The summer I was 20, I managed the temporary tattoo booth at a Six Flags theme park — which meant I spent three months giving temporary tattoos to kids and inebriated college students. Though it didn’t make me a millionaire, my experience did help me learn some excellent behind-the-scenes tricks for enjoying a theme park without going broke.
Here’s what you need to know:
How to Save Money at the Amusement Park
1. Plan ahead for the cost of admission
If you decide last-minute to go to the local theme park, you’re going to pay through the nose for your ticket. At the gate, my former employer charges up to $67 per adult and $47 per child over age two. Disney costs a mind-boggling $99 per adult (which includes children over age 10).
There are, however, plenty of ways to bring down the cost of admission. Purchasing your tickets online is generally good for at least $20 off the price, and there are often discounts available through local retailers (grocery stores are a good place to start) and promotions with soft drinks like Coca-Cola. If you follow your favorite park on Twitter or Facebook, you can often find promotions that aren’t advertised elsewhere. Checking for promo codes and coupons on sites like RetailMeNot can help you bring down the price of admission even further.
2. Bring your own provisions
A good rule of thumb for amusement parks is to never buy anything there that you can bring with you. That goes for everything from sunscreen to drinks, since you’ll be paying a premium within the grounds of the theme park. For instance, I remember that 20-ounce bottles of soda and water at my Six Flags cost $3 each from the vending machines — and this was 15 years ago.
Some parks may explicitly forbid outside food and drinks. If that’s the case, plan on packing a lunch to eat at the picnic area in the parking lot. Nearly all parks will allow you to leave and re-enter on the same day. As for drinks, bring a water bottle and refill it from the park’s water fountains.
In addition to food, a water bottle, and sunscreen, you’ll want to bring a sweater, a rain poncho or umbrella, your camera, a change of shoes, and a swimsuit if you plan to go on a water ride. Pack everything in a comfortable backpack, so that you don’t need to rent a locker.
3. Time your trip wisely
Planning a trip off-season (April/May or September/October) will often be cheaper, and in terms of avoiding lines, the best time is an overcast day in the middle of the week. Many park-goers are frightened away by the prospect of rain, but there are always plenty of fun things to do if it does start raining — and parks won’t close down for anything less than an unremitting rainstorm.
You’ll hop right on every ride on a slightly rainy Wednesday, with the added benefit of not getting overwhelmed by the heat. Not to mention that mid-week tickets tend to be less expensive. And if you go to the park late in the day, you might be able to get a discount on “starlight” admission, with the added benefit of fewer families with young children at the park.
4. Be smart about souvenirs
Everywhere you turn at a theme park, you have the opportunity to spend money on souvenirs. One way to keep your costs low is to just put the kibosh on buying any. Instead, take pictures to help you remember the trip.
But if you have small kids who want a souvenir, they’ll get more out of an experience than an item. For instance, you can let them get a temporary tattoo or their face painted. Letting the kids play some arcade games for prizes will give them the experience of the game, as well as a prize to take home. You could also buy a souvenir cup for drinks, since it reduces the cost of refills while giving you something tangible to take home.
One way to help kids understand the cost of souvenirs is to give them a set amount of cash they can spend for the day. They’ll learn an important lesson on budgeting their money and deciding what’s most important to them.
What other ways have you saved money at amusement parks?