Roller Coasters On A Budget: Save Money At Theme Parks

Experiencing a day at a theme park with kids can be enchanting for children but quite taxing for parents due to the associated expenses. It often seems that everything comes with a higher price tag than expected, and each visit to the park sees a gradual increase in admission costs. Opting for off-peak times can be a money-saving strategy, but there are several other measures you can take to minimize expenses. Here's a breakdown of some money-saving tips, presented without prioritization:


Opt for Off-Site Accommodation

While staying within the confines of the amusement park may seem appealing, the costs are often exorbitant compared to nearby hotels. Not only are there accommodation charges, but you may also incur parking fees, which can be substantial. Instead, consider lodging within walking distance or at a hotel offering shuttle services. Additionally, many off-site hotels provide complimentary breakfast, which can eliminate one meal expense during your park visit. You can also grab some fruit from the breakfast spread for a convenient snack later on.


Seek Discounted Park Tickets

Park tickets are typically one of the most significant expenses, but discounts are available. Check the park's website for any promotional offers, such as online advance booking discounts. Membership organizations like AAA and deal platforms like Groupon often feature discounted tickets as well. If you plan multiple visits, an annual pass may offer substantial savings. By reducing ticket expenses, you'll have more funds available for other aspects of your visit.


Avoid Peak Hours

Theme parks tend to hike ticket prices during peak periods, such as weekends and midday hours. Booking tickets for weekdays or evenings can often secure lower rates. For instance, some parks offer significantly lower prices on weekdays compared to weekends. Similarly, visiting outdoor amusement parks during the offseason, like fall or spring (excluding spring break), can result in savings.


Explore Off-Site Parking

Parking fees at amusement parks can vary widely, sometimes reaching up to $32. To avoid additional expenses, consider parking elsewhere and either walking or utilizing public transportation. Some hotels may offer free shuttle services to the park, so it's worth checking before making parking arrangements.


Pack Essential Supplies

Once inside the park, you're subject to inflated prices for essentials like sunscreen, bottled water, and sunglasses. Packing these items beforehand can save you from overpriced purchases. Here's a checklist of essential items to include in your day bag:

For Outdoor Theme Parks:

  • Sunscreen
  • Hat with brim
  • Sunglasses
  • Misting fan
  • Pain reliever
  • Poncho
  • Bug repellent

For Indoor and Outdoor Theme Parks:

  • Waterproof phone case
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Phone charger
  • Wet wipes
  • Swimsuit
  • Water shoes
  • Lip balm
  • Hair ties

By preparing in advance and making informed choices, you can enjoy a memorable day at the theme park while minimizing financial strain.


Strollers: A Versatile Solution

Typically, children outgrow strollers by age four or five, yet in theme parks, it's common to spot older kids utilizing them, particularly during evening hours. Given the extensive walking involvedoften covering several miles in a single dayit's unsurprising that children may grow weary, experiencing tired feet and sore legs. Utilizing a stroller enables your child to continue enjoying the park without discomfort. Renting a stroller can accumulate costs, particularly for multi-day park visits. If feasible, bringing your own from home can be advantageous. Additionally, a stroller provides a convenient storage space for personal items, eliminating the need to carry them throughout the day. For instance, during my visits to amusement parks with my kids, I found it convenient to store jackets or sweatshirts in the stroller's basket until needed, especially as temperatures dropped in the evening.


Dining Strategies at Theme Parks


The chocolate ville park


Dining within amusement parks can quickly deplete your budget, with prices often exceeding $20 for a hamburger or $40 for a pizza. However, there are strategies to navigate this expense depending on the park and its surroundings. Exploring nearby restaurants can offer more affordable dining options, such as those offered by Disneyland, allowing for a variety of choices just steps away from the park. Alternatively, if traveling by car, packing a picnic lunch can be a cost-effective solution. Some parks, like Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, provide picnic tables in their parking lots, offering a pleasant break from the park's hustle and bustle while ensuring a healthy meal provided by you. While some theme parks offer character dining experiences, which tend to be on the pricier side, guests can often meet their favorite characters through scheduled meet-and-greet sessions without the added cost of a meal.


Snacks and Beverages

Understanding the park's policy on outside food can be advantageous when it comes to snacks and beverages. Many theme parks permit guests to bring their own water and snacks for children, allowing for convenient access to refreshments throughout the day. To keep beverages cool in warm weather, consider freezing water bottles overnight to ensure they remain chilled as they gradually thaw throughout the day. Additionally, inquire about refillable bottle options for soda, which may involve an initial purchase but offer cost-effective refills thereafter, potentially spanning from a single day to a year.


Additional Offerings at Amusement Parks

It's important to be mindful of the supplementary options offered by amusement parks. Among the most prevalent are the front-of-line passes, typically available for an extra fee. Additionally, some parks feature rides and attractions not included in the standard admission price. For instance, at Kings Island, you can experience the Xtreme Skyflyer shown above, albeit at an additional cost. Furthermore, it's advisable to avoid ride add-ons that can further strain your budget, such as the WEB Power Bands for the Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure ride in California Adventure. My adult children purchased these, used them twice in the park, and they now gather dust at the bottom of their drawers.


Souvenir Strategies for Children

Undoubtedly, your children will desire souvenirs, which can quickly deplete your finances. Fortunately, there are a couple of strategies to address this, allowing your children to make purchases while preserving your budget. Allocate a budget for your children's shopping endeavors. Encourage them not to make impulsive purchases, as they're likely to encounter numerous enticing items throughout the day. Instead, keep track of desired items and their locations, then allow your children to choose their preferred souvenirs at the end of the day. Consider shopping at gift stores located outside the park, where you may find comparable items at significantly lower prices. During any visit offered by Disney Park, you can purchase Disney-branded shirts at an external gift shop for half the price charged within the park.


Enjoy Arcade Entertainment


Joyful little boy playing air hockey at Arcade centre


Many parks feature arcade games that can be enticing for children. However, expenses can quickly accumulate, especially if each game costs $5 per player. Additionally, unequal outcomes among siblings can lead to discontent. Depending on your children's ages, consider offering to purchase each of them a small plush toy upon returning home. This allows them to enjoy a tangible souvenir without the ongoing expense of arcade games.


Rain Protection for Kids

Children may encounter various situations where they risk getting wet at amusement parks, such as water rides or sudden downpours. To prevent discomfort, consider equipping them with ponchos, particularly during inclement weather. Procure plastic rain ponchos before your park visit to avoid inflated prices and long queues during unexpected rain showers or before entering water attractions.


Capturing Memories at Theme Parks

Many theme parks offer photography services for family pictures, available for purchase later on. To save money, consider enlisting the help of fellow park guests to take photos for you. This approach has yielded numerous cherished family shots for me over the years, often reciprocated with requests for me to capture their family moments in return. Additionally, some rides feature on-ride cameras that capture memorable moments during the experience. Rather than purchasing these photos, use your cellphone to snap a picture of the displayed image, a common practice among visitors.



There are numerous strategies to economize while enjoying theme parks, like what Disneyworld offers, with your family. This ensures a memorable experience without financial strain. We trust these suggestions prove beneficial to you and your family, and we wish you an enjoyable and budget-friendly visit.


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