I'm the first to admit that water parks are not my favorite vacation activity, but I give in because my kids love them. Having visited several water parks -- both indoor and outdoor -- in various states, I have some insights on how to prepare yourself and your kids for a better experience.

A happy family of four slides down a water slide on tubes.

1. Make sure there's enough for everyone to do.
Water parks can be heavy on the thrill rides for older kids, which may not be suitable if you have pre-schoolers. Check the park's website in advance for info on the attractions. We were thrilled to find that the Ocean Breeze Waterpark in Virginia Beach had multiple play spaces for toddlers, including a miniature lazy river.

2. Get there early.
Arrive when it opens so you can claim lounge chairs, and ride the choice water slides to avoid long lines later. Conversely, go at the very end of the day. While we stayed at the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge in Lake George, N.Y., its indoor water park, White Water Bay, was open until 10pm.

Happy child applying sunscreen in the pool.

3. Sunscreen for indoor parks? Yes.
Obviously, you need to apply sunscreen at an outdoor water park every few hours, because it wears off in the water. But you may also need it an indoor park, depending on the type of roof. At both Six Flags Great Escape and the Kalahari Resort indoor water park in Sandusky, Ohio, signs advised that the "Texlon" roof allowed for sunbathing.

4. Set up a meeting place.
If you're going to let your older children roam freely, always set up a meeting place, like your lounge chairs. They're not going to have their cell phones with them if you text them that it's time for lunch, and the PA systems are ineffective with all the ambient noise.

5. Bring your own snacks.
Officially, the policy may be that outside food and drink is not allowed. I usually try to at least bring in bottled water to offset some of the costs of purchasing it on-site. And usually, I get away with it.

Baby boy relaxes by the pool.

6. Bring your own towels.
The water park may provide them, but they will probably be small, worn, and not very absorbent. If we're driving to the destination and have room in our car, we bring our own.

7. Bring your own life vests.
Find out before your trip what the height requirements are for the water slides and attractions. Your child may need a life vest, and you may want to bring your own. At Kalahari, we were caught off guard when a lifeguard approached us in the wave pool with a pole to measure our daughter. She needed a life vest, and had to wear one of theirs. It was ratty and frayed, and I wasn't thrilled that it had been worn by countless others.

8. Look for lifeguards.
Speaking of lifeguards, check that there are enough for your comfort level at each attraction. It's only happened once, but I have prevented my son from going on a water slide at one park because there weren't any lifeguards posted at the top to regulate the spacing between each kid.

Swim shoes and goggles by the pool.

9. Wear swim shoes.
Waterproof swim shoes are not the most glam footwear, but I have a pair. Our kids wear them too, because they provide a buffer between you and: hot pavement; rough pool floor surfaces; and slippery walkways with standing puddles of water (ewww).

10. Provide incentive for leaving.
Your kids will be having too much fun to want to leave. My daughter is notorious for end-of-day meltdowns when we tell her it's time to go. We now bribe her with the promise of ice cream on the way out in order to make a clean break with minimal distress. Hey, bribery works for us!

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Water Parks to Visit This Summer
10 Best Water Park Resorts
10 Best Hotel Water Slides in the World

Written by Traci L. Suppa

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