How else can we save money on a theme park vacation?
Easily. By watching what we spend while inside the park.
Think about the ways that your diligently saved cash can evaporate inside a theme park. Forget the sunscreen? That's $20. Headache? Another $10 for a handful of pain pills. Drinks can cost $3 a serving. Scrape a knee? You can get a free bandage at first aid, but only after you waste an hour of your day waiting around and filling out accident forms.
And heaven forbid you parents run out of diapers. Notice that I haven't begun to talk about food or souvenirs yet?
So, yeah, you have plenty of opportunities to save while inside a theme park. Here's my Golden Rule for in-park vacation savings:
Never buy anything inside a theme park that you can buy outside the park.
You can get sunscreen, pain relievers, bandages, baby supplies and a refillable water bottle at home for a fraction of the cost you'd pay inside the park. So do. Bring a stash of waterproof, reseal-able plastic baggies, too. While digital cameras have eliminated the need for you to stock up on film before you enter the park, having those waterproof baggies will come in handy in keeping that digital camera and your cell phone dry when you ride on a flume or any other water ride.
So what about food and souvenirs? The same rule applies: Never buy anything inside a theme park that you can buy outside the park.
I'm not one to urge you to forgo lunch and live on a stash of energy bars or sandwiches that you smuggled through the front gate. This is your vacation, and you should enjoy it. And part of that enjoyment is eating well.
But the point of this series is to show you ways to get the best value for your money. What pay theme park prices for the same food-court pizza and character T-shirt you can buy at the mall for less?
Instead, spend your money on unique experiences, at restaurants you can't visit anywhere but the park and for souvenirs you won't find anywhere else. Browse Theme Park Insider's park listings for highly-rated restaurants that serve something you don't eat every week. Keep your eyes open for unique souvenirs that you love and can afford with the money you've set aside before you arrived. (As we mentioned in week one, pay for nothing with credit, and you won't be stuck paying for your trip for weeks and years to come.)
Perhaps if more guests insisted on unique food and souvenir items, we'd see less mall fare and more original selections from parks in the future, too.
When you order your food, save money by watching how much you order. Get something from the kids' menu or split an entree with someone else. Go for one unique, filling snack instead of a full meal. (Fish and chips or a turkey leg should easily do for lunch or dinner. Heck, two people could split one of those turkey legs.) Don't get light in the wallet and fat in the waist by ordering full meals for all at every opportunity. Most folks can get by on far less than they eat on a typical theme park visit.
Hitting that water bottle frequently can help. Often, when you body cries for nourishment in the middle of the day, it craves water more than food. Refill your bottle with water at self-serve beverage stations or fountains throughout the park. Staying well hydrated, and well-covered in sunscreen, also will help you avid the heat exhaustion and sunburn that are the top health and safety problem affecting theme park visitors.
Again, it's all about value. When you start to open your wallet inside a theme park, think:
Is this the same thing that I could buy for less outside the park?
Is this worth the money I'm spending, or can I get by with less... or without it?
When you start asking those questions, you'll be thinking before you spend. And that's the best way to save money, inside a theme park or out.
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