100 Travel Tips for Visiting Theme Parks
Planning a trip to a theme park, such as Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando? Here are 100 top tips for visiting top theme park resorts, as voted on by Theme Park Insider readers. Have a tip you'd like to add? Email it to Theme Park Insider's editor.
When to go
Want to avoid the big crowds? Try going when the kids are in school on a weekday if you're able to. Families tend to come on weekend and when the kids are out of school.
Get to the park early in the day to get on your favorite rides before the park gets too crowded.
Stay close to park, go early and in the afternoon when it gets hot and crowded, leave so kids can swim and nap. Then go back in early evening when everyone is rested, not cranky and the park is cooler and less crowded.
Always try to buy your tickets online! They're usually cheaper and save you the headache you'll get waiting to purchase at the gate.
If you are going to visit a park more than once in a year, look into buying an annual pass. Most include discounts on food, merchandise, and parking and some can pay for themselves in as little as two visits.
If you're going to get an annual pass, add parking to at least one pass (if it isn't included already). It seems expensive at first, but at more than $10 a pop for parking at most parks, it pays off in the end.
Ask the human resources department at your employer if it sells discount tickets to theme parks. Many do, as well as discount tickets to local theaters, zoos and attractions. Check those prices against the parks' websites and pick the better deal.
If you decide that you want to come back to the park you're visiting, look into upgrading your ticket to a multi-day or annual pass before you leave. Almost all parks will allow you to apply the cost of that day's ticket to the new pass.
Making dining reservations in advance
For priority seating reservations at Walt Disney World restaurants, call 407-WDW-DINE or visit http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/restaurants/ up to 180 days before your visit to make your dining reservations.
You can make advance dining reservations for Universal Orlando restaurants and character meals, including the Theme Park Insider Award-winning Mythos, by calling 407-224-4012.
At Disneyland, call 714-781-DINE before you visit to make reservations for the Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, and Disney character breakfasts.
Most theme parks can accommodate people with celiac disease or other dietary restrictions. Call the park's restaurant reservation number in advance, or ask at Guest Services when you enter the park.
Stuff to bring
Bring your own water bottles. It will save you time and money!
If you plan on going on water rides, bring a zip lock sandwich bag for your cell phone.
Bring your own poncho if you don't like getting soaked on water rides. You can find them for less than $1 at stores like Wal-Mart. They often cost $8 in the park. Plus you don't feel obligated to have to carry them around when you are done with them.
Bring sunscreen and re-apply every couple of hours. Your skin will thank you! Re-apply even more often if you sweat a lot or get soaked. Make sure there's coverage of both UVA & UVB
Wear shoes that are comfortable and that have proper support. Most parks will have you doing a lot of walking. A lot of folks get really fatigued (or hurt) due to wearing cheap sandals or flip-flops. Good shoes make for a good day.
Give your kids a fixed amount of spending money before going to a park. (Or, better yet, have them earn it.) This way, you'll avoid whining and begging over souvenirs.
Don't use shoe lifts or other tricks to make your kids look taller than they are. Height and safety restrictions are there for a reason.
Never try to make a crying child go on a theme park ride.
Theme park walkways are designed for traffic flow, keep to the right and keep moving. If you want to gawk around, step to the very outside. If you drop something, step to the right and look around before coming to an abrupt halt. Courtesy people.
Use Backpack Etiquette - Be aware that your 'personal space' has now increased and your "load" is now in another child's face. Don't turn from side to side abruptly or Swing your backpack up on your shoulder - Place it there gently
If you feel dizzy on a roller coaster or have a feeling the ride will make you dizzy, pretend you are driving the ride. You want your body to feel like it is in control, and not just being thrown around.
Drink plenty of fluids on a hot day! The last thing you want is to become dehydrated. Try to stay in the shade as much as possible as well.
During your visit
Please treat the park employees as people. They do not personally see your $80-plus admission. They are working usually for very little. Plus, a little niceness goes along way.
Take a photo of where you park with your digital camera. Easy to remember.
Make sure you always choose a place to meet in case someone from your family gets lost.
Oldie but a goodie - Always work your way backwards through a park instead of stopping at the first attraction you get to. You will beat 60% of the crowds.
Best time to get on the rides is during a parade, fireworks or other big show. Lines are significantly shorter!
If you're visiting by yourself, always look for single rider lines, to save time in line. Even if you're in a small group - if you're willing to split up - you can save time on rides with the longest lines by using the single rider queue.
When approaching counter service eateries, review the menu and have your selections in mind before you get to the counter. The folks behind you and the cast member will be eternally grateful.
Split meals or order from the kids menu. You will be surprised how full you get, and you'll save a lot of money.
Use parks' free package check services to store what you buy in the park and keep your hands free while you ride.
If you lost your hat/keys/sunglasses during a ride, it's possible that you'll be able to find it at Lost & Found the next day. Even if you are already back home, call and if they have the item, they will likely courier back to you free of charge.
Walt Disney World
Disney raises ticket prices every August. If you are planning a trip for the back half of the year, buy before August to lock in the lower rate.
If staying at a Disney-owned resort, take advantage of the Extra Magic hours, where lines are short and crowds are small! It's the best time to visit some of the more popular attractions while feeling like you're the only ones in the park!
If you stay at a Disney hotel, you can get free transportation and baggage handling at the airport with Disney's Magical Express service.
If you're flying in and using Disney's Magical Express, be sure to pack anything you may need right away in your carry-on since it could take up to 2 hours for your bags to arrive in your room.
Buy the Disney Dining Plan! It is well worth it! Snacks, and water are even included! Dont feel like using them? You can carry them over to another day!
If you don't want to carry a water bottle, just ask for a cup of water at any food or drink vendor.
If your princess wants to wear a Princess dress, make sure to get them at your local Disney Store. They are usually cheaper than the ones at the parks.
If staying at Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian take advantage of a free show most people don't know happen. It's the Electrical Water Pageant, a cool show that takes place on the water. It's great to do on a night!
If you have valid, unused FastPasses that you won't use, give them to people in the back of the queue.
If you hate riding the WDW buses like I do minimize it - the monorail can take you from Magic Kingdom to Epcot, and at the back of Epcot you can take a boat to Hollywood Studios.
If traveling with kids, having them look for Hidden Mickeys is a great way to keep them occupied especially when waiting in lines or just resting.
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Do not go on Sunday or Monday. These are the days after which guests check into the WDW resorts, and want to go to Magic Kingdom. Save this park for the middle of the week
Can't find anywhere to sit in Columbia Harbor House? Try upstairs! Many do not know that this restaurant is actually two floors!
Want to be the first out of the stretch room and onto the ride at the Haunted Mansion? Stand under the portrait of the woman on the tightrope.
When going to the special events (Halloween Party, Christmas Party, etc.) enter the park at the earliest time (4pm usually). You get more time in the park for your money!
Don't be fooled; the total trip time from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the park gate is the same for the monorail and the ferryboat. If you see a ridiculously long line for the monorail, don't hesitate -- relax and enjoy the cool breeze of the Seven Seas lagoon!
Don't waste TWO Disney Dining Plan credits on the Cinderella Royal Table - it's overrated. Instead spend one a the Norway Princess Dinner in Epcot for ONE credit and meet all the princesses! Much better.
If you go to Epcot at park opening resist the urge to queue for Spaceship Earth first. The wait is much shorter in the afternoon.
As soon as the park opens, immediately head to Soarin' for a FastPass. Then, go to either Mission: Space or Test Track and ride one, then the other, before returning to Soarin'. This takes care of the 3 most popular rides in the park.
When riding Soarin' try to get in the front row as its the best ride by far. Second row you can see everyones feet dangling and the third row you can see the bottom of the screen too.
If you seek great attitude and personable cast members, visit the World Showcase upon opening at 11:00 AM. Hardly anyone goes in that early, and the cast members will give you the real Disney feel along with a taste from their country.
Best spot to watch Illuminations from? Anywhere along the lagoon edge where the wind is at your back. You don't want all that dust and smoke blowing towards you.
If you are looking for a late meal/snack and want a good Illuminations viewing area, grab a chair and a bite at the Cantina de San Angel at Mexico World Showcase around 30-45 minutes before showtime
Wait to get your Autographs at Epcot rather than Magic Kingdom where the lines are much shorter, and all the Characters are found together.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
When the park opens at 9am, go first to Toy Story Midway Mania, which has the longest lines in the park, and FastPasses are usually gone for the day by noon.
If you're on hand for park opening and want to ride Rock 'n Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, make sure to get a FastPass for one of these before getting in line for the other.
Don't get FastPasses for live shows! Just get there 30+ min. before it starts. FastPasses are pretty useless for these.
Show up to Fantasmic! at least one hour prior to showtime, or buy the meal/show package to reserve a seat. You can find some good counter service food at the All American Cafe by Tower of Terror or inside the Fantasmic! area, if you don't have a reserved seat.
If you find a rate within your budget stay at the Universal hotels. Your room key is your Universal Express pass, which allows you to skip lines throughout both parks - a huge value in itself.
Show your AAA card whenever you buy food or merchandise. Even though a sign may not be displayed, it's an automatic 10% discount.
You can get a dining pass to eat at Mythos without paying park admission. They'll run your credit card at the front gate, then cancel the ticket charge if you return to the ticket window with a Mythos receipt within 2.5 hours.
Although Disney's rides are very carry-on friendly, Universal's rides are not. Try not to bring things that you can't securely put in pockets or else you'll have to use a locker, which is time-consuming and annoying when crowded.
If you're having trouble getting the free lockers to read your thumb print to re-open your locker, wipe the sensor with your shirt, it often gets very dirty with other prints and can eventually have trouble reading your finger print.
Universal's Islands of Adventure
Avoid lines at the Wizarding World by staying at a Universal onsite hotel. You get one hour's early admission which allows you to avoid the crowds and go straight onto Forbidden Journey.
To minimize your wait time, visit Harry Potter in the last two hours of the parks opening, especially when the park is open late.
On the Harry Potter ride, there is a pull-out storage compartment built in each of the seats. If you only bring a small item or two, this is better to use than renting a locker.
When entering Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, stay to the left if you don't need to put anything in a locker. It'll shave about several minutes off of your wait time, depending on the crowd.
When you want to buy Butterbeer, always go to Hog's Head. Often, the lines for Butterbeer there is so much shorter than the concession stands outside, and its a wonderful place to relax in a great view outside.
Universal Studios Florida
On Men in Black, aim for the light at the top of the car on the other side of the track when you are turned face-to-face with it.
When on Men in Black aim for the red light on your OWN vehicle. you will hit it every time and you get MAJOR points. Also, don't keep squeezing the trigger; just hold it down.
On the Men In Black ride hold IN the red button at the end of the ride while shooting the giant aliens eyes. You'll earn another 100,000 points!
To be a participant in the Disaster! show, place yourself a few people back from the host and raise your hand enthusiastically when they ask for volunteers. Works every time.
If you are buying your tickets online with the option to print it at home, allow at least a day for it to arrive in your email. Don't do this if your planning to go at the same day you are buying the tickets online.
Plan a two-day visit for this park, there is so much to see in one day.
If you have toddlers who are toilet training, take them to the baby care center where they can use smaller, toddler-sized porcelain toilets to go "potty." My kids loved these as much as anything else in the park at that age.
As a former Disneyland Park employee, here is my #1 tip: if you hate lines, go on cold/rainy days Mon-Thurs from Jan to early April. It's the BEST.
Another great time to visit Disneyland is the week after Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas. It's themed for the holidays and has the lowest attendance!
Don't try to see a new Disneyland attraction or show in its first two weeks. Wait, and the crowds will be much lighter, after many of the park's annual passholders have visited.
At Main Street Disneyland Railroad Station, ask to ride the Lilly Belle. It's Walt's wife's private car -- complete with conductor to offer a private tour!
If it is hot, or crowded, go sit in the Tiki Room... A great place to cool down and rest the feet.
If you want a Dole Whip, go inside the Tiki Room waiting area and order from that side. There's almost never a wait.
On Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, you can e-mail your on-ride photo for free when you exit.
If you sit early for a good spot to watch Fantasmic!, have one person in your party go over to the Stage Door Cafe and get some mozzarella sticks & fries to snack on while you wait.
Riding the steam train to the Main Street station can be a great way to get out of the park when Main Street and the hub in front of the castle are packed during parades and fireworks.
Disney's California Adventure
Once you enter the park, go to the Radiator Springs Racers attraction first!
Universal Studios Hollywood
Pre-school kids won't find much to do here (unlike at the Florida version). Wait until your children at at least 7 or 8 years old before visiting.
Take the Metro Red line (subway) to Universal City Station, then cross the street and take the free shuttle up the hill to the entrance. It'll save CO2 emissions and parking fees, queues, and road hassles.
Head down to the lower level as soon as it opens, to ride Transformers, Jurassic Park and The Mummy.
You can start at the entrance to Liberty Arcade and stay undercover right the way into Adventureland - handy for bad weather days.
Arriving at park open is a must for Tokyo Disneyland, as FastPasses will be gone for the day early on most days.
Never attempt to visit Disneyland in Tokyo during the weekend. Sunday is very crowded.
Ask at each ride if they have an English translation. Some shows give you a hand-held sub-titling device, and others will give you a flyer with an overview of the theme/story. I especially like the one from Tower of Terror.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
If you want to go on the sky ride, go to France or Germany. There is never a line at either one. But, there is ALWAYS a line at the England one. A LONG LINE!
For the most thrilling ride on Griffon, ride in the front row on one of the outer three seats on both sides. There's no track below you!
To admire the natural beauty of the park, the train and boats are best.
The ice cream shop in France has real scoop ice cream, in multiple flavors, for use in the sundaes. It's much better than the soft serve found in the other ice cream shops.
Plan your theme park vacation with our readers' travel guides:
Top U.S. Theme Parks
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Other Top International Parks
Readers' Top Themed Rides
Top Roller Coasters
Top Theme Park Shows
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