Maneuvering efficiently and joyfully in amusement parks with my three boys has brought me to the conclusion that being tech savvy does not automatically translate to being amusement park savvy. Conquering long lines for roller coasters, water rides and cheese pizza has proved way more challenging than mastering the firewalls of a home network. Or so I thought, until I discovered powerful new apps.
For my recent trip to Disneyland, my kids and I prepared by previewing the different Disney parks using the Disneyland Explorer (Free) app for the iPad and checked out the other official Disneyland Mobile apps. I loaded Disney Mobile Magic (Free) to my Android phone and reviewed official park information, including a GPS-enabled map and which rides offer Fast Passes.
A Disneyland Fast Pass enables park visitors to reserve a spot on a ride in advance, reducing the time spent in line to just minutes. I was able to check which rides have fast passes on the app and then reserve them every two hours by visiting the Fast Pass area kiosks for the rides.
But with my kids, every outing requires flexibility and expectation setting. At the park I also used an app by VersaEdge Software LLC, called the Disneyland Wait Time (Free with ads, $0.99 ad-free) app, to check the delays at each ride and rides nearest to our GPS location. This helped mom and team decide which ride was next, keeping kids moving and excited rather than stagnant and punchy. To navigate the park like a pro, we used the interactive maps on the Disney Mobile Magic app rather than the paper maps that for some reason always lead one mom and three boys in four different directions.
I will also be visiting other parks this summer, so I wondered what other amusement park apps are available. I found official GPS location-enabled apps for many popular destinations, including Busch Gardens, Hersheypark, Knotts Berry Farms, Legoland, SeaWorld, Sesame Place, Universal Studio’s Orlando and Universal Studio’s Hollywood in iTunes and many also with Android versions. There are also some Windows Phone apps being developed, including the Disney World wait time app.
The Ride Hopper Free app has wait times, height requirements, park open/close times and the ability to sort by name or wait time for more than 260 parks worldwide. But with this app I found only some rides had information displayed.
The official park apps are probably a better bet than ones developed by outside developers, but there are some solid third-party options. For any app, I suggest downloading the free version first and test it out at home. I loaded the Disney official mobile apps at home so I was comfortable using them before our trip to the park.
We also used the VersaEdge Software Disneyland Wait Time app while we were home, which helped us understand the wait time for various rides at different times of the day. Of course, using the GPS features from our home gave us humorous results — my son laughed when the app showed we were more than 380 miles away from our favorite Disneyland Space Mountain ride. Luckily, we would board a plane to Disneyland the next day and be closer soon.
Bonus Tip: I have a 4G phone that eats up battery life, especially when I have the GPS-enabled features, which many of the park apps required to give location-related information. That’s why I usually bring a mobile charger with me. I also shut off my GPS feature when not in use. And when all else fails, there are still old-fashioned paper maps. That is, if I remember how to hold up the unraveled map while keeping my boys under control.
Guest columnist Beth Blecherman covers family technology at TechMamas.com and @TechMama on Twitter.