Whether your local amusement park is open year-round or just for the summer, it’s usually a grand place to escape with family and friends. Though these parks supply a full day of fun, it comes at a cost… sometimes substantial enough to leave you queasy before setting foot on that super-colossal roller coaster. I asked the good folks at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions for some tips on how to save money and (your valuable) time. Here are some suggestions.
1. Buy a season pass or annual membership as soon as they go on sale. If you really love a special park or attraction these usually pay for themselves in less than three visits and often include other benefits, such as discounts on parking, food and gift shop purchases. For instance, here in Denver, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park discounted season passes in March (the park doesn’t open until May) for $60. Even at the regular season pass price of $70, with an adult single-day ticket costing $35, you can do the math on this one. Elitch Gardens season pass holders also receive three “Bring A Friend” tickets, a money-saving coupon book and other perks. A SeaWorld Orlando annual pass costs $156, but gives you unlimited admission year-round with no blackout dates, plus free parking (that alone saves you $17 per visit).
2. Buy in advance online. Many park websites now offer a substantial savings if you’ll purchase your tickets before you get there. Again, using Elitch Gardens as as example, an adult ticket bought at the Main Gate is $45.99. Purchase it online for $34.99, an $11 savings.
3. Ask about “twilight” rates. Some attractions discount your ticket or offer the next day free if you enter the attraction after a certain time of day. At Water World Colorado, a general admission ticket runs you $41.99 for use from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Enter the gates at 1:45 p.m. or later and pay $26.99.
4. Use your membership. AAA, AARP, Costco and Sam’s Club members may get a discount. Seniors and military personnel are also afforded special rates. Instead of paying $41.99 to play all day at Water World, adults ages 60 and older pay just $10.99. That’s even less than a child’s ticket. Be sure to bring proper I.D.
5. Bring your own food. If the park or attraction allows for it, bring a picnic lunch and/or snacks and avoid paying inflated prices for in-park food and drink. And here’s a tip a friend gave me, if a park forbids outside food and drink, pack a picnic lunch anyway and put it into a cooler (be sure you stock it with ice) that you leave in your car. Then, at lunchtime, head to the parking lot. Be sure to get your hand stamped or receive a return ticket so you can re-enter. Then find a shady spot or tailgate at your car. At minimum bring empty water bottles that you can fill at water fountains. There’s no excuse for paying $3 for a bottle of water.
6. Look for coupons. Fast food chains, gas stations, grocery stores and soft drink companies frequently offer coupons or discounts on admission. You may also find discounted tickets through daily deal sites such as Groupon or LivingSocial. Be sure to check a park’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for special offers and promotions.
7. Consider a group rate. There’s never been a better excuse to buddy up. If there are 10 or more people in your group, you may qualify for a discount. And if the attraction charges for parking, you can carpool.
8. Visit Monday through Friday. Weekends are the busiest at most parks. If you want to visit on a weekend, go on Sunday.
9. Arrive early. Get a great parking spot (you want to be close in case you want to get to your car during the day) and beat the crowd. And many parks open anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes earlier than publicly announced.
10. Start at the back of the park. It’s human nature to move front to back and turn right. Avoid 60 percent of the crowd and make a bee-line to the rear of the attraction or to your “must do” rides.
11. Check to see if the park has an app. Technology has finally come to amusement parks. Not only can many of these custom apps check line times, but some have a locator feature so you and your group can meet up quickly.
12. Take the express route. When Disney Parks brought out their FastPass years ago, the world of attractions was changed forever. Systems differ (some have you reserve a time frame, others let you use a special line), but often parks allow you to bypass lines on popular attractions. Some are free with park admission and some require an additional charge. Be sure to research in advance so you can weigh the pros and cons versus costs.