Having been to two theme parks in the past month with both kids (and survived, quite happily, to tell the tale) I thought I’d share my findings in case you’re weighing up a nice big day out this summer.
I ventured with the boys (one is three and a half and the other is nine months) to Legoland (in Windsor) and to Paulton’s Park (just outside of Southampton/New Forest). I did one trip with my partner and the other with friends. I would say both parks were fairly equally as good as each other, and the tips in the post apply to either park, so I’m hoping they’d also make sense if you were heading to Chessington World Of Adventures, Drayton Manor or Alton Towers (which I didn’t know had a dedicated CBeebies Land).
Pricing-wise, Legoland offered £25 for an adult and pre-schooler during term time, whilst Paulton Park – which is where you’ll find Peppa Pig World – lets kids under one metre go free, whilst everyone over a metre costs from £37.50.
Anyway, here’s a few things to bear in mind…
Best for kids from two years
Whilst my 9-month-old seemed like he’d had a jolly day out (he’s happiest in his pushchair where there’s plenty for him to look at), there wouldn’t have been much point taking him on his own. The parks really become worth their value for kids from around age two and upwards – there’s plenty of playgrounds and splash parks to make use of, as well as toddler-focused rides like trains, slow water flumes and merry-go-rounds. Paulton’s Park also had a handful of animal exhibits which really helped to break up the day.
Book tickets in advance online (and check parking)
The standard way to get the best deal on tickets is just to book them online at least a day in advance, although there doesn’t necessarily seem to be any benefit booking them further ahead. Some parks also charge for car parking, so worth checking if that’s an additional cost.
Hire a stroller/double stroller
One of the best things we did the second time around (after learning from the first trip) was to hire one of the park’s strollers for the toddler. He no longer uses a pushchair, but theme parks tend to be fairly vast and include a lot of walking. Day trips are long and exhausting as it is, so we hired a double stroller (£14 for the day) which he shared with his best mate. Not only did it help them conserve some much needed energy, but it helped keep them in once place and they absolutely loved it!
Take plenty of dry snacks
This is a tip more reserved for super hot days – but I gave up on the idea of trying to plan a healthy, balanced variety of snacks and went straight down the what-can-I-pack-that-won’t-melt-or-go-soggy route. Both trips I literally just packed a plastic container full of a variety of dry biscuits – they worked a charm with both kids whenever they got cranky (and incidentally meant that clothes remained fairly clean too). Crisps, breadsticks and crackers are obviously a great shout too – or, if you’ve got room, there’s always the option for a cool bag.
Aim to arrive at opening OR stay until closing
We found that ride queues were shortest at the very start of the day and the very end of the day, so aim to be at the front of the park ready to get in as the doors open, or aim to arrive a bit later and stay til closing to really maximise how many rides you can get on. Choose which rides are most important to you (such as the Driving School) and head to that at the quietest time of day as queues can get long even on weekdays – especially in the middle of the day. I also found at Paulton’s Park that there were great toddler-friendly rides outside of Peppa Pig World that had no queues at all, so worth checking them out.
Things to pack: SPF, change of clothes, wipes, swim stuff
This is obviously dependent on the individual child, and we didn’t need everything each time but I packed: a change of clothes for each kid (in case of spillages, nappy leaks or if they got wet), plenty of wipes for sticky snack hands, swim stuff for both park’s extensive water areas, hats, and SPF because there wasn’t a whole load of shade. Also water and snacks for you – because it can be a bit of a sensory overload so let’s not add parent hanger into the mix.
Use queues for pit stops
There can be a fair bit of waiting around, even with short wait times. So to minimise the waiting (and the toddler whines with impatience) I found the best thing was to optomise the queue lines and to use them as a bit of a breather and pit stop. Instead of finding benches around the park to stop and rest, I’d plonk the toddler on the floor in the queue and use the time to reapply suncream, dish out snacks and offer water. Which kept us both occupied and made any waiting go much more swiftly.
Be prepared to go on some rides more than once
Whilst you might enjoy a theme park, chances are if you’re heading to one with your kids, you’re doing so because you want to treat them to a good time. The funny and bizarre thing with kids is that they often have different opinions and ideas to you – I know, I know, the complete audacity. I found that when my toddler found a ride (or attraction – there’s an insect area at Paulton’s Park that grabbed his attention in a big way) he liked, he wanted to go on it again and again. Whilst part of me wanted to shout ‘hey let’s find something else’, I actually had to just remind myself that we were there for him and not me and follow his lead.