How to Save Money with Theme Park Deals and Discounts
Theme park vacations need not break a family's budget. In a summer when concert tickets routinely sell for $60 and more and even movie tickets go for close to $10 in many cities, a day at a theme park can be a relative bargain. But poor planning leads many families to overspend on tickets, souvenirs and snacks they don't want, don't need or that don't help make their vacation the enjoyable time it ought to be.
So how can you get the most for your money on a theme park vacation? Here are some valuable tips:
Pick the right parkTwo-for-one tickets are not much of a deal if your family ends up hating the park. Make sure you select a theme park that offers the atmosphere and experiences that your family wants. If a trip on the freeways provides all the thrill your kids can handle, you should not invest anything in a trip to a park that offers little more than roller coasters and wild rides.
If your kids love Disney characters, you can't go wrong with Florida's Walt Disney World or Southern California's Disneyland. But there are other options out there for families who aren't devoted only to Disney.
Buy your tickets earlyTime is money, and having your tickets in hand when you arrive allows to to save valuable time by skipping the tickets lines and heading straight to the rides.
Plus, buying tickets in advance lets you take the time you need to think about all your options. The last place you want to make a decision about a hundred-dollar-plus investment is in a crowded line on the first morning of your vacation, with your kids urging you to hurry up and hundreds of other folks waiting impatiently behind you.
Start with the parks' official sites [Disney World, Disneyland, Universal, Busch Gardens/Sea World, Six Flags, Cedar Point, Legoland]. Many parks offer "print at home" features that allow you to get tickets instantly, at no extra cost and often at a discount. For Disney theme parks, however, you'll need to buy online a few weeks in advance, as Disney uses postal mail to deliver its tickets.
If you are a member of AAA, your auto club card will get you a discount on tickets, food and merchandise at many non-Disney parks. And you can buy discounted Disney ticket packages in advance through AAA travel agencies. Also be sure to check with your employer's human resources department, school's student activities office, your union or your local discount club, as many sell discounted theme park tickets along with the movie and zoo tickets you might be used to buying from them.
Listen to local radio and check product pacakages at your local supermarket for discounts and coupons offered by your local parks. For example, Coke and Pepsi cans almost always have $10-off to half-price coupon cans in the summer months for local parks where they have pouring rights. When you see such deals, be sure to submit a comment below to let others coming to visit from out of town know about those deals.
Finally, be wary of buying Disney World tickets on eBay. The only way to tell how many days are left on a Disney World ticket is to read it electronically. And the newest Disney World tickets require a finger scan to use. So when you buy a Disney World ticket from an unofficial source, you have no guarantee that they ticket you are getting is still valid, or even if it is, if you will be able to use it. [For more information on buying Disney World tickets, please read our analysis of Disney's "Magic Your Way" pricing structure.]
Don't waste money on impulseAll the planning in the world won't help you protect you budget if you start laying down cash every time anyone in your family sees something they want in the park.
If you are visiting in the summer, you're gonna get hot. Slather on the sunscreen and bring bottles of water, then keep them filled through the day. Dehydration will not only make you feel bad, it'll keep you from thinking straight. So keep drinking water. Don't try to quench your thirst with expensive sugary sodas, sweet foods, or worse, cold beers.
Make your kids spend their own money on souvenirs. Given them an extra allowance if you must, but do that before you leave. That way, you've got a solid excuse to resist their pleas, and they might learn an important lesson about budgeting their money.
Don't throw good money after bad (times)Remember, you are on vacation. This is your time to enjoy. The minute you stop having fun, it is time to try something else.
Theme parks are for morning people. Arrive an hour before the park arrives so that you can get on the park's most popular rides before long lines form. That way, you won't feel like you have to "catch up" to get your money's worth throughout the day. And you can even take time to refresh your family with a nap or a swim back at the hotel during the middle of the afternoon when lines are longest and temperatures hottest back in the park. The worst thing you can do is make your family miserable trying to squeeze every last dime of value out of your admission tickets.
You can also save money, and have a better time, by looking for a sit-down lunch in the park, and choosing less expensive fare for dinner. After a busy morning in the park, a sit-down lunch allows you the chance to relax and be waited upon while temperatures rise outside. And dinner time is when lines finally start to go back down in most parks. Why spend that time eating when you could be riding?
Help others learn from your experienceExperience is the best guide in helping people save money at theme parks. I hope this article has helped you, but once you take your trip, you'll have valuable experience that can help others, too.
Be sure to come back to ThemeParkInsider.com after your trip and tell others what you've learned. File a trip report on our discussion board and submit ratings and reviews for the attractions, restaurants and hotels listed on the site. Please feel welcome to add comments to this and other columns on the site, too. With so many choices and parks out there, other readers are our best allies in helping all of us find the best deals. -- Last edited by Robert Niles
From yolanda zilanis on Dec 7, 2007
From robert w on Jun 22, 2007
Disneyland is offering its 2Fer deal for Southern California residents again. Now through April (though it might be extended), the purchase of a one-day, one-park pass gets you a second one-day pass to be used at the other park within 30 days. You may not use the free pass on the same day as the first.
Or, if you buy a one-day park-hopper, you get a second, free one-day park-hopper which must be used within 30 days.
Universal Studios Hollywood is again offering its buy-a-day, get-the-year-free ticket. Now through April, when you buy a one-day ticket, you get an annual pass for the remainer of 2006. Blackout days apply.
Plan your theme park vacation with our readers' travel guides:
Top U.S. Theme Parks
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Other Top International Parks
Readers' Top Themed Rides
Top Roller Coasters
Top Theme Park Shows
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