How to Do More and Spend Less at Theme Parks Across America
Love theme parks but not the price tag? This advice will show you how to save at just about any amusement park, including Kings Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland Florida and more.
Whether you’re a roller coaster enthusiast, prefer the tame rides or go just for the shows, spending a day, or several, at a theme park may sound like quintessential summer fun—until you realize the hefty price tag. Entrance fees, tasty treats and extras such as passes that allow you to scoot to the front of the line can wreak havoc on even the most budget-conscious visitor. Yet shrewd planning—well before the trip begins—is the magic behind returning home in the black. Here's how to find discounts at your favorite theme parks so you don’t have to break open the piggy bank.
Park Admission Savings
No matter what theme park you’re visiting, purchasing admission tickets at the park’s online site—especially preseason—can be significantly cheaper than buying at the park’s gate. One caveat to that rule: Some parks give admission discounts for entrance in the late afternoon. Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND Florida/Merlin Entertainments Group, © 2013 Chip Litherland Photography
To watch for special promotions and last-minute discounts, sign up for your favorite park’s enewsletter at its website and follow the relevant Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Also bookmark sites that offer advice and information on deals and discounts for your park of choice. Check out NEA Click & Save to receive up to 40% off passes to Legoland, Six Flags, Busch Gardens and more. MouseSavers details Disney deals, but has hints for Universal Orlando too. ThemeParkInsider.com, Groupon and Undercover Tourist all offer ways to save on park admission tickets.
Often in-state residents—or people living in specific ZIP codes—can purchase discounted admission tickets. Some in your party may qualify for a senior citizen or junior pass (when a child is under certain age/height requirements). Be prepared to show ID to verify residency or age. Also, most parks give admission discounts to active and retired military and veterans with a valid military ID. (Visit Military.com for parks across the U.S. and MilitaryDisneyTips for Florida parks.)
Consider investing in a season/annual pass if you’re visiting more than once. Free parking and food discounts are often rolled into the annual pass price.
Certain memberships equal park savings. Costco members will find savings not only on park admission, but also on hotels connected to (and near) the park, gas prices and food (18-inch $10 pizza-to-go, water, fresh fruit, etc. for the hotel room).
Choosing the Right Hotel
Do the hotel math to find the right overnight accommodations. Park hotels offer perks such as early admission, cut-to-the-front-of-the-line passes (often called a Fast or Express Pass) and water-taxi rides or bus shuttles to the park. Many non-park hotels offer breakfast, a shuttle to the park, a kitchenette (sometimes) and parking—all complimentary. (Consider Red Roof Inn properties, many of which offer free continental breakfast at select locations.)
Save on Food
Buy groceries before arriving at the park and picnic in the car before or after the crowd eats at noon. That way, you can enjoy less crowded rides and attractions while everyone else is eating their lunch. If you dine in the park, save by ordering from the child’s menu or split an entrée with a travel companion. Purchase discounted Restaurant.com gift certificates for local restaurants through NEA Click & Save or check out Groupon for restaurant discounts.
Tips for 5 Top Parks
Are you ready to plan your theme park getaway? Here are some specific tips to save big on these 5 parks:
Universal Orlando (Orlando, Florida): Universal Orlando is actually 2 amusement parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure connected by Hogwarts Express. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter boasts high-immersion rides in both parks requiring a pass for each.
How to Save: Lines are long but if you have older kids, consider using single rider lines and skip buying a Universal Express Pass. Universal’s 3 luxury hotels deliver a Universal Express Pass for each day you stay, water-taxi transport to the park and 1-hour early entrance. (Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls give everything except Express Passes.) Universal’s value dining plan includes 1 meal, 1 snack and unlimited soda for $28. Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort. © 2016 All rights reserved
Sesame Place (Langhorne, Pennsylvania): Sesame Place—created for kids ages 2 to 9—has 16 dry rides, 9 water rides, 3 shows and a parade. Children delight in meeting Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Elmo and friends. The park operates late April through Halloween’s Spooktacular and reopens in December for A Very Furry Christmas.
How to Save: Score great savings by purchasing your tickets preseason. Sign up before October for a free annual teacher’s pass that’s good for the following year. Log on to NEA Click & Save for up to 40% off discounted tickets to Sesame Place.
Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, California): In 1920, the Knott family developed a berry farm. Today, Knott’s Berry Farm boasts 40 rides that include scream-machines and family rides. Fast Lane passes allow priority boarding on many rides. Knott’s Soak City, an elaborate water park, sits next door.
How to Save: Knott’s deals abound, so expect to pay about $42; start at Knotts.com. Also look to Daytrippen for discounted park admission. Gate prices drop to $37 at 3:45 p.m. Photo courtesy of Knott’s Berry Farm
Legoland Florida (Winter Haven, Florida): An easy 45-minute drive from Orlando, Legoland is located in Winter Haven and offers 50 rides for kids ages 2 to 10. The water park is large with a wave pool, lazy river and slides.
How to Save: Visit NEA Click & Save or subscribe to the free LEGO Club magazine. Almost every issue has a kids-go-free coupon that, paired with an adult ticket, lets a kid enter free. Florida-certified teachers receive a free annual pass. Save $2 by purchasing parking online. Bringing your own meals in is allowed.
Kings Island (Mason, Ohio): Kings Island bills itself as “the largest amusement and water park in the Midwest,” boasting 17 roller coasters/thrill rides, a water park and the “world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park” sprawling over 364 family-friendly acres.
How to Save: Purchase tickets at Visit Kings Island or at Kroger supermarkets to save almost $30 off gate prices. Afternoon price drops at 5 p.m. save about $15 per person. The All-Day Dining Plan is $30 and assures a meal every 90 minutes (offering food such as pizza, burgers, Panda Express and Subway). Learn from other amusement park enthusiasts at Kings Island fan forums, KICentral. Photo courtesy of Kings Island
SAVE AT RED ROOF INN
NEA members get a 20% discount at any of Red Roof Inn’s 435+ locations.
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