opened and ate our lunch early, meaning that a satisfied Sid had a solid nap in his stroller — and my wife and I could take turns going on the iconic coasters Nemesis and Air while our little one was having a snooze. If you’re paying to go to a theme park, you’d may as well go on at least one adult ride, after all.

Whichever way you look at it, theme parks are going to cost you money — but by taking measures to reduce the costs and accepting the fact that it’s not going to be the most budget of days out, you will give yourself the very best chance of making those all-important early memories with your toddler. You’ll also, I hope, have a good time.

Dan Hughes is a writer with a penchant for oddball fiction, the bass guitar, beer, Bukowski and traveling to strange places. You can find out more about him by getting lost in his Catchy Space.

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