Theme park survival is not just about the rides and what to pack in your backpack, but also about being prepared and organized and having a plan.

There’s only one thing I loath more than cottage cheese, and that’s a theme park. You’re probably shaking your head asking, how can someone who’s lived in Florida for as long as she has not love a theme park?

The very thought of belligerent teenagers pushing and shoving their way to the front of the line, crying babies wailing, spoiled toddlers having hissy fits, frustrated parents screaming, long lines of people clambering to use the facilities, overflowing trashcans, six-dollar bottles of water, and discarded gum sticking to the soles of my shoes is enough to make me break out in hives.

So when my editor suggested I write a column about how to prepare for a day (or week) at the park, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.

Now don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the appeal of spending your life savings on a family vacation in a controlled environment, but for me, I can’t imagine anything more mind numbing and excruciating. Which brings me to my friend Rick, who persuaded (forced) me to spend one entire day at a theme park of my choice as a payback for my dragging him to a black-tie event in Orlando.

Who knew, “let’s spend the day,” meant let’s spend the entire day; arriving one hour before the park opened (for Rick, it’s all about getting a prime parking space) and staying until long after the fireworks had ended. Turns out having a “prime” parking space isn’t so wonderful when trying to escape, oops, leave the park

Having a “successful” day at the theme park is not just about the rides, and what to pack in your backpack, but as more than one parent reminded me, it’s about being prepared, having a plan and sticking to it and most importantly, establishing rules and boundaries – in advance – with your kids, including letting them know who’s the boss. It’s all about survival.

One last thing, if you are courageous enough to visit a theme park with an infant or toddler, don’t forget to bring a change of clothes, plenty of diapers and lots of patience, in addition to everything on the following list:

  • Medicated powder for sore feet and/or heat rash
  • Adhesive strips, moleskin and medicated ointment
  • Clean socks
  • Comfortable, closed-toe shoes or sandals (avoid flip-flops, high heels and open-toed sandals)
  • Lightweight backpack
  • Foldable ponchos with hoods (leave the umbrella at home)
  • Waterproof pouch for phone (you never know)
  • Large rimmed hat (preferably one with SPF protection) to protect your head, ears and neck (much better than a visor or baseball cap)
  • Large lightweight linen scarf for protecting shoulders and necks
  • Sunglasses, eyeglass wipes and eyedrops
  • Aspirin, anti-nausea pills
  • Disinfecting wipes for seats, door handles and door pulls
  • Hand sanitizing wipes (better than the liquid hand sanitizer)
  • Individual packs of tissue
  • Drivers license, money, credit cards and/or Magic Bands
  • Sunscreen! Be sure to reapply constantly throughout the day
  • Collapsible water bottles to refill
  • Healthy, low sugar snacks (nuts, dried fruit) that won’t melt in your bag
  • Smartphone w/back-up battery or battery pack
  • Camera w/extra memory chips & fresh batteries
  • Fan (either a hand-held, battery-operated one, or an old-fashioned collapsible fan to ward off the heat

For a current list of forbidden items, please visit the individual theme park’s website.

According to one friend, who remarked, “visiting a theme park has become a parenting requirement,” part of the pre-trip preparation should be having a conversation with your children and letting them know, loud and clear, how many toys/souvenirs they’ll be allowed to purchase while in the park and also telling them soda pop is off limits for the entire day. Remember: survival!

Be sure to eat breakfast before entering the park. You might also consider bringing your own lunch and leaving it in a cooler in the car. Not only will you save a lot of money, but also a break from the crowds might be just the thing you need to regroup for the second half of the day. Remember, it’s all about survival.

Finally, make sure all children have identification, including the name and contact telephone of an adult, safely pinned into the inside of a pants pocket or on a lanyard. (Note: checkout State of Florida issued state ID.)