It was not always that way though. I remember going to the parks before kids and laughing at all of the silly parents ruining their day by bringing their kids. The first time I brought Kayden to Busch Gardens, when he was 3 or 4 months old, I packed my stroller to the hilt. I was so nervous that someone was going to steal my stroller in stroller parking for the train that I took the front wheel off and carried it with me(while my parents and strangers laughed at me the whole way). I tried to stick to Kayden's nap schedule and even put his bed time playlist on my iPod to play in the stroller while he was supposed to be sleep and then got flustered when he didn't sleep when I wanted him to.
I have since learned a few tricks and I hope you find them useful the next time you are heading out to a theme park!
1. Parking. At both Busch Gardens Tampa and Disney World, you have to ride a tram to get to the park from the parking lot. When you have everything loaded in your stroller this can be a HUGE pain, especially if you don't have enough adults to hold kids plus an extra to carry your stroller. You can walk all the way from the parking lot but is a VERY long walk.
At Busch Gardens I would suggest either paying for the platinum parking that is much closer or dropping off one adult at the front with the kids and stroller while the other goes back and parks.
At Disney, especially if you are going to the Magic Kingdom, park at Epcot. Epcot has a monorail that takes you to the transportation center. From there you can hop on another monorail or ferry to the MK without ever having to break down your stroller. If you want to go to Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom you will have to take a bus where you are required to break down your stroller so keep this in mind while packing up. Backpacks and baby carriers are great choices so you can keep your hands free to hold rails since you may not be able to sit down on the bus.
At both Sea World/Aquatica and Universal Studios you walk right from your car into the park. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the same.
2. Food. All parks say that no outside food is allowed in the park. Ignore this. Most parks will allow food enough for one meal for each child and some snacks. Most will also allow for plenty of drinks, especially in the summer months. Just don't drag a huge cooler into the park and you should be fine. It really depends on the security checker so put on your best smile when they come to look in your bag :)
You can also do what my parents did when I was a kid and pack a picnic lunch and leave it in the car. We would leave the park and eat our lunch in the car and it saved them a ton of money!
3. Locate the closest baby care center. Somehow I didn't even realize that these existed until a month ago. Now, they are my best friend! They are much more than a place to change a dirty diaper! They have nursing rooms, changing tables, a play area for older kids and a kitchenette to heat up bottles and baby food(although I spotted one mom making Easy Mac at Disney during our last trip!). At Sea World it is in the kids play area close to Shamu stadium and in Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios it is in the front of the park.
4. Plan for shows. Not only are they a great way to get out of the heat during the summer but they are a great place to nurse and allow for some down time for your toddler. Grab a show schedule and plan your day out around your feeding schedule. A word of advice if you are a Nurser in Public... don't sit on the top row of the Whale and Dolphin theater at Sea World thinking you can NIP without people noticing. Latecomers to the show will stand on the ledge above your head and literally be looking over your shoulder while you feed your little one! Another great place to NIP is the covered stroller parking. I will nurse Liam while Adam and Kayden go on a ride. Usually I am shielded by other strollers and there is a curb I can sit on. It doesn't sound ideal but it a great way to people watch!
5. Baby Carriers. If you have a baby under one, bring a carrier. I LOVE my Ergo Sport for parks. As awesome as I think my stroller is, no kid would want to be pent up in one all day. A well structured baby carrier that distributes weight through your hips will be your lifesaver. At Disney I have taken Liam on Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise in my carrier. I may have even nursed him in Small World once or Twice :)
6. Find rides with a Child Swap. So far I have only found this at Universal but it is a great idea. You can go through the roller coaster line with the whole family and then swap out riders. Make sure to ask the ride attendant BEFORE going through the line if the ride offers child swap.
7. Know when to call it quits. One thing about going to a park with kids under 5 is you never know when they will have a meltdown. You may just have to leave the park all together, but always try and keep ahead of the meltdown and head it off. Remember, you are there to have fun so relaxing the rules can help all of you enjoy your day.
8. Overcommunicate with your spouse. There is nothing like a long hot day at the park to make you argue with your husband. Most of our arguments start because we didn't communicate what we had in mind for the day.
9. Have fun! Live through the eyes of your little one but do things you will enjoy too. You pay a lot getting into those parks, make the most of your money and have a great day! Relax and enjoy the family time.
Liam and I in one of our nursing spots at Magic Kingdom