By Travel columnist
updated 3/16/2005 3:19:49 PM ET 2005-03-16T20:19:49

Nine hundred bucks.

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According the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, that’s how much, on average, each out-of-state visitor spends for a trip to the promised land of theme parks.

With that kind of outlay, you’d think that visitors to the area’s theme parks would pretty much know what they want to see, what they want to do, and how to go about seeing and doing them. But by and large they don’t.

Oh, they have a general idea that they’d like to ride a roller coaster or see a show, but often they find themselves passing through the entry gates with not a clue of what to do next.

How can you get the most from your theme park visit? For an answer, I turned to Robert Obenour. He's spent his career in the theme park business and is currently vice president of operations for Baker Leisure Group, an international theme park consultancy. Here’s the advice he gave me to pass on to you.

1. Plan your visit. Buy a guidebook. Read reviews. Check out the park’s Web site. Then plan what you want to see and do. Unless the park is small, you shouldn’t expect to see or do everything in one day, so set your priorities. The investment you make in planning will pay handsome dividends on “park day.”

2. Have a “Plan B.” It is not uncommon that an attraction will be closed. In that case, just move on to the next on your list. Also, in the unlikely — but not unheard of — event that the entire park is closed, have a backup plan that includes another, nearby activity.

3. Arrive early. An extra 15 minutes waiting in line at the park entrance could cut an hour off of your waiting time for the most popular attractions.

4. Divide and conquer. Chances are that not everyone in your party wants to do or see the same things. Although it is nice to be able to share the experiences of a theme park as a family or with friends, time (and money) may limit the opportunity for each person to accomplish what he or she would like while traveling as a group.

5. Keep in touch. Go your separate ways, but arrange to meet back at a specific location at a designated time to talk over your experiences, offer recommendations, revise your plan and set a time and place for your next meeting. Also have a site selected that can become a place to reestablish contact should your party become accidentally separated. It will save lots of time that might otherwise be spent looking for one another.

6. Go deep. Once you enter the park, proceed to the farthest attractions first. Theme park designers place much of the merchandise near the park entrances — hoping to catch you coming and going. And it works — in this case to your advantage. By bypassing the shops on your way to the popular attractions, you will beat others who get waylaid by the shops.

7. Choose your position. The front of the line may not always be the best for attractions where large numbers of guests are admitted all at once as, for instance, in an auditorium. The people who are at the very front of the line may find themselves up against a side wall, while middle-of-the-liners have the best view.

8. Leave mid-day. Generally, theme parks are most crowded in the middle of the day. This is a good time to rest for a few hours — regaining your strength for another assault on the park later in the day. Be sure to get your hand stamped or get some other proof of admission that will allow you to be readmitted to the park at no charge.

9. Eat outside. Food prices inside a theme park can be as horrifying as any of the park’s dark rides. While taking your mid-day break from the park, refuel yourself without spending a bundle on hot dogs.

10. Return late-day. As the energy of other guests wanes, move back into the park. This time, visit the attractions closer to the entrance first where it is probably less crowded now.

11. Shop last. Want to buy souvenirs? Do it on your way out. You won’t have to lug your purchases around with you all day.

12. Enjoy. Finally, if you find yourself getting ticked off at slow lines, poor service or inconsiderate guests, stop and take a breather. A visit to a theme park is supposed to be an enjoyable event, not a stressful occasion.

Terry Riley, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a corporate psychologist specializing in the management of travel behavior. Terry is the author of "Travel Can Be Murder" and "The Complete Travel Diet." He also edits Travel Fox, a satirical news report. E-mail Terry or visit his Web site. Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting Riley's forum.


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