Yesterday I went with my boys and my parents to Dollywood, the Dolly Parton-founded amusement park in Pigeon Forge, TN. I have just one thing to say about taking 2 and 3 year olds to amusement parks: DON’T DO IT!!!
Dollywood is familiar to our family because I grew up pretty close to the area. I went there growing up and we’ve continued to go in recent years. My parents currently live two hours from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. We all went (my parents, my sister’s family, and my family) after Christmas last year and my parents bought 2012 Season Passes for themselves and I paid a little extra for that day’s ticket to upgrade to a Season Pass. They make it well worth it to upgrade to a pass worth an entire year if you live close or travel that way often.
Yesterday was the boys’ second trip to Dollywood and they were super excited. We had traveled the day before from Kentucky down to Tennessee and unfortunately they got very little sleep that night — Spencer (2) and I only got about 4 hour’s sleep, so I was nervous about how he was going to behave. Amazingly, neither of the boys slept a wink on the drive to Dollywood. I thought for sure they would doze off, but perhaps the excitement of the trip and having Mommy crammed into the backseat in between their huge car seats was enough to keep them awake.
We forego the expensive parking lot at the amusement park and instead use the free municipal parking at a place called Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge and pay $0.50 for a short trolley ride to the main gates. Because of this, I can’t bring the boys’ double stroller or wagon and I had to rent one at the park for a cool $13.00. It is a nice, easy to use stroller and I have no complaints about it. Unlike the last time we visited, when Spencer flat out REFUSED to ride in the wagon (there’s also a long, sad tale about the trolley and the wagon that I don’t care to re-tell at this time), both boys hopped right in the stroller. They jumped in so quickly, in fact, that they had a little fight over who sat where.
We first took the boys on the carousel and then headed to the Country Fair section that includes all of the kiddie rides. Miles went on a little roller coaster and several other little kid rides that Spencer wouldn’t get onto. When Miles went to ride the bumper cars with my dad (My dad, 66 years old, LOVES the bumper cars!), I managed to get Spencer onto the Flying Elephants ride with me, which he loved and then thought he was big enough to ride all of the rides.
After Mom and I rode the Scrambler with Miles (that’s Mom’s and my favorite ride), we ate lunch and then decided to walk all the way to the other side of the park, a newer area, to hopefully lull the boys into a nap. It worked, at least for about a half hour. I rode the Tennessee Tornado by myself and then walked the boys up to a playground where they played with Mom while I rode the Mystery Mine. After that, we met up with my dad (who had been in a show) and the boys rode the Rockin’ Roadway cars with Grandma and Grandpa.
We rode the Train next and our final stop was The Blazing Fury, one of the oldest rides at the park. Miles is tall enough to ride but it’s a dark ride with somewhat creepy fire scenes inside, so I wasn’t sure if riding it would thrill him or scar him for life. I took the risk and he loved it! He wasn’t scared at all and wanted to ride it again! We got in line again but unfortunately when they measured him this time (probably the 5th time he was measured that day) he somehow wasn’t tall enough and they wouldn’t let him on. We had even used the park’s centralized measuring system early in the day but Miles had taken off the orange wristband that says he is tall enough. It was a frustrating way to end our time, but I think we’ll get over it.
Over all, we had a good time, but I think I’ve decided that eight hours at an amusement park with a toddler and preschooler is more than enough time! Here are a few takeaway tips for you on taking little ones to an amusement park:
- Pack light. Do you really need that many diapers? Do you really need a bunch of distraction toys? Probably not.
- Plan your day, loosely. You never know what everyone’s mood will be like, so don’t go overboard and plan every ride and every movement. Figure out roughly what you want to do and when you’ll do it.
- Prepare to lose your kid. No, really. As much as I love “free range” parenting, I do a few things before taking the boys into a huge crowd. One thing I like to do is have them wear the same color on their shirts so that if they run amok, I only have to look for one color in a sea of people. Yesterday we were Team Orange. I also took a picture of them that day so that in case of an emergency I had a photo of them that day in those clothes to show to Security. That might seem a little crazy, but it’s not like I’m imagining them being taken by crazies, just picturing them running off in search of cotton candy and getting lost.
- Call it a day. You probably won’t get to do or see everything you want when you go to an amusement park with kids. At some point, you have to go home and wouldn’t you rather do it before your kids melt down rather than after? I promise the world won’t end if you don’t ride the new roller coaster that day.
Have you taken your small kids to an amusement park? What tips would you add to my completely non-all-inclusive list?