When you’re planning a family vacation, it might include visiting an amusement park or theme park.
Theme parks are a great way to travel with family because they offer attractions and thrill rides, indulgent food, live shows, and something for everyone.
The downside of some theme parks is that they can be expensive.
You can start saving money and watching your budget by buying park tickets ahead of time, where they’re often cheaper than buying them at the gate. You might also be able to take advantage of packages and other discounts when you purchase tickets online.
When you buy your tickets online, it’s also faster and more convenient than waiting in line. You can maximize the time you have available rather than waiting in another line.
You’ll find that buying your tickets online might save you as much as $20 off tickets, depending on where you’re going, and many online sites will offer deeper discounts.
Generally, buying tickets from sellers and not the park itself tend to be a good money saver.
Along with lodging and ticket packages, you might find combination tickets that will give you access to several attractions, including the park for a discounted price.
Beyond that, what are some other ways you can save money at amusement parks but still enjoy all that a theme park has to offer?
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Plan Your Trip for Off Times
If you can, going to a theme park during its off-season can help you save money not just on things like tickets but other things you might do at your destination. You’ll also probably save money on your hotel or accommodations.
Every location’s off-season will be different, so do some research and see if you can make it work with your schedule.
When you go during off-season times, there won’t be as many people. Then, that might mean you don’t have to pay for things like upgrades that let you skip the lines because there won’t be any.
If you can also go during the week, that might save you money. Ticket prices are often higher on weekends and peak times.
Consider Annual Passes
If you’re going to a theme park within driving distance of your home, it might be worth doing the math to see if an annual pass would be worth it. Yes, it’s more upfront, but if you’re going to use it two or three times, that can in and of itself mean the passes pay for themselves.
Many annual passes will pay for themselves in just two visits, so it’s something to think about.
While you’re doing the math on that, check to see if the park you’re visiting offers discounts to in-state residents, if it applies to you.
Other discounts that you might find are available to you include having a AAA membership, being a senior, or being a military veteran.
Don’t Buy Souvenirs
Souvenirs are one of the most expensive things you’ll spend money on when you’re actually at the park. Avoid it altogether. As much as your kids might feel like they want something at the moment, it’s likely whatever you buy will end up getting thrown out eventually.
An excellent way to create your own souvenirs is to take photos while you’re in the park of everything you do and then turn them into a collage or shadow box.
Bring Refillable Water Bottles
If you bring your water bottles, not only are you being more eco-friendly and reducing your waste, but you’re also going to save money. Buying drinks, including just bottles of water, can add up to $50 or more a day, depending on your family and how much you drink.
Fill your bottles up whenever you see a fountain.
Bring Your Own Food
If you have the option to bring your own food, take advantage. The food at theme parks is notoriously expensive and might not be great for your health. It also tends to be hard to find things to fit special dietary needs at theme parks.
If the park allows it, bring a cooler that you can store in a locker, or at least pack snacks in a backpack. Just make sure you check the rules because some theme parks are pretty strict about what you can and can’t bring in, and you don’t want to end up throwing anything away at the gates.
Take a Shuttle
Parking onsite at amusement parks is around $20 a day in many cases. A better alternative is to find offsite parking that has a free shuttle to the park. If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, they might also have a complimentary shuttle. You could use this as part of your criteria when choosing accommodations.
Be Cautious of Upgrades
When you’re at a theme park, you’ll be offered plenty of upgrades, and sometimes even though they might seem like a good deal, the math doesn’t work out.
We talked about one example of this above—line passes. They might have different names depending on where you are, but essentially the idea is that you pay more money to get fast-track access to the rides. These passes can be as much as the theme park tickets themselves, however.
While you should buy most things ahead of time, if you can, this is something you should wait on until you’re actually in the park. You should gauge what the lines look like. If you’re there in the off-season or during the middle of the week, you may not even have to wait in long lines.
You might also be able to use the single-rider line, which tends to be very short, and if you get to the park early enough in the morning, you can knock out most of your must-dos before other people get there, and then you can go at a more leisurely pace in the afternoon.
The key thing with planning a trip to any theme park as far as saving money and maximizing your time is to be strategic and plan ahead.