The rides, games, food, … excitement! There are a lot of reasons why nearly 375 million of us go them every year!
But what’s NOT fun – the prices! Nearly every part of the amusement park experience has been designed to separate you from your money.
Everything from the tickets themselves to where you’ll park, eat, and even sleep.
Having taken my family to a number of places now over the years, I’ve learned a few things to do (and not to do).
Here’s how to save money at amusement parks using 21 family-tested tricks that will help you get the most out of your day. Enjoy!
1- Buy tickets ahead of time online, not at the gate.
Almost every park we’ve visited over the last 10 years has this relatively new deal where if you buy your tickets online, it will be a few bucks cheaper than if you buy them at the gate. This makes sense since online sales are usually far cheaper to maintain than hiring personnel to run your entrance ways.
When we visited Universal in Orlando, the price difference was $10 per person per ticket if we bought them online. Though not an incredible amount of savings, that still worked out to $40 extra bucks for our family of four.
2- Plan your trip off-peak.
Do you like to hit the parks during the summer time?
Guess what? So does everyone else! That’s why they call it “peak” time. And they charge “peak” prices for tickets at this time too.
If your vacation plans can be flexible, do a little bit of research to see when off-peak times are. This way you’ll end paying less per ticket than you normally would during the busiest times. According to Fortune, the price of a ticket to Disney can fluctuate by $20 between peak and off-peak.
Another great benefit: Shorter lines for waiting to get on the rides!
3- Leverage your membership for discounts.
Don’t forget that if you have any sort of membership affiliation such as AAA, credit unions, military, etc., you might qualify for an additional small discount. Even if its just 5%, on $1,000+ of tickets, that’s another $50 saved!
4- Check social media for deals.
As social media becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives, don’t forget to also follow the parks of your choice and see if they offer any good deals or promos. Just be sure you’re following the “actual” real thing and that the offers are legit!
5- Buy as many days as possible.
One of the best tricks to save money at amusement parks is to buy as many days as possible. This is because many of them will give you a significant bundle discount the more days you plan on visiting. Therefore, if it fits into your plans, financially it makes more sense to go as many days as possible.
For example, when we went to Universal, the cost per ticket for 1-Day was $110. Naturally 2 days was almost double at $200 (~$100/day). But 3 days was only a mere $20 more for $220 total! That’s only ~$73 /day. At a place like Disney or Universal, its incredibly easy to plan for multiple days because they have several parks you can tackle; 1 per day.
6- Skip the fast pass (unless they are free).
One of the newer gimmicks that amusement parks try to sell you is the ability to “fast-pass” or basically cut everyone else in line and ride the ride sooner.
While this may sound like a good idea , beware! The cost can jump up as much as double what you would have normally paid for your ticket. In my opinion: Unless the fast-pass is free as part of some kind of promo deal, “pass” on it (pun intended).
7- Stay late and ride more rides!
Fast-passes come in handy during peak times at the park. But there are many times during the day when park attendance starts to thin and you’ll have no trouble getting on the rides in a reasonable amount of time.
In particular this seems to happen at night. Some of the roller-coasters we saw that had 2-hour waits dwindled down to a 5 minute wait after dinner time.
My advice: Plan to stay late and reap the rewards!
8- Skip the park to park pass.
Another up-sell by amusement parks is the ability to go from one park to the other. Again, while that might sound like a nice privilege, its highly unlikely that you’ll actually end up using it. Most of the time the parks are so big that there is plenty to do if you tackle just one per day. Again, save your money – pass!
9- Combine with your hotel stay / free parking.
If your amusement park trip includes staying the night at a hotel, check to see if staying onsite gives you a deal. When we went to Disney a few years back, we found it was significantly cheaper to bundle our trip with one of the Disney hotels. We got free shuttle service and free fast-passes for staying onsite too!
When we went to Universal, we found a ton of hotels across the street that were quite a bit cheaper than the properties onsite. They all also offered free shuttle service to the parks. Translation: No parking costs because we were able to leave our rental car behind at the hotel!
10- Use your credit card to get park tickets for free.
As you can imagine, buying just a few days of park tickets for a family of four could cost you upwards of over $1,000. If you’re responsible with credit cards, now would be a good time to throw that huge expense on one with a great cash back or rewards plan. Or better yet – open a new one that has a significant introductory bonus! Some cards will give you the equivalent of a $500 intro-bonus if you spend $3,000 – $4,000 within the first 3-4 months. You’re already one-third of the way there!
11- Use your credit card to get park tickets for free.
There are many travel rewards credit cards where you can save $500 (or more) if you make travel related purchases. While amusement park tickets don’t always necessarily count as a travel purchase, there is a way you can still make them count if by buying your park tickets through a third-party travel website. Check out the Choose FI Podcast Episode 31 for more on this cool trick.
12- Bring your own refillable cup or water bottle.
If there’s one common theme at every single amusement park I’ve ever visited, it’s that it gets HOT outside! Go figure – it’s the summer time!
And with that, you’re all going to get thirsty. The facilities have to provide some sort of drinking fountain. So if you’re allowed to bring a refillable cup or bottle inside, do it! You can save a ton of money by filling up on water every chance you get.
13- Unlimited drinks are usually a good idea.
Okay, so drinking fountain water doesn’t sound awesome. In that case, splurge and get the “unlimited” drink cup. Every amusement park I’ve ever visited has some version of this product. And when a regular drink costs you $4 or $5 each time, it makes the ~$15 unlimited drink cup look pretty darn appealing. I believe we filled our cups up at Universal just about every 30-60 minutes. I can only imagine what the retail price would have cost if we had bought each drink individually.
Another reason why: Drinking more often and staying hydrated is necessary for your health! It will help make for a more positive experience. Plus, your belly will feel more “full” and you’ll eat less (which in turn saves you more money).
14- But use your judgment when it comes to buying food plans.
Along the same lines as the “unlimited” drink cups, amusement parks try very hard to up-sell you on their meal plans. There are many versions of this: Everything from 3-square meals to a few snacks at a time.
Again – this may sound like a good idea when you first consider it. Especially since amusement park food is notoriously over-priced (and unhealthy). But do your homework first! I’ve done some quick numbers and found on many occasions that the meal plan was NOT worth the cost based on how much we tend to eat. If you’re a light eater, you may be better off buying your food a la carte.
15- Buy food that everyone can share.
What’s the absolute best compromise between food and cost? Something that everyone can share = pizza!
One time we went to a local amusement park with a big group and spent over $100 for several baskets of chicken fingers and fries – simply because everyone ordered their own individual basket / meal. A few hours later we noticed at another restaurant that if we had just bought a large pizza and shared it, we would have only spent $30.
16- Or better yet – bring your own food.
Some amusement parks (especially smaller ones) give you the option to leave and come back in within the same day. If that’s the case, consider packing your car with a cooler and some sandwiches. This way you can exit the park, eat your food, and then go back in. It will be far, far cheaper than paying for food inside the park.
17- Dress for the weather.
Nothing ruins your amusement park experience like forgetting your sunglasses, hoodie (if you’re cold), or umbrella / poncho. Be sure to check the weather report and dress accordingly that day. This will also help keep you from having to purchase these items at over-priced costs from one of the souvenir shops.
18- Bring LOTS of your own sunscreen.
Did I mention it’s always very, very hot when you go to the amusement park? Be sure to keep your skin healthy and bring lots and lots of sunscreen. Again, if you run low, there will be a bottle you can buy at the gift shop for 4-times the normal cost. Avoid that!
19- Cool off with free shows.
Speaking of being hot, rather than spending money on another cold drink or ice cream to cool down from the sun, one trick I like to use is to go inside and watch one of the free indoor shows they offer. Usually they are air-conditioned, and that feels so nice! Plus it gives your muscles a chance to relax while you sit down for a while.
20- Pass on the photos.
Yes, your face looks really goofy when you get to the top of the roller-coaster and go over the hill. But there’s really no reason you need to spend $25 for an 8×10” photo set to remember it. Pass!
21- Resist the souvenirs.
You know the deal … Souvenir shops are designed to do one thing – sell you stuff you don’t really need. Be smart and simply stay out of them.
If the kids are small and absolutely want one thing, then set a budget for them: For example, no more than $20 each. This will force them to make a decision about what they do or don’t really want.
Featured image courtesy of Fiverr