Park visits are getting expensive. One day at a park in the Six Flags or Cedar Fair chain for a family of four can easily cost upwards of $250, factoring in tickets, parking, food and miscellaneous other expenses. Don’t even get started on Disney; a single day ticket for one person has climbed to $105.
The cost of theme parks is likely keeping some otherwise willing visitors at home. One way or another, amusement parks involve a decent expenditure. The good news, though, is there are guaranteed ways to significantly reduce the overall impact on your wallet. Follow these 7 tips to save at least $15 – $20 per person during your next visit.
1. Buy tickets before you visit the park
Never, ever purchase your tickets at the park! You will miss out on significant discounts available elsewhere.
First, check the park’s website. Online prices are often $15-$20 less than the gate price, and when buying for multiple people, that’s an immediate cost savings. Compare the advertised online prices to other ticket retailers, too. If you belong to AAA, for example, you know that your membership benefits include discounted amusement park tickets.
Pre-purchasing your tickets also means you’ll avoid an unnecessary line before you even enter. If you’re hoping to beat the lines inside the park, this is a big time-saver.
2. Consider a season pass
If you plan to visit a nearby park more than once in a given year, a season pass might make fiscal sense. If you plan to visit three or more times, then a season pass is absolutely the way to go.
Here’s an example. A season pass to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is advertised online for $115 per person (as of August, 2015). A one-day ticket starts at $45. With these numbers alone, it’s clear that a season pass would pay for itself by the third visit. The value would continue to increase with each visit beyond the third.
Often, parking can be added to a season pass. To continue the example, season parking can be purchased for $65. By contrast, per-visit parking will set you back $25 per visit (egregious, but it’s the fee nonetheless). Here, again, the season parking pass will pay for itself by the third visit.
In short, investigate all ticketing options before you purchase. Some parks, including those in the Six Flags chain, even offer summer passes that typically expire in early September. They are even less expensive than full season passes, and still allow for unlimited visits during the specified summer date range.
If you do plan to visit more than once during the operating season, do some homework and decide which ticketing option makes the most financial sense.
3. Take advantage of refillable drink bottles
Many theme parks offer plastic souvenir bottles that can be purchased for a one-time price and then refilled for free or for a very small fee (depending on the park). This kind of souvenir cup at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia is $15, with unlimited free refills at dining locations throughout the park on the day of your visit. If you visit again during the same year, you can bring back the souvenir cup for $.99 refills (2015 prices).
Compared to the prices of soft drinks and bottled water at amusement parks (often $4 – $6 a pop), these are usually a good deal if you’d otherwise purchase at least a few beverages during your visit. It’s an even better deal if you’re willing to share with someone. As an added bonus, this is also a good way to make sure you stay hydrated under the hot summer sun.
4. Leave the park for lunch
Prices for food within the park will always be more expensive than food at, say, the convenience store down the road. Parks do offer hand stamps to allow for same-day re-entry, so this could be a good option if you’re looking for extra ways to save.
Some warnings on this tip, though. First, it won’t make sense if you don’t have a season parking pass, as once you drive off the grounds, you’ll need to re-enter and possibly pay again for parking. Next, this will be a killer for time management. The time you spend exiting the park, finding your car and driving off-site, eating, and then reversing the process is likely to be more time and aggravation than it’s worth in terms of cost savings. Of course, if you’re a season pass holder and only dropping by the park for a few hours, this strategy definitely makes sense.
5. Investigate group rates
Organizing a group trip to the park can reap serious expense benefits. Group prices are usually significantly lower than the gate price, and lower even than online and other discount rates. Groups of 15+ at Six Flags, for example, can purchase tickets for $28.99 each (2015 price).
6. Avoid the games
They’re seemingly everywhere you turn, but avoid the games; they are money traps. If you want a souvenir, head for the gift shops instead. There, you’re guaranteed to get what you pay for.
7. Don’t bring bags into the park
Many parks don’t allow visitors to bring bags into the queue lines for larger rides, including most roller coasters. Instead, riders must stow personal items in one-time use lockers, which usually cost $1 each. This is not just an unnecessary expense, but it’s also a roadblock for those looking to beat the lines. Bring necessities, but try to leave bags in the car when you can.
Summer trips definitely impact wallets, but with smart planning and some math, there are ways to save money at amusement parks. Perhaps the biggest cost savings will come from ticket prices, as they almost always represent the single largest expenditure by guests. So, remember to investigate all your options, including online discounts, affiliate discounts (for example, AAA membership), partner store coupons (at CVS and other convenience stores, for instance), and other promotions. The planning work beforehand will be well worth it!