I’ve been a fan of amusement parks ever since I first visited Peppermint Park as a young child. It was a small Houston-based amusement park that had rides, games, and the best fair food. I was fascinated by the sights, sounds, and smells. I often begged my mother to take me there, and she would abide when she had some extra cash.
When I was a little older, I started going to Astroworld, Houston’s big amusement park. It had roller coasters with names like Excalibur, Greezed Lightnin’, XLR-8, and Texas Cyclone. I rode most of the coasters, but I never had the courage to ride Texas Cyclone. It was a massive wooden roller coaster that had steep drops and sharp curves. My daughter, who loves roller coasters, would have enjoyed it.
Growing up with amusement parks in my city made it fairly easy for me to experience these thrill rides on a regular basis. However, things are much different now. Astroworld closed in 2005 (it was a sad day for Houstonians) and the nearest amusement park is in San Antonio (there are plans to open a new park in the Houston area in 2015). Taking my kids to an amusement park requires significant planning and budgeting.
“For a family of three or more, the cost of admission alone can be hundreds of dollars,” says Lissa Poirot, editor of Family Vacation Critic. “That doesn’t take into account parking, meals, beverages – or a hotel stay, if visiting from out of town. But there are ways to save, and usually some of the largest savings come at the ticket booth — through some research and advance planning.”
I’ve managed to take my family of five to Disney World, Disney Land, Sea World, Universal, and Santa’s Workshop. I must admit these vacations had hefty price tags, but I was able to afford them by learning a few cost-saving techniques.
According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, 60 percent of U.S. respondents plan to visit an amusement park in 2014, with more than a quarter spending over $1,000 on the visit. For families planning an amusement park trip this summer, sites such as Family Vacation Critic regularly share tips for making the visit budget-friendly. Here are 5 ways families can save money at amusement parks:
Purchase Tickets in Advance
The first time I took my family to Disney, I bought tickets at the gate. The sticker shock nearly knocked me off my feet. Rather than purchasing day-of tickets, consider purchasing tickets online. Some parks offer discounted rates if purchased ahead of time, which can save a significant amount on the ticket cost combined. It’s also worth checking park websites for flash sales and other discounts, and sometimes purchasing tickets as part of a combined package with other attractions can also save on individual costs.
Search for Deals Online and Offline
Coupon sites like RetailMeNot and flash sale sites like Groupon and LivingSocial often post a collection of deals and discounts to amusement parks. Membership groups like AAA and AARP also offer discounts to theme parks, and some credit cards provide special promotions to cardholders – American Express partners with Universal Studios to offer card members special benefits including an American Express lounge, and Discover Card provides its members with a dedicated park entrance and exclusive ride times at Six Flags parks. Travel agents can also help you to get great deals on vacation packages.
Buy Multi-Day Passes
I always bought a season pass for Astroworld when I was a teenager. For $29.99, I was able to enjoy many carefree days at the amusement park. Obviously, the price of multi-day passes has increased significantly since then. However, families spending more than one day in the area, or who live within close distance to an amusement park, can save hundreds by purchasing a season- or multi-day passes. Season passes can also provide additional bonuses such as exclusive ride times and free or discounted parking. Some parks with more than one location also honor season passes at other locations as well – providing savings close to home and while away on vacation.
Spend the Night
Many parks partner with nearby hotels to extend special offerings to hotel guests, such as discount tickets, complimentary breakfast or early park entry. Some packages also include transportation to and from the park to help families save on the cost of parking.
Be Flexible With Your Travel Plans
Some parks offer discount tickets after a certain hour in the day. If you don’t mind a shortened visit, or don’t have time to spend an entire day at the park, check to see if there are half-day or evening tickets at a discounted rate. Visitors can sometimes save as much as half-off by taking advantage of off-peak deals.
Taking your family to an amusement park doesn’t have drain your life’s savings. With some careful planning and savvy shopping techniques, you can give your family a great vacation and save money at the amusement park.
Join the conversation: What tips do you have to save money at amusement parks?
photo by Justin Brown