10 Money-Saving Tips for Your Next Theme Park Vacation (PHOTOS)

Wendy Robinson | Jan 15, 2016 Money

theme park rideThere is nothing like the chill and boredom of January to make the thought of taking a trip to somewhere warm and family-friendly -- like a theme park! -- seem really appealing. Of course, that kind of vacation can also be a hugely expensive. Some travel agents estimate the average cost of theme park vacation at over $3,000 for a family of four. Eek.

The good news is that it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. And I speak from experience as an avid Disney-goer. Here, 10 ways I've personally found you can bring down the cost of a theme park trip that your family will always remember.

 

Image via iStock.com/Robert Kirk

  • Go During Off-Season

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    While theme park tickets generally cost the same no matter what time of year it is, you may be able to save big on hotel costs by going during January or September, the two slowest months of the year at the most popular parks. When I compared the price for the same hotel in March, spring break high season, to January, it was a difference of over $75 a night!

    An off-season trip can also mean shorter lines and less waiting, which definitely can result in more fun!

  • Ground Transportation

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    When planning your trip, be sure to factor in the cost of group transportation and parking. If you are flying, you'll need to consider how you're getting to and from the airport and the theme parks. If you are taking your car, factor in the cost of parking at both the hotel and the theme park. 

    Your best bet is to make sure your hotel offers shuttle service to the parks (even if you have a car) and free parking. During our last Disney trip, we saved close to $50 by using the hotel shuttle versus driving ourselves to the park.

    If arriving by plane, check to see if your hotel offers shuttle service, and, if not, book your transportation before you arrive so you don't end up paying more at the airport.

  • Eat In

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    Food can be a major vacation expense, especially if you end up eating out for most meals. Consider using Amazon to deliver snacks and drinks to your hotel prior to your arrival or arranging for grocery delivery if your room has a kitchenette. The minor cost of delivery and a tip will likely be cheaper than a meal on theme park grounds.

    More from The Stir: 11 Money Saving Tips for Feeding Hungry Families on Vacation (PHOTOS)

  • Call Ahead

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    Before your trip, check the website of the park(s) you'll be attending for rules on bringing in outside food. At Walt Disney World, for example, you are allowed to carry in both food and beverages, which means you could save big bucks on snacks and drinks. For our Disney World trip, I carried in lightweight food like applesauce, fruit snacks, cashews, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and estimate that I saved at least $25 on snacks.

  • Choose Where to Stay

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    After the cost of theme park tickets, one of the other biggest expenses is choosing where to stay. Before you book anything, make sure you consider whether the room includes a fridge and/or a kitchenette. A slightly more expensive room can be worth it if you can eat in the room versus at a restaurant.

    You'll also want to know if they offer complimentary breakfast; what, if any, resort fees are charged and what they cover; if there are condos or home rentals in the area that might be comparable in costs (for larger families, this might be the cheaper option); and whether staying at an on-site theme hotel saves you money on park tickets or allows you extended hours.

  • Take a Day Off

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    With the cost of theme park tickets at or near $100 a person, deciding to skip the parks for one day to enjoy the hotel pool and amenities can save you hundreds of dollars. Theme park days tend to be long and tiring, especially for younger kids, so taking a break midway through your trip can also recharge batteries and prevent exhaustion meltdowns.

  • Get Your Tickets in Advance

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    I learned this lesson the hard way when I took my son to Florida for a theme park trip: Just because your hotel says they sell tickets doesn't mean you should buy them there! I ended up paying over $25 in "service fees" because I bought my tickets at the hotel rather than buying them online before the trip.

    You'll also want to consider bundling your tickets if you know in advance that you plan to go to the park for more than one day.

  • Find Discounts

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    Before booking anything, check to see if you can find discount packages. There may be savings for AAA, AARP, military families, or any other group you belong to. For example, Costco has Disney packages and also sells gift cards that can be used at restaurants in or near Universal theme parks.

  • Do It Yourself Princess

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    For some kids, part of the fun of a theme park vacation is getting the chance to get their princess on. But while getting a "princess makeover" at Disney is fun, it is also super-expensive, with prices ranging from $54–$194. Save big bucks by bringing your own princess costume and sparkly lip gloss.

    More from The Stir: 13 Best Places to Meet Disney Princesses (PHOTOS)

  • Use Your Pennies

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    Before you go, budget for souvenirs. You can save yourself money by purchasing them ahead of time. Case in point: After I dropped $30 on Harry Potter wands, I discovered I could have bought them on Amazon for much, much less (and had them shipped to the hotel so they could have come along on Universal Studio day)!

    You can also consider this fun and cheap idea: Give your kids a roll of pennies and a roll of quarters, and let them make pressed pennies at the many machines around most theme parks. They'll have fun hunting for new designs to press into the penny, and you won't go broke buying $50 sweatshirts!

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