Even though the weather has been a roller coaster unto itself recently, the end of school this week means families will soon be flocking to theme parks in droves.

The good news is that there are plenty of theme parks within driving distance of Greater Portland, so you don’t have to undergo the hassle and expense of going to the Mouse House in Florida, where Tigger, Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse have all been accused of feeling up female patrons in recent years.

(I’m not making that up, by the way. Also true: About 10 years ago, Disney World employees had to sue for the right to wear their own underwear under their costumes after getting pubic lice and scabies from the park-issued skivvies.)

Most New England theme parks also have new attractions and price specials for Father’s Day, so this weekend provides the perfect opportunity to check them out. See Page E35 for the low-down.

Before you go, though, you need to prepare — especially if you take the kids. Preparing for a day at the theme park can make the difference between an enjoyable family outing and a sing-songy trip into hell.

• Look for deals online. The economy’s still soft, so theme parks are doing everything they can to entice visitors.

• Wear comfortable shoes. Really comfortable shoes. If you wear flip-flops, you’re going to feel like someone took an ice pick to your shins.

• Take a backpack. Not only will you need to bring some things inside the park, you’ll need something to stash all the stuff your kid will con you into buying.

• Things to put in the backpack: germ killer, sunscreen, a rain poncho, sunglasses, bottled water (you can refill them at water fountains and avoid paying $4 per bottle at the park) and light snacks, like cereal bars (thus avoiding the high-priced park food).

• Take a cooler full of cold drinks and sandwiches. If the park allows you to take the cooler inside, great. If not, leave it in the car and return for lunch. Did I mention that park food is overpriced?

• Grab a map as soon as you get into the park to avoid wandering around for 20 minutes trying to find the teacup ride.

• Remember your cellphones and cameras, and remember to charge the batteries.

• Designate a meet-up place and time. Because some people will want to ride the gravity-defying roller coaster of death, and others will be just fine with the slow-moving antique cars. And someone will forget to charge their cellphone beforehand.

• I would say check the weather before you go, but if the past week hasn’t taught you to do that already, it won’t make a difference. Have fun waiting the storm out in the gift shops and trying to keep your kid from picking up $5 pencils.

• Don’t force children to ride things they don’t want to, or to stay longer than they want to. I know what you’re thinking: “But I paid a lot of money to get in here, so we’re going to get as much out of it as we can.” Here’s what will happen: The kids will get tired and whiney, you will get upset, the kids will cry, and the day will be ruined. Congratulations, you just threw away a lot of money.

• Write down the name of the section and the row number where you parked. Don’t think you’ll remember it in your head. You won’t.

• Plan on doing nothing the next day. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

[email protected]