Alas, we don't have the time or the limitless finances to conduct an extended Momsperiment on various theme parks and their management techniques, but I did pick up a few handy tips the other day that seemed worth sharing - and keeping in mind for our next outing.
1. PopChips are the perfect en-route travel snack. They're pseudo-healthy enough to ease the Mom Nutritional Guilt, and light enough on the tummy to withstand thrill rides.
2. Even if the kids insist they don't need them, bring extra clothes anyway. Plus several pairs of shoes. The thrill of damp sandals wears off quickly after the seventh round on the log flume.
3. Pairing off parents and children and splitting up is a fine strategy, especially if your kids are of varying ages. That way, one child can explore all of Tiny Tot Tamesville while the other accompanies Dad to The Upchucker.
4. Translated, "I want to ride the Ladybug Coaster!" really means, "This ride looks cool, but I've never been on a kiddie coaster like this, and I might freak out even if you're right next to me. Please talk me out of it if you don't want to spend 90 harrowing seconds consoling a wailing child as your car zips around a curve, then enduring the disapproving you-shoulda-known-better-moron-lady looks of fellow parents."
5. It is perfectly okay to shut your eyes through most of a spook-house ride when you're 8. Even if it's the cheesy pop-out-skeleton variety that's less scary than an average Mad Money broadcast.
6. It is also perfectly okay to admit to your child that the same ride that makes him feel like Superman soaring through the air is making you feel a wee bit white-knuckled. However, you may have to endure the scornful reply, "Really, Mom? You're scared of this?!"
7. Everyone needs a break from the sensory overload of lights, noise and twirling vehicles. A scavenger hunt - parent/child teams scour the park to see who can find certain items first - is a fun diversion. Particularly if the hunt involves monkeys. (See below.)
8. There are more interesting pastimes than watching little ones ride the same car/motorcycle/caterpillar/three-toed sloth around the same circular track again and again. Focusing on their delighted smiles, however, helps a lot.
9. So does the thought of being able to remind them of outings like this in years to come, when Page Six announces that your darling is writing a tell-all memoir that promises to make Joan Crawford look like Carol Brady next to you. "See these pictures of that happy child on the merry-go-round? The one clutching the stuffed Angry Bird in one hand and the cotton candy in the other? That's you, kiddo. Now tell your editor to take out the chapter about how you spent your entire childhood eating bread crusts in a moldy basement."
10. Giving in to pleas to stay well past bedtime for the sake of "Just one more ride, pleeease?" ensures you get the very most for your amusement-park buck. It also gives you an express pass to the Stuck in Nighttime Weekend Traffic with Tired, Cranky and Tearful Kids ride.