Are you really ready for the theme park? Sunscreen applied? Check. Favorite flats? Check. Water bottle? Check. Okay, all the basics seem covered. But before you face the dizzying highs and draining lows of a full day of family park fun, arm yourself with the right technology. You can use these gadgets and apps (which barely take up any space) to not only save time and money, but actually enhance your experience.
1. Avoid Crowds and Lines: Undercover Tourist's crowd calendar is invaluable when planning the best time to visit an Orlando theme park. By purchasing discounted passes through them (for less than AAA), you can skip the buzz-killing ticket window wait when you first arrive. Follow their strategic 'frog tour' sequence to optimize your time as you leap through each part of the park. And as you're sailing on the current ride, check out their app for the wait times of the next rides you want to go on.
2. Get Your Bearings: The way SeaWorld Orlando's organized is a little fishy. (Sorry, it was right there.) Seriously, it can be tricky for first timers to navigate, even when using the park's paper map. It's a good thing they have such a helpful in-park app. You can use it to select restrooms, eateries, ATMs, etc. and it shows a compass, how far you are, and highlights a path to your desired destination. It's also great for finding that beluga whale, cownose ray, walrus, or other particular animal you'd like to see. It's equally helpful for quickly finding show times and other events. And it even offers directions, general park info, weather, and a way to find your car, all within an easy-to-use interface.
3. Don't Drown Your Device: Splashy sea life shows, log flumes, and roaring rapids rides have a not-so-funny way of ending the lives (and warranties) of gadgets. So before you take the plunge or sit in that soak zone, seal up your device in a waterproof Aryca case. Most are good down to 6 meters (plenty, as long as Shamu doesn't grab it and get any bright ideas). You'll still be able to make calls and take pictures. And you can sit as close to the aquatic action as you like.
4. Play Interactive Games: Exploring the rides and countries of Epcot is enjoyable enough, but participating in Agent P's World Showcase Adventure really clinches the deal. It's a series of cool interactive quests based on Disney's animated Phineas and Ferb show. At several stations placed strategically throughout Epcot, you pick up a special "F.O.N.E." device (a repurposed cellphone). Seven different countries offer adventures for individuals or teams to enjoy. You watch entertaining animated clues on your FONE and use it to trigger all sorts of very physical and multimedia stuff in the real world. It's a fun way to explore a hidden layer within Epcot.
5. Have Fun After Dark: Even after the sun goes down at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, you still have a chance to spot various animals roaming the grounds, thanks to night vision goggles. This popular program is free (on a first come, first served basis) for both hotel guests and visitors. Each night from around 8:30-11 pm, the guides are happy to share their goggles, give you a special view across the savannas, and tell you about the animals happening by. Check the Guest Activity calendar for specific times when you're there.
6. Keep Track of Your Group: At least in theory, it's nice to return home from the park with the same number of family members that you started with. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon each offer family location services for about ten bucks a month. Although similar apps are free, they tend to only work on Android or iOS, as opposed to both. (A problem if your family and friends don't all share the same smartphone operating system.) Furthermore, these monthly subscriptions can help you keep track of where each member of the family (who carries a phone) is at all times, both in and out of the park. And it doesn't matter what kind of phone each person has—heck, it can even be a feature phone! Best of all, if you'd like to try out the service, it's often offered free for the first 30 days.
7. Find Your Car: After walking 12,000+ steps, it's nice to end the day with a minimum number of steps to the car. And who knows if between all the pictures and calling and other app usage during the day you'll still have any smartphone battery left? Useful outside (or even inside) the park, Audiovox's rechargeable Ecco ($70) goes right on your keyring and stores up to three locations. When you're ready to return, just hit a button and it points your in the right direction, up to 9,999 miles away. (Ideally, you'll have parked closer.) With an electronic compass, arrow, and colored indicator light, you'll be on your way back to the spot you parked seemingly days ago. Then you'll just have to find your way out of the lot...
Award-winning Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is an expert in gadgets, gambling, and travel. He's written four books, hundreds of mobile and wireless tips, and dozens of freelance articles. In addition to his Discovery News gadget blog contributions, you can find links to other gadget articles, social feeds and lists of his current favorite gadgets at about.me/gadgetfans.
Photo credit: Theme park via Shutterstock