Since we are fortunate to live in Florida we have quite a few choices when it comes to visiting theme parks. Sea World, The Disney Parks, Universal Studios, and even Busch Gardens are not more than an hour or two drive away. With that being said, even a one-day trip to any of these parks is extremely expensive for this family of 6. While we don’t visit theme parks too often, they are one of the occasional splurges in our budget and over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about stretching our budget and saving money at theme parks while still having a great time.
Go Off Season
Our number one rule for saving money at theme parks is to visit during the off season. One of the best times to visit is during the Fall and we’ve made a trip or two during the kids’ Fall break week in October. The weather is a bit cooler and we haven’t found any of the parks to be overly crowded. So how does going in the off season save money? For one thing since the crowds are usually less, we can get an early start in the park then head out of the park to eat lunch at a local fast food place before heading back in to enjoy the afternoon entertainment. During the peak Summer season it is nearly impossible to leave and return due to the overwhelming crowds. However, the biggest savings for us are the Florida resident discounts we get on tickets during the off season. Most theme parks offer some type of resident discount so be sure to check with any parks in your area for discounts specific for your family.
Take Help From Technology
I’m talking about Disney specifically only because it’s practically in our backyard. Our favorite internet sites for Disney related savings include Mousesavers and Intercot but I’ve also found a great little blog called Couponing To Disney. These sites provide lots of information about park updates and ride closures, available discounts and strategies for saving. Intercot even features a forum where you can ask questions relating to your trip such as “Where is the closest fast food restaurant off site” and “What restaurants can accomodate food allergies?”. During our Fall trip last year we even bought a phone app that gave us ride wait times, Fast Pass details, and info on crowd levels. While we didn’t save any money per se with the phone app, we did save loads of time which meant we were able to do lots more than we would have if we hadn’t had the real time data the app provided us.
Become a Borrower
Instead of buying any theme park guides, we’ve just borrowed the latest guidebooks from the library. (i.e. The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World or Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World). It’s important that you are reading the most recent edition so you have timely information. When our children were younger we borrowed a friend’s jogging stroller rather than having to rent one at the park. Basically, if we thought we needed something for one time use only, we tried to borrow it rather than spend the cash on it. It never hurts to ask.
Buy Souvenirs Off Site
The most expensive place in the world to buy a Mickey Mouse T-shirt is at Disney World. We’ve saved money on all theme park related merchandise by purchasing it anywhere but the theme parks. In the past I’ve found Mickey Mouse t-shirts at Walmart for a fraction of what they sell for in the parks. Several discount stores located in the Disney vicinity offer Disney themed merchandise like stuffed animals, hats, posters, etc. Even the Disney Store in your local mall or online will have clearance sales where you can purchase Disney merchandise inexpensively. Get your stuff ahead of time and take it with you.
A Well Stocked Backpack
Invariably, Florida weather is known for those afternoon rain showers so I purchase rain ponchos at my local dollar store before making the trip. Then I store them in my backpack where they are ready to go if we need them. I also carry a change of clothes for the younger kids as well as sunscreen, an extra pair of sunglasses, and an additional visor or two. Why is it that my kids constantly misplace sunglasses and visors or baseball hats?
Take Your Own Snacks In
Next to the admission prices, food is our family’s biggest expense. We try to eat as few meals as possible inside the theme parks. We bring a lot of snacks (granola bars, raisins, etc.) in our backpack and usually leave the park and eat at a restaurant in the area. Even water is extremely expensive if you purchase it in the theme parks, and with the Florida heat keeping the family well hydrated can cost a bundle. My solution has been to bring in small empty water bottles. When the kids get thirsty we just fill those at a water fountain. Sometimes I bring some of the powdered drink mixes too. Either way it is much much cheaper than purchasing the bottles of water or soda in the theme parks.