Park ThrillsDo's and Don'ts
it the summer of the amusement parks. Coast-to-coast, this is
a huge year in the thrills and entertainment industry, with numerous
record-breaking roller coasters, cutting edge virtual reality
rides, and whole new theme parks coming on line.
Taking your kids to an amusement park should be a fun, safe, rewarding
experience, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.
"A lot of kids leave the parks unhappy, because their parents
harass them," said Tim O'Brien, an editor at Amusement Business
Magazine, and author of The Amusement Park Guide: Coast to Coast
Thrills (Globe Pequot Press, 1999). O'Brien should know. He co-wrote
a guide to Six Flags parks with his then 13-year old daughter,
who has ridden over 120 roller coasters. He offered his tips and
advice from years of visiting amusement parks, big and small,
with and without children.
Bear in mind that amusement parks do not care how old your children
are. They consider "kids" those 48 inches and under,
both for allowing them on rides and on discounted admission prices.
Some of the newer high-powered coasters that are faster, steeper,
and have more inversions require riders to be 54 inches. But just
because your children can ride, doesn't mean they should. Walk
up to the ride and watch it, with your child, observing the reaction
of the people getting off. "Make sure he wants to ride it
before you get on a long line," warned O'Brien, who has witnessed
many parents making this mistake.
are his picks for the best parks for children of different ages,
along with our own.
6 and Under:
Six Flags: This chain has elaborate children's areas, all
themed on Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, with a mix
of rides and playground attractions such as rope climbs, crawl
through tunnels, and slides. The best are Great America near Chicago
with two such areas; Magic Mountain near Los Angeles; and the
newest, Six Flags New England in Agawam, MA. Six Flags Great Adventure
in New Jersey is trying a new tact, interspersing its rides for
younger kids throughout the park, so families don't have to separate.
Cedar Fair: This chain has licensed Snoopy and the Peanuts
characters, and currently offers its Camp Snoopy children's areas
in several parks it owns or manages including Knots Berry Farm
near LA; Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH; Dorney Park in Allentown,
PA; and even in Minnesota's Mall of America.
Six Flags, Paramount and Cedar Fair are consistently
teen friendly chains of parks, in part because they rely heavily
on teenage employees.
Islands of Adventure, the new theme park at Universal Studios
Orlando, is based almost entirely on Marvel Comics characters,
and thus has strong appeal for teens. Its Hulk coaster is one
of the new generation of high-powered thrill rides, and Spiderman:
The Ride offers simply the best virtual reality technology available.
Universal Studios, Orlando, has attractions based on more
recent movies like Twister and Terminator 2 that appeal to teens.
Animal Kingdom, Orlando, FL: The newest Disney park is
surprisingly mature, and offers two exceptional rides older children
will appreciate, the signature African safari, and the white water
raft through "Asia" complete with tigers.
13-14 and Under:
These parks specialize in this age group, and lack rides for adults
and older teens:
Sesame Place, Langhorn, PA: Owned by Busch Entertainment,
this park is based entirely on Sesame Street characters
Legoland, Carlsbad, CA: Opened last year, this wildly successful
park is based on Lego blocks, and the rides are even fashioned
to look like they are made of Lego. Includes the world's largest
Lego retail store.
the right park is not enough. You need a strategy for safety and
enjoyment. O'Brien offers five tips for a better visit with your
1. With young children, as soon as you enter the park, locate
a park employee. Show your children the uniform or attire, and
tell them to seek out a park employee if they become lost. Children
are separated in amusement parks every day, and they have first-rate
lost and found facilities, but first someone has to know they
2. Don't let your kids go into the gift shop until the end of
the day, or you will be carrying around bags all day. Also, you
can use it as an enticement for good behavior.
3. Be careful what your children eat and drink. Water is preferable
to soda, as sugar and motion don't mix. Also, greasy foods should
4. Start riding right away, hitting the rides for a few hours
upon arrival. Then break for lunch, then spend an hour or two
taking in shows before heading back to the rides. This will also
alleviate upset stomachs, and pace children.
5. Don't become obsessed with getting your money's worth. "Let
the kid ride what he wants to ride. Never, ever force a kid to
ride a ride."
lives in Vermont and writes frequently about travel and recreation.
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