Visiting a theme park is one of summer's most exciting activities for kids. There are daring adventures, exhilarating rides, and, of course, greasy park foods. You get to spend the day outside, running from one fun attraction to the next, and the excursion might seem like a mini-vacation at times. What could be more fun for a kid?
But theme park outings harbor some dangers, too. Summer heat, colossal crowds and the risk-taking nature of thrill rides have the potential to introduce misery into your day. In this article, we'll tip you off to some theme park safety concerns and show you how to head off trouble so your day stays fun for everyone.
With more than 300 million people visiting theme parks each year, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd [source: Gay]. The first rule of safety is: Don't leave your kids alone. Stay with them in restrooms, restaurants and through the ride lines, even if you don't plan to ride yourself. Once you see your child safely strapped into the vehicle, move to the exit point and wait. Here, you can intercept your child -- and hear all about the ride -- as soon as it's over.
Be prepared in case you do become separated. Before you enter the theme park, go over the map and decide on a meeting place. Make sure that everyone -- adults and kids -- knows the name of the emergency meeting location. Point out uniformed theme park employees who can help children find the reunion point, but remind them not to talk to any other strangers.
Summer's heat, humidity and burning sun take a toll on active bodies. To ensure a safe and healthy theme park visit for everyone, start preparing early. A few days before your trip, increase the amount of water you and your kids normally drink. This helps your bodies stay cool at the park, and makes everyone better able to drink the amount of water they'll need to stay hydrated through all the excitement.
On the day of your visit, apply sunscreen, thoroughly and generously, to every member of your party before you enter the park, and reapply it as needed throughout the day. While your kids will probably want to dash from one ride to the next so they don't miss anything, be sure to take plenty of breaks to rest, drink water and cool off on a shady park bench.
Learn which rides are appropriate for certain ages and sizes of kids. Children under the age of 13 are at greater risk for ride injuries than the rest of the population [source: Saferparks]. Read and follow the safety guidelines for each ride. Don't push the limits.
If you decide that a ride is appropriate for your child, stand off to the side and watch a cycle of the ride together. See how the vehicles move, how riders react and how long the ride lasts before you board. Watch your child's signals. If he or she doesn't want to experience a particular ride, move on to the next one.
At a theme park, planning is a parent's best friend. Mixing greasy food and dizzying rides can ruin a good day. No one wants to spin off the teacup ride and head straight to the nearest trash can. Plan to visit certain rides well before or well after eating.
You should also have a realistic expectation about how much excitement your children can handle. Some theme parks offer more activities than you can reasonably pack into one day. Evaluate the staying power of your party. Young children or elderly family members simply won't be able to hold out as long as adolescents or teens; don't exhaust them. Make it clear to everyone that your time at the park must be enjoyable to everyone, and that you'll yield to the health and safety needs of the weakest member.
Communication is an invaluable tool in a parent's toolkit. Start early and repeat often. Explain the rules of the theme park to your kids before you go. Explain to them (and demonstrate) proper ride behavior: standing politely in line; waiting for assistance from ride attendants; making sure restraints are secure -- and leaving them in place; keeping hands and arms inside the vehicle; staying in the seat; and following the instructions of ride operators.
Instruct kids to look around and notice who and what is around them. Make sure they know to walk -- not run -- so they avoid collisions and possible injuries to themselves and other visitors. And don't forget to warn children not to slip past barriers into restricted areas at rides and around the park. Awareness of potential dangers keeps everyone safe.
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- Gay, Lance. "Theme Park Safety." Tennessean. 2001. ExpertSafety.com. (May 16, 2010) http://www.expertsafety.com/articles/ThemeParkSafety.pdf
- Good Housekeeping. "Don't Even Go There: Sizing Up the Risk of the Ride." Good Housekeeping. 2001. ExpertSafety.com. (May 17, 2010) http://www.expertsafety.com/articles/DontGo.pdf
- Niles, Robert. "Top 10 Theme Park Safety Tips." Theme Park Insider. (May 17, 2010) http://www.themeparkinsider.com/safety/
- Saferparks. "Injuries." Saferparks.org. 2009. (May 17, 2010) http://www.saferparks.org/safety/injuries/
- Saferparks. "Safety Tips for Riders of All Ages." Saferparks.org. 2009. (May 17, 2010) http://www.saferparks.org/safety/tips/
- Saferparks. "Top 10 Tips for Parents." Saferparks.org. 2009. (May 25, 2010) http://www.saferparks.org/for_parents/tips_for_parents.php