Update: Three Park Trip 3/23-3/28

From Friday, March 23rd to Wednesday, March 28th, I will be embarking on a trip that will include three different major theme parks.  These theme parks will include Six Flags Over Georgia, Carowinds, and Dollywood.  I will be spending four of the six days at theme parks.  As a result, I want to bring you content based off those trips.  So, as a result, I will be posting a series of trip reports over the next week.

These reports will highlight my experiences at each park and display what makes them so popular.  Additionally, I will review certain events occurring in the parks during my visit and the culinary options I enjoy at each park.  In addition to the parks, I will be visiting a few “mountain coasters” in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Be sure to stay tuned for this trip report; you do not want to miss it!

When’s the best time to get to a park?

For years, I have always arrived at a theme park about half an hour before the park opens, giving me time to get through the front gate and head to my first ride of the day.  However, many people have different times they like to get to the park.

Personally, I find that getting to a park slightly prior to opening is the best route to go.  Depending on the day, getting to a park at opening will typically be less crowded than say getting to the park in the early afternoon.

Ultimately, it comes down to any constraints prior to getting to the park, and whether or not you mind crowds.  Pending on the time of week however, lines for parking and the front gate can become sizable around 1 or 2 o’clock.  I can remember waiting an hour for both parking and the front gate on multiple occasions before, and it was not the best thing.

But, in contrast, sometimes the morning can get just as busy.  So, like most things I talk about here, crowds can play a big factor.

Planning Meals When Visiting Parks

Recently in my list of things to do when visiting a theme park, I mentioned you should plan where you eat your meals.  Now, while some may think I mean plan a specific restaurant you want to eat at ahead of time, that’s not necessarily what I mean.  When I say plan where you eat your meals, I’m referring to whether you want to eat in the park, at a restaurant outside the park, to pack a bag lunch to go out and eat at the car.

The deciding factors for this decision really come down to three things: price, convenience, and time.

Theme park food can get pricey at times, depending on what you order.  Most theme parks I’ve visited typically charge about $7-10 for an entree and side, with exceptions for larger items such as a nacho bowl or BBQ.  However, most times that does not include a drink, so you have to purchase one.  Now, I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve had to buy my own food very often as of late, as most parks I’ve visited in the past few years were either chain parks I had a season dining pass for, or we purchased a meal deal online before visiting.  In contrast, eating outside the park can provide possibly a better quality meal, but can sometimes cost just as much.  In terms of price, packing a bag lunch or dinner for the car would be the cheapest.

When visiting a park, you want food options to be quick and convenient.  One problem lingering over most parks today is the lines for their food stands.  Pending on the crowds, lines can get nearly as long (time-wise) as many big name attractions in the park.  Other days, lines can be non-existent.  In terms of outside restaurants, not all parks have a variety of restaurants right outside their entrance, proving a disadvantage if you choose to leave the property to eat.  And while packing your own lunch or dinner is perhaps the most convenient option in many cases, you have to exit the park and reenter after you eat.  In the end, this is more of a personal preference item, as people have different definitions of  convenience.

Lastly, time should play a factor in choosing where to eat.  I’ve been there; I want to eat quickly and get back to riding rides.  While this isn’t always a problem on slower days, this pertains more to busier days.  My advice: look at how long lines are.  If food lines in the park are relatively short, go with that route.  If the line at the front gate is short, feel free to leave to eat somewhere else and come back.  Andif the line for the parking lot is long (at most parks you can tell from the parking lot), walk over to a nearby restaurant if it’s within walking distance.  This line idea doesn’t necessarily work well for those planning to pack a lunch, but ultimately that option comes down to timing.  Perhaps go eat your bag meal at a time when lines at the front gate are beginning to die down, such as around 11:30 for lunch and 5:30 for dinner.

Like I’ve said before, I typically eat meals within the park, but I have used both other options before.  All in all, similar to most of my posts, it’s all about preference and what you determine is the best option.  So ultimately, pick the option that is best for you and your party.

Skip the Line Passes: Are they Worth it?

I hate to sound like a broken record, but I apologize for the late post again.  There has been some difficulty when it comes to scheduling posts, but I think I’ve got it figured out.

As you may already know if you’ve visited a theme park on a busy day, the lines can get very long.  These long waits ultimately result in being able to ride less rides in a day.  To solve this problem, many parks have implemented a “skip the line” pass.  For an additional cost, this system holds your place in line and allows expedited boarding on some of the most popular rides.  But, are they worth it?

My answer: It depends on what you want to get out of it.  If you’re visiting the park for just a day and won’t be back anytime soon, I would definitely recommend to if you have the money to invest.  However, keep in mind that these passes are non-refundable, so if it begins to rain and the park clears out, or the park doesn’t end up being as busy as you thought, you will not be able to get your money back.

I know Six Flags (and I believe Cedar Fair) parks have implemented an all-season skip the line pass.  The same case applies for those, but in a much different manner.  If you’re planning on visiting 4-5 times in the year, and during busy points in the season, the pass is without a doubt worth the investment.

Most parks that have this system require an upcharge for the system, but parks such as Disney Parks typically will include some sort of skip the line system with certain admission plans.  Additionally, some theme parks that have a hotel on property (such as Dollywood) will include skip the line passes with your hotel reservation.

In the end, it comes down to the amount of visits you have to a park, how much you’re willing to invest, and the crowds on the day you want to purchase.  Skip the line passes are highly beneficial, but the investment needs to be worth it.  If you visit a park over 5 times a year and never have an issue with lines, perhaps investing in this pass is not the best idea.

How Should Weather Impact a Trip to the Park?

My apologies for being a day late on this post.  Anyways, weather can be unpredictable depending on where you live.  Some places are 95 degrees and sunny every day, while other places can be 75 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next.  So the question is, what factor should weather take when planning a trip?

DISCLAIMER: I live in the midwest, so these tips most likely will reflect weather in the northern half of the United States.

First, if you’re just visiting a park once or twice in a year, you should pick a day where you can get the most bang for your buck.  In other words, try to pick a day where little or no rain is in the forecast.  While most parks sell rain gear and will normally operate most rides in light to moderate rain, riding a ride in the rain can be painful and walking around with wet shoes is not fun at all.  Thus, little precipitation will definitely be your best bet.

In terms of temperature and humidity, in the summer I would suggest a day in the mid-60s to mid-70s with low humidity.  If it’s lower temperatures, some guests may stay away.  However, personally some of my best days have come in those weather conditions.  Crowds aren’t as heavy and I’m not nearly as exhausted.  Even better, conditions in the 50s are also not bad as well.  Crowds are significantly lower (if it’s not during a fall event), and as long as you bring the proper clothing, you would be fine.

As for parks with a waterpark, I have found that temperatures in the 70s are the best way to go.  Some people find temperatures in the 70s to be too cold for swimming, so many time’s they will stay in the dry park.  Whatever you do, however, make sure you avoid the waterpark with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, because they will be packed.

Verdict: Cooler temperatures with little precipitation is one of the best routes to go for visiting a theme park, and temperatures in the 70s are best for waterparks.

Next, if you have a season pass, visiting the park can be much different.  For the most part, if you are visiting your home park a few times a month, weather conditions won’t likely hurt you much.  Personally, precipitation when going to Six Flags Great America hasn’t been a big concern, as long as it’s not a torrential downpour or threat of lightning.  Additionally, I have had many visits where I had to wear a jacket in June.  Plus, living close to a park gives you an opportunity to visit the park for only a couple hours and leave; so you can go before or after it rains and still get some money’s worth.

If you’re traveling more than one hour and may not visit the park as often (maybe once a month, or having a season pass for a park out of state), try to follow the guide I gave for visiting once or twice a year.  Since your trips are more spread out, you will definitely want to get more out of your day.

Verdict: It doesn’t necessarily matter much, depending on when you go.

All in all, depending on the frequency of your visits can be a big factor in when you want to visit.  Additionally, it’s important to note that many parks are in locations surrounded by other businesses and ways of entertainment, so if the weather gets bad, you can always go to somewhere else outside to still make your day worth it.  Think about these tips next time you plan a trip to the park

Planning a Trip to a Park: The Don’t’s

Tuesday I discussed what you should do when planning a trip to a park.  Today, I will discussed what you shouldn’t do when planning a trip to a park.

The Don’t’s

1. Don’t intend to buy things from gift shops until later in the day – While you may find something you want to buy while exploring a gift shop, it’s best not to buy it if it’s before dinner time.  You have to lug the item or items around the park all day, or go back to your car to drop them off.  The best thing to do is go back and buy it before you leave for the night.  Another option is to take advantage of any package pick-up program the park has.

2. Don’t spend time in a long line if the other rides you want to ride are empty – This seems like a no brainer, but people still make this mistake quite often.  If you want to ride a roller coaster with a two hour wait, but you also want to ride a log flume with a ten minute wait, get out of line for the roller coaster and head to the log flume.  If you’re constantly waiting in the long lines first, you won’t get on nearly as many rides as you may want to.  Additionally, many roller coaster lines tend to die out within the last two hours of park operation, and if you’re in line before the park’s scheduled closing, you’re guaranteed a ride.

3. Don’t plan the day down to the tee – The best days I’ve had at parks were those where I went with the flow.  Typically, I have an idea of what ride I want to start at, or when I go to a new park, I want to get on all the roller coasters.  But otherwise, I simply go with the flow and see what the day brings.  Planning things down to a tee just seems to hold people back from having the best day possible at the theme park.  While planning ahead of time is nice, in the case of theme parks, don’t go overboard.  Allow time for other things.

Having visited a majority of theme parks in the midwest over the past five years, I have found that doing these things can typically waste time and energy.  By following these tips of what not to do, I’m sure you’ll be able to enjoy the day much more.