It’s summer time, which means summer vacation, warm weather and theme parks for a lot of families. I’ll be honest, I wish I was one of them today instead of being stuck inside at work. I’d love to be on my way to Disney right now to check out the new Star Tours, the Little Mermaid ride and catch the World of Color show at California Adventure. Looks like I will have to wait another year before I get to check them out, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Even if you don’t get to Disney, I bet there are a lot of you planning a theme park trip and hoping to save money on it.
I am a fan of trying to budget a trip like this, but you also have to remember that it’s a theme park and their primary goal is to separate you from your dollars – whether it’s with churros, t-shirts or pictures – and then to make sure you have fun. Sadly, there are some parks that have a huge gap in between the two and need to work a bit on their customer service. (Ahem! Universal). So, don’t be overly surprised by the amount of things that cost big bucks. Feeding the dolphins will probably cost you $5-10. It’s just the way it is. Plan to cut costs somewhere else and spend money on such things. Kids – and spouses – may understand that you’re on a budget, but it’s a drag when you say no to everything. Pad your budget a little bit and save by bring in your own snacks and drinks. That will make the $4 ice cream cone a little bit bearable. So, what else can you do to not go broke?
Skip the ticket booth - Purchase your tickets through a discounter, like Costco or AAA before you go. Sometimes you can also get a better deal if you purchase through the park’s site ahead of time (and this is true of other attractions as well), like Universal Studios. Any savings is better than no savings and will also allow you to go straight to the entrance gate, saving you time, too. Now you’ve already spent the money, so you don’t have to worry about figuring your tickets in your “budget” once you get there.
Eat breakfast before you go – Food always costs twice as much as you think it should at a theme park. Instead of forking out $12 for 2 bland scrambled eggs, a biscuit and floppy bacon or greasy sausage, grab a bagel before you leave your room or hit up the continental breakfast at your hotel. If you’re lucky and are staying in a place with a kitchen, you can even have a real breakfast before hitting the parks and keep your crew’s tummies full until lunchtime. You can probably buy an entire week’s worth of breakfast stuff for the price of one of those unsatisfying meals at the park.
Get your money’s worth – If you’ll be spending the same amount of money no matter which restaurant you choose on the property, get as much as you can. Pick the buffet or the one that has a show or a character meet and greet. If it’s just a few bucks more, think if it might be worth it to you to continue your theme park experience while you also re-energize and carb-up for more walking.
Stay off-property – I know the Disneyland Hotel is magical place where you feel like a kid again and get treated like a princess. Unless you have a chest full of treasure you can bring with you to pay for it, save money and stay at a nice hotel off-property for about half the cost. You can use some of the money you save to take the bus or shuttle to the park. (Sometimes this isn’t true, like with Disneyland Paris properties. Stay at one of the further out ones that is still Disney owned, but not the “Disneyland Hotel” and you’ll actually save money over other area hotels, plus shuttle service, continental breakfast and park passes are included. As with everything else: compare, compare, compare!)
Buy multi-day passes – If you plan to stay more than 1 day – which, to be honest, you’re going to do unless you live right down the street and have a season pass – you’ll need a multi-day pass. These passes offer you a discount for going more than one day and sometimes, as is the case with Sea World, you can get two days (or more) for the price of one. It’s rare to save 100% on your 2nd or 3rd day admission, but again, any discount is a good discount, so why spend the extra money if you don’t have to. Another benefit? You only have one ticket anyone can lose.
Buy souvenirs at the grocery store
– If this sounds wacky, believe me that it's a common practice, especially among those with small children. You can save at least half off of souvenirs by going to the local discount store (like Target) or nearby grocery store. Buy everything from stuffed animals to t-shirts. Take them home for family and friends that you promised something to or do a run before you go to the parks and dole them out each day in the mornings or pack them in your day bag to give out during the day. It will save you money and also keep your kids from the 'I wants'.
Make dining reservations – When possible, make dining reservations if you plan to eat inside the parks. It won't save you any money, but it WILL save you time. If you make your reservations a little bit before actual lunch and dinner times – say, 11:30 and 5:30 – or after regular eating times – say, 1:30 and 8:00 – you won't have to wait for others to finish eating before you can get your table. This also means that when the majority of people are fighting for a table at the dining venues, you'll be zipping right through ride lines!
Bring snacks and drinks – There's nothing worse than spending $12 for a pretzel and a soda, but multiply that by as many people in your travel party and your wallet can be empty by dinner time. Buying some snacks are okay, but not all day everyday. Almost all theme parks allow you to bring your own food and even drinks (in plastic bottles). Even if you plan to eat in the parks, you can bring snacks to supplement sandwiches and wraps bought at window service restaurants. think of how much you can save when you don't have to buy chips or fries or fruit or a drink! You'll also have more control over the things you and your children eat.
Take the bus, shuttle or walk – If you're headed to a theme park that is close to hotels, like Disneyland is, skip the rental car and save parking and rental fees. If you can walk or take public transportation, then do so. Use the money you save to pay for your box of popcorn!
Use Ebates! – I know you keep hearing this from me, but you can, in fact, purchase Disney gift cards through DisneyStore.com and get cash back, making them 5% off (sometimes more if there's double cash back). If you haven't signed up for Ebates, do it here. This is also a good place to get discounted souvenirs, by shopping the sale and clearance tabs.
Want to know which theme parks are hot right now? See Budget Travel’s 10 Must-Ride Theme Park Attractions. I’m not sure I agree with Flight of the Hippogriff, unless you have little ones that are too young to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The lines may always be long, but with everything there is to see, it’s definitely worth the wait. (Make sure you take your wallet with you when you leave all your belongings in a locker. You’ll need it to pay the fee when you return. The wait is always longer than the “free” locker time rate.)
It's going to be a book soon! That's right, my book is finally going to be available for you to purchase. This leads me to ask you two things:
- What tips are most useful or interesting to you? Leave a comment on this post to let me know.
- Have I helped you save on a trip? If so, I'm looking for positive comments to use on my cover. Use the "email me" button or leave a comment with praise, your first name and where you live (city and state). If I end up using your awesome comment, I'll contact you for your other details and send you a copy of my book when it comes out! It will also be available on Kindle, if you would rather have that version.
Help me make it to 1,500 Facebook fans and be a winner! I'm giving away travel games for your summer trips. They are fun and help pass the time. Here's what you need to do: "Like" Shereen Travels Cheap (if you haven't already) and enter to win the travel games giveaway. Then, suggest Shereen Travels Cheap to all your Facebook friends and tell them they can enter to win, too. When they enter, they enter your name as the one who referred them and you get another entry for each friend who names you! When we reach 1,500 fans, 2 lucky winners will be chosen via Random.org.
Don't forget to join me on the awesome new Savvy Living Community sponsored by Ebates. Not only will you learn how to save money by better utilizing Ebates, but you will also be able to read Savvy blog posts and join in discussions and live chats with Savvy Leaders (like me!) to learn how to save money on all aspects of your life. With 19 bloggers who are experts on everything from travel to family life, you're sure to learn a lot of new information, find some great new blogs and even make some friends along the way. Join Ebates.