Advice about Amusement Parks

Parent Q&A

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  • We frequent six flags and great america with the kids and have started seeing those fast lanes/passes quite a bit and the lines are getting longer.  I know Great America has those fast lane passes where you have a bracelet you pay for and are able to get through a fast lane for the bigger rides with long wait, Six Flags has the flash pass, and I see some other amusement parks have those too.  Anyone has used them before and are they useful for a family of two adults and elementary aged (but tall and brave) kids who ride roller coasters?  They are expensive though we can afford them if they will add significant enjoyment to our park visits.  We are considering getting those to accompany our season passes but not sure if it is actually useful and worth it.     

    Just went to GA today (10/6) and it would have been great to have fast passes. Long lines at many rides.

  • Inviting 1st grader on amusement park trip

    (8 replies)

    As a family we generally don't buy concession foods when we visit amusement parks.  We generally bring lunch and snacks with us and will only occasionally buy ice cream if it is hot or get extra snacks if ours run out. My kids are used to it and are ok with it.  On our latest outing to Santa Cruz Boardwalk we brought along two of my son's friends -- one is a close friend of my son whose parents I know, and another is a new friend of my son who asked to come during a playdate and as my son is allowed to bring 2 friends he was invited. We purchased the all day rider passes for both boys partially because the invite came from us and partially because I'm pretty sure it would have been a stretch for the new friend's family to pay for it.  The boys are in first grade.  The boys had fun and generally behaved but the new friend was whining non-stop pretty much starting an hour after we arrived there for concession food and dessert and snacks.  We brought plenty of food for everyone so he was not hungry, just wanted the sweets there.  I purchased ice cream for the boys during the middle of the day but said no more concession food at least until all of our food/snacks had been eaten.  The new friend kept asking and went as far as to try to pressure my son to ask us for him telling him that "when x's parents (another common friend of the boys) took him to a park they bought him more concession food then just ice cream."  My son said no since he knew we would not change our rules and I think by now he was getting fed up with the whining too.  I don't think we were being unreasonable, but is it really that common to get concession food out?  My son's close friend did not ask for anything but it might be because we have gone on many outings together with his parents and he knows the rules, plus I think his parents have similar rules.  The second issue is that we are going again next weekend and my son invited his close friend again and another boy (another friend of his) to join and not the new friend.  It works for me since that boy really made it much harder on us plus I like my son inviting different friends of his so I get to know more of his friends (the close friend comes almost every time since he spends many of the weekends with us).  The new friend's mom called me and said that her son really enjoyed the Boardwalk and that he heard from another friend of my son's (the other boy invited) that he was joining my son in Santa Cruz this weekend and he really would like to go too.  I told the mom that we can only take 2 boys on top of my son since I don't feel comfortable supervising more than that (plus it can get expensive, though I did not mention that) and that this time my son wanted to take another friend, but she seemed pretty pushy and asked if I can ask my son to invite her son the next time we go and when will it be.... I remained non-committal about our plans but am pretty sure my son is not inviting this boy again to join us for such an all-day outing since none of us want to deal with the whining and the non-stop requests.  For now I remained vague about whether we will go again and told her the invitations are up to my son and we also often go with our family friends, etc. but I'm wondering if I should tell her about her son's behavior or assume she already knows.

    This is not a big deal. You shouldn't have let the kid whine all day- you should have made clear that was the end of it. You say simply to the mom that you'll be taking another kid this time but are happy her kid had fun. No you do noit say that you are happy her kid isn't coming because he wants junk food and you don't like that it's petty and you are looking for conflict. Let it go. 

    Is it really that common to buy concession food at an amusement park or similar "outing" location?  Yes, very much so. In fact, although the Boardwalk of course is different because it has no gated entry, most amusement parks, zoos, etc. do not allow you to bring your own food inside.  Of course, that does not give your young guest the right to demand treats that you have not offered to provide.  On the other hand, he is very young, it's quite likely that going on that type of outing without buying special foods was very much contrary to his experience, and I think a kid that age could be forgiven a little whining when his anticipation of sweets was unexpectedly balked.

    Are you in any way obligated to invite him again?  Of course not.  Should you say anything to his mother about his unpleasant behavior?  Well, it depends on whether you feel this is a friendship worth investing in any further.  The fact that she was pushy suggests that perhaps he does not have the best role model for good manners as a guest, but if the boys otherwise like each other and your son might like to invite him to future social occasions, it's not a bad idea to explain to the mother, when the next occasion arises, that she should remind him of your "family rules" about sweets and snacks to him beforehand so that he knows what to expect.  Don't assume she knows that there was a problem!  Most likely she has no idea. (And decide in advance how you will respond if she offers to send her son with money to pay for food for all of the kids; it's what I would do, particularly if you are paying for admission/rides, but then, I wouldn't be pressing you for another invitation.)

    You have two separate issues here, I think. Is it common for families to buy concession food when at boardwalks or fairs? Yes, very--I would even guess this is the norm vs. bringing your own food. But that's not really your issue here--you have a child who is being treated to a day out who is, frankly, being very rude. I would simply state your family's rules and reiterate them as often as necessary in response to whining. If you do want to take the child again, I'd talk with his parents beforehand to let them know that you will be bringing a picnic lunch and can they help let their son know so that he doesn't expect the concession food. I'm also somewhat aghast that you are paying for all of this, though--I'm happy to have my kids' friends along for trips like this, but it is absolutely always with the expectation that they pay their own way (and that is part of the invitation--"does Joey want to join us for this play that sounds fun? It's $xx a ticket. Let me know and I'll get enough tickets for him to come!") If we are treating, that will be explicit too--but the fact that you are taking a seven-year-old along for an entire day sans parents is more than enough of a contribution, in my view! Good luck navigating the tricky situation.

    I think it is pretty clear where this boy's manners come from! We definitely buy more concessions but I don't think that means you should feel the need to do more. I think your approach was appropriate. 

    If your son wants to invite him in the future, it is probably fine, you can stick to your rules. Just don't let his mom bully you into it!

    Well, this is a weird situation you've gotten yourself into with the family of the whiny friend. #1., I would NEVER invite a friend of my kids (ages 6&8) to an amusement park with us, with me paying and supervising for an entire day (nor would I allow my child to go with another family in those circumstances). Kids can definitely get whiny and unpredictable after a few overstimulated hours, and my hands are full dealing with my own kids' behavior; I'm certainly not about to pay for the privilege of supervising a non-blood-relative's bad behavior! Plus, as you've found out, kids talk and now you have hurt feelings about who's going and who's not. Yikes. If your son is desperate for companionship, take a relative or ask an entire other family if they are interested in planning a day trip with you and meeting up at the amusement park for a day of "fun". #2, Time for a life lesson about choosing friends. Tell your son you didn't like the friend's behavior on the playdate, and you are not inviting him to do activities outside school again. Have fun being school friends. Your son needs reinforcement about what behavior is acceptable in your family, as well as who's in charge ("the invitations are up to my son"? that's a lot of social power for a 6 yo). #3, avoid calls from that other mom. It's of course none of her business who your son plays with outside of school.

    I don't think you should say anything to this boy's mother because he didn't do anything wrong. While it may have been annoying to you, he was just being a normal kid and was excited about the food just like any kid would be. Your son and his other friends are used to your food policies but most people only eat the on site food when going to amusement parks. The Boardwalk is different because it is open and there is no admission but every other amusement park I have been to does not allow outside food to be brought in unless it is for special dietary needs. And quite frankly part of the fun of going to an amusement park is eating all of the fun stuff that you never get to eat otherwise.

    I wouldn't let her know about her son's behavior - there's no way she would take that criticism well. It's rude to invite yourself to another person's event but also not the greatest that her son had to hear from another party that this was happening. I think you should teach your kid not to talk about events with people who aren't invited to them, and pass that philosophy onto his close friends as well. 

    Original poster here.  Thanks for the responses.  It must be a culture difference as all our family friends do the same thing in terms of snacks when possible, and it seems from the comments that it is not that common here.  We go to these types of amusement parks very often (have several memberships and season passes) so getting to eat the junk food there for every visit will likely be too much as for my kids these visits are not a rare treat but a common weekend trips.   My son is allowed to use his own money to buy snacks and his guests are welcome to do so as well, but my son chose not to waste his money on it and the guests usually don't bring money (unless a parent comes with), so we control the purchase of snacks not with strict rules but by controlling the purse strings.  We decided not to say anything to the mom and just tell her that we usually take kids of family friends with us and it is rare for us to take a school friend who is not also a family friend so hopefully she is not expecting another invite soon. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Nut Tree amusement park in Vacaville

Jan 2009

Has anyone ever been to Nut Tree amusement park in Vacaville? My 3-yr-old is dying to drive a bumper car and it is much cheaper and smaller than Great America. Would my 7-yr-old be totally bored there or is there enough to keep her entertained for a few hours as well? Karen

I have been to Nut Tree several times. Most of the rides are for the 5 and under crowd. There is no cost to get in, but you buy tickets to ride all the attractions--and the money goes fast! There are bumper cars. You will probably have to be in the car with your 3-year old. There is a video game arcade that would amuse a so-inclined 7-year old. There's one roller coaster that might amuse a 7 year old. been there, done that

My 7yo loves the Nut Tree. We usually make a shorter stop (on the way to or from the Tahoe area) but there's definitely plenty to keep a kid that age entertained for several hours -- not just the bumper cars, roller coaster and so on, but also the huge chessboard with 3-foot-tall chess pieces out in the shopping center (there's a sort of ''park'' in the middle of the parking lot). And of course ice cream! Holly

We've been to the Nut Tree a couple of times, and we like it very much, mostly because it's TINY. There are maybe 10 rides, if much. It has a nice merry-go-round and a train. It's definitely inexpensive and very quiet. It's nice for toddlers/preschoolers, since it has a couple of rides geared to that age group, and no long lines. Been to Nut Tree and love it

Small World Park - Pittsburg

Jan 2009

I'm interested in finding out any information about Small World Park in Pittsburg. I've looked online and it looks adorable, but would prefer to have input from those who have actually been. (Basically, is it a sweet little gem or a sad little run-down park?) My main issues are: #1 Is it appropriate for 5 & 6 year olds? #2 Is there enough to keep kids occupied for about 2-3 hours, including a 30 min lunch break? #3 Is it clean & well-staffed? I'm happy to go check it out, but Pittsburg is no quick trek from Berkeley. Thanks, in advance, to those of you who have been and can share your thoughts! Paula

I have taken my 3 year old son to Small Work park three times. He loves it, but I think it may be a bit ''small'' for a 5-6 year old. There are only three rides: a small train ride, a merry-go-round, and then an amusement park-type ride, but it is only for very small/short children - they have a height cut-off. We went during the summer, when I thought it would be crowded, but it never was, which was nice. It is a bit worn down, but that didn't bother us. My son loved the rides, they have a swing and a boat structure that the kids can climb on, and if you bring a picnic lunch, you can make a nice afternoon out of it. The rides actually shut down for an hour or so during lunch, so you would want to time things appropriately. Small World Fan

Six Flags vs. Great America for young children

June 2007

We've never been to Six Flags in Vallejo, or Great America in Santa Clara before. Any recommendations/preferences for either one? Some online reviews make me want to stay away - are they worth the trip? We have a 2-1/2 year old and a 4 year old that love rides and have enjoyed Disneyland and the boardwalk at Santa Cruz. thanks

I haven't been to Great America since I was a kid, but I went to Six Flags last year, and was turned off, at least for taking a kid my daughter's age (5 at the time). It seems really much more suited to the 10 and older crowd. However, I can really recommend checking out Gilroy Gardens (used to be Bonfante Gardens). We didn't get there last year, but went the year before and it was perfect for my daughter (then 4). She could go on almost all the rides, and there were beautiful gardens. It's much more suited for the younger crowd. Warning: Don't go during the Gilroy Garlic Festival! Traffic will be murder. Mimi

Hi, We have been buying season passes for Marine World (aka Discovery Kingdom) for the past 3 years and we love it! Our children are now 3 and 6 years old and they really enjoy going there. Because the children are still young, we don't go there for the entire day. Honestly, I don't think that WE could make it! Since we have the season passes, we just go for a couple of hours. Every time we go (maybe once a month on average) we have a completely different experience. One of the areas for younger children has a Looney Tunes theme. The rides are wonderful and you can join the really young ones on some of them. Last year they opened Tava's Jungleland, which is a new area for the younger children with great rides, like a ''Jeep'' train, swings, water fountain coming out of the ground, etc. It also has an area where you can feed birds who come and eat out of a cup out of your hand. A complete thrill for the kids. We always visit at least one show (just so that we can sit down for a bit) and that has never been disappointing. We have seen the dolphin and whale shows several times. One time we caught the tiger show where the tiger actually swam and dove to the bottom in a huge pool. It was fascinating. They are opening a Thomas the Train area any day now. It is fun, safe and clean. I highly recommend it. JOJ

Amusement Parks for 4-year-old

June 2001

I wouldn't mind visiting an amusement park with my daughter, now 4 1/2, but I'm not sure I want to shell out the money not knowing if there were a decent number of rides we could go on. Anybody gone to Marine World, Great America, Santa Cruz or any of the water parks with your 3-6 year old? Thanks, Beth

Fairyland in Oakland is one-of-a-kind and is really getting shined up. Young kids love it and it's reasonably priced. The puppet shows are usually good too. There are a few rides. Lissa

There were a lot of rides my 2 year old and 4 year old could go on at the Oakland Zoo . I think it's a great place for the under 6 set. Daphne

For under age 5, I recommend Pixieland out in Concord. It is fairly close, and makes a good half day event. It has rides geared for kids (train ride, carousel, round and round rides on boats, cars, and planes). It's been a while since I was out there, so I'd call the City of Concord Park and Rec to make sure it is still open. It was very reasonably tickets or a day pass (I think it was $5, definitely less than $10). The kids love it.

Santa Cruz has rides for kids and adults. You have the option to pay as you go or buy a day pass. (Sometimes, if we are passing by, we stop in just to ride the Big Dipper!)There's also the beach and indoor miniature golf, etc. It is a pretty long drive to get there, especially if you are just going for the kids. Lissa

We just took a 4 yr old and 2 six year old girls to Waterworld in Concord. They have a great kiddie zone,in fact two of them. One can satisfy the 6 year olds a little more. But great for a four year old with adult assistance. The river ride ( float in moving water - 3 ft deep with a tube) went well with the 4 yr old. Our 4 yr old loved the wave pool as did one of the 6yr olds. The waves were too much for one six year old, so it depends on your kid. We stayed 4-5 hours and could have spent more. If you are 48 inches you can go on most slides as did one 6 year old. If you are 42 inches and willing you can go on two of the raft slides. -Lynn