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Robert Niles

Top 10 Theme Park Safety Tips

Almost all theme park injuries can be prevented. With help from many Theme Park Insider readers, here are our top 10 tips to help you and your family stay safe on your next vacation to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Six Flags or another theme or amusement park.

1. Stay cool, and don't get burned

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 is your best friend in helping prevent heat-related illnesses in theme parks. Chugging water in the park won't help as much as getting well hydrated two to three days before your trip. Unless you work outside, you're probably not used to the amount of water you'll need to make up for all that you'll sweat being outside all day at a theme park, especially during the popular summer months.

Water's your best choice for hydration. Sugary drinks pack on the calories (and the pounds). Alcohol dehydrates you, leaving you at risk for sunstroke and heat exhaustion. (It can also impair your judgment.) If you want to drink those drinks, that's up to you, but they're no good substitute for plenty of water.

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 many sunscreens 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.

2. Be aware of what is around you

Simple collisions are another source of many theme park injuries. Be aware of where you are, and who is around you. Don't stumble into someone else, or worse, trip over a child in a stroller. And if you're the one pushing a stroller, be courteous - watch where you are walking so that you don't crash into others' legs and feet.

You've probably heard park employees telling people not to run. But don't just stop wherever you are, either. First, look around to see that you won't block folks walking behind you. If you need to, step to the side, and out of others' way.

3. Stay away from where you don't belong

Never enter a restricted area in a theme park. Don't climb or hop fences or walk through employee-only gates. If you drop a hat or other item that falls into a restricted area, such as under a roller coaster, ask a park employee for help.

4. Know your limits

Read an attraction's 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. Some parks make special seats available on select rides for larger visitors. Ask.

People who are overweight often have high blood pressure, which could put them at higher risk on some high-speed, twisty rides. If you have high blood pressure, or think you might, skip the big roller coasters and simulator rides until you've checked with a doctor.

If you can't find the boarding restrictions at a particular ride, or have any questions about them, find a park employee and 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.

5. Know your health

Of course, you need to know if you have a health condition that should keep you off certain rides. If you haven't had a check-up within the past 12 months, make that a top priority before your next theme park visit. The same holds for your kids, too. Too many incidents that occur in theme parks are the result of undiagnosed medical conditions. Know your health condition, and that of your children, before you visit.

6. Don't cheat

Don't "cheat" or 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.

Don't use lifts or other tricks to make your kids look taller than they are, either. Height and safety restrictions are there for a reason.

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. It's not worth getting thrown out of the park just to save a couple minutes in line. Don't take it upon yourself to enforce the rules, though. If you see line-jumping, please report it to the nearest employee at the ride or, if possible, a security officer.

7. Stay in to stay safe

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. And don't crowd others who might be exiting when you are getting on.

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. 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.

8. Ride 'er easy, cowboy

Some rides, especially roller coasters and simulator rides, 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.

Many riders have reported it helps them to keep their eyes open and watch the track ahead on a roller coaster. This helps your body to adjust to the forces of the ride. If you pretend you're "driving" the coaster, that extra sense of control can help you keep your balance and avoid nausea.

Again, if you are prone to headaches, have any neck or back problems, or have been diagnosed with aneurysm, do not get on any roller coaster or simulator ride.

9. Help the kids!

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. And tired kids make parents even more tired. When you are tired, you are more likely to get hurt, either physically and emotionally. Consider a mid-day break, perhaps a swim back at the hotel, to avoid mid-day heat and crowds.

10. Alert staff about problems

If you see something wrong -- a broken restraint, a person jumping the line, or anything else that could jeopardize the safety of a park guest -- alert a park employee immediately. They are there to help keep you safe. So help them when you can, too.