How To – U.S.A. Parks

In this series of articles the Coaster Kings teams look to share some advice that will help our readers plan their travel. This week Ian outlines the steps to prepare for a trip to a theme park in the United States. This article is specifically geared towards American theme parks in general. Look for articles on the Disney and Universal resorts in the future!

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Hydra at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Before You Buy a Ticket

Check the parks hours

Park hours vary significantly at both regional and national parks.  The general rule of thumb for regional parks is they are open later Friday through Saturday and close earlier Sunday through Thursday.  Make sure to check if the park will be open on the days you will be visiting and how late.  Look at how many attractions you would like to experience at the park and start budgeting your time.  If you think you won’t have enough time consider expanding your visit to multiple days.  Many parks offer great multi-day or season pass deals that could be worth while even if you only plan on staying an extra day.

Consider a line pass upgrade

Fast Pass, Flash Pass, Fast Lane… Whatever its called, if you have a limited time to experience a park, these are a great option!  While the execution varies all these services are designed to help cut down on time in line allowing you to enjoy other parts of the park. With the notable exception of Disney’s regular Fast Pass these services usually come with an additional cost. The cost of these premium line services can vary greatly from park to park or day to day. If you only have one day to visit a park with lots of popular attractions a line upgrade could be cheaper than an additional day in the park and a hotel stay

Check the weather

So this may sound obvious but it’s important to remember. Weather varies greatly by region. While you won’t be able to know the exact weather getting a general idea of the seasonal and temperature patterns where the park is located is important.  If you enjoy water rides but visit a Midwestern park in April of October you may find it to be too cold to enjoy them.

Consider the cost of travel

Theme park tickets are expensive but there’s nothing worse than not being prepared to spend a certain amount of money.  Look at the costs beyond the ticket price.  The most obvious are transportation, lodging, and food but consider giving yourself a budget for snacks, souvenirs and nearby attractions.  The more you budget the less stressful your trip can be.  

If you are coming from out of North America you will likely have to rent a car. With a few exceptions almost all US parks almost exclusively designed for visit by car. This is a major cost and may require additional certifications to an existing. Consider budgeting for a hotel with shuttle service if you do not want to rent a car.

Steamin’ Demon at Great Escape in Queensbury, New York rises over the park’s log flume and parking lot

The Week Before

Ticket method

Most of the times this will be asked when you purchase tickets online but its well worth considering.  The typical options are printed or mobile tickets but there are variations from park to park.  When weighing your options consider your phone’s battery life, if you plan on leaving the park throughout your visit, and if you have a place to store your tickets when you’re in the park.  

To bag or not to bag

One of the biggest decisions you need to make is whether or not you would like to carry a bag with you during your visit. All parks have different loose article policies but chances are you’ll want to store your bag in a locker at some time during your visit.  It’s worth seeing if lockers are available and what their cost is.  Planning your trip around locker locations can save you time and money  

Put together an itinerary

Let me start by emphasizing it’s important to be flexible and enjoy your visit.  However, taking the time to outline your day will help you maximize time.  Consider the order you’d like to experience the parks major attractions and their locations in the park. Decide when and where you’d like to get meals. If you want to experience a popular dining location make a plan on securing a table as well as a secondary option ready to go.

Plan your clothes

A day at a park can be quite a physical endeavor so make sure to dress appropriately.  Check the weather and also consider if you plan on riding any water rides.  It’s always a good idea to wear layers of clothes that you can adjust throughout the day.  If you plan on wearing a hat or sunglasses make sure you think of how you will secure or store them on rides.  The most important item of clothing is shoes.  A day at a theme park is not a time to try something new.  Wear a pair of sturdy shoes or sandals that you have already broken in.  

Cannibal at Lagoon in Farmington, Utah

The Day Of

Make sure you bring the following in your bag or in your car

  • Water/water bottle
  • Pain medication
  • Sunscreen
  • A basic first aid kit
  • Lip Balm
  • Bug spray – dependent on region and season

Ensure you know how parking works 

If you have the opportunity to prepay for parking you can save time and sometimes money. Make sure you are aware of the cost and the location of the parking.  Entering the correct parking location in a GPS can be helpful if this is your first time visiting a park.  

Have fun 

Coaster enthusiasts often lose sight that the main point of theme parks is to have fun.  There’s always the possibility that attractions will be closed or the park will be more crowded than expected.  Going in with a positive attitude and an understanding that your plans may change is important.  

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