Here are some tips gleaned in passing years from other mothers who have found savings-savvy ways to afford theme park fun. I hope these tips are helpful to your family too!
1. Cash in points
If you have customer loyalty points, check to see what options you have when redeeming them. Rather than assume your credit card or hotel points won’t translate, ask! Here’s just a short list of nationwide rewards programs that allow points redemption for theme park perks.
- Best Western
- Hilton Honors
- Marriott Rewards
- Chase bank credit cards
- Washington Trust bank debit and credit cards
- My Coke Rewards
2. Check out your membership clubs
If you have a membership in a local or nationwide club, you may be eligible for theme park discounts or freebies. Here’s a list of just a few of the membership clubs that offer free days, discounted individual or group ticket prices, and other theme park perks.
- Disney Vacation Club
- Sam's Club
- Allstate Motor Club
3. Visit during the off-season or later in the day
There’s a reason why theme parks are swamped with visitors in the no-school summer months. And perhaps this is also the only time your family can all go together. If so, find out if the theme park discounts admissions for guests who arrive after a certain time of day (say 2pm). Also, take a second closer look at your schedule—the truth is, more families today have greater scheduling flexibility, especially when kids are home-schooled or enrolled in magnet programs. If you can't swing either of these options, then go during a weekday and see if that nets you a discount.
4. Give the younger set a food and souvenirs "allowance"
By laying out some spending ground rules in advance, you can control runaway "I see it and I want it" syndrome. Let each child know what their spending allowance for the day (or the trip) is. This not only helps teach budgeting, but also (hopefully) keeps in-park upsets to a minimum.
5. Get social (media)
Nearly every theme park today has a Facebook and Twitter profile. Often theme park marketers use those profiles to reel in new prospective guests through offering contests, giveaways and discounts. A few months before your trip, visit the park's website and begin following the park's social media postings. You may just score your family a free ride through the park!
6. Coupon your way to a discount vacation
In the same way that you can often find freebies and discounts via social media, visit the theme park's website to see if there are special deals advertised. If the park is relatively close to you, check at local grocers and retailers, gas stations and vendors, including radio and television stations, to find out if passes are being given away. Also watch local newspapers and magazines to see what special deals you can capitalize on.
7. Look for multi-day discounts and hotel deals
Purchasing multi-day passes can generally net you valuable savings on days 3, 4, 5 and so forth. Also, be sure to check into local hotel packages. Sometimes when you purchase passes as part of your lodging, you can score big savings off the face value of the pass. Here, also pay attention to whether your passes are for "one ride only" or "unlimited," and whether you get early admittance or special sneak previews—many times package passes offer these perks, whereas straight-up ticket purchases do not. Often, local hotels also offer trolley service to and from local attractions, which means you may not have to rent a car or hire a taxi!
8. Eat before you go and after you leave
This may be intuitive, but full bellies not only have more energy to enjoy all that’s included with that day's park passes, but also saves bucks on pricey park food. Find a hotel with a fridge and stock it full of cheaper eats from nearby grocers. If you must eat in-park, strive to eat lunch rather than dinner. It will be cheaper.
9. Find out what you can bring in with you
If you can bring water, sunscreen, repellant, edibles, or cameras, by all means bring them! Purchase one comfy backpack and pack it full of anything allowable.
10. Be safe!
Finally—while this isn’t a savings tip, savings doesn't mean much once somebody gets lost or something gets stolen. Be careful with valuables (leaving anything you can at home or locked in the hotel). Set an emergency meeting place that everyone can remember and find easily. Use each family member's smart phone GPS to track how to get back to the entrance. Stick together. If you separate for any reason, set the exact time you need to be back (setting an alarm on each person's phone if needed). Know where the park's information centers are located and don't hesitate to use them. A little safety class before entering the park will preserve this priceless chance to make great family memories that can last a lifetime!