theme park roller coaster

My three adult children think of me as not much of a theme park guy.

Although I categorically deny it, they will tell you, in the parking lot of Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta, I once offered to pay them not to go in.

I do not remember it that way. I recall offering them alternate activities in place of standing in lines in 90-degree heat.

But if they enjoy their story as part of family lore, I will let them have their fun at my expense.

(There is another tale, from a Florida beach trip, in which I was sent into one of the area’s popular restaurants to see how long the wait would be. I returned and told my family it was two hours. Legend has it I never really walked in, that I saw the throngs of people waiting outside the door and decided I would say the wait was two hours, knowing that would be unacceptable and we would move on. I will neither confirm nor deny.)

Back to theme parks. Although I might not be deemed a huge fan, we have some fun family memories from park visits that I recall with a smile. So, to say I don’t like them is not completely accurate. It’s crowds and heat I don’t care for. Theme parks at times have both.

One of the challenges we had when visiting theme parks was the age range in our family. Our oldest is three years older than our middle one, who is four years older than the youngest – a seven-year span.

While the two older ones would meet the height requirements for a popular ride, the youngest often would not. This usually resulted in tag-teaming, in which my wife or I would stay with the older two, and the other would take the youngest to an attraction suitable to his age.

Understandably, this took some explaining to that youngest child, but we worked through it. I will admit to only occasionally resorting to the speech about how I don’t make the rules, advising the youngest child to get over it.

In those days I generally enjoyed the thrill rides – the water rides that soaked us and the roller coasters that turned us upside down. They were at once exhilarating and terrifying but brief enough in duration that the terror was short-lived.

Our middle child and only daughter, who has always approached life with a healthy amount of caution, never cared for roller coasters, and wanted detailed descriptions before she would board a ride of any kind.

“Will it turn upside down?” she might have asked. In response I would simply look at her quizzically, as if to say how absurd it would be to turn a person upside down.

Truth be told, we shamelessly tricked her onto a few of those rides, and she has never let us forget it.

We took two family trips to the supreme theme park of all -- Walt Disney World. I steadfastly refused to take a child younger than seven years old to Disney (argue with me if you will, but I submit nobody is happy pushing a stroller through Disney World and the rider in said stroller is not going to remember it), so the first time we went, we left the youngest with his grandparents (which he later referenced as the time we went to Disney World and forgot him).

We took all three of them after he reached the minimum age. We had the issue with the age disparity, but we had a great time.

On a spring break trip to California one year, we went to Universal Studios and Sea World, both of which were splendid.

When he was a young teen, I took my youngest and a couple of his buddies to baseball spring training in Florida and incorporated a couple of the Disney parks and a day at Universal into the trip, which went well.

I learned then that, while perhaps not optimal for an entire family staying on park property, some of the parks can easily be experienced a la carte, as opposed to an entire week (or several days) of theme park saturation.

On another spring training trip about ten years ago, at my wife’s suggestion, she and I did a couple of Disney days. I good-naturedly asked her why, since we had raised our family, we would want to visit Disney as empty nesters.

But to my surprise, we found it quite pleasant strolling through Epcot and Animal Kingdom at our leisure. Not that it matters (much), but they sell adult beverages. Who knew?

The only glitch was when we decided to ride “Expedition Everest” at Animal Kingdom, which we had ridden years earlier on one of the family trips (when of course we were much younger).  

Perhaps we had forgotten it is a full-blown roller coaster with a segment of backwards riding. At the ride’s conclusion, we each visited a bathroom as quickly as we could.

In other words, we learned we had aged out. Sadly, I recently learned that is not the only type of ride I must now avoid.

Two of my grandchildren were in town a couple of weeks ago. They are four and two, respectively, and my wife and I took them to the Nashville Zoo.

Along with showing them the animals, we took them on a carousel ride. Each of them sat upon one of the animal statues that go up and down on a pole as the carousel goes around. My wife and I took our respective places standing beside each of them.

I watched my little granddaughter going up and down, while intermittently taking my eyes off her to watch my grandson ride with his grandmother standing beside him. I also glanced at onlookers a few times.

With all that turning and watching, well, you get the picture. When the carousel stopped, I carefully and slowly walked to the nearest bench to take a seat.

My wife shook her head sympathetically, silently lamenting how bad things have become when I can’t even ride a carousel.

But the mother of these children? That would be my daughter, the cautious one. When the future all-family theme park visits come around, she and I will have a delightful time sitting in the shade.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather.