Theme parks can be great fun for all, but tickets, parking, food and incidentals can rapidly mount up to burn a hole in your pocket. Here is a list of tips to help you save a few bucks on that summer theme-park excursion, be it one of the popular Disney parks or your local favorite.
Temper Your Expectations
Not to burst your bubble, but saving significant money on major theme parks is a tall order: If you think you’re going to pull one over on Walt Disney, think again. According to Lance Hart of the theme-park website Screamscape, “Most parks, especially the big ones in Orlando and California, have it down to a science these days to make it nearly impossible to shave corners and save money.” Theme-park visitors, especially those who visit once a year or less, are going to have a difficult time saving more than a few dollars on tickets.
Go More Than Once
It seems counterintuitive, but going to a park — any park — more than once immediately slashes the price-per-day by a significant amount. Sometimes it’s almost comical: Want to go to Busch Gardens once? It’s $89.99. Want to go an unlimited number of times for the rest of the year? It’s $99.99.
A one-day Park Hopper ticket to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom can cost $174. If you buy a 10-day ticket, however, the per-day cost drops to about $51. Keep in mind that for these multiday tickets, there is a limited amount of time to use them. In this case, you must use all 10 days within a 14-day period.
Don’t Scour for Online Coupons
Searches for “Disneyland coupons” on the Internet may yield a lot of results, but they’re almost guaranteed to end in disappointment. It isn’t worth your time. Targeting the smaller parks yields more promising results: Groupon, for example, offers discounted tickets to the Raging Waters park in Los Angeles. Visitors can pay $34.99 through the coupon site, which appears to be a decent savings on the $45.99 gate price; upon closer inspection, though, it isn’t exactly a steal. On the Raging Waters website, visitors can scoop up tickets for as low as $32.99 on select days (plus a $3 service charge), making the Groupon deal significantly less of a, well, deal.
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Be judicious about where you buy tickets. Generally, it’s best to buy directly from the park. I would avoid eBay and Craigslist, as the potential for buying fake tickets is too great. Some third-party sites, like Park Savers, offer slight discounts; a three-day Disneyland Park Hopper ticket will run $307 after fees, which saves $8.
Purchase Tickets Ahead of Time
You can buy theme-park tickets at the gate, but that doesn’t mean you should. Parks always want to know when you’re coming (it helps them determine their discount and blackout days, for example), and they love to have your money upfront. In return, many parks (with the notable exception of Disney) offer significant discounts for buying online.
Six Flags Over Texas, for example, offers $20 off the gate price of $74.99 with a three-day advance online purchase. Some parks, like Kings Dominion, don’t require advance purchase to get a discount; the park offers $22 off the gate price ($67) just for buying online, even on same-day purchases.
Be Flexible About Dates
Do you absolutely have to visit Disneyland on Christmas Day? You’re going to pay for it. That is the peak period, when you’ll pay $124 a ticket. If you’re willing to go midweek in September, however, you can expect to pay less: a mere $97.
A ticket to Universal Studios Orlando will also run you $124 during peak season — the Fourth of July, for example. On a less busy day, like Halloween, you’ll pay $110.