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Planning your theme park vacation: How much are you planning to spend?

By Robert Niles
Published: March 5, 2009 at 3:26 PM
Back in November, we started a series to help readers budget their money for a theme park vacation in 2009. We've written about how to set aside money before a vacation, pick the right park, look for deals online and to weigh the relative value of deals at various parks.

During this time, the U.S. and world ecocomy's gotten even worse, with many businesses sliding into bankruptcy, and millions of people either losing their jobs or fearing that they will.

Of course, a theme park vacation can get your mind off this mess. And I think that the advice we've provided not only still applies, it's more appropriate than ever.

Today, I'd like to get a sense of what you are planning for this year, and ask you to put some specific numbers on that. How much did you spend on theme and amusement parks last year? And how much are you planning, at this point, to spend in 2009?

Include what you paid for tickets (annual or day passes), parking, food and souvenirs. If you stayed overnight, throw in hotel and airfare, if applicable, as well. If you're a parent, include the cost for your whole family, not just yourself. If you are a student, click the amount your family spent. There are two votes today, one for 2008 and below it, for 2009. (Apologies for the long vote forms, but I think getting granular data is important here.)

Detail for us in the comments how your spending on theme parks might change this year, from last.

Readers' Opinions

From James Rao on March 5, 2009 at 8:09 PM
In 2007 we spent two weeks in Orlando.

In 2008, we hit Williamsburg/BGE for a week, then hit Holiday World, and SFSTL on the way back home.

Both trips cost my family of five close to $5000 after the smoke cleared and the dust settled.

We saved, and we went, incurring no long term debt in the process. And I am happy with both vacations.

But this year, with all the economic uncertainty, we are staying local.

We bought Gold Passes to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun (Cedar Fair parks). WOF provides a few decent coasters (including a new GCI woodie this year) and OOF is a pretty good water park. Parking is included with the passes, as are a few in park discounts on food and souvenirs. WOF and OOF are about 20 minutes from my house, so we can go pretty much everyday and ride a few coasters, then swim. The total cost for my family of five is $500 for the season, not including incidentals. Considering we spent $300 on a local pool swim pass last summer, I consider this a real good deal.

We also bought season passes to Silver Dollar City in Branson, about 3.5 hours from my house. We expect to go to SDC about three times during the season for a night or two each visit: total cost, about $700, not including incidentals and food.

While neither park is going to satisfy our love for everything Orlando, they will fill the gap while we wait for the economy to (hopefully) stabilize. It is our expectation at this time that we will head back to Orlando next year (provided I still have a job and a savings account) when the discounts may even be better than they are today.

On a side note, we are also big fans of zoo trips, and expect to hit several area zoos this summer including the KC Zoo, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Omaha Zoo, three of the best in the nation. Zoo trips are generally an inexpensive, yet satisfying excursion, one I highly recommend for those on a budget.

In short, I am not nearly as excited about this year's venues as I was in 2007 or 2008, but I am happy there are enough things locally to feed my theme park appetite for the time being. WOF may not be great, but it has a few great coasters, and SDC may not be Disney, but it is immersive and well themed. I am definitely looking forward to the summer!

From 97.104.146.8 on March 5, 2009 at 5:22 PM
First and foremost, Mr. Niles this is perhaps your most interesting survey to date. I hope you will keep it atop the home page a bit longer than the regular survey.

Having said this, my family eschews the results. First, because we live in Florida and took a monster vacation to California last summer. Staying at the Grand Californian will jump anyone's budget.

Second, in 2009 we will spend a sizable chunk of cash in the Orlando parks, but that's because my wife is a cast member -- thus allowing us complimentary admissions. So we will easily drop 2K at the parks but only because we pass thorough the gates without paying. If the four of us had to pony up $350 to stroll into the parks it would not happen.

Weird.

In a related note, this circumstance is mildly related to something I've been telling friends. My wife works part time -- and makes what would charitably regarded as a nominal salary. Facts are, if you did the math, the comp admissions have resulted in a circumstance where we actually SPEND more in the parks than she EARNS from Disney.

Take note, Mr. Iger: If you lay my wife off you will actually LOSE money.

(Chuckle)

From Robert Niles on March 5, 2009 at 6:08 PM
By the way, I'm looking to see what turn out to be the median spending figures for each year. (Click the link for a definition of median, along with other stats terms. FWIW, the link goes to my first-ever website.)

As for my plans, not counting TPI-related day trips and event covers, we took three theme park trips last year: a short week at Universal Orlando, staying at the Royal Pacific, a family day trip to Disneyland and another to Legoland California. Those ran about $3,250 total.

This year, we'll do Disneyland on someone's birthday, plus a summer-long roadtrip that will include Worlds of Fun, Holiday World, Kings Island, Busch Gardens Europe, Dollywood, Universal Orlando and either SeaWorld or Disney World. Now, that trip will include other stops, including family visits, so it's hard for me to estimate just how much of that spending I should attribute to theme parks. But I'm guessing about $500 less, since I'm not planning airfare or Orlando hotels at this point, and we have the free Universal Orlando and Disneyland tickets, too.

From Amanda Jenkins on March 5, 2009 at 6:16 PM
In 2008 we spent over $6,000 at Disney World, due in part to it being my husband's first time, making sure to have deluxe everything, and then going crazy at the Tatooine Traders. We just recently returned from eight days there and spent around $5,800, though this was everything included with roundtrip airfare, deluxe resort, deluxe dining plan, and lots of toys for our two sons. We are also considering maybe trying to squeeze in one more trip there this year along with going to the Smokey Mountains. For, us, we rarely spend money on anything other than groceries and utilities, so a Disney Vacation is important to us. We always make sure that we aren't going into debt though to go. We haven't really had time to travel this was due to serious and scary health problems for myself. We had only gone on two trips during our marriage before these which was for our honeymoon and when my father-in-law passed away. Definitely time to have some fun.
From James Rao on March 5, 2009 at 7:28 PM
Robert, let me know when you are heading to Worlds of Fun, and I will drag my family out to meet "the man who's website takes up so much of Daddy's time!"

Don't worry, I'm not too insane, just a little.....ummm...... twitchy.

;)

From Don Neal on March 6, 2009 at 6:26 AM
Last year we did Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, and a long weekend in Cincy for King's Island and the zoo there. This year our only trip will be 9 days at Disney which eclipses allof last years' trips. We might still do King's Island or Holiday World but no long weekends or shopping included.

And yes, same here Robert, let us know when you are at Holiday World or King's Island. Both are only 2 hours away. I grew up at King's Island so I could definitely show you around and share a little park history with ya.

From Derek Potter on March 6, 2009 at 8:20 AM
For sure I will go to Kings Island because it's an hour away and there is a new coaster. Cedar Point is also probably in the mix, and perhaps Holiday World. If I hit the beach this year and it's open, Hard Rock Park will have my business again. Who knows what other parks I will visit. May go to D.C. to visit grandparents, so that puts me in the vicinity of Busch Gardens, Kings Dominion, and Six Flags. I don't have a grand scheme for anywhere, just kind of going with the flow. Orlando isn't in the cards at this point in time. That probably will happen in a year or two when my kids are of the right age.

As far as spending goes, I will have an eye on my wallet this year. I personally tend to cut back on food costs when I'm on a budget. I'll buy a little something at the gift shop and some drinks, but will likely either eat outside the park, or go cheap on lunch inside, and drink lots of water. Of course, how much you spend is directly related to the park to which you go.

I'm jealous of the road trip Robert. I've been wanting to put one like that together for a while. Since you're heading in my direction, maybe I'll see you on the midway somewhere this summer

From Deidre Dennis on March 6, 2009 at 8:53 AM
We haven't left yet and have spent about $4500 for our 11-day trip to WDW in June. That includes roundtrip airfare, Universal Studios/IOA Express Tickets, SeaWorld, BGA, hotel stay at on-site WDW resort and those tickets. We budget for a big trip every year so we paid cash upfront for everything. We have our spending/eating money set aside for this trip as well. We usually spend anywhere from $1500-$2000 for eating, souvenirs and other stuff while on vacation, but always end up bringing money home with us that we toss into the next year's vacation budget.
From David Eggert on March 6, 2009 at 9:41 AM
I'll likely spend less on theme parks this year than I did last year, but not due to econimic conditions. I'm fortunate enough to have a good job with an engineering company, so I'm not yet feeling the pinch. My job does reqiure a lot of travel, however. Last year I wound up in a lot of locations near various theme parks. As a result I was able to visit many parks around the world for only the price of admission and whatever I spent on food/souveniers. In total I visited 11 parks for around $1200. This year it looks like I'll only be travelling to a theme park destination for work once (SoCal), so my spending will be quite a bit less.
From Larry Zimmerman on March 6, 2009 at 2:37 PM
Cedar Fair Season passes for us, and then road trips to Kings Island (1 hr) and Cedar Point (3 hrs). I'd dearly love to hit Disneyland the Senior this year, but that may have to wait until next. And, like I said before, if we go to Williamsburg, it will be via San Antonio to take advantage of the $199 2-year Platinum Pass they offer down there.
From Charles Reichley on March 6, 2009 at 4:48 PM
Interesting question. I'm in denial about how much I spend at theme parks with my family of 4. I know I spent about $900 for my passes last year (single BGW, and CP Platinum). We don't fly, and I have a Prius we use for our travel, and I stay in $80-a-night hotels mostly. We spent 2 weeks doing the Kings Island-CP-Canada's Wonderland-Dorney Park trip (also saw niagara falls for the first time). But if I add that up, I bet that was $3000 for the trip with food and passes included, of which only $500 or so was non-park-related stuff. And yet I just said I only spent $1500 last year. And I know I spent a lot of money at KD and BGW on food and hats and stuff, and other hotel charges. Oh well.

I don't plan on changing anything this year, although I haven't bought my BGW pass yet because we got Dollywood passes for this summer (bought them last december and already went down last december, we're going again next month and then for a week in august). Since BGW is doing 12-month/24-month passes now, I don't see the point of buying the pass until I need it, so long as they will give me a discount. And as we discussed last week, if I get a platinum pass (which I might this year) I don't save enough per pass to make it worth worrying about the current holder discount ($242 vs $254 for a 2-year pass, or about 1 month's worth of costs).

In fact, if it wasn't for the christmas thing, and the fact that we love the hollowscream stuff, we might skip BGW altogether this year.

I am going to try however to not buy so much food at the parks this year. Partly because of the economy, but mostly because the family is trying to lose weight.

From Chris Danger on March 10, 2009 at 9:08 AM
Seeing that my themepark budget has been local/regional (SFOT/SFFT,Seaworld SA, Schliterbahn NB)its been pretty low due to season passes and the like. This fall, im headed to LA for a dual family/personal trip. Ive was curious if anyone has ever purchased the SoCal CityPass in the past and if it actually worth it when it comes to admission??

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