We go back to them year after year, yet each time we suffer sticker shock anew. I’m talking about amusement parks—those summertime magnets that can put a big dent in a family’s wallet, once you add up the cost of pricey admission tickets, parking, meals, snacks, and souvenirs, not to mention accommodations and possibly flights too. How to make theme-park visits more affordable? You can start by choosing parks that your fellow travelers deem worth the admission price—such as these best amusement parks in the U.S. and around the globe—and then consider these money-saving strategies:
Buy your tickets online in advance.
Walk-up rates are almost always a mood killer. Usually you can snag discounts by planning and buying ahead.
Check coupon sites, flash sale sites, membership clubs, and fast-food chains.
Groupon, Living Social, UndercoverTourist, and RetailMeNot all offer discounted rates at amusement parks. For Orlando and California specifically, bookmark Mousesavers.com. You can also get discounts through Costco, AAA and AARP. At my local Costco, for instance, I can buy cards that provide 30% off single-day admission tickets to nearby theme parks. That’s significant savings for a family of four.
Follow the park’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.
As soon as you know you’re bound for a particular theme park, start following it on Twitter and Facebook so you can snag deals that pop up.
If you’re traveling to another state, ask a friend who lives there to be on the lookout for deals for you.
A friend of mine who lives in southern Florida found LegoLand coupons for me in a McDonald’s, and I used the coupons to buy tickets in advance online.
Go on off-peak days and at off-peak times (say, on weekdays rather than weekends).
You’ll find fewer crowds—and thus get more rides and fun for your money—if you go at off-peak times of year (e.g., September), but if you’re stuck going in summertime because that’s when school’s out, at least choose a Tuesday rather than a Saturday. Or try for off-peak hours: Some parks sell less expensive half-day or evening tickets.
Choose the right hotel.
Nearby hotels often offer packages that include discounted tickets as well as a free shuttle to and from the park, enabling you to dodge a $20 parking fee.
Pack snacks and a water bottle.
Avoid $4 bottles of water by bringing a Thermos or empty water bottle you can fill at water fountains.
Carry everything you might need in a day pack.
Don’t end up forced to buy emergency items—sunscreen, a hat, a rain jacket, Band-Aids—within the park.
Tell your child that he or she may buy one souvenir and set a max dollar amount.
In my experience, presenting a child with this challenge before entering the park gives him or her a fun mission for the day and fosters smart spending habits. (My sons end up debating the pros and cons of a wide variety of items throughout the day.) In fact, tell a child he’s C.F.O. of the family trip, and it’s remarkable how many strategies he can come up with to make you stick to a budget.
Please share your own tips for saving money at amusement parks by chiming in below.