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Theme Park Adventures

Nothing says summer like the obligatory theme park visit. Ok, maybe the beach or the pool are more traditionally associated, but for many of us, an annual pilgrimage to our local theme park, or a not-so-local one, is what gets us excited about summer. I recently took my almost 7 year-old son to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. But before doing so, I did what all parents do, I took to Facebook to see if that was a good idea. I wanted to ask my friends who have similar age children if he'd be big enough for most of the rides and we'd get our money's worth. Theme parks are not an inexpensive endeavor. The response was an overwhelming yes! So, I scoured the web find an inexpensive hotel in the area and then asked around for discounts. Almost all theme parks, with Disney the exception, have discount coupons on either cans of soda, at local eateries, supermarkets or even online. Hershey does discount single day tickets but I wanted to go for two days, so I was out of luck. They do however, offer a discount themselves on this option, I just couldn't get additional savings. Below are my tips on surviving a theme park with a small child and your sanity intact:

  • Plan. Put this in the Einstein category, but if you're traveling with a child, get-up-and-go is typically not part of your vocabulary. Time your visit according to not only your schedule, but theirs. We left in the morning (it's a 3-hour drive) and stopped for lunch right before we arrived. This way we were both fed and could spend the entire rest of the day at the park. Because the weather was surprisingly cooler, we opted to stick to the rides on Saturday and tackle the water park on Sunday. And this being Hershey, we knew we wanted to make our own chocolate bars, so we chose to do this Sunday morning. I was worried if we left it till Sunday afternoon, we'd never have time and would get home too late. (I was half right. We still got home too late - thanks NYC traffic.)
  • Map. The minute we got to the park, we downloaded the Hershey Park app (there were signs all over the place as well as a QR Code on the map), which told us where we were in the park at all times, and let us click on a ride to find out if Owen was big enough to ride it. (They measure all their rides in terms of Candy Bars. Owen was a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, so any ride with that icon was ok for him to ride.) I also grabbed a paper map so we could check off what we wanted to do. The great thing about this was during dinner, I handed Owen a pen and let him circle everything he wanted to do the next day. Not only did this keep him busy, it made him feel like part of the process and gave him something to look forward to. Plus, since the kid's got a memory like an elephant, anytime I asked "what else did we want to do?" he was able to recall it precisely.

  • Time. We went on a weekend, which means more crowds. If I had the time, I would have done a weekday as I think we could have conquered more rides in less time. But it wasn't crazy crowded and luckily he's pretty patient, so we waited out the rides that were worth it. Honestly, we could have spent even more time there as the water park section could easily have been days unto itself. This area is like Christmas for kids. So much to do, explore and play with - they never want it to end.

  • Mommy knows best. We went to Hershey. They make chocolate. Mommy loves chocolate. When I was told we could make our own chocolate bars, it was a no brainer. Owen however, wanted to just do the rides. I persisted. "You get to make your own candy bar. With your own ingredients. And your own wrapper." Who wouldn't want to do that? He kept pushing back but I put my foot down. We're doing it. It's non-negotiable. Guess what? His favorite part of the trip. He loved every second of the process. And it was worth the $15 to see his reaction as he got to hold up a bar with his name on it. Sometimes, we force because we love. That's all I'm saying. And Mommy loves chocolate.

  • Food. I'm a fairly healthy eater, but I'm not a stickler. I like a good treat as much as the next person. Theme parks are not known for their healthy fare. Our first day we ate before we arrived at the park and had dinner off site as well. But we did have some ice cream in the afternoon to tide us over. Hershey offers meal tickets and other options and they do have restaurants on site, but we just planned it out not to eat too much there. Most of the food is off the charts fattening (Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes!), however we did have Nathan's hot dogs on our last day. It was conveniently located right by the water park, so we shared two hot dogs and fries. Not the healthiest option but it held us over until the ride home. And if you brought your own cup, you could get water for free all day long at the concession. Good thing, since I NEVER leave home without my thermos. It keeps things cold for 12 hours. Tip: If you or the kids have that whole "water is boring" thing, bring mini packets of Crystal Lite and you can have flavored water or lemonade all day long.
  • Have you taken your family to a theme park? What advice do you have?

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