Sesame Street Safari
Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens
Young visitors can dine with Bert, Ernie and Elmo at Sesame Street Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 7/6/2010 2:08:36 PM ET 2010-07-06T18:08:36

The negotiations went right down to the wire.

Was he persuasive enough? Would she back away from the deal at the last moment?

I smile thinking of that hot day at Disney World when my son and older daughter worked so hard to convince their little sister that she really was "grown up" enough (and tall enough) to ride Space Mountain. "So cool!" they told her. "Not too scary," they promised.

It wasn't — at least for 5-year-old Melanie — and she spent the rest of that day and that trip preening about being "a big kid!"

Phew. I'm glad I didn't have to buck her up if she'd decided at the last minute she simply couldn't take the risk that the ride would be too scary. (There's nothing I hate more at theme parks than parents cajoling kids onto rides they aren't ready for.)

So what if you've waited half an hour or more. "Just because he or she may be tall enough doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea. The same goes for parents — and teens — who would prefer to skip the coasters. Don't push a child who's overly scared. Rides taken under such circumstances can be truly frightening," says Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at the University of Vermont.

Don't fudge the height rules either. They are in place for a child's safety. Nor should a child ride an attraction he's outgrown. Always seat a younger child on the inside and make sure they keep their hands and feet inside at all times. (For more safety tips, check out www.saferparks.com.)

"Start kids off with small, less intimidating roller coasters, and let them work their way up as they feel confident and ready," said Dr. Fassler. "Remember, the goal is to have a good time!"

That should, of course, be our mantra as we head into theme park season with its ever-growing array of roller coasters, ropes courses and water slides. Some 400 U.S. theme parks have spent millions of dollars to wow us — and tempt us to visit — at a time when a day at a theme park can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention untold frustration navigating crowds in the heat with kids in tow. (And in case you're wondering, about 300 million people, presumably many families, visit theme parks each year, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.)

No worries if you can't make it to Orlando to meet up with Harry Potter and pals at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you have plenty to choose from wherever you are. Cheapflight.com offers a guide to the top 10 roller coasters in the world.

Did you know this year marks the 125th anniversary of the roller coaster — the Switchback Railway in Coney Island was the first. For those who want a dose of theme park history along with their 21st-century thrills, there's Coney Island's brand-new Luna Park, the first new amusement park to open in Coney Island in nearly 50 years. (Not to be outdone, the 100-year-old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Northern California is touting a new Haunted Castle ride where you will meet a ghoulish king, swamp monster, devil dog and even demented kitchen staff.

Pigeon Forge, Tenn.'s Dollywood, meanwhile, has added Adventure Mountain, the country's largest challenge course, which offers more than 140 rope bridges, net ladders, trails and flying islands. For the youngest adventurers, there's Camp Teachittoome offering ground-based experiences. (Visit during KidsFest this summer.)

In California, gawk at World of Color at Disney's California Adventure Park, which displays animation projected onto giant screens of water, or in what is being billed as the world's largest, most intense 3-D experience, try King-Kong 360 3-D at Universal Studios Hollywood. Here, 3-D is designed to transport studio tour guests to Skull Island where you are suddenly in the middle of a struggle between giant dinosaurs and King Kong. Gulp!

There's even a brand-new park in San Antonio, Texas designed for children and adults with special challenges. Morgan's Wonderland is completely wheelchair accessible and, even better, admission for special needs guests is free and just $5 a person for family members and caregivers. (Make a reservation before coming to the park.)

Image: Thomas the Train
Six Flags America
At the new Thomas Town at Six Flags' America in Maryland, kids can take a trip through Thomas' home on the Island of Sodor.

Take the littlest park goers to Sesame Street Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, where you can ride the new "Air Grover" family coaster or to Six Flags' America where you'll find a new Thomas Town — the largest permanent theme park attraction in the country based on Thomas & Friends. Kids will love to take a trip through Thomas' home on the Island of Sodor.

To save some bucks wherever you go, check out season pass options, suggests David Mandt, a spokesman for the IAAPA. You may pay less for a season pass than for a two-day ticket. Bring reusable water bottles, snacks and sandwiches too. Not only will you save money but also you won't have to wait on interminable lines with starving kids.

Take a virtual tour so you and the kids can decide where you want to go first. Everyone should get to choose at least one attraction. Divide the group if you have a great variety of ages, keeping in touch by cell phone.

Play the what-if game so kids will know what to do if you get separated. Make sure you have a meeting place for tweens. Make sure the kids — even younger ones — know to seek out someone in a uniform should they get lost. Make sure they have the name, phone number and address of where you are staying on a card, as well as your cell numbers. (Check out SafetyTats, temporary tattoos for a child's hand or arm that read, "If Lost, Please Call" and list a parent or guardian's cell phone number.

And remember, said Ellen Schwartzberg, a mom from New Paltz, N.Y., "Roller coasters are optional stuff in life. Fried dough, however, is not an option and is what you should munch on while your friends are riding roller coasters."

See you at the fried dough stand.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Video: Inside ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’

  1. Closed captioning of: Inside ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’

    >>> at universal orlando resort , checking out an exciting new edition to universal resorts "the wizarding world of harry potter ." i think he's standing by the hogwart's express, right, harry?

    >> i am not in orlando. i'm at hogwarts station. as a mugle i'm at hogs meade's station. this harry potter is coming to life right here. of course, be if you're going to experience all of this, the first thing you need to do when you come here, of course, is go to honey duke's. i'll pick up your chocolate frog and then next door we've got zonko's joke shop. inside zonko's joke shop, how about extendible ears or boxing telescope? all the little key word that is really have come to life here. and so many people imagine the movies, the movies that are the harry potter series here have grossed more as a series than any other movie, 400 million books sold in 200 countries and territories. it is a remarkable phenomenon. matt, as you know, we are here for a very extraordinary reason, aren't we?

    >> absolutely, kerry. nice job there. by the way, when that exhibit opens, when that traction opens in the spring, your child's class can actually be there for all the festivities. all you have to do to get details on how that can happen is go to our website at todayshow.com. that will be a lot of fun for some very lucky young people .

    >> all i want is the

Photos: Disney around the World

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  1. Feast for a Beast

    The Beast welcomes guests to his castle in the Magic Kingdom, where Be Our Guest Restaurant will serve French-inspired cuisine for quick-service lunch and table-service dinner. Part of the newly-revamped Fantasyland, the stylish restaurant will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Dumbo's pre-flight deck

    Waiting in line for Dumbo the Flying Elephant is as much of an event as the ride itself. As guests arrive, they'll receive a circus ticket pager that will virtually hold their place in line and notify them when it's their turn to board the attraction, leaving them free to explore the interactive wonders inside the big top while they wait to take to the skies. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is part of the expansion project which nearly doubles the size of Fantasyland, a multiyear project that will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Ali Nasser / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Luxurious cuisine

    French-inspired cuisine will be highlighted when Be Our Guest Restaurant opens in the New Fantasyland. Furthermore, select wines and beers will be offered to complement the elegantly-themed meals. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fit for a princess

    Visitors to Disneyland can walk through Sleeping Beauty Castle and see 3-D scenes from the classic film, originally released in 1959. (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Birthday girl

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs at the "Miley's Sweet 16 Share the Celebration" party at Disneyland in October 2008. (Mario Anzuoni / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Boo!

    The Haunted Mansion, a New Orleans Square attraction, opened Aug. 9, 1969, and is the home of 999 happy haunts. As Disney's website suggests, "Enter...if you dare!" (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Time for supper

    Ghosts dine inside Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Disney classifies the ride as gentle but warns that younger children could be frightened by its special effects. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 50 and fabulous

    Fireworks explode over The Sleeping Beauty Castle as part of "Remember ... Dreams Come True," the biggest fireworks display in Disneyland's history. The display took place during the Disneyland 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2005. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shiver me timbers!

    Villainous pirate Barbossa is hot on the trail of the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The classic attraction re-opened following an extensive three-month enhancement and featuring new characters and elements from Walt Disney Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. (Scott Brinegar / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Around the world

    Walt Disney World's It's a Small World ride is a great option for youngsters. Visitors can sing along to the famous tune while visiting countries around the world. Hong Kong Disneyland opened the classic boat ride in 2008 in an attempt to boost sluggish attendance at the theme park. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. My, what big ears you have

    Dumbo the Flying Elephant takes riders over Fantasyland, and lever controls let them fly at their desired altitude. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eating under the sea

    Larger-than-life replicas of prehistoric sea creatures combine with giant aquariums of exotic fish in the lounge area of T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family Adventure, at the Downtown Disney area in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 600-seat restaurant, operated by Landry's Restaurants, combines table-service dining and retail in an interactive prehistoric environment built around water, fire and ice. (Gene Duncan / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Mickey hops the pond

    Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, poses with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, in front of the Sleeping Beauty castle during a press preview of Euro Disneyland, now called Disneyland Paris, in Marne La Vallee, France. The site opened in 1992. (Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dive! Dive!

    The original submarines from the Disneyland Submarine Voyage, a popular attraction for many years at the California theme park, have been extensively refitted for the 21st Century adventure of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The attraction now takes explorers on an undersea voyage where they'll have close encounters with the fish characters from the Disney-Pixar movie, "Finding Nemo." (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Fun after dark

    Downtown Disney is a promenade that offers shopping, dining and other activities. The avenue shown here leads to both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Should've seen it in color

    Crowds are seen walking around the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif., circa 1955. (Archive Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A visionary's vision

    Walt Disney unveils his plans for Disneyland to a national television audience during the premiere of "Disneyland," the television show, on October 27, 1954. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Blank canvas

    Walt Disney purchased 160 acres in Anaheim, originally covered with orange groves, to build his dream of a place where parents and children could have fun -- together. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
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