Vote of the week: What's your biggest expense when visiting a theme park?

September 9, 2011, 1:41 PM · People often complain about the price of theme park tickets, but what do you really end up sending the most money on when you visit a theme park?

Let's add it up. Think about the most recent day you spent in a theme park. Then add up all the money you spent for that day on...

The food and drinks:

Pizza at Naples

The souvenirs:

Silly theme park hat

And the tickets:

Disney theme park tickets

Don't count just your meals. Add in the money for snacks and drinks throughout the day. When you're figuring the cost of tickets, don't go with the "list" price, either. Count what you spent to visit just that day. So if you're on a multi-day ticket or seasonal or annual pass, divide the cost of that ticket by the number of days you used it to get the daily ticket price.

Then don't forget to add in the day's parking charge, too. We'll count that as part of the ticket price.

So which cost you the most? When I visit Epcot, I usually end up spending more on food than anything else. With a 10-day Walt Disney World park-hopper bought a few years back, I'm paying about $50 a day for my ticket. But I can easily spend more than that per day at Epcot if I do a couple meals at places such as Via Napoli, and chow down a snack, too.

Here at home, with a Disneyland annual pass, my per-day cost is probably $10 or so, but I often drop more than that buying souvenirs.

When I visit a local thrill ride park, such as Six Flags Magic Mountain or Knott's Berry Farm, I usually end up buying a discounted one-day ticket for about $40 or so, plus parking on top of that. But I don't buy much food, and almost never any merchandise. So ticket cost is my biggest expense there.

Because the answers can vary based on the place and time you visit, let's go with your most recent visit for your choice. Please tell us in the comments about how these costs break down for you. (And since we're talking about daily visits here, we're leaving those often substantial hotel and transportation costs off the table for this discussion.)

As always, thank you for reading Theme Park Insider. Have a great weekend!

Replies (28)

September 9, 2011 at 1:46 PM · At Disneyland, the ticket is my biggest expense, because I'm only there for a few days. At WDW, the food is the biggest expense, because "the more you play, the less you pay." When we stay close to ten days at Disney World, we end up spending less than $30 per day for our tickets.
September 9, 2011 at 2:44 PM · I love eating and that eats up most of my money. Especially for Food and Wine. But when we Castmembers get out Christmas bonus out, I'll knock you over in the stores.
September 9, 2011 at 2:57 PM · When I went to Universal a few weeks ago, I (aka my parents) spent $21 on food and drinks, and $21 on a T-Shirt. I voted for food and drinks, just because thats the most I (aka my parents) spend at Theme Parks any day. Tickets arent a problem, we usually get annual passes (except at WDW, because they are super expensive).
September 9, 2011 at 3:14 PM · Booze.
September 9, 2011 at 4:44 PM · Hooch.
September 9, 2011 at 4:44 PM · Libations.
September 9, 2011 at 4:49 PM · Really? I always count my hotel stay and travel expenses as the most expensive thing when going to a theme park further than a local/regional park. Due to the current economy, that's what usually prevents me from going to many parks. When I've gone to Universal, I usually stay in one of the onsite hotels for convenience and for the line skipping privileges, so that ends up costing me around $400 per night plus another $200 -$300 for airline tickets. To me, the actual park tickets are cheap. If I lived close enough to drive there and had a place to sleep at night for free, I'd go all the time. Sure, food in theme parks is kind of expensive, but it's not a deal breaker. The hotel stay is the deal breaker.
September 9, 2011 at 5:03 PM · Rod,

I thought the hotel/air/car expense was the obvious biggie here, so I left those out 'cause I wanted to see if the ticket really was a bigger expense than the food or merch for most people. Based on early returns, it isn't.

Also, let's all remember that many people visit parks as a day trip, and the hotel and transportation expense isn't a big deal for them. But tickets, food and merchandise still can be.

September 9, 2011 at 6:21 PM · Hippo Yam Yam.
September 9, 2011 at 6:28 PM · We don't eat at the park often at all, except if we make a dinner or breakfast reservation. I find that we spend the most on merchandise... particularly ride pictures. We just can't get enough of them. The first time we went to Magic Mountain, we got pictures for every ride we got on. Same for Universal Orlando/Islands of Adventure and WDW. Those really add up after awhile.
September 9, 2011 at 9:29 PM · For me, it depends where I'm going. If I'm visiting Six Flags or Cedar Fair parks, it's the food because I either have a pass or can get a really cheap ticket (plus the food at those parks is ridiculously expensive). However, almost anywhere else, the ticket is more expensive than the food. It would never be souvenirs because I very rarely purchase any (on my entire two-week trip this summer, which included 12 different amusement parks (five of which were Six Flags), I think I bought one souvenir).
September 10, 2011 at 7:55 AM · Okay Robert, I'm with you. I'd have to say it was tickets then for me because even if I'm there all day, I'll likely only eat once. When my niece is with me, however, that fee tends to go up for Dippin' Dots, etc. I rarely buy merchandise.

This is quite the opposite of going to the movies, where the price of popcorn and a drink is often much higher than the ticket price.

September 10, 2011 at 8:21 AM · At Disney World, it's usually the ticket but on my last visit it was the food. I ate in at least one full service restaurant a day, including a breakfast in the castle. Also, the Food and Wine Festival was going on at Epcot and sampling there was not cheap!
September 10, 2011 at 9:28 AM · It's a big deal for me to go to Disneyland. Airline tickets, parking fees at the airport, taxi to and from my hotel and then of course the hotel costs add up to a major expense. Now add the price of the admission and you have a big time expense for the experience. I have always thought that DL should offer discounts to guests that live out of the So Cal area. Maybe we could go more often.
September 10, 2011 at 10:36 AM · I say ticket. I'd eat if I were at a theme park or not. Let's say my meal is 3x it would be at home. If I pack lunch for work, for example, it may cost $4. So even at $12 meal at WDW (counter service...) = $8 extra expense. Dinner, let's say $10 at home, $30 at a park (sit down). So for meals $28 extra over what I would have spent doing nothing at home. Even a multi-day ticket would be more expensive.

Of course, it gets complicated when you add in dining plans and extra snacks (Butterbeer?)...

September 10, 2011 at 1:00 PM · Long Tall Ones.
September 10, 2011 at 3:55 PM · I rarely pay more than $30/day for a ticket and I usually prepare my own breakfast and lunch, so I agree with TH - booze. Insiders can save money on food, tickets, and merchandise. Unfortunately, there's no way to save money on hooch (other than, of course, not drinking it).
September 10, 2011 at 6:51 PM · It use to be food and it still can be if we go to a Six Flags or other regional park. But With the Disney multi day and meal plan the expense is definately lower than it use to be for us. We do a lot of character meals and at least twice at Gemany at EPCOT when at WDW. So merchandise is our biggest expense now. Although I am thinking that the rate 6 Flags is raising the parking fees that will soon out pace all other expenses. Thus the reason I avoid all 6 Flags parks now days.
September 10, 2011 at 9:10 PM · When I went to universal for a week over the summer we spent 1300 on tickets no sure what on food but probaly 1000 and only bought a wand. t-shirt and a feather pen for merchandise so tickets win!
September 11, 2011 at 7:57 AM · Definitely tickets. Our annual trip is always for HHN so that's a big outlay alone, plus MNSSHP and regular park tickets. We're not big restaurant buffs, so we don't put a lot of our budget and time into doing ADRs at Disney or sit-downs. The same for souvenirs.
September 11, 2011 at 8:15 AM · I enjoy a good meal in the parks so if we are talking Disney or Universal, food comes first! I would say merchandise comes second!
September 11, 2011 at 11:08 AM · My wife and I are Passholders at Disney and that makes it real easy to visit just for lunch or dinner. We try to always make it lunch because most eateries have a significant spike in price for the dinner menu.
September 12, 2011 at 4:54 AM · We spend a lot on food at any of the Disney properties, or at Dollywood, because it's so great to have delicious, creative vegetarian options at a theme park for a change, and we get a little carried away. But we hardly spend anything on food at the other parks since there are only so many overpriced veggie burgers and cheese pizzas we can eat. So the food thing averages out for us. And we get annual passes everywhere we go, so the ticket price per visit is never that high. What we always spend a ton on is merchandise. We have three ten month old girls and I can never resist getting them adorable clothes and toys. They have so many little Minnie outfits! And they always get Sesame Street toys at Busch Gardens.
September 12, 2011 at 5:50 AM · Okay, first, is this a cry for help from TH Creative? Because I love this site and all, but I draw the line at participating in an intervention.

For me, food/drinks is a biggie. Especially at Epcot. The margaritas alone could rival the cost of airfare. Nevermind the meals, there are the in between snacks that will get you. Like when you are on your way to dinner in the world showcase and you need something to munch on during the walk and you end up buying a turkey leg. That adds up.

I always find it amazing to see what you spend on bottle water by the end of the week. Bottled.....water!!

September 12, 2011 at 6:40 AM · Smacky Bevs.
September 12, 2011 at 7:33 AM · It is Tickets for me. I'm planning a trip to WDW in a few years. It is easily apparent that if you exclude airfare, hotel, and rental car, the biggest expense is Tickets with food and souvenirs not even coming close.

Tickets to WDW have a sweet spot of $250 to $300 for a multiday pass. For a family of 4, it comes to $1000. That IS a lot of money. With food, there are many options especially if you decide to rent a car. You get access to the many off-site restaurants and the numerous supermarkets. At the supermarkets, I will buy the next day's breakfast, lunch, drinks, and snacks to bring into the park. With a stroller, it is much easier to pack all my stuff. Certainly, if my kid is older, the stroller goes so we'll all bring backpacks. Eating dinner at a theme park is an option since obviously I can't pack everything. Fast casual is usually the better choice. I will only go to a super deluxe restaurant on one special occasion.

As for souvenirs, I won't buy much. Much of the junk I bring home ends up in a box in the garage. From experience, souvenirs is a waste of money. I might buy an overpriced souvenir photo as a keepsake. However, my digital photos provide the majority of my memories. I take plenty of video so my trip is captured and I can go back and see it many times on the computer.

September 12, 2011 at 10:24 AM · When I visit a destination theme park (Disney, Universal, Silver Dollar City), the biggest expense outside of lodging, is probably the food (a family of five with two teenagers is expensive to feed - about $100 - $150 a day eating on property food). The tickets are usually just pennies a day after the first few days, and merchandise is a t-shirt or two (and...uh...maybe some Jack Sparrow Guyliner).
September 15, 2011 at 12:03 PM · I usually bring my own snacks and drinks into parks if they let me (which they usually do) so maybe I'll buy one meal or snack and/or a treat in a park but that's it. Paying $3-$4 for a soda is ridiculous. I bring my own sodas/juice/water and ask for a cup of ice if I need it. I don't mind paying for specialty/unique drinks and snacks like Dole Whip Floats, Bengal BBQ, and Butterbeer (which I will try one day), but I will avoid paying for a overpriced Coke, bottle of water, or ordinary burger or hot dog. Water parks are far more strict and usually only allow you to bring bottled water (so that's what I bring). Eating breakfast before entering the park and eating dinner after leaving the park also helps curb food costs in a theme park. So my biggest expense would be the admission ticket.

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