We started our summer this year with a trip to Canada’s Wonderland. Canada’s Wonderland is a large amusement park north of Toronto, Ontario. This was my girls first trip there – and boy were they excited!
As a somewhat anxious mom I’m trying to stay in the headspace of enjoying attractions with my kids. And you know what, I really did enjoy this trip. Now that the girls are older (and Emma can read!) I’m much more comfortable being in busy, loud, distracting places with them. They (usually) listen well, and the pay attention to their surroundings much more than they used to. It doesn’t hurt that Rose has a very loud voice when she wants to, so she can yell at Dad or Emma when they are wandering a bit further afield!
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Here are 9 tips and tricks to follow when you visit a big, busy attraction with your older kids.
Get a map.
Most big attractions – theme parks, zoos, etc. – will have tons of maps. Grab one when you get there, take 5 minutes, and choose a meeting spot. If your kids are old enough to explore on their own (and are responsible with time-telling and checking watches/phones) you can use this as a “meet for lunch at this place” scenario. If not, choose a “we got separated and need to find each other” spot. You can combine this map reading moment with a “see these people in the red shirts? They work here so if you get lost find one of them” moment as well.
Choose clothes that (may) stand out.
If you have a lime green top, this is the time to wear it. This goes for every member of the family. If you’re short, like me, you need a way to see through the crowd to find your little people who may be just a few too many steps away, and a shirt with a crazy pattern, or a mega bright hat, will help you out. My husband is tall so I can see him most of the time, and he can often see me and the kids when I definitely can’t.
Now that the kids are bigger I don’t need a giant bag with all the baby necessities. This trip we took a fanny pack, I wore an exercise belt (you know, like a flat fanny pack that barely holds anything but your phone), and we had 2 bottles of store-bought water. And we were fine! I worried about sunscreen. We applied some just before we went and we spent eating times in the shade and magically no one got a sunburn. Crazy!
Don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose.
I wore a long sleeved shirt over my tank top (see previous point about sunburn worry), but otherwise we didn’t have any extraneous stuff. I thought hard about bringing one of our cameras, but we didn’t do it. Besides, cell phones take great photos now anyway!
Most rides at amusement parks make you leave everything on the platform when you get on, so there is always a chance something can get misplaced (or stolen.) Wearing a fanny pack means you don’t have to leave anything behind when you get on a ride. I didn’t want to carry around a ton of stuff in a backpack anyway!
Make a quick plan of your day.
Are you somewhere where there are shows, or animal feeding times? When you look at the map you picked up earlier it should give you times and locations for events happening during the day. Decide early on what you want to catch, or what rides you for sure want to get onto.
Make a rough plan for the day – what time would be good for lunch? dinner? or are you even planning to stay that long? Try to map the day out into some kind of loose loop so you’re not walking back and forth across the same section of park a million times. This sort of planning really helps you get the most out of the day.
Take a photo of your kids when you arrive.
Not only is this great for the photo album, it’s also a great safety move. If you get separated you have a picture, from today, with the current clothes they are wearing, to show park officials. This will greatly help in locating your children, should you get separated.
This tip really only works well for the gentlemen. I’ve had many conversations about pockets on mens vs. ladies clothing, and men get much more pocket space per pair of pants.
My husband wore his cargo shorts and he could fit my long sleeved shirt and 2 bottles of water in his pockets when we got on rides. I usually can’t even fit my hands in my pockets. But the downside to this is Dad feels like a pack mule and hands all the stuff back the minute we’re off the ride. That’s totally fine by me – the fact he was willing to hide all our gear away was amazing!
Let the kids pick.
If your kids are like mine, they understand that we work as a family unit. We do things, and make decisions, together. That being said sometimes we all need to do what we want to do, am I right? Let the kids pick one thing they for sure want to do/see/ride while you’re at an attraction. It gives them a feeling of independence and makes them think they’re totally doing what they want to do. (Even if you lay out the rest of the day as parental units, the kids still get that one thing each.) Everyone should go home a little happier knowing their requests were heard.
Make sure you eat and drink at regular intervals.
I am guilty of not following this rule. Even at home while I’m doing my 1000 tasks for the week. But it’s so so so important, especially if you’re outside on a hot, sunny day.
We carried a water bottle with us and refilled at drinking fountains – but we also didn’t bring our own water bottle for fear of losing/breaking/otherwise not having it after getting off a ride. We also made time for lunch and an afternoon snack. And we were famished by the time we finally paused for lunch. Sitting and eating gave us the energy (and mood boost) to carry on into the afternoon when the park was much more crowded and the day was much hotter.
Be prepared to pay a pretty penny if you choose to purchase food at an attraction. You’re a captive audience in there and the food is always mega expensive! Many parks provide an area to eat a picnic lunch, but often you have to go out of the park proper to eat and then return when you’re finished. Saves you money but often loses you time. (If I was more organized I would try to pack lunch and snacks, but I’m not!)
We had a really great time at the amusement park. I’m so glad we waited until they were old enough to spend the day walking around to take them for their first visit. I watched so many people with toddlers and strollers and I was so happy that wasn’t me. For us, making the choice to wait was a great one. The girls were tall enough to go on almost every ride they wanted to get on, and we had a great full day. I’m looking forward to enjoying attractions with my girls more often now!
Last spring (2016) we took the kids to the Toronto Zoo. We followed most of these tips then as well, though I had to take the camera because I got free admission in return for a post on my blog. If you’d like to read about that day, the post is here.
Have you taken your older kiddos to a zoo or amusement park? Do you have tips to share to keep everyone enjoying attractions? I’d love to hear about them! Please share with me in the comments!