Taking the kids to a major theme park this summer? Thinking Disney World, Epcot, Legoland, Sea World? Brace yourself for high ticket prices and record crowds. A little advance planning will curb expenses and make for a more pleasant experience.
First, never pay full price for tickets. Check with your credit union, employer, local warehouse store, the internet and even soda cans for discounts. In Southern California, Six Flags Magic Mountain regularly advertises on Coke cans. As of this writing, Magic Mountain’s website ticket price is a full $20 less than general admission. It pays to shop around.
Multi-day passes for various related parks are an attractive option. In addition, many hotels near theme parks offer tickets as part of a room package.
Another idea is to consider purchasing a year’s membership rather than individual tickets. Oftentimes these memberships come with free tickets so a family may be able to get in cheaper by buying the membership than individual tickets. Check the park’s website to compare membership versus single day tickets.
While at the park’s website, check out their outside food policy. Many theme parks such as Sea World still allow you to bring in picnic lunches which will save you a bundle. In addition to the cost savings, figure in the time saved from waiting in a long concession line. For those that restrict bringing in food, consider getting your hand stamped for re-entry and having a tailgate party or picnic in the parking lot.
Parking fees have gone up in recent years as well. As of April 2006, it costs $10 to park at Sea World San Diego. If your hotel offers a shuttle to the park, take it and save yourself $10. The platinum membership that the San Diego Wild Animal Park offers includes free parking, a savings of $8 each visit.
Log back onto the park’s website and download a map and show times. It’s easier to plan the day’s itinerary in the comfort of your home than in the midst of a mob of people. Decide which shows are must sees and plan enough time to get seating. If you are only going for a day, you won’t be able to see it all and do it all, so deciding in advance what’s important is key. Arrive early and do the popular things first before the crowds get there. Another strategy is to go in the opposite direction of all the crowds. If you arrive at opening, head for the center or rear of the park while the rest of the people follow the logical path of attractions at the front.
Some theme parks have express tickets for rides and other popular attractions. For example, Disney’s FastPass program allows you to reserve a time for a particular ride. You then go ahead and explore the park and return to the ride at your reserved time and bypass the long lines.
If your family has separate ideas of what’s fun to do, take along a set of two way radios or cell phones so that you can stay in touch and meet up later. Be aware that other families may be on your same radio channel. Text messaging may be easier than actual chatting in loud locations.
Wear comfortable shoes, clothing and sunscreen. Fanny packs are a better choice than purses. Remember that hats, sunglasses and cameras must all be stashed somewhere on the more adventurous rides.
If you’re planning on eating at the one of the parks restaurants, check and see if you can make reservations. Disney is well known for its premium restaurants and many do take reservations. Otherwise consider eating at off times, for example, eleven instead of twelve for lunch. This way you will avoid some of the long lines.
Spend time on the park’s website and figure out your top choices for dining, shows and rides but also plan on being flexible. The day is all about having fun. Do your best and get the lay of the land ahead of time and know when to just go with the flow. It doesn’t matter which theme park you’re considering, Disney, Sea World, the city zoo, Six Flags, or the local county fair. A little planning will reward you both financially as well as in terms of fun.