Thinking thrifty at theme parks

Guest post by Justine Burgess

Summertime is here and we know theme parks are on the agenda. So that you don’t have to scale fences, do a commando-style crawl under shrubbery, or walk in backwards through the exit (a la Josie and the Pussycats), we’ve compiled a few tips to help you save a little of your hard-earned moo-lah.

Justine crammed into a truck with her little one at Knott’s Berry Farm

#1. The most obvious tip: go in the off-season (if you can).
There will be more specials, steeper discounts, and fewer people (read: shorter lines) than during peak attendance periods. Summer is high-occupancy in both the theme parks and hotels, so if you can skirt the edges by going in May or after the end of August, you’ll save some bucks on both the park and your stay.

#2. Annual passes.

If you are considering several days at the same park, the annual pass (with or without parking) might be worthwhile, and often includes food and/or merchandise discounts and passholder-only events as well. Plus, it just feels special.
#3. Plan ahead. Way ahead. Get your discounts in order.
Ticket prices at the gate are often more expensive than pre-purchasing, plus waiting in line to get tickets so that you can go inside and wait in line again can get old fast…faster if you have toddlers or preschoolers. If you pre-purchase, you won’t have to hear “why can’t we go in yet?” a dozen times in ten minutes.
     Online: Purchase and print your tickets online directly from the theme parks, or search for specials to save money on sites like Deal sites like FatWallet and SlickDeals also have forums for posting current discounts. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, “friend” or “follow” the theme park to find out about special promotions. Sign up for emails from the park you’re planning to visit to make sure you don’t miss out on any deals.
     Offline: Check with your local grocery store for discount tickets (here in SoCal, Vons recently had Disney park-hopper deals), or fast food chains and on various products (like soda) for coupons. Rental car agencies and hotels usually have racks of discount brochures as well, and hotel concierge services often offer ticket packages at the desk for guests.
     For accommodations, use a discount-travel service website like Travelocity or Priceline to compare rates. If you bundle tickets with a hotel stay, you can save quite a bit. Better yet, phone a friend or relative and ask for couch space. My sister and her family take up my den once a year and I couldn’t be happier. We are all snuggly for a week or so and the time together is priceless.
#4. Membership rewards.
Check with any entity you might be a member of- AAA, Costco, Sams Club, credit card rewards programs, hotel points programs, etc., for discounted tickets, passes, hotel stays, and so on. The Entertainment Book is another great resource, especially if you have registered it.
#5. Food, drink, and sundries:

Bring a backpack. Put in sunscreen, wipes, and other small essentials like hats, light jackets, and lip balm. Use a lightweight thermal collapsible lunch cooler that fits in the backpack. Pack it with one water bottle for each person (you might want to freeze them), frozen juice boxes, and “non-smushable” snacks. The frozen drinks also keep any food cold. When your water bottle is empty, refill it at the drinking fountains. It saves about $3 a drink and is much healthier than soda.

Food is the other big expenditure at theme parks, so bring your lunch if possible. If you must buy food, split a meal or order from the kids menu. If you eat in a restaurant, lunch is generally cheaper than dinner, so make that your big meal for the day. And bring a container or zippered re-useable lunch bags to save any leftovers for snacking later. Check with the park regarding rules about bringing in food and drinks.


#6. Souvenirs:
     Before your trip, try Target or the Disney store for Disney or affiliated merchandise. It’s cheaper than buying in the park and if the kids get it as a surprise after the trip, guess what- it’s a souvenir.
     In the park, try to keep to items under $10 that fit easily into your backpack with room to spare (lugging around a stuffed animal when there are more rides to hit is the worst). And it’s better if it’s useful, like a shirt or PJ’s.
-For kids: The souvenirs we love are those flattened pennies with the theme park or place name. They cost 50 cents (well, really $0.51) to make. Easy, cheap, and fun to do. My 4-year-old loves picking out which picture to make and then cranking the machine. Buy a penny passport folder to keep them in and for every trip you take, collect one. The memories are priceless, yet much more affordable this way.
-For adults: Shot glasses might be a good option. They are small, cheap, and once you get a collection going, you can get your friends together for some cocktails or use them as mini-dessert glasses. See, useful.
And don’t forget to bring a camera! Those photos with characters are the best memories you can bring home.

18 comments on Thinking thrifty at theme parks

  1. kelly
    June 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm (5 years ago)

    great tips! i never thought of pre-buying souvenirs. that's brilliant!

  2. OCMomActivities - Katie
    June 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm (5 years ago)

    Great tips! The $$ can really add up if you don't go in with a plan. And I totally agree, the theme parks are less of a great experience when they are congested during "tourist" season!

  3. Cristina-Colombiana en CA
    June 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm (5 years ago)

    Tickets are really expensive but with these great tips, we can save money and enjoy the theme parks.

  4. SoYouThinkYouCanMom
    June 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm (5 years ago)

    Great post Pattie! I loved all the tips! I always bring light up toys and character stuff from home!

  5. Pamela P.
    June 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm (5 years ago)

    A nicely written post and much-needed advice. I have three step-grandsons and a trip to a major theme park is insanely expensive. I'll definitely try some of your suggestions!

  6. Crazedmom
    June 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm (5 years ago)

    That is a good idea, I have always purchased outside the park unless it is something I really wanted.

  7. Justine B.
    June 30, 2012 at 2:33 am (5 years ago)

    Thanks to everyone for the nice comments. It's great to hear good feedback (and constructive criticism, too!). 😉

  8. Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™
    June 29, 2012 at 8:03 pm (5 years ago)

    oh the souvenirs trick is genius! What a great way to keep them happy and $$ in your pocket.

  9. Maria Amelia
    June 29, 2012 at 8:18 pm (5 years ago)

    LOL My favorite tip, although they were all great, was tip #6. I never thought about buying the souvenirs in advance for less money. YOu're one smart cookie!

  10. Ruby
    June 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm (5 years ago)

    Great tips!<br />I agree with the souvenirs we recently when to an amusement park and I couldn&#39;t get over the cost of a simple plush. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Catalina
    June 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm (5 years ago)

    Great tips! We usually pack a lunch too when possible to save money — family of five.

  12. Unknown Mami
    June 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm (5 years ago)

    Wonderful tips. I&#39;m totally daunted by the idea of taking my kids to a theme park because of the expense, but these tips will definitely help save money.

  13. Monica
    June 30, 2012 at 2:58 am (5 years ago)

    Hmmm…left a comment on here earlier, but don&#39;t see it. Anyway, thanks for these tips! We were there last year and loved it. I&#39;ve been trying to figure out how to swing it financially again. This helps!

  14. Unknown
    June 30, 2012 at 3:23 am (5 years ago)

    Hmm, LOL, same with me. Just left a comment and not showing. Great tips! I also do not buy souvenirs at theme parks typically. I have Ebayed it, but make sure it is a reputable seller and you are not paying over retail.

  15. Presley's Pantry
    June 30, 2012 at 4:01 am (5 years ago)

    All your tips are great…. I&#39;ve been considering an annual pass for our family once my son gets a little older.

  16. Comiendo en LA
    June 30, 2012 at 4:01 am (5 years ago)

    Tickets are too pricey!!!!! Thanks for the tips!

  17. AutismWonderland
    June 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm (5 years ago)

    Fantastic tips – especially for families with 2+ kids. It all adds up 😀

  18. Desiree Eaglin
    June 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm (5 years ago)

    We do those smashed pennies every where we go too! My son has a little folder full of them. Great money saving tips, thank you!


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