Big Theme Park Thrills on a Small Budget

Journal&Topics: Since The Cyclone first drew thrill-seekers to Coney Island in 1884, theme parks have become an ultimate family destination. Today, the U.S. boasts more than 400 amusement parks, and with summer's heat and crowds subsiding, now's the ideal time to plan a trip to the rides.

However, hauling the whole family somewhere, especially to a theme park, can turn into a big budget buster. These five tips can save you money so you can make your theme park vacation a reality. Your kids (and your bank account) will thank you.

1. Opt for a regional park
Fifty percent of Americans plan to visit an amusement park within the next 12 months, according to a survey by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. While national theme-park chains may have the most marketing dollars to spend on advertising, visitors can bag great savings and avoid major crowds by hitting up smaller regional theme parks. At Carowinds, a 337-acre park that straddles the North and South Carolina border, prices start at $42 for a single-day ticket when purchased online. Colorado's Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park costs about $38, also when purchased online. In comparison, a day at Disney World will set you back $85 for each person age 10 and older. Many regional parks offer discounted tickets, so check local businesses like banks and grocery stores for special offers.

2. Buy online
Consumers also can save a significant amount of money by purchasing tickets online before visiting rather than purchasing admission at the gate. Some regional parks offer more than $10 off, and even bigger parks, such as Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles, offer an online special for $25 off the general admission price. Search the Internet for the theme park name plus "discount" or "coupon," however make sure you are dealing with a reputable website before purchasing.

3. Go after 4 p.m.
Some parks offer deep discounts on "Twilight Tickets" that are valid during evening hours. If the park is open until 10 p.m., that means you can spend up to six hours in the park without the sun beating down on you (a double bonus of savings and comfort).

4. Watch extra costs
It's easy to plan for known costs like airfare, hotel and admission tickets. It's the little things that will get you: $15 a day parking, $6 bottles of water and $10 funnel cakes. Buying burgers and fries for a family of four might cost you the price of a nice steak dinner at home. Saving for the trip ahead of time and being conscious of prices while in the park can help alleviate the money headache once the gates shut behind you.

5. Travel during the off-season
Another easy way to save money is to travel when others aren't.'s Theme Park Survival Guide defines off-season for theme parks as anytime that's not summer, weekends or holidays. Parks might not offer substantially lower priced tickets, but you will most certainly find cheaper airfare. If you are staying overnight, check out members-only flash sales like "Insider Steals" for hotel deals from companies like Such members-only programs typically require a customer to sign up for emails - but the steep discounts go with it. Also look for specials at local restaurants that can offer even bigger savings than discounted tickets. Plus, in many areas the weather is better in the spring, fall or even winter (i.e. Florida), and the parks are a lot less crowded, meaning you can go on Batman The Ride as many times as your heart desires.


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