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I am considering having my daughter's birthday party at a local park this year. I went to the Gainesville city site for this and it stated that the pavilions are on a first come first serve basis. 

How early would I need to get there to get a couple of tables in a pavilion? Anyone know or have experience with this?

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Depends which park you pick but some are very popular and I see parents at 8 am in the morning putting their stuff down at Pavilions at Westside Park. 

The veteran's park is nice for large groups, I'd say get there early at 8 you just need someone there to put a few things on the tables, if you want a later party say around 2 then id go by and see if there is a party that morning and ask what time theirs will end that will give you an idea of what time to get there to get the tables you need
We did veterans park a few years ago and I was there by 8 am for a noon party on a Sunday in October. Around 9 am the other tables filled up. Take into account local sports too as 9 to 1pm on Saturday tables may be occupied for that.

I actually prefer mid-afternoon, thinking around 2-3pm, I would think that maybe it would be easier to grab a few tables? 

Opinions? Any voice of experience? 

We have had a couple events at the park, and I usually send my hubby out in the morning to sit and wait at the tables. Like Kristen said, some people get out there really early!

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