A visit to a theme park can be outrageously expensive. Here are some tips from a theme-park junkie to bring those costs down in simple ways.
I absolutely love theme parks. I make at least one yearly trip to every theme park in Los Angeles. But these amusement-filled establishments can be incredibly expensive. Here are my top 10 ways you can make theme parks less burdensome on your wallet while still getting the fullest experience possible out of them:
1. Never buy food inside the park.
If I could persuade the entire world to follow one theme park tip, it’s this: Never purchase food at the park. The cost of food there runs about 300 percent above normal for food that is barely average quality.
Eat before you enter the theme park. Just because of proximity, a fast-food chain restaurant right outside the park’s entrance will have higher prices than what it would normally charge elsewhere, but it will still be cheaper than a place offering the same kind of food inside the gates. Eating at an establishment several miles away from the park will decrease that cost even further.
Once inside the park, if you get hungry later on, do everything you can to avoid buying food there. Your pocketbook will thank me for this advice.
2. If you must eat inside, choose a buffet.
So you didn’t listen to tip #1. Well, if you are going to eat inside the park, try and find a buffet restaurant. A buffet will allow you to get more value for the cost. But expect the theme park to recognize this fact and charge you far more than you would pay for a traditional buffet.
Of course, to make the buffet an even better value, you can stock up there on items such as rolls and cheese and stick them in your purse for snacking later as you move around the park.
3. If no buffet is available, choose your restaurant carefully.
If there’s no buffet handy, then check with the park’s information desk and get the menus of the various restaurants available to patrons. Choose to eat at the one that offers you the best value for the cost.
The best choices here are generally either the ones that offer you full meals or that offer food items that tend to be very filling.
4. Bring your own drinks.
Theme parks tell you that you can’t bring outside drinks into the park. That’s not true, especially if you have children. Therefore, make it a point to put water and/or soda into a backpack and carry it in with you. If the gate workers stop you, tell them it’s for the kids (whether or not that’s true). Theme park employees are trained to be polite. They’ll let you bring the drinks inside.
5. Never go alone.
Costs for items such as parking and individual food items are the same at a theme park whether you’re alone or with a group. So make sure you visit the park with friends or family — that way you can divvy up these costs, if applicable, among several people.
6. Take public transportation.
If you want, you can avoid the cost of parking entirely and just pay for the cost of public transportation to the park. Most theme parks are accessible via bus or subway, allowing you to park elsewhere (generally for free) and just pay the small fee for riding whatever form of mass transit you choose. With parking at theme parks usually running about $20, that represents some big savings.
7. Stay at a not-quite nearby hotel.
If you’re visiting the theme park on a vacation and want to find a local hotel to stay in, look for hotels that are near but not too near the park. Theme park hotels have rates as outrageous as the park entrance fees and the hotels immediately next to a theme park are equally high priced. Look for one that’s 5–10 miles away. Most will charge more reasonable rates for rooms and still have a shuttle to the park.
8. Avoid souvenirs.
This tip is simple — don’t buy a souvenir in the theme park, no matter how much someone (i.e., a child you’re with) clamors for one. Bring a camera and take pictures if you want to leave the park with some mementoes, but avoid the costly souvenirs. They are not worth the money.
9. Never go on a weekend.
Theme parks are far more crowded on weekends. That means it takes longer to do anything in the park on those days. The longer it takes, the more likely you are to buy a soda or food, or give in to someone’s begging for souvenirs. So only go to a park on a weekday, where you can get in and out faster, for less cost.
10. Buy a season pass.
Frankly, I almost hate to include this tip because I think even season pass prices have become too high. However, if you’re going to visit a particular theme park more than three times in a year, buying the season pass is cheaper than paying the entrance fee each time. Therefore, before you go to the park for the first time in a given year, you should sit down and determine how many times altogether you’re likely to visit it during that year. Then buy your tickets in the most cost-effective way.