When it comes to vacation, I'm much more of a lay on the beach with a book or relax in a cozy cabin kinda girl. However, when my husband and I decided to take our kids on a family vacay this summer, we knew that taking them to a theme park was going to be a must. Why? Because even if your kids spend their entire day eating pate and listening to the Boston Pops, they love those places. Theme parks are made for kids and they are ridiculously fun for them--they are filled with sugar, acceleration and water. What more can a kid want? What's more, they can be awfully fun for adults too, if you prepare well and get into the spirit. Riding the biggest, fastest roller coasters is not optional (hey, you're tall enough!).
On our trip, we visited Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which was voted the most beautiful theme park by some unknown entity probably 25 years ago. How do I know that? Because it is on every thing you will ever see about Busch Gardens. However, it is beautiful--the whole park is laid out in mock European towns. There is an Ireland, a Germany, an Italy, a France and a Scotland. If you are a really motivated parent, you could use this to talk to your kids about geography. They probably won't listen though--they will be too busy licking off that cotton candy beard they just made. Busch Gardens is a good mix of thrill rides and smaller attractions for smaller kids. They have the Griffon, which is a roller coaster that drops you straight down a 90 degree angle, as well as Elmo's Forest of Fun, which is a toddler Elysium, complete with water geysers and live Elmo shows every 30 minutes. Although infants are not allowed to ride any rides, they can ride the carousel and the train and tram with their families. Plus, there are all those geysers to crawl around in.
The most important thing to see in that last paragraph is the word "geysers." Yes, your children are going to want to crawl/walk around an area where water shoots freely from the ground 12 hours a day. Chances are, you will be with them when they do this. Therefore, you should all dress accordingly. You would not believe the kinds of things I saw people wearing inside Busch Gardens. Everything from skintight ripped pink denim (yup) to family-matching Lily Pulitzer dresses. And yes, the people I saw wearing those things looked miserable.
What you should wear: your best bet is to wear workout clothes. I wore my running stuff--a running skort and tank, both made out of spandex-y material. This stuff dries super fast, wicks and is easy to move around in. The good news is that this stuff is cheap if you don't already own it. My running skorts were $16.99 at Target--I'm able to quote this price offhand because I own 4 of these suckers and owned 3 of them in assorted other sizes. My favorite top I wore was from the Aerie Fit line , but the other top I wore I bought at Wal-Mart for $7. And...just go ahead and admit defeat and put your hair into a ponytail before you leave the house. It is going to look like crap soon anyway--just accept it. The shoe thing bring some debate in my house: for my money, wear your flip flops, but make sure they are comfortable (not the $3 flops from Old Navy). I have a pair of Reefs that I have had forever and they were perfect. You don't have to wear socks with flip flops which eliminates the whole wet sock thing. My husband, however, thinks I am insane for wearing flip flops all day. He chose to wear running shoes which he said were much more comfortable. Either way, I'd say.
What you should not wear: denim. They should hang a sign at the front gate that declares the theme park a denim free zone. I don't care how cute you think you are in denim shorts: a) you are not cute and b) even if by some miracle you are, you will be so uncomfortable. And do I really need to tell you why you shouldn't wear jeans during the summer? To a theme park? No, I didn't think so. Also you should not wear anything white (I mentioned the water, didn't I?), anything you care about that much, shoes with any kind of a platform (even platform flip flops), earrings (if you do, you will be asked to remove them on the larger rides), and dresses.
A quick note on dresses: I am usually the first one to espouse wearing a dress to any place during the summer. They are cool and always look fresh, so what's not to love? However, I saw this one lady on the log flume that changed my mind. She was so gorgeous, and was wearing the perfect summer dress--spaghetti straps and airy, about knee length. However, you should have seen her trying to arrange herself on the log flume. Yeah, that's trouble that you don't need.
What your kids should wear: Boys are easy--swimming trunks with a t-shirt. Girls will have to layer. Gab wore her bathing suit with athletic shorts and a t-shirt on top. On their feet, they wore aqua shoes. We got cheapie ones (I think they were $7 at Target), but they worked like a charm. However, on our last day we noticed that Sam had worn a hole in the heel of his. It was fine--they more than served their purpose. For babies, I put Alice in her bathing suit with a terry cloth cover up on top. Super easy to get off for when she wanted to crawl in the geysers with Elmo, and easy to put back on. Be forewarned as well--in any place where kids can just run unfettered in the water, swim diapers are a must. We used disposables all during the trip, so I didn't try cloth, but I would advise to get a package of disposables ahead of time even if you are doing cloth. The park management seems insistent on the disposable kind and they have lots of folks around watching the kids. I heard one girl talk to a dad because his kid was wearing a (bulging) regular diaper. I don't think they would call you out on the cloth, but sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.
Now why should they wear this? Well, for one thing, if you are concerned about money in the least, you should put them in their bathing suit. You will not be able to keep them out of the water, and Busch Gardens (or any other theme park) knows this. Therefore, set up next to every watery area is a store selling swimsuits, aqua shoes, swim diapers, and cover ups. Therefore, all the people who do not put the stuff on their kids are at a huge risk for having to buy it when they get there. The lady with the girls in matching Lily Pulitzer? Yup, she was ponying up for Zoe swimsuits at the Elmo Forest of Fun. So, better safe than out $50. Save that dough for the caramel apples and ice cream (I successfully ate a banana split waffle cone for dinner both nights we were at Busch Gardens, and yes, it was amazing).
What you should take: As little as you can get away with. Pack a very small diaper bag (we used the one we got for free at the hospital when Al was born) with just the essentials. You are not allowed to take in food or water, but I took Allie in a bottle of water with a sippie and some snacks in her Boon snack ball and they didn't seem to mind. Also bring a good stroller. You see a lot of people with the big ones, but that just seems like a huge hassle, having to get it on and off the tram and other things. If you are traveling very light, they have strollers for rent that seem ok. Not cushy, but you just put your name on a card with the stroller and instead of having to load it on attractions (like the train or the tram), you just pull out the card and put it in a new stroller when you get to where you are going. Our Maclaren Quest was perfect, and I would imagine any similar model would be great. Don't worry with a carrier--you'll be taking it on and off so much that it just wouldn't be practical.
What you should know: This is where Busch Gardens gets my kudos. If you are nursing, Busch Gardens has three nursing stations set up--one in New France, one in Germany, and one in the Forest of Fun. The best one, I think, is the one in New France, although they are all nice. It is in the Lost Children center, and has a nice diaper change area, and then a nursing room with a big leather chair. Best of all, all nursing stations are air conditioned! It was such a nice respite during the day for both me and Alice--we were able to sit down together and nurse and enjoy the cool and comfort for a little while. I never had to wait at any station--I don't know if this is because people just weren't nursing their babies or because people just didn't know about the stations.
However, ask about this stuff before you get into the park. I asked at Guest Relations when I first went in and they gave me a nice map with the areas circled. However, when I got over to the Germany station to use it, I couldn't find the exact location. I asked three BG employees and none of them had even heard of it. I finally happened on it just by walking around the bathroom (FYI, it is located in the Festhaus bathroom on the exit side in the back--what they have done is to take a couple of stalls and take out the fixtures and put in a big leather chair--not super fancy, but definitely cool and comfortable). If you have any disability or any other questions about anything, definitely ask at Guest Relations as soon as you get in--all theme parks have something similar. The ladies in there were super nice and helpful and know about two tons more than any of the other employees.
So, yes, as a parent you will definitely find yourself at one of these places, and really, it is very fun. We are already planning to take our brood to Cedar Point next year, and we are all super excited. Just don't eat too much sugar...ah, who am I kidding? Live it up!