Our ultimate one-minute theme park tailgating setup

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tailgating at six flags

Our family has had a fun summer of enjoying days at the zoo, water parks, and theme parks. While some of these destinations allow families to bring coolers with lunches and beverages inside, others do not. I think we all know how pricey food can be at some of these places! When we can’t picnic inside a park, we tailgate outside in the parking lot.

My kids actually look forward to our lunchtime tailgating, because we have such an easy, fun arrangement for lunch which we can completely set up in under one minute. Yes, one minute! Check it out: 


Here are my boys dining in the parking lot of Six Flags Great America. We purchased season passes for this year during that great $58.89 sale, and incredibly, we’ve gone all summer without ever buying food in the park. (No offense to Great America — they serve a lot of great food, but it’s pricey!)  We always see many other people tailgating in Great America’s parking lot at lunchtime, but few of them bring more than food and a blanket to make themselves comfortable.  It doesn’t take a lot of gear to up the comfort level from “parking lot” to something a little more along the lines of “outdoor bistro!”

Here are the three items that make our tailgating lunches fun. All of these things set up in seconds, and we can have our entire pop-up cafe set up in under a minute, including the time it takes to get everything out of our vehicle:

Cabela's tripod camp stoolPhoto: Cabelas.com

Tripod Camp Stools: We love these. Lawnchairs would work too, but camp stools are smaller to pack and faster to set up and tear down. They fold up to a size that’s not much larger than a rolled newspaper! We’re using Cabela’s Tripod Stools in the above photo. These are $9.99 each at Cabela’s or online, and they each come with a carrying bag, shoulder strap and a pocket under the seat to hold your keys and phone. Despite being lightweight, they’re surprisingly strong, stable and comfortable too.

An even more budget-friendly option — I’ve seen similar camp stools at Five Below as low as $2.50! The Five Below version is a little smaller with fewer frills, but it works. (Here’s a photo of a Cabela’s stool and a Five Below stool side by side for comparison.)

Folding camp tablePhoto: Amazon.com

Folding Camp Table: This is another piece of gear that I just love. This table folds flat and opens up in seconds. We have other camp tables that we paid less for, but they’re a different style where you’ve got to snap the legs on them and put them together. Not this — grab and go! Amazon has this table in aluminum for $20.00 and in plastic for $14.99.

beach umbrellaPhoto: FiveBelow.com

Beach Umbrella: Having an umbrella isn’t a necessity, but consider that most theme park parking lots have little to no shade. Beach umbrellas are really inexpensive and make a huge difference in the overall comfort level. It can easily feel ten degrees cooler in the shade when you’re sitting in a parking lot where the blacktop’s been baking in the sun all day. I picked up the umbrella shown in our photo for just $3.75 during a Dominick’s summer clearance a couple years ago. Five Below sells them for $5! If you can’t find one locally, Amazon’s got them for $12.87.

As our beach umbrella won’t stand on its own in a parking lot, I made a stand for it out of an old can and some concrete mix: 

umbrella stand

Yes, that’s a Cub Scout popcorn tin — it’s about coffee-can size. I wrapped the umbrella pole in plastic cling wrap, mixed some leftover concrete that we had in the garage, and poured it in the can. I stuck the plastic-wrapped umbrella pole into the concrete until it hardened, then pulled out the pole & removed the cling wrap.

I’ve seen umbrella bases at Five Below for $5.00 too if you’re not feeling crafty, but at the time of this writing, Menards has 60-pound bags of concrete for $1.98. This is a cheaper option, and you’l have lots more concrete mix left over for other projects!

All of these items collapse and stow easily in a vehicle, and again, they’re all quick and easy to set up and tear down — perfect for theme-park commando days.

I was talking to a friend recently about summertime theme-parking, and she lamented that her children always wanted to eat in the parks instead of packing a cooler. My boys look forward to our lunchtime breaks from the action and seeing who can set our dining gear up the fastest. I told her that for me, making our lunchtime tailgating fun for our kids has been key, and I shared our tailgating setup with her. Now I’m sharing it with you!



Related: Heading to a theme park? Check out my ultimate day pack essentials for theme park trips!

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  1. Sue menconi says

    Great tips. We are headed to raging waves 2morrow with 4 free coupons, only buying 1 and bringing our own lunch and snacks! Great, inexpensive way to spend the day for family of 5! Thanks Jill you never disappoint.

  2. sheri charboneau says

    We live in Orlando so lots of theme parks. We bring snacks into the park, they ones that allow it or keep things in a cooler in the car. We have brought sandwiches and juice boxes to Disneyworld and cotton candy in a bag to share. Then we have money leftovers to get cones on the way home from Mcdonald’s. We try not to do the souveniers as well. Sometimes something really special , but I also use my phone while there to see if I can get it less online somewhere later.

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