'Tis the season ......

Edited: December 7, 2018, 12:54 PM

………. for planning next year’s theme park vacation …. ??

It’s always interesting to read trip reports, especially when the topic is a park I’ve never been to, but planning to visit in the next year or two. At CP in May I met a couple from Europe who were visiting 15 parks in 2-1/2 weeks, and it got me thinking ….. just how much planning does that entail, and how successful are we all at getting it right the first time ?

Being in that ‘almost retired’ bracket, the days of zipping around a park in a day, and then later that night travelling to the next one, are long gone from my itinerary. My ultimate goal is always to visit the park on weekdays, but to also try and get there during off-peak times. Hence May/June is always going to be my go-to times. School/University schedules are checked, and also if the park has any special events going on at the time. All of that info is used to guesstimate the amount of people that I might encounter during my visit .. with the final decision then being made on the actual timing of the trip. Next year I’m going to Kings Dominion, BGW, Carowinds and SFoGA ….. my first ever total road trip, so a lot of planning has already gone into this. For a lot of you this would translate into maybe a week …. even shorter ? For me it’s spanning 3 weeks !!!

3 days minimum at a park gives me the chance to get on a ride, if like TTD and others, it has a nasty habit of not working for more hours of the day than actually being in operation. It also affords me the leisurely stroll round a park that I appreciate so much these days. Stopping off for a coffee here, and an ice cream there, is my idea of a great day at a theme park. But then, I have to wait a while before my tummy will allow me to get back on a ride again … LOL !! Be warned you young enthusiasts out there ….. it will eventually catch up with you … :) Spinning rides are long gone from my list of “must-dos” More like “must-not-do” these days. 2-3 days also gives me the chance to repeat-ride coasters that become favorite(s) during my stay. If I don’t like a ride, or my back warns me that maybe I shouldn’t be on this one, then they are rode just the once. Another ride is added to my list, and I move on. A longer stay helps me not worry too much about a bad weather day, but it also gives me the opportunity to get some great photos. I’ll spend a lot of time looking for photo ops, and waiting until a certain time of day to ensure the sun is in the right place. At KI this year, I had one perfect chance to get some great aerial shots from the Eiffel tower. Something I could have missed if my stay had been just the 1 day.

Planning also takes into account where I’m going to stay and, where possible, I will always stay in an on-resort hotel. Although the Shark hotel at Thorpe Park was definitely a once only visit !! Breakers is my favorite, especially now it’s been refurbished. Yes it’s relatively expensive, but to be able to walk to the park, and then take a stroll back for a break before returning for the last few hours, is the perfect scenario. Most parks don’t have resort hotels, so a quick look-see on TripAdvisor will usually point me in the right direction. The older hotels are the worst, but nearly everywhere I’ve stayed has been tolerable for a 3 or 4 day stay. Holiday Inns, and Courtyard Marriots are my 2 favorites, but closeness to the park is another big factor. Repeat visits to a park is also taken into account when staying at a hotel. Carowinds is a good example ….. I stayed on the opposite side of the road to the park in May, but I noticed there was a Comfort Inn on the park (and Cabela’s .. :) ) side so next year that’s where I’m going to stay. It’s walking distance as well, so even better.

Finally, I will always look into what is going on in the area I’m staying. My 3 week road trip next year takes in a day or 2 visiting colonial Williamsburg, maybe even a day fishing in Chesapeake Bay for some Stripers ?? Whilst at SFoGA I want to visit the aquarium to see the whale shark in particular, so all good ‘stuff’ to do while I’m away. Knowing all of this before I depart helps me plan accordingly, just in case I’m lucky enough to visit one of the parks and it’s deserted, and I can easily get done in a day and a half, what I’d planned 3 days for.

2020 will see me return to CP for the 150th anniversary, but I’m also planning to visit KI (hopefully new Giga ??) and Canada’s Wonderland (never been) so plenty to look forward to over the next couple of years. After that …. who knows ? When I retire I know I won’t be able to afford these long multi park trips, but hey, I do live in Orlando after all, so a season pass to WDW and UO along with my SWO pass should see me happy ….. from my retirement date to infinity and beyond !! Although I will always try to make my bi-annual pilgrimage to CP when they open a new ride.

So, how do you all plan your trips … ? Is it a long drawn out process like mine, or is it an on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision and off you go ?

Replies (7)

Edited: December 9, 2018, 7:58 PM

I've done many similar kind of trips and I will say planning a trip like this for a America is a lot simpler than for anywhere else. For the most part (except right downtown in major cities) you can find cheap hotels, cheap rental car, cheap ubiquitous food, gas is cheaper, tolls are cheaper, you can park for free at most hotels (once again except for ones right in the middle of downtown of major cities), its much easier to drive, there is only one language, etc.

Things get a lot more complicated when visiting Europe or Asia. Public transport is great but it requires a lot of pre-planning and you need to know exactly where to be at exactly what time every where you go, especially in Europe because not all trains run every day of the week and the longer distance trains seats can sell out. There are also many places where its pretty much impossible to get to without renting a car and driving in Europe can be an adventure, and automatic transmission cars are super expensive to rent in Europe (plus the cost of gas and tolls are way more expensive as well). It mustve really sucked to try and plan these kind of trips before the internet. Europe does have really cheap flights all over the continent as well but in order to take advantage of it you basically need to not have any bags or just one small one and pay the fee.

One thing i've noticed as well is that the bigger countries such as America and China are way more ethnocentric and only speak one language, if you are traveling through the USA and don't speak English you are basically screwed (Miami, Orlando, New York, or LA maybe you can get by with Spanish but anywhere else nobody is going to be able to speak with you). I've had some really awkward encounters in Asia, I do speak a little Mandarin but a lot of times if you have an American accent people just laugh at you, and in Japan most people don't speak English but a lot of the signage is in English so you can get around pretty easily. If you go to Europe and only speak English you're pretty much fine (though you should learn a little of the local languages) as people learn multiple languages in those countries.

I will say even though China is cheap (except HK which is super expensive) it is not a place i'd want to spend a long time in. Outside of Shanghai and HK which are relatively clean and English friendly, the air pollution is unbearable. In cities like Beijing and Chongqing there have been days I was wearing a respirator mask and still the air pollution was overwhelming...I feel so bad for all those people that are going to get lung cancer just because they live there.

Spur of the moment "decision and off you go" trips are fine if you're experienced and know about the place you're going, but if you don't your asking to get screwed. Your going to end up paying way more for food, rental car, transport, hotels, entertainment, wasting time to figure out what to do, etc.

December 12, 2018, 1:56 PM

We tend to begin serious planning about 6-8 months in advance depending upon where we're going. Disney trips typically require more advanced planning, but while we may pencil in a trip a year or longer in advance, we don't start locking things in until 8-12 months early. For us, everything hinges around how we're getting to the location, so if we're driving, we may start serious planning (hotels, park tickets, itinerary, etc...) a little further in advance than flying. Being near a Southwest hub (BWI) and other major Southwest airports (IAD and DCA), we don't want to book airfare until we can compare competetors against Southwest. Southwest doesn't allow you to book more than 8-9 months in advance, so we would be doing our finances a disservice by booking airfare early. For example, we're tentatively planning a trip to Southern California next July/August, and while we can book our departing flight on Southwest, we can't book the return for a planned 10-14 day trip, so until we can start booking return flights, it doesn't make sense to make any other plans. Having been to Southern California before, we pretty much know where we want to stay, and what we'd like to do, so the planning part is just about finding the best prices and deals available, which typically don't change until you get within 6-8 months of a trip. However, we still take a lot of time to plan out and compare our options (sometimes to our detriment in that occasionally we pass on sales and deals because we're too slow and indecisive to pull the trigger). I do dream about trips, and pencil potential future trips years in advance, but they're just fantasy for us until we physically book something.

We've also come to the realization that we have to start planning trips around our son's school schedule. While we have no problem taking him out of school for a week for a vacation in the fall or spring, his extracurricular activities are starting it more difficult. Vacationing during the summer helps to avoid some of those conflicts, especially if we want to go on a longer trip.

Even if we're planning a trip centered around theme parks, we still make sure there's plenty of non-theme park items on our itinerary (with the exception of a trip to Orlando because there really isn't much else to do there). We like to incorporate MLB stadiums, other sporting events, museums, local history, and geologic sites into our trips. Having visited 25 of the 30 current MLB stadiums, I'm to the point where I'd really like to get to those last five (2 of which are in Southern California - Dodgers Stadium and Petco Park), so that's a big consideration for our upcoming trip and coordinating our dates to try to see one of our local teams playing on the west coast (doesn't work for the Nationals, but the O's are playing the Angels and Padres at the end of July). Don't get me wrong, theme parks still play a big role, and the whole impetus for traveling to Southern California next summer would be to see Galaxy's Edge, especially since Florida's version won't be open in time during our traditional October timeframe to travel to Orlando. The additions at the other parks also play into the decision, and the fact we haven't been to SoCal since 2013.

We still like doing spur of the moment vacations, in fact we took a rather impromptu trip to Boston in March with about 2 weeks worth of planning. However, most of those trips are going to be within driving range and typically just long weekends. It was a lot easier to travel on a whim when it was just me and my wife, but we can still occasionally make it work - We're probably going to take a quick trip up to SFGAdv at some point this month, but it's going to be totally based on the weather, so will have to be on a whim. Really, though, anything that requires multiple nights of hotel and/or a plane trip we will plan at least a couple of months in advance.

December 13, 2018, 12:26 AM

I usually start planning trips about a year out, though it can vary depending on the scale of the trip. I usually aim to have a rough itinerary about 6 months out and a detailed itinerary 90 days before the trip, then I'll watch prices closely and book whenever a good deal comes up. 2019 is going to be a bit of an anomaly in that regard as one of the trips I'm planning is a Texas trip in March, but not all of the parks have their 2019 operating calendars out yet. In that case, it might be January before I lock anything in, but typically I like to finalize details at least three months before.

When determining how much time to allow on a trip, I'll usually split each day into a morning, afternoon, and evening. Major parks require a full day, smaller parks are morning/afternoon or afternoon/evening, and general sightseeing activities (or really tiny parks) usually only occupy one time slot. When it comes to travel, 3 hours of driving occupies a slot to account for unexpected stops and delays.

The only trips that don't follow the above are quick 2-3 day weekend trips where I'm only going to a single destination. For those, I'll sometimes go with minimal advance planning if the opportunity presents itself. For anything longer than three nights or involving multiple locations, however, long term planning is essential to ensure everything goes smoothly.

December 14, 2018, 7:54 AM

Looks like we are all in the same frame of mind when planning week+ long trips ..... we give ourselves plenty of time to make sure all the pieces fit together before we commit to the vacation.

With the theme parks issuing their schedules Jan/Feb time, I'll be ready to finalise the dates and book the hotels for my 2019 epic adventure.

As an aside .... and one reason I like to have 2-3 days in a park. I went to BGT yesterday, and for long periods of the day one or more of the major rides were not working ! Sheikra and Montu were on the only 2 that lasted all day without problems. Even Kumba had a few hours downtime, which I rarely see happen. I watch the sky for Falcons Fury to be working, and make my way over there as soon as I see it on the move.

Tigris is growing upwards, so good news there. There were a couple of pieces of track in place as well, so I'm hoping I'll be able to try it out before the mad summer rush.

There were no signs of activity at Gwazi. One solitary crane was parked by the structure, and that was it. I looked at the ride and in particular the station, and it's all in need of some major refurbishment, so it will be interesting to see what they do when work starts.

December 15, 2018, 5:00 PM

As much we enjoy theme parks, we try not to plan vacations or road trips solely focused on them. But we try to include them for at least 2 or 3 days of the vacation. Unless it's Orlando, then theme parks are the focus.

Our theme park focused trips tend to be just 4 or 5 days. Excited about an upcoming trip to BGT and Sea World Orlando Jan 3-7. 9 year old grandson is now tall enough to ride all the 54" coasters at both parks. I also want to see Shamu show one last time before it is discontinued in 2019.

Makorider... Look forward to visiting your home park(s) again. We have not been there since Mako opened. Glad to hear your 2019 road trip includes SFOG, our home park.

Edited: December 15, 2018, 8:39 PM

Ed .... both parks will be starting to quieten down after the holiday crush, but expect fair sized crowds until the Monday. They’re keeping One Ocean thru 2019, but it has changed considerably over the past 12 months. Much more educational now.

I hope you get at least 1 warmish day to try Infinity Falls ... it’s well worth going on, but not sure if it’s worth it if the temps are in the 50’s and 60’s !?!

Busch Gardens extended Christmas town until Jan 6th, and from what I saw of the lights and decorations (not all in midweek) on Thursday, they would be well worth a visit.

December 20, 2018, 11:50 AM

Thanks Mako. Appreciate the feedback about Busch and SW. We will probably try Infinity Falls at end of our day at SW, in spite of weather. So we can at least put on dry, warm clothes when we get to the car. Since we have 2 days planned at SW (Sun-Mon) we will probably have better luck with shorter ride lines on the Monday (Jan 7). May get a quick que at Busch for the 1 day we are there (Thur or Fri, Jan 3 or 4). But we are planning a long day there (open to close), so quick que may not be necessary.

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