Amusement parks: happy kids = happy parents

We had such a great time at Sea World on Sunday. On our way there, I told Chase how lucky we are to be able to drive 20 minutes and be there, while others have to fly across the country to visit the beautiful place we call home. Someone please remind me of that when I complain about the cost of my tiny house or the fog here in June!

Growing up, my family had to travel to get to any amusement park. Sure, we had monuments, memorials and Smithsonian museums 30 minutes away, but to a kid, those are for school field trips. To get to any real fun, we had to drive several hours to Williamsburg or Richmond, Virginia or fly to Florida for Disney World. It was never something we could do on a whim. My kids are lucky. We have Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Safari Park annual passes (which are a great deal, by the way). Legoland is also nearby and we’ll probably get passes there, too. So we can decide to go at 7:00 a.m. and be at any of the parks when they open.

I always have a plan before we head to an amusement park (surprise, surprise). We go right when they open and typically leave by 1:00 p.m. Getting there early is not hard for us, since our kids wake up with the sun. I like to beat the crowds, which can be brutal in the summer. Have you ever maneuvered a stroller the size of a Smart Car through hundreds of people and their equally large strollers? Not fun. It’s also cooler in the morning, and you get to have fun before it is way past nap time and your normally well-behaved children embarrass you in public by begging for cotton candy or animal-shaped balloons.

I have a rule of not buying food at the parks. In most cases, the options are similar to a school cafeteria, and cost four times as much for the same slice of soggy pizza or reheated fries. I bring drinks and small snacks (string cheese, crackers, fruit snacks) that are easy to eat while going from one attraction to another. I know my kids are still young, but they have never once asked to eat at the park. They would rather stop at In-N-Out on the way home, which is a treat for them (and us), tastes better and costs a lot less. I don’t typically let them eat in the car, but in this situation it works well. They eat on the way home, then go straight down for naps because they’re worn out and full of yummy burgers and fries. Then the grown-ups get to relax too…

The quality of toys is a bit better than the food, but the prices are outrageous. And for people like me who hate clutter, where will we put another stuffed animal? I’ve found that the easiest way to avoid the begging is to steer clear of the gift shops completely. This can be hard, since some attractions’ exits are strategically placed in gift shops (marketers are smart!), but my response when they ask for something is that I don’t have any money.

I realize my kids are little and they may outsmart me someday, but since they don’t know any differently maybe I’ll get lucky and they won’t question my penny-pinching, clutter-controlling ways. We’ll see.  And if they do, I guess I’ll need to come up with another plan…

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