Cut Costs, Not Fun at Theme Parks

Filed under: Places To Go

Theme parks and water parks are gearing up for summer, and the owners (not to mention your kids) are hoping that your family and others don't cut this summer ritual from your entertainment budget. Some parks are offering massive discounts. According to Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, families can get more for their money in 2009 than ever before. "Universal Orlando is offering free tickets for kids, Disney World is offering free dining for the whole family, and Busch and Sea World parks are offering year-long passes for the price of one-day ticket," says Niles.

Families in other areas can reduce day-at-the-park expenses, as well. For our three boys, a trip to Six Flags or a water park always launched our summers. Though getting a family of five in the gates without draining our bank account was a challenge, planning ahead made it possible. Here's how you can cut costs without cutting out fun.
Shop for discount coupons.
Comb the Internet for coupons and check the Web sites of parks in your area; many parks offer Internet-only specials. Also look around for deals at local grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, and drugstores.

Consider attendance dates. Parks are busiest on weekends, so sometimes you can get better deals on weekdays. If you live near a park and plan to attend more than once this summer, check into season passes. They often pay for themselves by the second visit.

Try arriving and staying later. Some parks offer a 20 to 50% discount for late arrivals, at 4 p.m. or after. (Check with the park for the specific time they offer twilight discounts.) You can still enjoy five to seven hours of fun before the park closes.

Pack your own food and drinks.
  • Meals inside parks are pricy and often have little nutritional value. Check out the park's policies. Some have picnic tables, and others don't allow you to bring in food. If you can't bring in outside food, have a tailgate picnic in the parking lot. A friend in New Jersey says she arrives thirty minutes before the gates open so she can park close to the entrance. She keeps sandwiches, fruit, cold drinks, and bottles of water in a cooler so her crew of six can make quick trips back to the car for sustenance during the day.
  • Bring snacks from home in a backpack that family members can take turns toting. We made a mixture of M&Ms (they don't melt), Orville Redenbacher Kettle Korn (sweet taste rather than salty), and unsalted peanuts, and put the mix in self-sealing bags. (This one step can save a lot. One mom in southern California reports that a small bag at of popcorn is $5 at theme parks in her area.)
  • Take your own rafts and water toys to water parks so you won't have to rent them. Bring some self-adhesive patches so you can repair punctured inflatable toys on the spot.

Kathy Peel is the author of the award-winning Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home and 19 other books. Her company trains women to launch home-based businesses as Family Manager Coaches. www.familymanager.com.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.