Heat causes more pain and injury at theme parks than all the world's roller coasters combined. In my experience as a theme park employee and visitor, I've seen more visitors suffer from sunburn, rashes, heat exhaustion and heatstroke than all other injuries put together.
Water's your best friend in helping prevent heat-related illnesses in theme parks. As TPI reader Jason Herrera points out, chugging water in the park won't help as much as getting well hydrated two to three days before your trip. “Many people make the mistake of saying, 'I'll drink plenty of water while I'm at the park.'”
Choose water over juice and soft drinks whenever you get thirsty, and don't drink alcohol until you are done with rides for the day. (Alcohol dehydrates you, leaving you at risk for sunstroke and heat exhaustion. It also impairs your judgment, putting you at greater risk for injury on rides.)
Put on a waterproof sunscreen before you enter the park, and remember to reapply it throughout the day. A soaking sweat, or a couple water rides, can wash that sunscreen off you. A hat or sun visor can help, too.
Wear comfortable shoes and clean, dry socks. The heat reflecting off asphalt pavement can give you a nasty rash if you are wearing sandals or no socks. Plus, you'll be on your feet for much of the day, and will need the extra support from a good pair of shoes.
Once you are at the park, don't turn off your brain. Be aware of where you are, and who is around you. Don't stumble into someone else, or worse, trip over some kid's stroller. And if you're the one pushing a stroller, don't crash it into others' legs and feet.
Don't run. And don't stop, either, unless you've looked around to see that you won't block folks walking behind you. If you need to stop, move over to the side, and out of others' way.
Know what you're going on, and read the boarding restrictions before you get in line. If you are pregnant, have pain or injuries in your back or neck, or have a heart condition, you will not be able to go on some rides. If you are shorter than five feet, or taller than six, you'll also encounter rides where you will either not be permitted, or won't be comfortable. If you can't find the boarding restrictions at a particular ride, or have any questions about them, find a park employee and ask. Some parks make special seats available on select rides for larger visitors. Ask.
Most parks issue special guidebooks for persons with disabilities, which include restrictions that also affect many kids as well as larger riders. You can always stop by a park's guest relations office, usually located near the front gate, if you still have questions about which rides will be appropriate and comfortable for you and your group.
Don't "cheat" and ignore these rules to get on ride where you don't belong. You might think a ride looks tame enough for you. But sometimes there are potential problems on a ride that most visitors can't see -- a hidden drop or turn, a sudden stop, or a portable ladder that riders will have to descend if the ride shuts down. Don't think that you know more about a ride than the park does. If they tell you not to ride, don't.
And don't even think about cutting in line. Nothing provokes more fights and nasty exchanges in theme parks than impatient folk who won't wait their turn. Paramount's Carowinds employee Matthew Woodall advises, “it's not worth getting thrown out of the park just to save a couple minutes in line.” He also reminds visitors not to take matters into their own hands. “If you happen to witness line-jumping (I have in different parks on many occasions) please report it to the nearest employee at the ride. There is no point in reporting it to the guy sweeping because he likely has no idea what to do. Report it to the employees at the ride, or if possible, a security officer.”
On any theme park ride, keep your rear on the seat, your hands on the grab bar and your feet and knees inside the car.
If there is no grab bar, keep your hands on your lap. If you are riding a "floorless" coaster, relax your legs and let them dangle underneath you. Don't kick them out to the side or front.
If you are on a ride with a lap bar, seat belt or safety harness, make sure that it is in place, snug and locked. If the ride starts to move and your restraint is not in place, immediately yell for help.
Do not get on or off a ride until you've been given the okay by an attendant to do so.
Unfortunately, some theme parks have cut corners on safety, and no longer staff all load and unload positions. If that is the case, wait until a vehicle comes to a still, complete stop before you try to get on or off. Don't crowd others who might be exiting when you are getting on. And make sure that your vehicle has stopped next to the unload platform before you get off. Often, vehicles stop short of the unload platform to wait for groups up ahead to exit.
Some rides, especially roller coasters and simulator rides like Disney's Star Tours, can whip your head around, leaving you at risk for headaches as well as more serious head injuries. On those types of rides, sit in the middle of the chair and don't slouch or lean to one side. Relax, but do not go limp. You want to keep your balance in the seat.
When the seat pitches you to the left, relax your torso and bend to the right to keep your head upright and centered. And vice versa. Think of riding a horse, or surfing. You want to ride the seat--not have it throw you around.
Again, if you are prone to headaches, have any neck or back problems, or have been diagnosed with aneurysm, do not get on a roller coaster or simulator ride.
Remember the old saw about not going swimming for an hour after eating? Well, you needn't be that extreme, but it should be obvious that you shouldn't get on a coaster or other turbulent ride if you have an upset, or overly stuffed, stomach. So wait a few minutes after eating to make sure everything's sitting right. And throw away that gum before getting on board a theme park ride, too. On a high-speed ride that twists, flips and dips, you don't want anything in your mouth that could block a vital airway.
If you are visiting with a child, take a moment to explain the ride to them, and tell them how they should behave. They are depending upon you to keep them safe. Set a good example for them by following the rules above, and make sure that they know you expect them to follow those rules, too.
Tell them to stay seated, to hold the grab bar or put their hands in the laps, and not to stick their knees and feet outside a ride vehicle. Make them look to you for the okay to get on or off a ride, too.
And never put a crying child on a ride. If your child starts to cry, let others pass you in line until your child is calmed. Or, gently exit the queue and find something more relaxing to do. Young kids can't keep an adult's pace in a theme park. Let them take plenty of breaks.
“Kids get tired,” said TPI reader Matt Johnson, a father of four. “Tired kids make parents even more tired. And tired kids and parents get hurt -- physically and emotionally.” He advises that parents plan a mid-day break, perhaps a swim back at the hotel, to avoid mid-day heat and crowds. “You will see cranky families having a miserable time while you are refreshed and having a great evening.”