Amusement park fun, without abusing your wallet
Amusement parks are universally loved places where adults can rekindle fond memories and where children can experience their dreams. According to USA Today, theme parks in America date to the 1800s, some of which are still operating today. The oldest American theme park is Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut which opened in 1846.
Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York is considered the birthplace of the modern amusement park and is one of the country’s best known. It opened in 1884 and has hosted millions of visitors, many of whom have ridden the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster that was honored in June with a 90th birthday celebration.
How to have fun — on a budget
Because theme parks can be such magical places, it’s easy to forget they are businesses and concerned first and foremost about profits. While most people will tell you they regard their trips to theme parks as being worth every penny, there are plenty of ways to economize without compromising the experience.
Prices for amusement park admission have grown with the industry and it is not at all unusual for a one-day pass at some parks to exceed $100. For a family of four or more that can add up to a major expense very quickly.
There are ways to save. Thebalance.com recommends checking the internet for pre-purchase discounts and print-your-own ticket specials. If you’re driving, state-line welcome centers often have coupons that will help you save.
Some theme park operators have multiple attractions adjacent to one another, each with its own admission price. If you plan to stay for several days and visit more than one park, you can often save by purchasing multi-park and/or multi-day tickets. Some parks also offer different rates on different days and different times of year. Weekends and mid-summers are typically the most expensive times to visit. If you can attend during off-peak times you’ll save money and the lines will be shorter.
Food and drink
Theme-park food is rarely confused with five-star dining, except when you get the bill. Eating establishments that offer views of carousels and bumper cars are generally more expensive than similar establishments “on the outside.” You’re paying for the convenience and the setting, but that’s not your only option.
Many parks will allow you to bring your own food and drink and almost all have places with tables and chairs where you can take a break and enjoy your meal. Most also have rental lockers where you can store your food until it’s time to dine.
You may also consider leaving the premises for a lower-priced lunch or dinner elsewhere. Most parks allow in-and-out privileges during the day for ticket holders. Just make sure you obtain whatever is required for re-entry, such as a hand stamp or special ticket, before you pass outside the gate.
If you want to talk about a way to run up the tab, buy a few souvenirs from vendors inside the park. It’s natural, especially for kids, to want a memento. Impulse buying is common, so steering kids (and perhaps yourself) away from the souvenir vendors may be advisable.
Whether it’s a t-shirt, a stuffed animal, coffee mug, or any other souvenir, decide how much you really need the item and consider how quickly the novelty may wear off. If you must buy, set spending limits in advance. Also, consider waiting until you leave the property. There are independent shops and big-box retailers, often within sight of the park, that sell the same or similar merchandise and usually for less.
Staying in a hotel that is on the theme-park property is a great way to experience a vacation, but those facilities are often in great demand and may come with hefty price tags. If the spirit is willing but your wallet isn’t able, consider staying in a hotel or motel a few miles away. Many offer free shuttles to the main gate and have room rates that are usually a fraction of what you might pay for lodging on park grounds.
You might find that flying can be cheaper than driving. It all depends on your destination. Since theme parks are usually located near large population centers with major airports, competition for passengers is strong among airlines, thus you might be able to obtain fares that make it more economical to fly than drive. The deal can be even sweeter if you find a hotel that provides free airport transportation to help you avoid the cost of car rentals or cab fares.