When I was 12 years old, I swore to my future adult self that I’d always love amusement parks. I didn’t understand how any kid could grow up and stop enjoying roller coasters, not to mention festive parking trams and giant turkey legs. But now that I’m an adult, I understand why my own dad was less than enthusiastic about Disney World. It’s not the rides that are the problem. It’s the people. It’s the horde of plodding, gasping humanity, irritable and confused, knock-kneed and scanning for a bathroom, infringing on your space, inescapable, a merciless advancing glacier of mouth-breathing wallet-fumblers bedecked in gift-shop couture and content to stare dead-eyed at the greasy neck of the lucky slob one spot closer to Space Mountain. That’s the problem.
My kids are now 4 and 5 years old, and naturally, they love amusement parks. I try my best to live up to the promise made by my 12-year-old self, to retain a capacity for joy delivered by superhero-branded roller coasters. But man, it’s hard. Each place you go has a slightly different way of doing things, so you’re never quite fluent in the logistics—getting in and out, navigating the park, figuring out how to skip the lines. It’s all too easy to find yourself squinting at a pamphlet-sized map and exclaiming in despair, “The bathrooms are all the way back at Big Bongo Zika Jungle? But that was on the other side of Prairie Town and we already used our Conestoga Pass!” You need tactics. You need a plan for taming this feral herd of fanny packs.
For starters, do you have kids? No? Then what the hell are you doing on the bumper cars, you loser? A few months ago I went to Disneyland, and the pathetically gentle bumper cars were one of the only attractions that my younger kid was eligible to ride. Yet the line was 40 minutes long because of a glut of adults who thought it ironically hilarious to drive bumper cars shaped like cartoon insects. Many of them shot video as they drove, so they could show their friends how zany they were, “driving” on the “ride,” while actual “parents” “waited in line” “thinking homicidal thoughts.” Look, you a-holes, if my kid were taller, we’d be over at a real ride, the kind that has terrible accidents that end up on the news. But since we’re here, I am going to steer straight into you and try to do something that will make your stupid video worth watching. Warning: It will hopefully involve your phone getting crushed beneath an insect-shaped bumper car.
Speaking of ride eligibility, bringing kids to an amusement park will require plenty of lying and subterfuge. Park admission is typically based on age, but the rides are based on height, which means that first you’ll claim that your 8-year-old is a toddler and later you’ll have your 4-year-old wear platform shoes to gain access to Mater’s Dizzee Hurl O’Rama. It’s an elaborate balancing act. “No discussing your algebra homework,” you’ll say. “All I want to hear out of you is ‘Goo-goo ga-ga.’ ”
After your kids are suitably educated on their Fifth Amendment rights, you want to get yourself some line-cutting passes. The procedure varies from park to park, but the idea is the same: Instead of waiting an hour or two for a ride, you march right to the front and do a wicked cuttsie. For me, that’s usually more fun than whatever the ride is. I could probably enjoy myself at an amusement park where all you do is cut to the front of lines while soaking in the jealous stares from the commoners. Sorry, sorry! I’ve just got this pass that means I’m better than you, so you’re going to have to wait a little while longer. My time is simply more valuable than yours. You understand. Or probably not, since you were too dumb to get this sweet pass.
Last time I went to Six Flags, I cut so many lines in such quick succession that I nearly barfed from going on too many rides. It was awesome. Disney has a different procedure, where you can only cut about one line per hour, but if you have a bunch of friends then you should all get fast passes for different rides and then scalp them back to people standing in line. Buying tickets! Selling tickets! Who needs tickets? Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, no line! You’re not a cop, are you? You’ve gotta tell me if you are.
I’m not sure if I’ve lived up to the bargain made by my 12-year-old self, but I give it a sincere shot whenever I find myself trudging through a turnstile and heading into a world of magic and wonder and—seriously, this souvenir hat is $34? That’s hard to swallow. Just like this turkey leg.