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5 Things They Don’t Tell You About American Theme Parks

5 Things They Don’t Tell You About American Theme Parks

When you’re under ten years old, saying that you want to go to Disneyland is perfectly acceptable. Hell, it’s expected! But when you reach your 20s, it isn’t so fashionable anymore. In fact, saying you want to go to Disneyland is akin to donning a My Little Pony shirt and carrying a unicorn-shaped backpack full of cats everywhere you go – people just look at you differently.


I for one do not share in this prejudice. Last year I enacted a lifelong dream and visited both Disneyworld and Universal Studios in Orlando. And you know what? They were fantastic. Here is a picture of me in Universal’s recreation of Diagon Alley, losing my damn mind.

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Alohamora my heart, Florida!

Having never been to a theme park before the age of 25 (does Sovereign Hill count? It probably doesn’t count) I quickly learnt that there are things that no one tells you about American theme parks. Important things.

#1 Get there early

Image: Joe Penniston / Flickr

OK, you may argue that you did in fact know this tidbit of information. But because this advice usually comes from travel agents or the theme parks themselves, it seems like a trick to make you pay an exorbitant amount of money on an early pass on top of your already expensive admission fee. Right?

Wrong! So wrong! I would argue that it’s not even worth visiting these huge theme parks if you don’t shell out for the early admission, which you gets you in the park before it officially opens.

Anecdote time: When visiting the extremely popular and recently finished Harry Potter sections of the Universal parks, my boyfriend insisted that we get the early tickets, which got you in three hours before the rest of the crowd. I was skeptical (it was still dark when we got there) but arriving at a ridiculously early time meant that we only waited 15 minutes for the new Escape From Gringotts ride. The chumps who came in at 10am? They waited three hours. I am still thanking him for this idea, pretty much every day.

 #2 Factor in sitting breaks – you’ll need them

Image: Lisa Kline / Flickr

When you get older, your body changes. One of these changes happens earlier than you expect it to: when you are over the age of 15, rides will make you feel sick. Not just rollercoasters, all rides. Any motion simulator, water slide or 3D experience will make you feel queasy no matter how excited or iron clad your stomach may be.

The most obvious way to avoid this is to plan your meals during the walking portions of your day so you don’t accidentally throw up all over a couple of Dutch tourists on The Simpsons rollercoaster. But the thing that will really get your ageing gut through the day is having regular rests. Drink a lemonade, sit on a bench and let yourself recover before you hop on the next terrifying attraction.

#3 You can have a beer

Image: Ricky Brigante / Flickr

Being an Australian, you are routinely told that drinking in public is uncouth and well, illegal. When travelling overseas it’s sometimes hard to digest that drinking in public is actually OK, on the proviso that you behave yourself. Even though I have done a bit of travelling, I was quite shocked to discover that in most American theme parks they offer beer and cider off carts, which are wheeled around the sidewalks. It was as common as picking up a can of Coke.

I won’t lie – it did feel weird to drink a beer in a place where Mickey Mouse’s face was plastered on every surface, but it also felt kind of great. Everything in moderation, compadres!

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#4 Don’t feel ashamed, because no one else does

Image: Disney Tourist Blog

Americans have no problem showing unbridled enthusiasm without shame, which is something I’ve always wished Australians were better at. Australians are very big at the *cringe* followed by the *sarcastic comment*, but Americans show a total lack of irony when it comes to this stuff.

When you visit American theme parks the best thing you can do is leave your Too Cool persona at the door and just give in to the whimsy. Go on that Men in Black ride and squeal with delight when Will Smith appears! Pose with that Transformers robot! Eat that giant turkey leg with relish! If you are too embarrassed to do these things, you need to do some soul searching and rediscover the meaning of FUN.

#5 It’s not just for kids

Image: Tom Bricker / Flickr

It’s really not! In fact, I spent the entire time at Universal at least thinking, “Was this even designed for kids?” Apart from the fact that it is a homage to the ’90s – a life-size set of Springfield, anyone? – some of the rides don’t seem to be made for youngsters. You think a kid will care about a perfect reconstruction of a New York street in the ’50s? Or the animatronic ET ride?

You keep expecting the theme park staff to look at you like, “Are you sure you’re meant to be here?” but they never do. Theme parks are just for anyone who really, really likes pop culture. All I know is, I saw an old couple in matching Buzz Lightyear t-shirts and there is nothing more badass than that.

(Lead image: Jeremy Thompson / Flickr) 

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