In most cases a little knowledge can actually prevent many injuries sustained on vacation especially when you're at a theme park. I always try and tell everyone (who will listen) that when you’re on vacation the excitement and fun of doing something different can lead to some sight errors in judgment and typical common sense. Here are my top 10 tips to help you and your family stay safe on your next vacation to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Cedar Fair or any amusement another park you wish to visit. These tips are not just for theme parks but for anytime you leave the comfortable confines of your home dwelling and head on vacation:
1. First off…stay hydrated, cool, and watch out for that nasty sun.
One of the biggest problems one will find when visiting an amusement park occurs when you are in the sun for a sustained amount of time. I've seen more visitors suffer from sunburn, rashes, heat exhaustion and heatstroke than all other injuries combined. Not to mention the long term effects of too much sun without the right precautions. This is serious business and you need to know all the harmful effects of being in the sun too long without proper hydration. Drinking to stay hydrated is so very important but don’t drink too fast. Water on those long hot days is in fact your best friend and will help prevent heat stroke while in the park. Many think that drinking water quickly might seem like a good idea but it is the worst thing one can do. Some of the best athletes out there during their training will usually hydrate three or four times a day They also make it a habit not tot gulp water down in one sitting. You need to replenish yourself frequently on a hot dry park in order to make up for the energy and sweat you use. This is true, especially during the popular summer months especially when visiting the sun belt of Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California. So what should you drink? There are a lot of drinks out there but in my mind water's your best choice for hydration. Drinks with sugar additives don’t really do the trick for me and alcohol dehydrates leaving you more susceptible to risk of heat exhaustion and sunstroke than anything else. Most importantly, always and I mean always put on waterproof sunscreen before and even at the park. This goes for anytime you are outside. Some of these amusement parks (Like Cedar Point in Ohio) have beaches and the same is said when in between rides and when relaxing by the lake. The sun itself can be your worst enemy and I always apply sun screen (+30 or higher) whenever I am outside. It’s always safer to do this than suffer the consequences later especially when one is on vacation. Also personally I always try and wear a hat and sunglasses when I am at these parks for added protection against the scorching sun. You should always wear comfortable shoes and clean, dry socks as well. The heat reflecting off the asphalt pavement has also been known to give you a nasty rash so be aware of that. If you plan on wearing sandals or no socks you should remember that the average amusement park guest will walk almost 8 miles during the course of the day and a good pair of shoes will help your feet survive the experience.
2. Stay aware of your surroundings.
When you add crowds, rides and people together accidents do occur. Never forget, there are literally thousands of people in these parks and sometimes very limited space to sometimes walk. Simple collisions are pretty common at these parks and are a major source of many theme park injuries. Be aware of where you are, and who is around you while walking around. Looking up and away from your path is not a good idea in a crowd. Sure, it is normal to want to look around and take in the mega coasters, shows, games and attractions but don’t get too carried away. By not paying attention you run the risk of stumbling into someone else, or worse, tripping over a child in a stroller. I have seen this happen and it’s not pretty. Also, if you're the one pushing the stroller, always be courteous when you walk. Many people forget to add the extra 4-5 feet in front of them and sometimes ram (unintentionally) the front of the stroller (and the baby) into unsuspecting people walking ahead… It’s pretty simple in practice. Always watch where you are walking so that you don't crash into legs and feet. Also, if you are a frequent visitor to these amazing theme parks, you've probably heard park employees telling people not to run especially when the park just opened… Best advice one can give. I always tell people, don’t worry, the ride will be there so just walk to it. It’s really not worth it to take out several people trying to be the first on line. Finally… please don’t stop suddenly while walking. In crowds this could end up being a minor catastrophe. Always look around and scope the area and the best bet is just to move to the side, find a bench so that you can pull your map out and get the lay of the land.
3. Stay away from where you don't belong.
Never and I mean never enter a restricted area in a theme park unless you have approval to do so. Restrictions are there for a reason and most times are put up for your own safety. I have seen many injuries, park ejections and in some cases Emergency Room visits because someone was curious about what was on the other side of that man made barrier. Don't climb or hop fences or walk through employee-only gates. If you lose something like your keys while on a ride (or it falls in a restricted area), ask a park employee for help. They will be glad to recover that item for you.
4. Know your limitations both physically and emotionally.
It is a very good idea to read the ride restrictions before you get in line for a ride you have never ridden before. If you are pregnant, have pain or injuries in your back or neck, or have a heart condition, you should not take a chance and go on high intensity thrill rides without a doctor’s approval. If pregnant, you can do serious harm to your baby and if you have a physical condition, there can be some serious consequences (and even death) if you continue down that road. Always check with your doctor before doing these things… It’s better to play it safe on a family or kiddy coaster than in the hospital ER on your vacation. Also, be aware that with some of the newer thrill rides, also have height and sometimes seat belt restrictions as well. If you are shorter than five feet, or taller than six, you'll also encounter rides where you will either not be permitted, or simply won't be comfortable. Many rides in addition to having a safety harness also have a seat belt that is attached to the rider. They only go so far and if you can’t get that seat-belt on, be aware you will not be allowed to ride. I actually had to move my wallet and take a deep breath to ride Millennium Force onetime and it’s pretty embarrassing when this happens. Some parks make special seats available on select rides for larger visitors. Just ask if you think this may apply to you. People who are overweight often have high blood pressure, which could put them at higher risk on some of these high-speed, twisty rides. If you have high blood pressure, or think you might, skip the big roller coasters and simulator rides until you've checked with a doctor. Most parks issue special guidebooks for persons with disabilities, which include restrictions that you need to know. You can always stop by a park's guest relations office, usually located near the front gate if you still have questions about which rides will might not be appropriate and comfortable for you and your group.
5. Know your health condition before taking that risk.
Too many times we hear of incidents that occur on thrill rides and many of these tragedies could have been avoided. If you haven't had a check-up within the past year, make that a top priority before your next theme park visit. The same holds for your children as well. Too many incidents that occur in theme parks are the result of undiagnosed medical conditions or from just not asking the right questions with your doctor or medical professional. Amusement parks offer a lot more than just thrill rides and you don't have to experience them if you are unable to. They offer you an opportunity to reconnect with your family, forget about your troubles, remember the past and make new memories with your family. Riding thrill rides are just one part of that equation.
6. Follow the safety rules. The rules are there for a reason. Follow them!
Don't "cheat" or ignore the rules that are posted. If you are too small for a ride or the restraints don't fir well, tell the ride operator. Don't think that you know more about a ride than the park employees do. Many try to leave space between themselves and the safety bar. Not a great idea and many times this ends up in tragedy. Others have tried to stand up before the ride completely ends. Again, fatalities have occurred when this happens. In short, not following the rules can in fact lead to catastrophe or at the very least get yourself thrown out of the park. Height and safety restrictions are there for a reason and the end result of not heeding these warnings can be catastrophic. You might also be advised that nothing provokes more fights and nasty exchanges in theme parks than impatient folk who won't wait their turn. It's not worth it. Don't take it upon yourself to enforce the rules, though. If you see line-jumping, please report it to the nearest employee at the ride or, if possible, a security officer. Remember, you are on vacation and the family is with you so act accordingly.
7. Stay in your seat to stay safe.
On any theme park ride, it is most important to keep your rear in the seat at all times. Always keep your hands and body inside the car. If there is no grab bar, keep your hands on your lap. If you are riding a "floorless" coaster, relax your legs and let them dangle underneath you. Don't kick them out to the side or towards the front. Please don't crowd others who might be exiting when you are getting on. If you are on a ride with a lap bar, seat belt or safety harness, make sure that it is in place, snug and locked. If the ride starts to move and your restraint is not in place, immediately yell (Loudly) for help. We have seen too many incidents occur where a fatality occurred because this was not done. Finally and most impotently, do not get on or off a ride until you've been given the okay by an attendant to do so. Make sure that your vehicle has completely stopped and that you are solidly on the platform before you try and get off. Often, vehicles stop short of the unload platform to wait for groups up ahead to exit and some get a little impatient. Not a good scenario.
8. Only ride if you feel comfortable and keep your head back, eyes forward, and stay in that seat.
Some rides, especially roller coasters and simulator rides, can whip your head around, leaving you at risk for headaches and serious head injuries. On those types of rides, sit in the middle of the chair and don't slouch or lean to one side. As a pilot myself when experiencing eye balls out (the drops) and eye balls in (being pressed into your seat) g forces relax your body and enjoy the ride. You want to keep your balance in the seat as much as possible. When the seat pitches you to the left, relax your torso and bend to the right to keep your head upright and centered and vice versa Think of riding a horse, or surfing. You want to ride the seat and not have it throw you around. Many riders have reported it helps them to keep their eyes open and watch the track ahead on a roller coaster. This helps your body adjust to the forces of the ride. Screaming is important on a ride because that helps you keep the blood in your upper extremities so you don't experience brown or a potential blackouts. People fear roller coasters because they feel that they are out of control. Know that the ride will only last a few minutes and that it is safe. You have a 1 in 100 million chance of dying on a thrill ride so have fun an enjoy yourself. You will most likely walk off the ride unscathed and maybe even want to ride again. Note. If you are prone to headaches, have any neck or back problems, or have been diagnosed with aneurysm, do not get on any roller coaster or simulator ride.
9. Please…Help the kids!
We sometimes go back to our childhood when we visit these amusement parks but remember, you’re still the parent. If you are responsible for children that are with you, take a moment to explain the ride to them, and tell them how they should behave. They are depending upon you to keep them safe so set a good example for them by following them yourself. If you follow the rules, they will too. Always tell them to stay seated. Like I said earlier have them hold the grab bar and not to stick their knees and feet outside the ride vehicle. Make them look to you for the okay to get on or off a ride too. One thing I always stress is never try and put a crying child on a ride. If your child starts to cry, let others pass you in line. Ride only when he or she is ready to do so. If this doesn’t happen just exit the queue and find something better to do. Finally remember that young kids can't keep an adult's pace in a theme park. Let them take plenty of breaks and have them take as much time as they need. The result of not doing this is often a tired, cranky and unhappy child. Even if your child handles being tired well, remember that their bodies experience a loss of balance and coordination and they are more prone to getting injured. Consider a mid-day break, perhaps a swim back at the hotel, to avoid mid-day heat and crowds.
10. Alert staff about problems.
If you see something wrong -- a broken restraint, a person jumping the line, a backpack that has been left unattended or anything else that could jeopardize the safety of a park guest -- alert a park employee immediately. They are there to help keep you safe. In the end, safety for you and your family is the most important thing that matters. If you follow the above suggestions, you will surely go a long way towards achieving that goal and having fun with the family along the way.
Pete has appeared on over 1000 radio and television shows (including Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Bloomberg Television, The CW network, CNN and the Travel Channel to name just a few) around the country. Most recently he was featured in New York's own "Newsday" and "The Wall Street Journal and the Fox Business Network. Since January of 2012, he has done weekly travel segments on the IRN/USA Radio Network and "Daybreak USA, which is syndicated to over 150 radio stations (nationwide. He is in final talks to doing a weekend travel/vacation show on the weekends for major radio station right here in NYC and has a reality show Pilot called Thrill Ride Maniacs.