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6 essential things you'll need before going to a theme park this summer

Guests make their way toward the entrance of Universal Studios Florida, a theme park at Universal Orlando Resort, in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. The park, which has an entertainment industry theme, features rides and attractions related to movies and television series.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Guests make their way toward the entrance of Universal Studios Florida, a theme park at Universal Orlando Resort, in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. The park, which has an entertainment industry theme, features rides and attractions related to movies and television series.

With Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer, we're back with a new a guide to what's new or noteworthy in Central Florida attractions.

For our annual Theme Park Guide, we checked out Disney World, Universal Orlando, Legoland and other attractions fighting for your vacation dollars this summer. This year, count Disney's Pandora and Universal's Volcano Bay among major newcomers.

Covering theme parks is the part of my job I love most, since it means riding roller coasters and checking out new multimillion dollar thrills. But it's not just for work. I actually love these places. Having spent more time than most at theme parks, I will happily share my must-have and must-do essentials to ensure you're the happiest visitor on Earth.

The theme park's app: Download this the night before because Wi-Fi can be spotty. Theme park apps are an essential way to save time and sometimes money. There are many free third party park apps, but all parks have official apps these days. You can get wait times for rides, and some even send alerts when the wait time gets into your pre-set level of interest. They also have maps and show schedules, and some even let you save a place in line at a set time and earn rewards including free drinks for checking in at places around the park.

Your top three attractions: Never walk into a theme park staring at a paper map trying to figure out where to go. You've spent at least $100 to be there. Arrive the minute it opens, have a bucket list of attractions and make a beeline before crowds pile up.

Your bag: I go back and forth: A light string bag that leaves my hands free, or the mega mom bag that's essentially a suitcase? If you're a roller coaster fan, you have to check any bag in a locker, so size is moot. While it's nice to have everything you need, that bag can get heavy by the end of the day. Decide your priorities.

The contents of said bag: Stock your tote with battery-powered fans, frozen water bottles and phone chargers. Pick up a $1 battery powered fan at Walmart in lieu of the park's $10 version. Even better? The ones with water misters. A cord to charge your phone is vital because your battery will drop like a rock in a theme park. Even better? A portable battery so you don't waste precious time at a charging station. Don't forget a small tube of sunscreen, and reapply at least twice.

Stroller essentials: I always like to have a big beach towel in the stroller in case anyone wants to splash around. It also comes in handy when the sun is shining and the canopy isn't helping. Instant nap setup. Roll up as a pillow, unroll as a blanket.

The right clothes: Clothing that wicks moisture is ideal, and a wide-brimmed hat can make a world of difference. Some rides will get you wet, so stash a pair of extra socks, or just wear comfortable sandals. Choose garments with the most pockets. You'll want them when they're not there.

6 essential things you'll need before going to a theme park this summer 05/24/17 [Last modified: Thursday, May 25, 2017 5:21am]
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