A First-Timer’s Guide to a Successful Theme Park Summer

It’s that time of year again when many theme parks, amusement parks and water parks are reopening for the season. With that comes the return of park visits and coaster rides. But for those who are new to parks or haven’t been in a long time, planning a day (or more) at a park can be somewhat intimidating and overwhelming.


But fear not — we’ve created a list of things that each new or less-experienced parkgoer should know and do to get ready for their visit:

1. Do your research.

The very first thing you are going to need to do is research the park or parks you’d like to visit over the summer. This includes looking up the park’s operating days and hours — you don’t want to show up to a closed park. You will also want to look at things like location (to decide how you’ll get to the park), average temperatures/weather, ride closures and events in advance.

If your sole focus is racking up new coaster credits, then researching seasonal ride closures may actually be the first thing on your list. While many parks try to limit routine maintenance to the off-season or less popular months (for those that operate year-round), it’s still good to check, especially if there’s a specific coaster you want to ride.

Pro tip: visit on a weekday for the shorter lines.

2. Order tickets and upgrades online in advance.

When it comes to purchasing anything for the parks, ordering online will be your best bet for finding the most discounts and saving time.

Things like park admission, meal plans, skip-the-line passes, parking, special experiences and more will often cost less online compared to purchasing them in the park. Sometimes the difference can be staggering.

3. Get to the park early.

For many parks, making it to the gate early can sometimes make or break your inaugural visit. At many parks, especially on busy weekends, many people will start entering around noon so it is crucial to save every moment possible by getting to the park early when wait times are shorter.

Always take advantage of early entry if your park has it. If it doesn’t, try to arrive at least 30 minutes to an hour (or sometimes earlier) before the park opens to give yourself time to check off everything on your list before the park gets too crowded. Regardless if it’s a small family park or a giant chain, always be prepared to wake up early and beat the crowds.

4. Pack light.

The backpack or other bag you take to the park should have everything you need but also be light enough to where you don’t feel like you are working out by lugging it around all day. Many people prefer things like fanny packs, string backpacks, or even zipper pockets where they can hold only the essentials.

If you do take a bag, a few of the most important things are: sunscreen, deodorant, a portable phone charger, a refillable season bottle and of course something to hold your cards and keys.

5. Dress light.

If you’re visiting a park in a hot climate, especially in the summer, be prepared to sweat — a lot. Try to avoid heavy materials like cotton (since it does not wick away moisture) or any other type of material that retains heat. Stick to clothes like activewear that contain nylon and polyester, linen or anything that is comfortable and loose-fitting.

For shoes, sneakers or other athletic shoes are the best choice. If you wear sandals or flip-flops, be sure to go for the ones that have straps. The last thing you would want is for a shoe to break or for your feet to be sore in the middle of your trip.

6. Know where to start.

Knowing where to start goes hand-in-hand with researching the park before you visit. In this case, the best thing to do is to study the park’s map and put together a plan. You can start by listing every attraction you want to ride, shows you want to watch, special events you want to experience and foods you want to try.

Be sure to head straight to the back of the park first and work your way to the front. Knowing what you want to do will save you a lot of time from standing in the park confused.

7. Save your merch and souvenirs for the end.

Remember that whatever you purchase in the park, you must carry it around with you for the rest of the day unless you rent a locker (which can be costly).

Unless the park has a system where you can leave your purchases in the store until the end of the day, it’s better to purchase your merchandise and souvenirs toward the end of your visit.

8. Stay hydrated.

Though especially true in the heat, staying hydrated is important in any climate. Many people suffer from heat exhaustion (or worse) when in a park, so if you feel yourself with symptoms like confusion, fainting, high body temperature and profuse sweating, sit down, drink cold water and pace yourself.

Also be aware of the park’s first aid location just in case.

Bonus Tips:

  • Use mobile ordering (where available) to save time when waiting for food.
  • Bring credit and debit cards as many parks are going cashless.
  • Take a mental image (or drop a pin on your phone) to remember your parking space location. The last thing anyone wants is to hunt down their car in the middle of hundreds of other cars after a long day at a park. You can even take a picture of your parking space.
  • Single rider lines — if you are going on a solo trip, or don’t mind riding separately from your group, taking advantage of single rider lines (if they are offered) can cut your wait time significantly.
  • Join a Facebook group dedicated to the park you’re visiting (most parks have at least one). The locals will know the park best and will have access to all of the best-hidden secrets and shortcuts for their park.
  • For even more tips see our roller coaster road trip planning guide.

Is there anything you would recommend to a rider’s first time at the park? Let us know in the comments section below!