Posted Apr 13, 2020
You spent months, or even years, planning your family's theme park vacation only to have it crashed by the coronavirus. We feel your pain! While we can't make up for the huge disappointment of having to cancel or postpone your family's dream trip, we've rounded up some ideas to help you bring some theme park magic into your living room.
With a little creativity and advance preparation, you can create an at-home theme park staycation that will delight the kids and get them even more excited for that day when you can finally board the plane for your real vacation (yes, it will come!).
Set the Scene
Decorations have the power to transport you to another world and set the stage for your adventure. In my book, the more over the top, the better! Bonus points if you can keep them a secret from your kids until the big reveal.
One really fun option is to order some lifesize character cardboard cutouts to decorate your space (that also double as props for character photos!). AllPosters has a huge selection of Disney cardboard characters to choose from. On the Universal side, check out these Harry Potter cardboard cutouts, Minions, and Transformers. These 3-D standup bricks would be perfect to set the stage for a Legoland staycation.
If you really want to do it up big, you can purchase oversize peel and stick wall decals or murals to truly transform your space (and even reuse later in your kids' bedrooms, basement or rec room). I was blown away by these amazing peel and stick Disney wall murals from William Drew Photography that use the photographer's real vacation photos. Your family will truly feel like you've been transported to the Parks!
Photo: Cinderella's Castle Wall Mural by William Drew Photography
For a less expensive alternative, Craft Central Company on Etsy has a great collection of vintage Disney and Universal Studios park and ride posters. Order up some prints of your favorite park rides and attractions and mount them all around the room using removable poster putty.
One of the things that immediately gets me excited when I arrive at a theme park is the music! Believe it or not, there are a ton of resources out there to recreate this magic at home. I had no idea!
Check out this Magic Kingdom Disney World Entrance Music Loop or this Epcot Entrance Music Loop. And here is one for Universal Studios Entrance Melody and music from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. Trust me, they will give you all the feels. Cue the music for your big reveal and your kids grand entrance into the 'park.'
Get Your Tickets
What do you need to get into a theme park? Tickets, of course! Hand out tickets to your kids a day or two before your staycation to build up maximum excitement for the adventure ahead.
You can either DIY or hit up Etsy and search for the theme park ticket of your choice. There are many options that allow you to simply (and inexpensively) download, personalize and print. These cute Disney tickets from Kaci Bella Designs are a great option.
No vacation is complete without some cool swag and souvenirs. Were you planning matching family T-shirts for your vacay? Were the kids looking forward to making their own light sabers or Harry Potter wands, or getting a princess makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique?
You can either purchase some gear in advance (Disney sells mouse ears on their website, for instance) and set up a 'shop' for the kids to browse or plan a craft to make your own. Let your imagination run wild using your kids' favorite theme park characters, rides or movies as your inspiration. And don't forget the uber-popular LED light-up accessories for night time fun!
We also found this awesome DIY Harry Potter craft on YouTube that uses chopsticks!
Don't Forget the Food
Some of us are all about the rides, while others of us are just in it for the food. Whether you were hyped for Butterbeer at Universal, Disney's Dole Whips, or Granny's Apple Fries at Legoland, you can easily recreate these famous theme park foods right in your own kitchen.
Both Disney and Universal have whole sections on their park blogs devoted to food and drink. Disney even recently released the recipe for their delicious churros on the Disney Parks Blog and their "frozen pineapple treat" (= Dole Whips) recipe on the Disney Parks app so guests can create their very own "magical moments" at home. Check out this copycat Legoland Apple Fries recipe and this highly-rated, no-cook Butterbeer Copycat Recipe that uses cream soda and caramel and butter extract.
Harry Potter Butterbeer Copycat Recipe From Favorite Family Recipes
Some Disney super fans are passionate about their park dining options, making sure they snag reservations for coveted restaurants like Be Our Guest, Cinderella's Royal Table, or Tusker House well in advance of their trip. Go all out by looking up the menu for your favorite and recreating an entire meal for your family. You can find many copycat recipes for some of the most unique and beloved menu items online, like this one for The Grey Stuff served at Be Our Guest.
Take a Virtual Ride
Before coronavirus shut everything down and locked us all inside, who knew how many virtual tours and experiences existed out there? You can experience pretty much anything from anywhere in the world now - from museums to zoos to iconic sites - thanks to the power of technology. Amusement parks are no exception.
Frozen Ever After Ride, Located in Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot Park
Courtesy of YouTube, you can enjoy a rider's eye view of many theme park rides from our couch (with the added bonus of not having to wait in line)! Here's a great list of virtual amusement park rides for Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Park that are sure to get your heart pumping. Note that these are not officially sanctioned virtual tours, but personal videos made by guests.
Games & Activities
Aside from the rides, some of the most fun my kids have at amusement parks is playing the midway carnival games (that end up costing us a small fortune . . . as if we hadn't already spent enough, right?!). From Duck Pond to Bottle Ring Toss to Fish Bowl Ping Pong to Skee Ball to Water Gun Shoot Out, my kids are suckers for them all.
Luckily, these are easy (and much cheaper!) to recreate and play at home. You can purchase a home version of pretty much any carnival game you can think of, or make your own by buying some simple supplies or using things you already have around the house. For example, a package of rubber ducks, a permanent marker, and small plastic swimming pool (or even your bathtub!) filled with water is all you need for Duck Pond. And, of course, don't forget the prizes!
Disney has also devoted a portion of their Disney Parks Blog and app to providing behind-the-scenes tours and experiences and fun activities and games that fans can enjoy while the parks are closed. You can take a virtual tour of Walt Disney Engineering, learn how to draw Mickey Mouse with a Disney Parks Artist and more.
Considering many of our favorite theme park characters, rides and attractions are based on movies, cuddling up together on the couch with one of your family's favorites is the perfect way to wind down the fun at the end of your staycation.
Plan for the "Real Deal"
Some of the most fun and excitement of travel is in the planning and anticipation. When I was a kid, our family would go to Disneyland with my best friend's family once a year. A couple of weeks prior, my BFF and I would hand draw a map of the park from memory and spend hours pouring over it, strategically planning out our day - which rides we would hit first, the best places to get autographs from our favorite characters, and where to go for the best food and souvenirs.
While your travel plans may be on hold indefinitely, this is the perfect time to dream. Print out an old fashioned map of your chosen theme park for each of your family members, or pull up the park's website and explore together everything the park has to offer. Disney has many vacation planning videos on its website that allow you to explore each of the Parks, dining options, and more. Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood have interactive resort maps on their websites. Legoland's Family Guide lets you explore all of the rides and lands the park has to offer.
We know having to cancel a long dreamed about family vacation is disappointing for everyone. We hope we've given you some good ideas to keep the magic alive and build the anticipation for your upcoming travels. Check out 17 Fun Things to do With Kids at Home for more ideas for family fun.
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