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7 Top-rated Theme Parks That Won’t Blow Your Budget

We asked insiders at 7 great theme parks for their tips on the best ways to save money on your next fun-filled vacation.

Everyone knows about Disney, but what about other great, under-the-radar theme parks around the country? We’ve rounded up seven that deliver tons of fun for a great value—and one even offers a special discount for NEA members!

BUSCH GARDENS

Voted America’s “Most Beautiful Theme Park” for 22 consecutive years, Busch Gardens—a 350-acre, action-packed adventure park in Williamsburg, Virginia—boasts 10 European-themed villages and award-winning roller coasters.

Insider tips: Go behind the scenes with one of the park’s many tours. You can learn how the roller coasters work, take a guided tour of the park’s manicured gardens with a horticultural expert or learn behavior techniques from the park’s animal behaviorists.

Cost-cutting tips: “The best deal by far is a Busch Gardens 2-Park Flex Ticket [online] that provides unlimited admission to Busch Gardens and Water Country USA for seven consecutive days,” says Dan Dipiazzo, vice president of marketing. He also recommends checking the website for meal deals and other savings. Cashless wristbands can be loaded with a preset spending limit for in-park purchases to help ensure you’ll stick to your budget.

CEDAR POINT

Voted the “Best Amusement Park in the World” for 16 consecutive years, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, boasts 16 roller coasters. The latest, which debuted in 2013, is the longest wing roller coaster with the longest drop in the world. The park has 56 other rides, a waterpark, three resort hotels, two marinas and an entertainment complex with live music.

Insider tips: Start the day near the back of the park. Lines there tend to be shorter earlier in the day, says spokesperson Bryan Edwards, who adds that lines for the big rides are shortest later in the day and around meal times.

Cost-cutting tips: It pays to travel in groups. Discounted tickets are available for groups of 15 or more. Retail partners such as Meijer also offer discounts on tickets, but the best savings comes from staying on-site. “Not only can overnight guests get the best price on admission tickets, they also get Early Entry, allowing them to ride the biggest and best rides before we open,” Edwards says. The park also is selling its 2014 Season Passes now, with payments deferred until April 1.

HOLIDAY WORLD & SPLASHIN’ SAFARI

Indiana is home to America’s first theme park, the No. 1 wooden roller coaster and an award-winning waterpark—all found at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana.

Insider tips: Before you go, check out the Tips for a Better Visit page on the website, which details the best times to visit and how to avoid lines. You can even use the videos to help you map out your time at the park and hit all the rides on your wishlist.

Cost-cutting tips: “Families can save time and money by purchasing their discounted tickets from our website,” says Matt Eckert, president and CEO. “Two-day and three-day tickets are an even greater value.” If you buy 2014 season passes by May 2 (the day before the park opens), you’ll get a discount. “Once they have their tickets, they don’t need to worry about soft drinks, parking, sunscreen, inner tubes or Wi-Fi because they’re all free,” Eckert says. “We also keep our food prices competitive with what you’re used to paying at fast-food restaurants.”

SEABREEZE AMUSEMENT PARK

With more than 70 thrilling attractions, such as the third oldest operating coaster in the country, not to mention a waterpark, Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, N.Y., combines two parks in one, both of which offer gorgeous views of Lake Ontario.

Insider tips: “If someone in your party doesn’t want to ride, they can get a reduced-price Spectator Pass and enjoy the live shows, landscaped gardens and scenic views,” says John Norris, vice president. He notes that weekdays are the best times to visit to avoid lines.

Cost-cutting tips: You can save $3 per ticket if you purchase passes online, although the biggest value comes with the Night Rider Pass, which offers unlimited rides and slides, after 5 p.m. NEA members can save even more—$4 off the gate price of a Ride & Slide pass—by using promo code 5502. And you can bring your own food and drink into the park for further daily savings.

HERSHEYPARK

What first started as picnic grounds for Hershey employees in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has evolved into a vibrant park with more than 65 rides across 110 green acres. Hersheypark’s eight themed areas offer a variety of live entertainment and games, plus entrance to ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park.

Insider tips: “Choose the themed area that you are most interested in and begin there,” suggests Kathy Burrows, public relations manager. She says it’s best to start at the back of the park. Guests of Hershey Resorts (The Hotel Hershey, Hershey Lodge, Hersheypark Camping Resort) can enter the park up to an hour early and ride on select rides.

Cost-cutting tips: Save up to 25 percent on meals with the meal ticket, which gets you a full meal plus a 32-ounce souvenir cup (refills are just 99¢) for $13.75. Buying the Games Voucher Book (a $29 value for only $15) also can save you money. Be sure to check the website for discount packages, too.

KINGS DOMINION

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014, Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, is a 400-acre park that features more than 60 attractions with something for everyone. Planet Snoopy features the cast of Charlie Brown. Waterworks boasts water slides, rushing rivers, surfable waves and a 650,000-gallon wave pool. There’s also Dinosaurs Alive!, the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park, featuring 36 life-sized dinosaurs in a Jurassic forest setting.

Insider tips: Kings Dominion will be teaming up with the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond, Virginia, to host Education Days at the park for teachers and students.

Cost-cutting tips: Head to the park’s website, where you’ll find the lowest prices for tickets, says Gene Petriello, public relations manager. Groups of 15 or more get additional discounts, as do season-pass purchasers. “There’s also in-park food and merchandise discounts with the season passes,” Petriello says.

LUNA PARK

Home to more than 28 rides—including the world-famous Cyclone Roller Coaster, a delicious Mexican-themed beachfront dining experience and the “Eiffel Tower of New York”—Luna Park in Coney Island, N.Y., is the perfect place to spend a fun day with your family.

Insider tip: Be sure to spin the wheel on the boardwalk for a chance to win a free ride on the historic Cyclone Roller Coaster or a free wristband.

Cost-cutting tips: The best deal is the four-hour, unlimited ride wristband that gives you unlimited access to 22 rides, says Nicole Purmal, marketing manager: “It comes out to being less than $1.50 per ride. You can’t beat that!” Keep an eye out for special “flash” offers on food, too.

This article was published in NEAchieve!, our monthly e-newsletter. Sign up to receive helpful tips and information delivered to your email inbox.

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