Tips To Visit Theme Parks On A Budget
Theme Parks on a Budget
"Buy your tickets before you go to the park," says Mary Waring, founder of MouseSavers.com, which offers a compilation of Disney and theme park discounts and tips. "Just showing up at the gate means you will pay top dollar."
Check with the convention and visitors bureau
Do an Internet search to find the official travel website of the city you are visiting, then look for coupons, package deals or other special promotions (be sure to check expiration dates).
Consider online ticket wholesalers
Vendors such as UndercoverTourist.com, MapleLeafTickets.com or OfficialTicketCenter.com offer discounts on major parks and attractions in Orlando. "You'll get about 2 to 5 percent off Disney tickets through such sites," says Bob Sehlinger, author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2008. "And the savings are even steeper for other attractions, such as dinner shows."
Use group discounts
Ask your company's employee benefits department about corporate discounts, which vary considerably. Auto clubs such as AAA yield savings of about 10 percent on theme parks like Disney, Universal and Six Flags, while active-duty and retired military members should check with their installation's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Office for discounts. Wholesale clubs such as Costco and BJ's also offer various deals, such as tickets that get you into several attractions in a city for one reduced price.
Rent a house
"For our last Disney vacation, we rented a four-bedroom home with pool, just minutes from the gate," says Vicki Inman, a U.S. Army spouse stationed in Vicenza, Italy. "We stayed for a week and saved hundreds because we split the rent with another family. Plus we had a washer, dryer and kitchen." Check sites like homeaway.com and greatfamilyrentals.com
Do your homework
Kayak.com and SideStep.com search multiple lodging sites at once for the best price. Before booking, go to the hotel's website, too. Be persistent: A recent search for a popular hotel near Cedar Point showed a 0 standard rate on the hotel website, 8 through one of the leading online travel sites and 7 with the AAA discount.
Call hotels directly
"They're often willing to meet or beat an Internet price—even from their own site—if you book directly," says Sehlinger. "Plus, you won't pay the fees that some sites charge." When calling, ask about promotions and discounts available during your visit.
Pack a picnic
"We get a hotel room that has a fridge and stock up on breakfast and lunch items," says Jamie Lorance of Gilbert, Arizona. Or pick up an inexpensive disposable cooler so you can tailgate at the park. Booking a hotel that offers free breakfast can also save you a few bucks per person a day.
Be a couponer
The official visitors bureau sites may have printable coupons for local restaurants. You can also search by state or zip code at restaurant.com to find a list of eateries offering deals (the site offers -value gift certificates for just ). Entertainment coupon books may also be worthwhile; they run to , depending on the area, and can be purchased at entertainment.com or at bookstores.
Load up on snacks
"When our four children were small, we always kept lots of portable snacks handy throughout the day," recalls Yana Berlin, who lives in San Diego. "Granola bars, individual packs of nuts, and dried fruits are filling and kept everyone satisfied until we could eat an affordable meal outside the park."
Favorite parks for less
Who better than moms to offer dollar-stretching tips for three of the country's most popular parks? Their "been there, done that" advice will save you an even bigger bundle.
Walt Disney World Orlando, FL disneyworld.com
MOM TIPSAt .62 for a general admission ticket, entry to the happiest place on earth doesn't come cheap. What's more, one regular ticket gets you into just one park. That's why moms like Eileen Harris of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, make sure to purchase Park Hopper add-ons ( for each add-on) with their family's base tickets. "We're able to come and go as we please at all four Disney parks—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom," explains Eileen, a mother of two. Otherwise, you would have to buy separate tickets for each park, which can really add up.
Keeping food costs down is equally important when you have kids in tow. So Heather Roberts-Nault's family splits their meals when they eat at the park. "The portions are quite large at Disney. A family of four can easily order three meals and share. We do it with our children and often still have leftovers," says the mom of three, who lives in Bardstown, Kentucky. Another neat trick: Sometimes Heather orders a double cheeseburger and an extra bun, then makes two burgers out of one.
BONUS TIPGet discounts at homeSign up for the free Disney Insider online travel newsletter (disney.go.com/features/insider/index.html) a couple of weeks before your trip and you'll receive information about discounts and special offers via e-mail.
DON'T MISSThe Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, where you can try cuisine from around the globe and sample an assortment of wines. A must-do that your kids are sure to love is Toy Story Mania, a new interactive attraction opening this summer that features a ride and games, plus Woody, Buzz and the rest of theToy Storygang.
Cedar Point Sandusky, OH cedarpoint.com
MOM TIPSKnown as "the roller coaster capital of the world," Cedar Point boasts 75 rides (including 17 coasters), four resort hotels, RV campgrounds and a new kids' area. When Kellee Peters, a mother of two from Hamilton, Ohio, visits, she takes advantage of the Platinum Pass (formerly the Maxx Pass). At first glance, the 0-per-person price tag seems steep. But as Kellee found out, it gets you unlimited admission all summer to any park in the Cedar Fair family. If you plan to hit more than one park this season, you won't have to buy day-rate tickets each time—a cost of .95 per person at Cedar Point. In addition, the pass includes free parking, a savings of to a day. "The last time we went, we were able to use our passes for admission to Cedar Point and Kings Island in Cincinnati, too," she says. "It was quite a savings."
How can you quench everyone's thirst for less? "Buy the refillable souvenir cups," suggests Terri Ogilivie of Parma, Ohio, a mom of one. "The refills are much cheaper than buying a full-priced drink each time." Plus, you can get ice and water refills for free.
BONUS TIP Go later in the dayAt Cedar Point, Starlight admission is just .95 starting at 4 or 5 p.m. (depending on what time the park closes). That's a savings.
DON'T MISS Two hair-raising roller coasters: Top Thrill Dragster, which soars to a height of 420 feet and goes from 0 to 120 mph in less than four seconds. The Millennium Force features a first drop that's set at an 80-degree angle.
Universal Hollywood Universal City, CA universalstudioshollywood.com
MOM TIPSThis motion picture and television theme park is also a working film and production studio. If you book the VIP Experience, a tour limited to 15 guests at a time, you'll get a look behind the scenes. For real star treatment, heed the advice of Terry Lena, a mom of two from Mahopac, New York: "We purchased the Front of Line pass, which lets you bypass the regular long lines. My family was able to enjoy more of the park in less time, so I got my money's worth."
BONUS TIP Don't miss online-only dealsBuy a 1-Day General Admission ticket through Universal's website and get a second day free (ticket valid through December 31, 2008).
DON'T MISS The new Simpsons Ridebrings Springfield to life as you travel through an amusement park dreamed up by Krusty the Clown. Or try the park's first roller coaster, Revenge of the Mummy—The Ride.
Theme Park Survival Guide
You've scouted your deals and packed your snacks. Now make the most of your day of fun.
Get there early
"The first two hours a park is open are the least crowded," says Mary Waring of MouseSavers.com. "You often won't have to wait for the most popular rides during this time."
Carry just the essentials, and skip the backpack. It invites pickpockets and is awkward to stow on rides.
Bring along blister relief like bandages and moleskin. Believe it or not, you can log five to 12 miles of walking a day at large parks like Disney. Check preschoolers' feet frequently—they probably won't say they're getting a blister until it's too late.
Take a break
"Many people want to get the most for their money, so they rush around and try to do every attraction," says Disney guide author Bob Sehlinger. "But when you and the kids get tired and irritable, focus on what would feel best. A swim at the hotel? A nap? After all, this is supposed to be fun."
"Before you go, have each child choose several of his or her must-do or must-see attractions. Hit those first so no one's disappointed at the end of the day," says Waring.
"Decide up front how much you'll spend on souvenirs per child and stay on budget," says Michele Perry of TripAdvisor.com.
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