As I type, I”m sitting in Fin’s Bar at Thorpe Park. I plan to spend the whole day in the same spot, sipping Coke, nibbling nachos, and working. I’ve been as inventive as possible this summer, to make sure I have time to work, whilst simultaneously making sure the kids are busy, or motivated to occupy themselves with something other than the xBox and the iPad. I’ve found that actually, with a bit of creative time management, and help from apps and some public wifi access points, I’ve been able to work in chunks of time, without feeling like the kids are bored and neglected (you can see some of my tips on Instagram this week).
Today though, my office is at Thorpe Park, in Surrey, and I’ve brought my daughter and two of her friends to spend the day here while I work. We’ve debated a few times what the right age is for children to do a theme park with no adult supervision, and this is the first time we’ve gone for it. At age 12, the girls are pretty responsible, and capable of looking out for each other. Plus, with only three of them, I think there’s less chance of them ‘getting rowdy,’ as the song on their playlist in the car declared they would.
It’s looking like I’m going to get a full day’s work done here. So far I’ve heard from my charges exactly zero times. I’ve checked on the Find Friends app, and I can see that they’ve already tackled Swarm, Rush and X, and are currently waiting in line at Nemesis. So my hunch was correct. They’re all complete adrenaline junkies. Which makes me pleased that I came here to work. I am really not a speed freak.
Tips for a no adults visit to a theme park
- Decide whether you will drop and go, or stay on site. At 12, for me, it feels right to be here, just in case they feel they need me. The likelihood is that they will only make an appearance if they run out of money, but it’s reassuring for both parties to know there’s an adult around, even if it’s just to hang onto the towels and spare clothes after they’ve drenched themselves on Tidal Wave!
- Consider your group numbers. I’d say you need at least three for a fun dynamic, although four might be better, so that no one is left alone on a ride, or waiting for the others if there’s something they don’t want to do. Four or five is probably perfect, but I think any more that six might make it difficult for them to keep track of each other, and there’s potential for disagreement. A smaller number is more likely to stay together, which is good from a safety point of view as well as them sharing all their experiences and having the same tales to giggle over later.
- Make sure they all have phones, and a lecture on keeping them charged. I have all the group’s phone numbers in my own phone, just in case I can’t get hold of my own child – you wouldn’t believe how often I’ve had to ‘phone a friend’ when my daughter isn’t answering! I also give them all my number in case they need to call for any reason.
- Give them cash, and a guide on how they should/shouldn’t spend it. It’s really easy to run out of money at at theme park, and they need enough to feed themselves while they’re there. You might consider them having their own bank account, with a debit card for emergencies, so you know they’re covered. But make sure they have some change – things like lockers and clothes dryers aren’t cheap at theme parks. And a giant banana walking past the window just reminded me that kids can find it essential to spend all their money trying to win an ironic cuddly toy. If you like that kind of thing, and there’s room in your car to get it home you’re fine. Otherwise, refer to my earlier point about a spending guide.
- Plan ahead for rides, especially if they’re different heights. At Thorpe Park, until you’re over 140cm, some of the bigger rides are limited, but if there’s any doubt, they can go to the information centre to be measured and get themselves a wristband so there’s no debate at the rides.
- Make sure they have water bottles, especially on a hot day, and probably some snacks to keep them going. Lots of people bring a packed lunch and eat at the picnic tables around the park, so if they’re on a budget that’s a good option. There are loads of concessions around Thorpe Park – McDonald’s, Burger King etc., as well as doughnut and chocolate-dipped fruit stalls for treats – the doughnuts are legendary!
- Equip them with a change of clothes, or a plastic poncho, and if you’re picking them up at the end of the day, line the car seats with thick towels. Teens and tweens aren’t squeamish about water rides, and they’re likely to come out dripping wet.
- Bring something for yourself to do! Unless you’re a thrill-seeker – in which case bring a friend because the kids won’t want you cramping their styles – you’re probably going to spend several hours in the café. So bring your laptop (the public wifi at Thorpe Park is fine, and if you’re at Fin’s early you can even sit near a plug socket – win), or a good book, your knitting, school uniform name labels… Far from feeling like I’ve wasted a day, I’ve nailed a couple of deadlines and written this blog post while the girls have been entertained.
- If any of the children in the group have a medical condition that limits their ability to queue, you can get Ride Access Passes for them and three of their friends. My daughter has type 1 diabetes, and standing in a queue for what can sometimes be an hour or more can cause hypos. A ride access pass allows the group to access many of the rides without queueing, and on the bigger rides there is a virtual queueing system where they get given a time to come back at, and can enjoy the rest of the park while they wait. It’s relatively simple to get – you just need an NHS letter stating the reasons for your need, or a copy of your DLA letter if you receive the higher rate mobility allowance. Once you’re registered, you can book ahead online for passes at Thorpe Park, Chessington and Alton Towers, so you don’t have to queue for the wristband on your next visit. It’s a really good system.
So, 12 turned out pretty well. Would I do similar with my 10 year old son and his friends? Probably not – I do think girls might be a bit more responsible and ‘streetwise’ at a younger age. I think my rule of thumb is that if I’m happy for them to spend time window shopping in town, I can probably trust them to cope at a theme park. Thorpe Park has mandatory security bag checks at the entrance, and very good ride safety rules, so once we’re inside, I know they’re safe. I’m guessing that by the time they’re 14 I’ll be happy to drop them at the gate. And then the world will be my oyster! Well, Surrey at least.
*We are Thorpe Park ambassadors this year, and have annual passes for all our family.
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