See all the shows – Parades, shows, street parties, dancing water. It’s all included in your ticket, so take advantage of them. I’ve seen better productions at Disney than I have elsewhere that I’ve paid a lot of money for. Aladdin is still, hands down, my favorite Disney production and would easily cost you $100+ for a ticket if it came to a city near you. These shows give you a chance to rest your feet, see some really great entertainment and are also short enough that you don’t have time to get bored before it’s over. 30-40 minutes is the perfect production time for little ones, too. Plus, if they can sleep through an earthquake, this might be the best thing to do while they take a nap if it coincides with their usual naptime and you don’t want to leave the park just yet.
Avoid the gift shops – They are everywhere and while they are fun to browse in, those high price tags kind of make me have heart palpitations. I once forgot to bring spare batteries and had to buy some in one of the merchants and two AA batteries cost me over $10! Why do they mark stuff up so much? Simple: People. Will. Pay. For. It. Save your pennies, or in this case, your Jacksons and Franklins, and window shop only. Look off-site for souvenirs (perfect for those with little ones who want shirts and hats and toys and stuffed animals) and anything that you can’t get elsewhere that is calling your name, you can go back for. I think you’ll find that you save a bundle this way and come home with a lot less “stuff”.
Make dining reservations – Yes, this is not really a money-saver, unless you split entrées, which I always suggest for those with small children. Your kids will eat better and you’ll save money if you share an entrée with them or between two of them. French fries are not a vegetable, nor are pasta sauce or ketchup. But I digress. Making reservations for dining is the best way to save time inside the parks, because you could wait up to 90 minutes for a table otherwise, especially during the busiest months.
Make reservations well ahead of your trip (or as soon as you can) and try to aim for meal times just outside of normal ones, which will both lessen your chances of still waiting for others to finish and give you shorter lines when you are done eating and everyone else is in search of nourishment. What times are best? Lunch: 11-11:30am or 1-2pm. Dinner: 5-5:30pm or after 7pm. Remember, this is what you have snacks for. Some theme parks (Disney World resorts for sure) allow you to make breakfast reservations before the park officially opens. This means you can eat and be the first in line at the most popular rides. Double score! (Bonus dining hint: Some surrounding hotel restaurants, like Menage’s K’ya, and Downtown Disney restaurants, like Catal, are members of OpenTable and you can make reservations online, have a table waiting and get points toward free dining!)
Don’t buy two tickets for one day – Sometimes you’ll travel to a theme park for a special event, which will require its own admission ticket. We do this for Disney’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. The park closes down early for the general public and partiers can enter between 6pm and 7pm for the celebrations and special activities. If you will be spending a significant amount of time at your destination – 4 or more days – skip paying for another day’s admission and use the early part of the day to do things not theme parky, like maybe sightsee in a neighboring town, go to the movies, enjoy the pool, or just chill and do laundry while you read a book. You can save hundreds of dollars this way, depending on how big your travel party is. You’ll be refreshed and ready to hit the park again in the evening while everyone else is looking haggard and ready to fall into bed from a full day of stimulation.
Use public transportation and free shuttles – Unless you have a big travel group, paying $15+ to park is just not a reasonable use of your money. In Anaheim, you can walk or use the Rapid Transit system to get to and from the parks. The shuttles cost $4 per person per day, but less if you buy a pass for the days you’ll be staying. In Orlando, all the hotels have free shuttle service to all the parks (though they don’t run all day in the off-season, so you can get there early and come back late).
So, now you know my top 10 ways to save big at theme parks. Get the most for your money and waste less time standing in line and dealing with the “I dunno, what do you want to do” moments. Make a plan, stick to it and you’ll be happy you did, even though you think I’m planning OCD. You’ll thank me when you don’t miss out on riding California Screamin’ or the Transformers: The Ride on your trip, because you have the map memorized (maybe) and your schedule. If that’s not how you want to do things, you can always have me plan your trip for you!
What are your favorite ways to save and what do you think I must see/do on my trip in the fall? Comment away!