Theme parks are lots of fun with a lot of things to see and do, but today's theme parks are so efficient at picking your pocket. In fact, you are most likely to spend a small fortune before you even realize what's happened. From inflated parking fees to overpriced food to rides that dump you directly into a gift shop. Your wallet simply doesn't stand a chance.
However, you can enjoy your experience more when you are prepared. Here are some tips you can use to save some money and heighten your enjoyment.
When to go
Plan to visit theme parks when they are less busy. Summer, holidays and school vacations are about the worst times to go. Expect to spend much of your time jostling through the crowds and waiting in line.
The theme park crowds are much smaller in January to mid February and August to mid-December. Also, since the operators want more visitors, there are more deals to take advantage of to make the tickets more affordable.
Keep in mind that, since this is California, theme parks will be busy on weekends during off-season months due to visits from the locals.
Always go online and check the weather forcast for the day and week you plan to visit your favorite theme park. Amusement parks as a rule do not make refunds, so it's best to avoid those cloudy, rainy days.
Theme park admission for a family can easily run into the hundreds of dollars. Searching for discount tickets is key. Check Theme Park web sites directly for discount. These discounts can come in the form of half-price late park admission, two-for-one deals, showing up with a can of food, empty can of Coke, days—deals for senior citizens or coupons appear on milk cartons.
Discounts can also be found by contacting the nearest Convention and Visitors Bureau for coupons, your local grocery store (like "Ralphs") and if you are a member of auto club, AARP, Costco and other groups, many do offer discounted tickets to members.
If you're a local or plan to make regular visits, consider buying a season pass. Most season passes pay for themselves within two or three visits. Another great advantage with a season pass is that you can drop in for a few hours instead of feeling you have to stay 8 hours to get your money's worth.
Active members and veterans of the armed services and their families receive the best deals as far as discounts are concerned (and rightfully so). Discount tickets are available to those who present their government-issued military identification cards at some theme park ticket windows, however some discounts are only available through your local base MWR/ITT ticket office. Check to see what each theme park offers
Where to Stay
If you plan to visit several theme parks in Southern California, consider picking a hotel that is in a central location or close enough to at least one of them.
To be completely immersed in the Disneyland experience for example, you can stay at one of the three on-site Disneyland hotels. Guests receive special perks and privileges. If money is no object then this is the way to go. If you are on a strict budget, however, there are hotels close by that are less expensive. The tradeoff is that you will have to worry about such things as renting a car, dealing with traffic and trying to find your way around.
How to Enjoy Your Visit
List the attractions you simply must see and plan your theme park experience around them. Theme parks are huge and filled with a lot of things to see and do, which can be overwhelming. If you don’t have a plan, at the end of the day you may feel dissatisfied because you didn’t visit all the attractions you really wanted to see.
Make a budget on how much you will spend while in the theme park. It is easy to get carried away and want to buy every cute theme character or t-shirt you see. And they aren’t cheap!
Do what’s necessary to keep cool. California summers are extremely hot so it’s very important that you stay hydrated and dress appropriately. You will need hats, sunglasses and sunblock to keep out the sun.
Most theme parks do not allow food or drinks so make sure that your budget includes purchasing water and look out for the water fountains.
Choose water over juice, soda and alcoholic beverages when you are thirsty. Such drinks will not adequately quench your thirst.
Remember to apply your sunscreen. If you plan to get on a water ride, make sure your sunscreen is waterproof. If not, remember to apply more sunscreen when you get off the ride.
Start to prepare for your theme park experience two days before your visit. Drink enough water to hydrate your body.
Take garbage bags with you to save some money. If there are rides that involve some water but you don’t want to get wet, garbage bags are an inexpensive way to stay dry. You won’t need to buy raincoats and you can throw these away when you are done. Just cut a hole at the top and at the sides for your head and arms. Take enough for everyone.
Make sure everyone has a good breakfast before you leave for the park. This will help you save some money. Also consider storing some lunch in your car. Around lunchtime, you can take a trip to your car. Make sure you get your hand stamped so you can return to the park!
Arrive as early as possible. This way you will have more time to see more attractions and there will be less of a crowd to deal with. More people arrive at theme parks in the afternoon.
Wear comfortable shoes. Theme parks are huge and you will be doing a lot of walking.
Remember where you parked! When in a hurry to get to the fun, most people just park their cars and hurry off, forgetting to take note of their parking spot. Look for the numbers on the lampposts if you are parking outside. If you use a parking lot, take note of the level as well as the section.
Bring your camera, and film if you need it. Remember to charge your camera ahead of time and bring everything you will need for it. If you forget your camera or don’t have one, you can purchase a disposable version at a souvenir store in the park. Of course, it will be less expensive to buy this before you get there.
Tips for Parents with Kids
If your child needs diapers, make sure to bring lots of them.
Take a backpack for your stuff. This will help to keep your hands free.
Although children have a lot of energy to burn, they won't handle long walks through the theme park well. Remember to take frequent breaks.
Bring a stroller for young children or consider renting one.
The animals at animal exhibits are active in the mornings so visit early. You can also find out, ahead of time, the best times to visit these exhibits.
At the park, observe all safety regulations. Rules about minimum age, height and weight determine who can ride safely. Health warnings help screen out people who might be hurt on certain rides, so obeying these rules is in your self-interest.
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