Even without a watch, it's easy to tell time at Disney World. The character parade marches down Main Street in the early afternoon and the temper tantrums typically arrive by twilight when too much fun leads to expensive meltdowns.
Here's how to get the most from your theme park dollars, while also preserving your family's sanity.
SET TIME LIMITS Watching the clock is the key. Be mindful of the time between meals, snacks and rest.Growling stomachs and overtired kids (of all ages) can sabotage theme park fun - keep the family on the same general schedule.
Most parks have quiet spots designed for relaxation, including gardens, playgrounds and picnic tables. A measured pace with strategic breaks can help you outlast long lines, overstimulation and theme park crowds.
KEEP PERSPECTIVE Theme parks tend to have attractions that appeal to all ages, as well as zones for very young children, tweens and teens/adults. Relaxed animal encounters, romp time and hands-on activities such as those found at the Astronaut Hall of Fame near Cape Canaveral provide stress-free enjoyment for the whole family. Water activities are also a huge hit. Invest more of your time in the crowd-pleasers to avoid bored teens and cranky toddlers.
BYOB Refillable water bottles are useful park accessories because they can be refilled at water fountains as a healthy and frugal alternative to expensive soft drinks offered by park vendors. Some parks have an open-door policy for DIY snacks and lunches.
FREEBIES Tampa's Busch Gardens and the Kennedy Space Center in greater Orlando offer free parking. Free concerts and shows are bundled into the entertainment package options at Disney and Universal theme parks. Epcot has free soft drinks with Coca-Cola formulas from different countries in the Innovations Pavilion.
LOOK INTO MEMBERSHIP Annual theme park passes and/or membership options may make sense for your family. A season pass to Splish Splash in Riverhead, for example, costs $72.99 and includes a one-day admission for a companion and discounted parking. Other theme parks offer membership/annual pass benefits that include reciprocal admission at other theme parks, hotel discounts and other deals.