It is February, and parents from coast to coast know that school vacation is just around the corner. Families attempting to take a break, whether it is from the chilling cold or simply the usual routine, will book transit and trips to amusement parks. From theme parks where dreams come to life to amusement parks that take your breath away, spending quality family time together has the potential for being quite taxing. Here are some polite suggestions for making your vacation memorable... in a positive way.
Number One Rule: When going out and about, especially with younger children, the number one rule is "stick together!" Repeat this often to your children, as the parades, larger-than-life cartoon characters and treat stands hold great appeal. Small children darting away in big crowds can be avoided with multiple repetition of this rule.
Call Me: With older children, cell phones can create a safety net should your family become separated. For smaller children, consider writing your cell phone number on the back of their hand with a waterproof marker. Remind them that this is your telephone number and that if they lose you, to ask a park employee (someone with a name-tag and a smile) to call you.
Dress for Success: A day in an amusement park can be anything but a day in the park. Be sure you suit up accordingly. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Layer your clothing with a short-sleeve shirt on the bottom so that you can peel off layers as the day warms. If there are water rides, consider wearing quick-drying items or bringing a change of clothing.
Pack Your Bag: Since you will be in motion most of the day, a backpack is the preferred carryall. Avoid making it too heavy, but do bring the essentials: sunscreen, snacks, camera, first-aid (Band-Aids and Tylenol) and water.
Read the Signs: If you are new to the park, take time to review a map. Have a general idea of how you will spend your day. Choose a centralized meeting spot should you become separated. (Be specific, the spot may have multiple entrances!) Also, check the schedule to see what time parades, shows and demonstrations begin. Doing so will help you know where crowds will be, and when.
Know the Signs: All this fun can be completely exhausting. Do not wait for a child, or spouse, to have a melt-down. Know when it is time to stop for water, food or a nap. The afternoons are when parks are the busiest so this may be the best time to rest.
Hurry Up and Wait: Over vacation weeks, the parks are going to be packed. Be sure to set expectations with your children that there will be lines, and that everyone will need to wait their turn. It is OK for kids to be bored in line. This is a great time to play I-spy, to take turns telling stories, solve riddles or even review multiplication tables. Avoid the temptation to pull out electronic devices. Teach your children how to wait without the need to be entertained every second. A bit of being bored is a great way to spark the imagination.
Lunch and Learn, See and Share: At park destinations, costs can add up quite quickly. Know your family's eye-to-belly ratio. Learn to share meals and snacks. Often, the portions are large enough for families to share in such a way that you can avoid having food go to waste.
Live Versus Digital: There is no need to video every moment of your trip. The ride, while thrilling in person, is simply not so compelling to watch at home. Live in the moment; enjoy the experience while you are actually there. Yes, take pictures and a few video clips. But then put down the camera and engage in the reality of the experience.
The Sea of Humanity: Parks provide a unique opportunity for your children to see people from all over the world and all walks of life. Teach your children to be curious and observant. There will also be people from different backgrounds and those with different abilities. Teach your children to be respectful. Smiles and nods are always preferred to pointing and staring.
And Finally: Remember, you are making family memories to last a lifetime. Being a parent is tough work during your regular routine, so make your family trip a real vacation. Riding your favorite roller-coaster seven times is great, but what's really important is that you did it together.