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Young children and amusement park vacations

Hailed by Time Magazine as "the superdad's superdad," Armin Brott has written or co-written six critically acclaimed, groundbreaking books on fatherhood. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby,...

From Six Flags to the zoo

How can you make your family vacation to an amusement park/theme park fun for everyone? Our fatherhood expert, Armin Brott, author of Father for Life, has some advice for your theme park visit!

Roller coaster - theme park rides

Your question:

We are planning to take our children, ages three and seven, on a long-awaited trip to a big amusement park this summer. How can we make sure they have fun, but still have a vacation ourselves?

Armin Brott answers:

My, how the world has changed since we were kids. You can take your children along almost anywhere these days, from an African safari to a Paris café, and no one will bat an eye. Still, nothing beats a truly kid-oriented vacation. All it takes is a little planning to guarantee a fun trip for everyone.

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First of all, think about your kids and what they like to do. Don't make a child who loves swimming spend all day at a park,  don't force a shy preschooler to hug the bigger-than-life characters, and don't insist that your son be a "big kid" and go on the roller coaster or another thrill ride. Read some reviews and check out each amusement park's web site before you go, and have your kids help you come up with a short list of must-do activities.

Your children will hit the ground running -- literally -- so you'll need some sort of plan. Make sure your schedule includes plenty of time for breaks for water, snacks, lunch, naps and the all-important parade viewing. Pick a few tempting-sounding restaurant options and locate them on the map in advance.

Another tip from the trenches: Before you leave your hotel, make sure your list of must-brings is complete. You can rent strollers at many theme parks, for example, but most toddlers prefer their own -- and on busy days the parks may be out of rentals by the time you get there. Many parents leave their strollers parked outside the rides and no one seems to bother with them -- just keep your wallet or purse (and camera or other valuables) with you.

>> Top 10 best US amusement parks for families

If your child has a tendency to disappear into crowds, consider a wrist bungee or harness. A lot of kids (and adults) find them horribly embarrassing, so the simple threat of using one might be just enough to keep your child nearby.

Pack as much water and other drinks as you can carry, as this will save you ton of money. Also, most parks now have coin-op rental lockers, where you can leave extra snacks and drinks. But don't rule out eating theme park food -- most amusement parks now have options that go way beyond the burger and fried foods of our youth. Options often include vegetarian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, salads and lots more.

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All in all, do the things that your kids want to do -- you can always come back alone some other time.

And remember, you're on vacation. Take it easy and try to see the parks -- and the world -- through your child's eyes.

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