I had the super fun opportunity to go to some of the coolest theme parks in Orlando this past week. (We’ve got people watchin’ our stuff, robbers, so don’t think you can break into our crappy apartment and steal our…um…Ikea cheese grater, okay?)
We had a GREAT time. We spent a load of time with my in-laws who are the best in-laws on the planet. Good people to the last drop. You know those kind? They’re awesome.
Anyway, as I was saying, we had an amazing time. Theme parks can be really cool and fun and exciting…all the adjectives you would want out of a vacay. I realized a few days into the deal, though, that your chances of having a good theme park vacation and having a bad theme park vacation are about 50/50. And man, hell hath no fury like a parent who shelled out a pile of money to amuse their children, only to find said children throwing a fit over whatever is upsetting them at the moment. I can’t tell you how many bug-eyed parents I saw genuinely losing their crap at their tiny, glitter-dusted, sugar-fueled tyrant cruise directors. It was…intense.
So, as I am wont to do, I thought I’d put together some tips for theme park survival. I know, I know—I’m just so danged helpful.
#1 – Don’t Forget Who Your Children Are
No matter how magical the destination, your children are still the same people you interact with at home. Whatever limits or frustrations or shortcomings they have at home will still be there at whatever theme park you’ve sold your blood to. And let’s face it, kids are 10 parts cute, 90 parts insane, and remembering that is just about the only way to make it as a parent. So when they’re all angry and unimpressed and tired and needy and full of sugar-rage, don’t be surprised. Be prepared. In fact, make a pact that when your kid melts down, you get a cookie or a beer or whatever your vice is (you’re on vacation, right?). That way, their negative means a positive for you. Yay! (But not too many beers, okay? Don’t be that guy. Drunken parent guy is…disturbing.)
#2 – Don’t Let Those Commercials Fool You
All the commercials for theme parks are filled with slow-mo scenes of parents and children laughing and running and staring doe-eyed at the wonder of life while fireworks burst and genteel birds float down to grace their shoulders as the sun sets in the distance. That crap does NOT happen. Like, to anyone. If you’re lucky, you’ll get 1.5 minutes of awesome, never-want-to-forget moments and the rest will be a combination of exhaustion, frustration, bewilderment and sugar withdrawals (why is there so much freaking sugar around?!). That’s fine. It’s totally fine. Hunt for those 1.5 minutes like Cap’n Jack looking for the Black Pearl. And when you find them, hold on to them tight. Loving the good moments will get you through the mediocre-to-pitiful moments. And, you know what? Just lower the bar. Be okay having a low-key pleasant vacation. Don’t make big, elaborate plans for milking the park for every penny you gave them. What’s that saying? Making plans is the surest way to hear God laugh? Or the surest way to give yourself an aneurism? Whatever it is, the point is—don’t have crazy expectations. Just chill out.
#3 – Realize a Lot of it is For You
If you have a teeny tiny one like I do…the ENTIRE experience is lost on them. Yep. The whole freaking kit n’ caboodle means absolutely nothing to them, they won’t ever remember it, and many of the fun things are, to them, terrifying. If you’ve set it up in your mind that your kid should be wowed by all the stuff you’re paying for, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed when the stairs and a seriously over-zealous squirrel steal the show.
No biggie. The truth is, kids can’t appreciate it all the way you can. You’re older. You’re wiser. You can soak in the wonder of fireworks in the sky, and new technology infused into the rides, and how they can make an ice cream snack taste so good you’d punch a stranger in the nuts for one. You can appreciate it all, and you should.
#4 – Hit the Park Kid-less if You Can
Due to the aforementioned amazing in-laws, we were able to go back to the park for about 2 hours after the kiddo went to sleep. It was…Uh-mazing. We sprinted around the park and went on all the adult rides and got in more park fun in those 2 hours than we could have all day with the kids. We laughed maniacally at all the parents saddled with strollers full of screaming children (what were they doing up, anyway?). You can’t always swing it if you’re not traveling with friends or family, but if you can, do it. It’s fun to feel like a kid sometimes. Well, a kid who has enough perspective on life to know exactly how fun it all really is.
#5 – Try to Love Your People
The bottom line is that parenting is tough, and it doesn’t get easier just because you go to a cool place. So, remind yourself that a BIG part of being a parent is practicing loving other people. So when they scream for a toy or refuse to stop chasing that bird or complain that they didn’t see whatever the stink they wanted to see, take a big, big breath and remind yourself that you love that little person, even when they drive you nuts. Then, get yourself a really big cookie. Or a beer. God bless beer.