Lehighton Night at Dorney Park was a highlight of each year when I was a young teenager. For $5 anyone in my small town (Lehighton) could buy an advance ticket for evening admission to the amusement park just over 25 miles away. Not only could a carload of my friends and I enjoy the rides for about $1 per hour, but we could also meet more friends there and check out our crushes who had gotten in line ahead of us. What a great way to spend $5! It’s hard to believe that two decades later, $5 won’t even cover parking at most theme parks.
While there is some merit in the idea that amusement park visits and other breaks from the daily grind can be better enjoyed if you don’t worry too much about saving money while you are there, unfettered spending at a park can turn a day trip into a more expensive excursion than a weekend at the beach. On your next visit to an amusement park, consider some of these savings tips and end the day with a little more cash than usual.
First, if not everyone in your group enjoys rides, see if any amusement parks near you offer per-ride rates instead of general admission. These parks are rare gems. Last year, when we took our kids to one of them — Knoebels Grove in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, where we spent nearly the entire day on the kiddie rides. We all had a great time, but paying general admission would have been a waste for the grownups.
Before the day of your visit, search for park coupons or discounted tickets. Check both online and offline. Many times, local fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses offer either coupons or discounted tickets that can save you money at the gate. Another good place to check is tourist magazines for your area. On our last visit to Cedar Point in Ohio, our hotel gave us Pepsi cans with $5 park discounts when we checked in.
When visiting a park with someone who doesn’t live with you, carpool instead of meeting there. Most theme parks charge per-vehicle parking fees, so the fewer cars you have, the more you save. For parks near cities, you may be able to take public transportation and avoid parking fees completely.
If the park allows, take along some snacks and drinks in a backpack. Not only will you save money by not buying from overpriced vending machines and carts, but you may also be able to curb your appetite enough to eat only one meal while in the park — or at least put off eating until an off-peak meal time, when the concession lines are shorter.
Depending on park policies, the availability of picnic areas, and distance to your car or availability of someone to stay in the picnic area at all times, you may even be able to pack a picnic lunch. One of my favorite memories from the summer just after high school is enjoying a hoagie from the cooler my companions and I brought from home while sitting on a blanket in the parking lot of Dorney Park. (I remember nothing else from that visit.)
Bring your own camera. When you know you can take your own pictures, you will be less likely to buy those taken as you walk through the gates, looking fresh and enthusiastic, or when you ride the thrill rides, looking not as fresh, but still enthusiastic. If you know you will still be tempted to buy these photos, make an ugly face as the flash goes off so you are less tempted when you see yourself.
Unless you go to a park specifically for a premium attraction it offers, skip those things that require additional fees. Most parks have more than enough included in the admission fee to keep visitors busy for an entire day or more. If you do go just to enjoy an attraction that costs extra, consider the portion of the general admission cost for the time you spend in that attraction to be part of the fee when you decide whether the experience is worth the cost.
Consider the benefits of a season’s pass if (and only if) you live near your favorite park and intend to visit several times during the summer. Calculate how many times you have to visit before the pass is worthwhile. If you’re sure you’ll visit that many times, spring for the season’s pass and enjoy it! When you aren’t paying separate admission fees for each day, you will feel less pressure to squeeze everything into one visit and overdo it. Spread out the fun over several days instead.
Avoid carnival games at the park. Not only can they be addictive (and costly), but if you win something, you will have to carry it with you all day or find something to do with it. When my brother-in-law won a giant turtle at Six Flags, he wound up paying someone to watch it for him all day.
Likewise, avoid the souvenir shops. If you really want a memento of your visit, buy something small, press a penny, or get a souvenir with the park’s name from an online auction after you come home.
Though not strictly a money saving technique, visiting on a weekday or other slow day will help you get more for the money you spend. The less time you spend in line, the more you will be able to see or do. When you plan your trip, watch out for any special events the park is hosting that you’re not a part of. It’s frustrating to expect to have the park to yourself, only to find that it is hosting the National Association of Funny Hat Collectors and you are the only bare-headed person there.
Whether you visit a small, old-fashioned park or a themed, multi-park entertainment complex, have a great time riding the rides, watching the shows, and enjoying the company of your family and friends. May your visit be well worth the price of admission!
Image courtesy of elston