Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and with it comes the start of tourist season in Maine. Lobster stands are dusting off their counters, souvenir shops are stocking up on lighthouse memorabilia, and amusement parks are preparing to open their gates.

There are several new attractions opening at theme parks in Maine and neighboring New England states, and you can read all about them beginning on Page 27. But before you pack up the family in the car and plunk down your hard-earned cash for a ride on the Goliath or Mount Olympus, take some time to prepare. It can mean the difference between a fun day out and a miserable, stress-filled experience that your kids will talk to their therapists about 20 years from now.

SHOP AROUND. I cannot stress this enough. Almost every amusement park has coupons, promotions, packages and other deals that will save you money before you even step out of the house. Are a you Maine resident? You might be entitled to a discount at one of the state’s theme parks. Are you purchasing online in advance? Discounts are common if you do. Going on Father’s Day? Dads often get in for free. Planning to stay overnight? See if the park has on-site lodging or is partnering with a neighboring hotel that will result in a price break.

VISIT THE PARK’S WEBSITE. In addition to admission deals mentioned above, most area parks (sadly, not all have yet entered the ’90s, let alone the 21st century) will post updates on ride closures, entertainment and promotions like college week that would be great for college students but not so great for those looking to avoid mega-crowds.

CHECK THE WEATHER. Nothing kills the fun factor like sitting in a gift shop and watching it rain bullets. Some rides won’t be in operation if it’s raining, and you’ll have to stand in line longer for those that do.

PACK A BACKPACK. Essentials: Rain ponchos, water bottles (to avoid paying $4 for a drink at the park), snacks (ditto), sunscreen, insect repellent, a couple of towels and a mini-first aid kit with Band-Aids, anti-itch cream, aloe, and something to treat the inevitable headache/backache/aching feet and the sour stomach caused by eating too many corn dogs and rides on the Tilt-a-Hurl.

DRESS ACCORDINGLY: If you’re going to a water park, wear a swimsuit, but by all means, take a cover-up or a change of clothes (or two). And if you’re going on a water ride, don’t wear white unless you want to put on a show — and then you might get asked to leave.

TAKE PLENTY OF CASH: While the gift shops and restaurants are likely to take debit cards, you’ll want some cash on hand for the food stands and trinket carts, as well as for a locker to stash your stuff (and your wallet or purse) while you enjoy the park. And don’t forget quarters for the water cannons.

GET THERE EARLY: You pay the same whether you get there when the park opens or two hours before it closes, so you might as well get the most bang for your buck. It’s almost impossible to get a beach chair at the water parks if you arrive after noon. And for heaven’s sake, write down the name and number of the lot where you parked. I never cursed Boo-Boo until I had to wander around a lot bearing his mocking picture while looking for my car in a sea of vehicles.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: RHarmonPPH