"Avoid eating during peak times," says Gieszl—you'll enjoy shorter lines at restaurants and concession stands. McDermott has a money-saving tip that's also eco-friendly: BYO refillable water bottle instead of paying exorbitant prices for bottled water in the park. If anyone in your party has dietary restrictions, check the park's website for menus, or call guest relations, says Altman.
Many experts advise bringing your own drinks and snacks (assuming the park allows you to do so). "Theme park food can be surprisingly good, but most of the snacks are of the salty or sugary variety. Having healthy snacks on hand helps make sure that everyone's fueled up and ready to play," says McDermott.
Get there early. Gieszl says, "Plan to be at the front gate with tickets in hand 15 minutes before the park opens. You'll be ahead of the crowd and in the first hour you'll be able to experience at least two or three major rides with little to no wait." Remember that at some bigger parks, parking lots can be far from the gates, so you'll want to allow extra time to get from your car to the park entrance.
And what if there's one awesome new ride that EVERYONE in the park wants to go on? Either head there first thing, or as Altman says, check back toward closing time: "Sometimes late in the day, the crowds diminish."
Altman recommends you check out the single-rider line if members of your party don't care about being split up. On one ride, he says, "There was a 90-minute wait in the regular line. My wife and I went through the single-rider line and rode five or six times in that same time period."
Finally, says Niles, talk to the ride attendants. "They know the best times to go on each ride in the park."
Don't try to do too much. "Probably the worst mistake a parent can make in planning a day at the amusement park, is trying to cram too much in—especially if your kids are little. Your best bet is to choose one or two MUSTS, and then going with the flow for the rest of the day," says McDermott. "By rushing through things, you will miss all the little things," says Haworth. She recommends you take time to people-watch and explore. "No one wants to come home from a vacation feeling like you need a vacation, and by taking time to relax you can avoid that feeling."