Edmund D. Fountain/St.Petersburg Times/ZUMA Press/Corbis
I once fainted after riding a kiddie roller coaster at Disneyland and had to be picked up in a golf cart "ambulance" driven by Mickey Mouse. Despite that humiliation — and an unfortunate predisposition for motion sickness — my enthusiasm for theme park jaunts has never waned.
Years ago, we'd climb into the family van with cousins, grandparentsand friends, all eager to experience the newest thrill ride. Now, theme parks entice visitors with gravity-defying, heart-pounding 3-D attractions. But their core audience remains unchanged: Coast to coast, families are the lifeblood of the amusement park business.
"Hispanic families, especially those in Southern California, are such a big part of our clientele," says Jennifer Blazey, spokesperson for one of the country's oldest themed amusement park, Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif.
My summer plans already include a number of amusement park visits. If yours do, too, keep in mind that a little advance research goes a long way.
"We encourage our guests to go online and take a look at what the park offers," says Marcie Perez of Universal Studios Hollywood.
That's where Spanish-language planning tools can offer added convenience for the entire family.
Se habla español
Growing up, I remember serving as a translator for my grandparents during amusement park visits. Now grandparents and parents can use the parks' Spanish-language websites to plan their visit.
Universal Studios Hollywood offers a Spanish-language website and a mobile application.
Disneyland's Spanish website is filled with park information, plus special offers. You can also peruse online all of the Disney theme parks, both here and abroad, and a "Moms Panel" in Spanish. Are you a Facebook user? Try Disneyland's Spanish Facebook page.
Find general information for Chicago's Six Flags Great America on the park's Spanish website.
Most theme parks also offer Spanish-language park maps, and Spanish-speaking guides to help guests, so be sure to ask for them when you arrive at the park.
Once you're at the park, another time-saving strategy is to split the group into thrill-seekers and gift shop browsers (my preference). Then arrange to meet for lunch or dinner at a specific time. Many parks feature call-ahead dining reservation systems that can eliminate long wait times during peak meal hours.
If you're making an entire vacation out of your theme-park visit, take advantage of free resources to help you plan. Disney will mail you a Disney Vacation Planning DVD in either English or Spanish, which covers both the California and Florida parks. And, a downloadable Disney Mobile Magic app for smartphones and iPads features GPS-enabled park maps, current wait times for attractions, where to find Disney characters, dining guides and more.
Since summertime lines at top theme park rides can be formidable, look into time-savers such as the FastPass at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World parks.
The Front of Line Pass offers priority-entry privileges at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Hefty price tags and family amusement park visits seem to go hand-in-hand. But there are ways to save! Most parks offer special online deals. For example, Legoland Florida currently features online savings on a single-day combination ticket that includes the new Legoland Water Park.
If you live near a theme park, save with local resident promotions like the one offered by Universal Studios Hollywood. Locals enjoy a full year at the park for the price of one admission.
An annual pass is another option that can save money in the long run. Even if you don't plan to visit a park more than once a year, out-of-town guests may expect you to escort them on their visit.
"The annual pass pays for itself in several visits," says Michele Himmelberg, public relations director for Disney Destinations.
Visitors to Chicago's Six Flags Great America enjoy special rates on season passes for groups of four or more. Larger groups of 20 or more — such as family reunions — will find even greater savings by contacting the group sales department. And the park's new Season Dining Pass is a money-saver for those who make frequent trips during the same year.
For multiday visits, look for vacation promotions on park websites.
Disneyland frequently features special package offers with their "Good Neighbor" hotels in the surrounding area.
This summer, many parks will entice Latinos with festivals and entertainment with a Hispanic twist, such as mariachi music and ballet folklórico dancers.
I, for one, won't need any special enticement. I'm pleased enough that Disneyland long ago began offering churros along with other all-American snack fare. To me, that says a lot about how Hispanics have assimilated into the theme park experience. And, I'm happy to have played my part, motion sickness and all.