The Best Ways to Save Money at Theme Parks

Six Flags. Used with permission.

Theme parks and amusement parks are all about fun. But with admission topping $100 per person at some of the larger parks and another $25 for parking -- and that's before you even get in the gates and have to open your wallet for food, souvenirs, and other charges -- funding the fun is an issue.

So, what's the deal? Can you find theme park discounts and special offers to make a day at the park more affordable? Sure! In fact, with the exception of Disney and Universal, virtually all other parks routinely offer discounts and deals. Don't pay full price. You should never show up to the gate without having done some advance planning. 

What's the Deal for Florida?
The latest Florida theme park discounts and Orlando vacation deals.

What's the deal for California?
The latest California theme park discounts vacation deals.

Consider Booking a Package

If you and your family or friends will be taking an extended theme park vacation and flying to your destination, you may want to look into travel packages. Universal and Disney have their own vacation services and can offer a variety of plans with features such as airfare, ground transportation, hotel accommodations (even at hotels away from their properties), theme park admissions, and meals. Are they good deals? That depends.

During certain low-traffic seasons or at other times when the parks want to drum up business, these can be great values, indeed. Don't book a package that includes features you probably would not use. Even if a package is not much of a savings over purchasing the bundled items separately, the time and energy you could save with one-stop shopping might make it worth it to you.

Virtually every major third-party travel service also offers a variety of Disney and Universal packages as well. It couldn't hurt to do some comparison-shopping.

Check Park Web Sites

Wherever your travels may be taking you, check the park's Web site for online-only deals as well as travel and accommodations info. You should also check Web sites for the travel and convention organization or the chamber of commerce in the area of the park you will be visiting. They may have some packages and discounts worth considering. For example, the Orlando Visitors Bureau offers hotel and theme park tickets along with other offers and features.

Annual passes may be another good money-saving option. If you plan on going to a park more than once in a season, an annual pass can more than pay for itself in as little as two visits. If you will be chasing roller coasters across the country, corporate parks, such as Six Flags, can offer tremendous value with an annual pass that is good at all of the parks throughout its chain.

Other Ways to Save $

The best way to find park discounts is to contact the park itself. Check the park's Web site or call its guest services office to inquire about special promotions.

Sometimes parks will freely share money-saving deals; other times, you may have to track down the deals. Here are some suggestions:

  • Social media: Check parks' twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and other social media for exclusive deals and promotions.
  • Product tie-ins: Be on the lookout for soda can offers, cereal box coupons, fast food deals, grocery store programs, and other cross-promotions.
  • Wholesale clubs: Do you belong to BJ's, Costco, or Sam's Club? They frequently offer discounted theme park tickets and bargain travel services.
  • AAA, AARP, and other alphabet-soup groups: Check your membership benefits. Discounted park tickets and travel packages are frequent perks.
  • Credit card promotions: Don't throw away all of that stuff that comes with your credit card bill without first checking if there are any park offers. Visa, for example, has tie-ins with Disney parks.

Here are some other money-saving thoughts:

  • Food inside parks can get quite costly. Consider packing a meal and have it en route or before you enter a park. Many parks have picnic areas outside its gates. You could take a midday break, and have the lunch you packed You could also eat at restaurants before or after your park visit.
  • Drinks that you purchase inside the park can really add up too. With all of the walking and time spent in the sun, it's important that you drink a lot. Check the parks for their policies and, if allowed, pack water bottles or bring other drinks into the park. The food stands at most parks will gladly give you complimentary cups of cold water. Just ask.