Vote of the week: Paying extra for premium parking at a theme park?

September 4, 2009, 2:35 PM · Several theme parks, including the closest to my home, Universal Studios Hollywood, now offer a premium parking option, available for an extra charge.

Universal Hollywood's premium parking puts you in a surface lot just steps from the park's entrance, instead of in the parking garages on the other side of CityWalk. It can be a good deal on days that aren't so sunny that you need to park in the shade... and if you are going to the theme park. (Obviously, you'll want to park in the CityWalk garages if you're going to CityWalk.)

Some parks offer premium parking to their top-level annual passholders, too. Let's talk about these options today. Would you spend the extra cash for a better parking option, whether that be a one-day upgrade or for a higher-priced annual pass?

Tell us in the comments about the best and worst parking experiences you've had at a theme park. And have a great weekend!

Replies (24)

September 4, 2009 at 2:46 PM · I'm going to be walking around the park all day, I can walk a few extra feet to get into the park. I don't think it's right for a park to charge extra money for the same parking lot. They might as well have valet services then. But I guess if you are willing to pay twice as much to park your car a few feet closer, then you must have the money to be able to do so.
September 4, 2009 at 2:47 PM · I have paid for premium parking in the past and felt it was well worth it. After a long day and night at the parks, the last thing I want to do is hike the long way to find my car.
September 4, 2009 at 2:49 PM · I did get premium parking at (supposedly only Florida) Busch Properties when I had an ongoing EZ Pay Platinum Pass. But it turned out whatever park I went to, from BGW to SeaWorld SA, they gave me a premium spot.

And I think some Cedar Fair properties (like King's Island and King's Dominion) gave Gold and Platinum passholders better, but not necessarily premium spots.

But I won't intentionally pay extra for it. My philosophy is: you're going to be walking all day in a park. Does saving a few steps to get into or out of the park really matter? (It might if you've brought a picnic lunch, or you have small kids, but other than that...)

September 4, 2009 at 2:50 PM · ^^don't forget, Lisa, Universal Orlando DOES have valet parking!

I'd never pay extra for premium parking (in fact, I wish I could pay less at Six Flags for "further out parking"), but I have enjoyed the benefit at the Busch parks. Wasn't anything special at Sea World Orlando, but the premium spaces at both Busch Gardens are much closer to the entrances (no tram necessary).

September 4, 2009 at 3:00 PM · I agree with Lisa. You're going to spend all day walking around anyway. But it might be worth it if you have two or three little ones with you. Or if you have a large party at WDW during peak season, when it's hard to get everybody on the same tram, let alone the same tram car. Which begs the question of whether a park might do seasonal pricing on premium parking. You don't really need premium parking in Orlando in, say, February. If you get there around opening you'll be close enough in the regular parking area. That being said, the regular parking is pretty far away at Universal's Orlando parks and at the Magic Kingdom.
September 4, 2009 at 3:02 PM · I normally pay the valet at USF. Since we have passes (the cheap season ones) and only go for a few hours at at time about once a month. The garage parking is 12, valet is 20. We never eat at the parks, so I justify it that way, no food, means extra cash.
September 4, 2009 at 3:11 PM · I bought a Cedar Fair Platinum Pass at King's island this season, and it came with a parking upgrade for any parks that have a gold/platinum parking section.

I don't have any kids, I'm just a coaster junkie. I appreciate getting a better parking spot, but I don't need it. I can walk; I wouldn't pay extra for it.

September 4, 2009 at 3:18 PM · While it is not something we would normally do, we paid for the premium parking ($25 vs. $15) at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois this past summer. It was cheaper and less hassle to pay for the parking upgrade (which ended up with us in the first row) and walk back and forth to our car, than to rent a locker for our clothing in the Hurricane Harbor area. If not for the water park, we would gone with the regular parking.
September 4, 2009 at 3:24 PM · It doesn't kill one to walk a little way longer to the park, especially when you are going to be walking all day anyway. I hate paying for parking, let alone pay extra for a "premium" spot. I'll stick with the free parking for Cedar Fair passholders and walk an extra few hundred feet to save money. Not all are like me though, and parks cash in on those people.

The passholder lot at Kings Island sits exactly 10 feet across the road from the premium parking section.

September 4, 2009 at 4:11 PM · I don't normally pay premium parking, but once in a while at Busch Gardens I have paid the premium (since it isn't that expensive for passholders) so that at the end of the day I wouldn't have to wait in the long line for the trams.

Now, we just did Kennywood for the first time, and both days we paid the 6 bucks for the premium parking, just so we didn't have to walk up the steep hill at the end of the day to the free parking. I know there seemed to be a bus tram, but we just figured it was cheap enough.

Now, if they had the ski lift working there, we might have skipped paying just to do the lift.

If it had been 10 bucks, I wouldn't have paid, but with 4 of us, paying an extra $1.50 a person to park right next to the entrance didn't seem like a problem.

September 4, 2009 at 4:20 PM · I forked out a saw buck and James Rao parked our 1998 Contour. And he was dressed as a PIRATE!
September 4, 2009 at 4:23 PM · I am an annual passholder at WDW. I love to have a special parking lot for passholders. I would pay extra when I buy my pass. I agree that I don't like hiking it all the way to Daisy or Donald parking lot at Magic Kingdom after a day at the park. The other parks are not so bad but Magic Kingdom is really bad.
September 4, 2009 at 4:30 PM · I have a parking pass added to my sf and disneyland aps before when I know that my trips to will exceed the pass amount. I have never paid for VIP parking. I also denied the parking pass option on my Dodger season tickets since there is no discount and the distance from the street is not worth the money.
September 4, 2009 at 5:50 PM · Premium parking at Kennywood is $5 and I still go for the Free spots...yes free parking and lots of it.
September 4, 2009 at 5:55 PM · I like it. I surely don't mind the walk in, but the walk out when you are exhausted??? That's a different story. Not to mention the traffic is usually lighter leaving those preffered or valet lots. in usf/ioa, valet is free with the preffered annual pass, and is definitely a perk.
Have the option. If people don't want to pay extra, they don't have to.
September 5, 2009 at 3:28 AM · Being in the HealthCare Profession for 26+ years I know the abuses of the Handicapped placard. You all have watched the stories on the news, yet we DO NOT SEE A CRACK DOWN. BEING DISABLED, I feel abused by the fact that I must pay a premium to park closer when they've taken away my spots already. It is unfortunate that due to the ABUSERS the ones that are TRULY NEEDY PAY IN THE END, and the ones that DO NOT get off scott free AS USUAL. SO, I think there should be a BETTER system. @ one park they had to change their disabled ride system due to abuses, hmmmm WONDER WHY? We hold NO ONE RESPONSIBLE OR ACCOUNTIBLE, they just pass the buck. UNFORTUNATELY IT IS ONTO THE BACKS OF THOSE THAT CAN 1. LEAST AFFORD IT AND 2. NOT HOLD IT. As you can see, this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. We have MD's that just sign on the line for a fee to ANYONE who wants a handicapped placard, therefore we have too many and not enough spaces for the TRULY NEEDY, because somepeople just WANT ONE because they think it is FREE PREMIUM PARKING. TO ALL OF THEM I SAY, "WALK AND LIVE A 24HR TIME PERIOD IN MY SHOES FOR THAT PLACARD AND I GUARANTEE YOU WILL GLADLY HAND IT BACK" YOU WILL NOT WANT MY DISABILITIES AND THE THINGS I MUST DEAL WITH AND THE DEGRADATION I MUST DEAL WITH IN ASKING SOMEONE ELSE TO DO SOMETHING FOR ME THAT I, SOMEONE WITH A POSTGRADUATE DEGREE IN HEALTHCARE MUST NOW HAVE RELY UPON OTHERS. I AM JUST LUCKY TO BE ALIVE.
September 5, 2009 at 4:47 AM · I think if we had less able persons in our group it might be worth considering. But for able bodied souls who are about to subject themselves to a full day of activities in a Park then it's a big NO.
If time was an issue ( what 3 minutes ? ) that would be sad and if it was a laziness issue then that's even sadder still.
I'd rather walk the longer distance and pocket the extra fee to spend on something worthwhile or do my bit for charity and give it to that rather than to the greedy Park owners.
Whatever next ? Extra fees for going through the turnstiles nearest the entrance ?
September 5, 2009 at 6:36 AM · SFGA is notorious for these shenanigans to no end and there still is a possibility that you get a pretty cruddy spot. What I do is get the parking tacked onto my season pass for $65 or so (can't recall the exact price right now) and get the premium parking every time!

However, if you come later in the day, you might be put in the regular parking

SFGA parking:

$15 for Regular
$25 for Premium

Cheaper at Disney! (one of the few things! and Disney will come pick you up!)

September 5, 2009 at 8:18 AM · I put the season parking on my season pass at SFStL. But, I will admit I have paid the little extra a few times when I arrive half way through the day and the cars are parking on the grass because the main lots are full.
September 5, 2009 at 4:45 PM · Charging for parking at an amusement park is one of my pet peeves. You're already paying extraordinary amounts for admission, food, souvenirs, and whatever else, so why charge for parking? Am I supposed to ride my magic carpet to the park to spend all of my money? Charging for parking at all just seems greedy when it's part of their business. After all, you'd get a bit annoyed if the postman came by your house monthly to collect for the gasoline to drive to your mailbox...
September 5, 2009 at 8:21 PM · Best ever: Disneyland Anaheim (I would have to provide transport for my wife, since she can't drive). Excellent shuttle service, marvelous handling of vision-impaired (CM's right there to assist with boarding/offload).

Worst ever: Two, actually. Sick Flags Discovery Kingdom for one. They completely changed the front entry, and their shuttle "service" was a bad joke which did nothing more than add to an already-bad day, and strengthen my resolve never to set foot within ten miles of them again, ever.

The other one was the SF Zoo, about 20 years back. Don't ever try to drive there! Take public transit instead. You won't regret it.

Happy travels.

September 6, 2009 at 3:42 PM · My boyfriend and I have paid for preferred parking at Universal Orlando. I have weak ankles, and even when I wear the ACE bandage-type ankle braces, sometimes by the end of the night, I'm dragging myself to take each step... so having the car closer is worth it to me! (I don't have the prices handy, but I think it was only about $5 more for preferred parking.) We did this in July '08 and '09. Our only complaint was that on one visit this year, our "preferred" spot really didn't seem that close. Of course, that's the risk you take: you don't know until you get to the preferred section (AFTER you've paid the extra money) if it's going to be so full you could've done just as well with regular parking.

At WDW, we prefer to stay on-property, but when we've had other accommodations and a rental car, we've been lucky enough to park in the AAA Diamond Parking lots at each of the four parks. I'm a AAA member, but even when we haven't booked our trip through AAA -- the only "official" way to get a Diamond Parking pass -- I've been able to find them on a certain online auction site. ;-) Shhhh -- don't tell!

September 8, 2009 at 9:01 AM · I like parking in Preferred and I like valet even better! =) I think the key is to park in the regular lot to see if the preferred parking is worth it for the next time. We have Platinum Busch passes which allows for free Preferred Parking. At Seaworld Orlando Preferred would probably not be worth the money. If you get there early you are basically parking in the same rows as preferred anyhow. At Busch Gardens Tampa however preferred is worth it not to have to hike to the tram and then ride under the highway to the park. Preferred is basically in the handicapped section near the entrance. At UO passholders get free regular but have to pay an upgrade for preferred. We have done it before but it really just puts you on a different level of the parking garage.
September 9, 2009 at 1:49 PM · Well, I don't know who has valet parking, since I haven't been to so many parks.

Also, I'm someone who arrives at the park at least a half-hour before opening, and usually I go during down times in the season. Although I no longer live in Chicago, I had a season pass to Six Flags Great America for 2007 and 2008 (totally worth it for the free friend days, even though I only used the pass twice each season). Anyways, I would make the (what seemed like) three hour drive to Gurnee, and park in the very front of the regular pay lot. Also, I would usually go during the week at the end of May or the beginning of June, when there were only school groups at the park. I would usually have a great time at the park on these days, except for putting up with the school kids.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive