Ten Ways to Do Theme Parks on a Budget

A theme-park vacation can be pricey. It can cost hundreds of dollars a day just to get in the gate! Though the coasters are thrilling, the racing heart and sweaty palms shouldn't continue once you're homebound and cash-counting. Here are ten ways we've found to do theme parks on the cheap.
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Knott’s Berry Farm, Anaheim, California
A family endures the Supreme Scream at Anaheim's Knott's Berry Farm.  (Knott's Berry Farm)

Planning a theme-park trip for the family comes with a hefty dose of sticker-shock. Some parks charge close to $100 per person for a single day's admission. Factor in a hotel, transportation, parking, food, and $6 bottles of water, and you're looking at a potential budget-buster. But it is possible to shave down those expenses without skimping on the experience. Here are ten ways to make a family theme-park vacation more affordable.

1. Do some detective work
Many theme parks have great coupons and discount days; it's your job to scout them out. Some parks make it easy, for example, SeaWorld and Six Flags offer many ways to get in at a bargain. Other parks like Disney and Universal are much more difficult unless you're willing to sit through a time-share sales pitch.

Check out the unofficial discount websites associated with your park of choice to get acquainted with which offers might be available to you. A few good resources are MouseSavers.com, ThemeParkInsider.com, and AmusementPark.com.

Search the Internet for the name of the theme park you'll be visiting plus "discount" or "coupon" and you may be amazed at what deals you can find. Just make sure you're dealing with a reputable website.

2. Buy online
At some parks, you can save a significant amount of money buying your tickets in advance online, rather than purchasing at the gate. For example, at Six Flags you can purchase a ticket in advance for $34.99—or pay almost $50 at the gate. Buying SeaWorld Orlando tickets online will save you $5 a pop, and Busch Gardens Virginia offers second-day tickets at $10 less each than the gate price.

3. Stay a few days—or more
That sticker shock for a single day's ticket may be softened a bit by the substantial discounts you'll receive on days two, three, and beyond—especially at smaller, regional theme parks, where season passes and multiple-day discounts can really drop your overall price. At Six Flags parks, a season pass is just $54.99 when you buy four or more, or $59.99 individually—quite a deal, considering day passes cost up to $49.99 each. And if you buy a Busch Gardens Williamsburg Fun Card, $63.99 per person gets you in for the entire summer.

4. Stick to the same park system
If you're traveling to an area with several theme parks, it might be tempting to sample a little of each. But at many parks, the only way to achieve real savings on passes is by committing to the same family of parks for two or more days. For example, Magic Kingdom's basic one-park-per-day pass for adults and kids ten and over is $82 on the first day, $81 on the second day, and almost $75 on the third day. But it then drops down to $58, a $23 savings, on day four. From there, the prices continue to dive. Lesson learned? At the mega-parks, the path to real savings is committing to several days.

5. Try lesser-known parks
Ever heard of Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana? How about Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, or Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania? All are great destinations with their own regional flavor, and all offer more opportunities for savings than some of the mega-parks families flock to. For example, Holiday World offers free, unlimited soft drinks throughout the park and free sunscreen in its on-site water park. Hersheypark offers great discounts for people who come to the park two or more days. And Dollywood admits kids up to age three for free and also offers free cups of ice water throughout the park. Many regional theme parks offer discounted tickets as well. You might find them anywhere from your local grocery store to the backs of soda cans.

Published: 18 May 2011 | Last Updated: 2 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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