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Plan a Theme Park Vacation

Here are the best tips for maximizing your time and budget at a large theme park.

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Take about three days to fully explore any of the large theme parks to have the maximum amount of fun.

Gearing up to take the family on a vacation to a big-ticket amusement park may seem daunting, but a little advance planning can make for a much more enjoyable trip. "There's a lot to consider if you want to maximize your time and budget," says AAA Travel counselor Nikki Sprott, who shares her planning tips for your getaway.

Budget your time

"With crowds and lines, it might take longer than you expect to get to everything you want to see," Sprott says. She recommends setting aside three days to fully explore any of the larger parks.

Go when it's slow

If your travel dates are flexible, plan to hit the parks on their least busy days. Your best bet will be weekdays during the school year, naturally. Sprott also suggests arranging to use front-of-the-line passes and other expedited tickets to reduce wait times on popular rides.

Stay on-site

Hotels adjacent to theme parks come with a lot of perks, which may include early park entry and reasonably priced airport shuttles that save you rental car and parking expenses. "The room may cost you more than off-property options," Sprott says, "but it's worth it."

Take smart breaks

Theme parks are exciting . . . and exhausting, especially for small children. Don't hesitate to schedule an afternoon nap in your room or a dip in the hotel pool.

Bring a bag

Must-pack gear includes sunscreen, ziplock bags (to protect gadgets on wet rides), and an autograph book for collecting signatures from park celebrities. If you want to avoid paying $5 for a bottle of water, be sure to confirm ahead of time that the park allows you to tote your own drinks and snacks.

Dress the part

Odds are you'll arrive early and stay late, so choose comfortable clothes and wear layers in case of temperature changes. "Whatever you do," Sprott implores, "wear good walking shoes."

This article was first published in January 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

Get discounts on many major theme parks with a AAA membership.