Smaller Theme Park Allows for Growing Up

StorylandTractorBig crowds beget tight leashes.

Big venues beget time crunches.

Mostly, big family trips to big theme parks are often nothing but big races.

Races against time, races against safety, and getting to and from these parks is often the biggest race of them all.  I’m sure I’ll be guilty of this once or five times in my life, but don’t count on me being a regular.  I like local.  I want my friends, my small crowds, and my couch at a reasonable hour upon returning home on Sunday.  But the one part about smaller theme parks that I’m just starting to wrap my head around is their allowance for growth.

“Don’t get too far ahead of us, buddy,” was uttered out of parental instinct on our most recent trip to one of these parks, but it wasn’t a necessity.  By the end of the day our 5-year-old was happily leading the group to the next ride without a single worry or peep from his parents.  Well aside from, “No running!”

We all grew up some during this trip.  Him, in independence.  Us, with greater trust via a longer “leash.”  The toddler, in power.

But the growing up did not stop there.

Even though it’s only the second year of this almost tradition, my sense from the overall tone of everyone’s reaction to the trip is that this thing has legs.  It has the feel of one of those trips that both parents and kids will look forward to equally every single year.  This has the feel of one of those trips that will grow not only in size of attendees, but in planning and organization as well.

Will a rented townhouse turn into a rented real house?  Will pizza night turn into a pot luck dinner with everyone pitching in?  And will kids sleeping in their own beds turn into all night slumber party in the loft where none of them sleep?

I hope the answer is “yes” to all of those questions.

The last growth moment of this trip came as a complete surprise to me and nearly didn’t even happen at all.  This growth happened to me.

“Stop at a state park on the way home,” they suggested.  “Tell me all about it on Monday,” I thought immediately.  But after a few minutes I warmed to the idea of extending a great weekend with my friends and this was in no small part due to the fact that our drive home was under 3 hours.  So, we went.  The kids ended up playing for hours in the sand and water at Echo Lake State Park, and the parents reminisced about a great weekend while taking in the sights and sounds of our beautiful surroundings.  Much better than my couch, I would now have to agree.

The added, added bonus was two sleeping kids not more than 30 minutes into our ride home.  Kids who would have otherwise been wide awake and throwing some sort of tantrum about why we weren’t still on rides.  This unplanned (for us) little side trip on Sunday turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend.

Putting aside the get-home-as-soon-as-possible mentality and being rewarded for doing so was a big life lesson for me.

Growing up took place all around us because we went to a small, local theme park.


Brad the Dad can be reached at bradmarmo@gmail.comfound on: Twitter|Facebook|Pinterest


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Enjoy a unique, fresh and entertaining perspective on parenting as Brad the Dad learns what it takes to raise 2 boys in today's world. #DadsRT co-founder.

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  1. Brandon P. Duncan says:

    Very true, Brad. While I love Disney World, I would be satisfied with a nice quiet lake, cabins, and relaxation. I started small also. Canobie Lake Park was my first amusement park as a kid. I graduated to a local place in Oklahoma City called Frontier City during my teens, then Six Flags and so on. I’m not sure the little parks could’ve held a candle after visiting a mega park, so no matter what, I still have love for the local small places. And fairs. I love a good fair.

    • Brad the Dad says:

      Canobie is less than hour from my house! Very cool Yeah, as a teen and into my 20s the mega parks where were it was at. We once skipped high school as seniors to hit up a Six Flags and low and behold it was Science Day for a region of high schools who were all taking a field trip to said Six Flags to study the trajectory and force generated by roller coasters. Aka…long lines of kids holding science worksheets and a total backfire. Lol.

  2. AJ says:

    It’s interesting how risk averse you get with kids, to the point you’ll suffer a fairly large known pain – wide awake, bored kids in a car for 3 hours – on the off chance of an unknown pain ( the park is a bust, it’s way too far, etc).

    I am often guilty of the “ok that’s done now lets get back to our comfortable controlled environment” mindset. But as you build up a stable of these happy accidents you build up the evidence to your inner skeptic. Takes practice though!

    On the bright side, if you aren’t happy with the results of a gamble you can always chuckle and say “see I knew that was a terrible idea” to yourself (or your fellow cynical dad 🙂

    • Brad the Dad says:

      Hedging your bets, I like it. But your point about getting back to the comfortable, controlled environment hits home. Kids definitely need boundaries, rules, and accountability as much as we do (and I want it back quickly too after these kinda trips), but breaking these boundaries and rules is often just as important for us and them as well. Echo Lake was that for me, and it was awesome. Taking the stupid Kukomongomongomangus Highway home, not so much…

This is what I think...