Tips for Keeping Your Family Safe at a Theme Park

Apr 5, 2019

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With spring break underway and summer travel approaching, many families will soon be heading to theme parks around the country to the tune of millions of visits each and every year. Parents will be juggling kids, cameras, snacks, crowds — and sometimes a few uncertainties about safety at amusement parks.

Theme park safety concerns arose earlier this year at Disneyland’s Space Mountain when news outlets in Southern California reported that a rider had climbed out of a moving roller coaster even though the lap bar remained locked in place. Park employees guided the uninjured man to safety. Still, the incident, which occurred Jan. 29, left Space Mountain closed for inspection for three days. It also left amusement park fans wondering about safety.

Universal Orlando - Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Roller Coaster
(Image by Leslie Harvey)

How Safe Are Theme Parks?

Industry spokesmen insist that theme parks are extraordinarily safe places because of strict regulation and the industry’s commitment to safety. According to a 2017 study conducted by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) on ride safety, the chance of being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride at a US amusement park are one in 18 million.

Of course, there are dangers at theme parks beyond the ones created by riding the attractions. Before you head out with your family to the amusement park, here are seven theme park safety tips for the most common risks and concerns.

Preschoolers may be tall enough for Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! but not ready for the thrills.Image by Leslie Harvey. Not for reuse in other stories. Image licensed for author's stories only.
(Image by Leslie Harvey)

Tips for Staying Safe on Theme Park Vacations

1. Make Preparations for Losing a Kid

Perhaps the most common fear for parents visiting a theme park with younger kids is simply losing them. It’s easy to be separated from your child in a matter of seconds with all the distractions of a crowded theme park. I remember losing sight of my 5-year-old daughter in Disneyland for maybe 90 seconds, but it felt like an eternity.

We have a plan for that. Before visiting a theme park, discuss with your child what to do if he or she is lost in the park or separated from the family. When my family enters a theme park, I usually point out to my kids an employee in uniform so they know who is safe to approach if they need help. In Disney parks, for example, all cast members have a name tag of the same shape, which can be easy for kids to identify.

With younger kids, take the additional step of labeling them. A number of products, such as travel ID bracelets and temporary tattoos, help parents provide their contact information so that park employees can reunite a lost child with parents. Find a way to inconspicuously label children too young to remember your cellphone number.

Mom and daughter riding on Dumbo in Disneyland
(Image by Leslie Harvey)

2. Follow Ride Rules

We’ve all heard the spiel: “For your safety, remain seated with your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the vehicle.” The rules may seem monotonous, but they are there for a reason. Following the rules and helping your children understand them is the easiest way to avoid injuries. “Park guests should always remember safety is a shared responsibility between the park and the guest,” according to Susan Storey, IAAPA director of communications.

Many families with small children bump up against the ride height restriction. Always measure your child in advance of your trip and then check the height minimums on the park’s website so you know what your children can ride safely. Advance preparation and information helps you avoid the disappointment of being turned away from a ride because your child doesn’t measure up.

(Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Note any other ride restrictions such as heart issues or back and neck problems as there sad stories just about every year where someone succumbs to a heart-related issue shortly after riding an attraction. Pregnant women may have special concerns at theme parks as well. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so skip a ride if you are unsure if it is a good match for you.

3. Put Down the Devices

Speaking of following the rules, it seems as though everyone is looking for a theme park selfie to capture that awesome roller-coaster ride. Please — just stop. Phones can quickly become projectiles that endanger others on the ride. If you have tweens or teens with devices, this point should be the subject of a conversation before any visit —  especially if the kids are old enough to ride some rides without adult supervision.

Many theme parks provide lockers for riders to stash their phones and other belongings. Alternatively, you can leave your bags with a friend or family member who prefers to watch, rather than ride. At some theme parks, guests are screened for devices by passing through a metal detector before entering the ride. Make sure you take steps to keep your phone and other items secure.

Theme Park Safety - Knotts Berry Farm
(Image by Leslie Harvey)

4. If You See Something, Say Something

While theme parks work to minimize all the risks, employees can and do miss things. A friend traveling with me on a recent trip noticed that a ride operator forgot to check the restraints on one of the rows on a roller coaster during loading. If you see something like that, speak up. An extra few seconds to double-check for safety is always worth the wait.

5. Rest, Hydrate and Apply Sunscreen

The exertion and sun exposure of a day at the theme park can be a significant safety issue. On my last Disneyland trip, I logged over 31,000 steps in a single day. That translates to more than a half-marathon in distance. Walking that distance for 12 to 14 hours straight in a theme park is enough to exhaust even an in-shape adult. It can be especially grueling and create safety hazards for young kids, especially in hot summer months.

Along those lines, choose your theme park footwear wisely. Flip-flops are no match for crowded streets or an accidental run-in with a stroller wheel. Broken-in comfortable shoes that are the right size (kid’s feet grow so quickly!) are necessary if you don’t want to contend with serious blisters or worse.

Enjoy Toy Story Land with your family on points

On family theme park trips, it’s important to pace yourself. Remember the basics like drinking enough water and resting indoors or in the shade during the hottest part of the day. Don’t forget the sunscreen or hats, and other sun protection. It’s possible to get a bad sunburn even in winter months.

6. Don’t Force Your Kids to Ride

At theme parks, parents must decide when their kids are really ready for faster and more thrilling attractions. On the one hand, nudging your kids out of their comfort zone can be necessary and helpful. On the other hand, forcing a terrified kid to ride a roller coaster when they aren’t emotionally ready isn’t smart or even safe.

“Too many times we have been at parks and witnessed parents who force their children to ride, insisting once on it, they will be fine. Fear and worry can cause children to panic while on the ride and could lead to injury. Parents should always listen to their children and encourage them to ride what they are ready for,” according to Storey.

7. Take Special Precautions With Water

Theme Park Safety - Water Park
(Image by Leslie Harvey)

As a parent, waterparks scare me the most in terms of safety. Although they are staffed with well-trained lifeguards and many redundant layers of safety precautions, water always adds an element of unpredictability.

If you are headed to a waterpark, take extra precautions. Make sure you objectively assess the strength of your children’s swimming skills. Plan attractions, slides and water features that you will visit accordingly. Check into the availability (and sizing) of life jackets at the waterpark in advance. Bring your own if you think the park’s won’t meet your needs. Insist that younger children wear them at all times.

Avoid crowded wave pools and lazy rivers. Keep young kids within arm’s reach in the water and have older kids stick together with a buddy system. Never assume that the lifeguards will do the job of monitoring your child. The notion of shared duty of safety between the park employees and park visitors is especially important.

8. Know Your Exits

Finally, while you will hopefully never need to leave a theme park in a hurry, things happen and being in a panicked crowd is never a good thing. It never hurts to pay attention for safe ways out of a crowded situation, or at least to a safer area away from the masses (or even a storm). Theme parks have plans in place to shelter or quickly exit guests in the event of an emergency, so look for staff instruction in those very rare circumstances.

The Bottom Line

On the whole, theme parks are a fun and safe destination for a family vacation. Visitors should do their part to plan for their visit in order to stay as safe as possible. A little preparation can go a long way toward ensuring that you and your kids stay safe at a theme park whether on a slow boat ride or the craziest of coasters.

Are you heading to a theme park soon? Here are some other articles that might interest you:

Leslie Harvey is a mom of two who blogs at Trips With Tykes. is the co-host of the podcast Disney Deciphered and co-owns the Disneyland planning Facebook group, Disneyland With Kids.

Featured image courtesy of Disneyland.

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