Theme parks are full of thrills and chills for kids of all ages. On a typical theme park vacation, families spend an average of $5,300 to $8,400 at Walt Disney World. With this in mind, I brought Michael Belmont of The Park Prodigy on the podcast to talk about how to save money at theme parks. During the interview, we talk about the best ways to save money on theme park travel, when’s the best time of year to visit, and how to figure out if it makes sense to upgrade your hotel and theme park tickets.
14 ways to save money at theme parks
Combining my research with Michael’s tips, we’re sharing our favorite ways to save money at theme parks so families can travel more, spend less, and live better while creating lifelong memories.
Travel in the off-season is a huge money saver. Not only can you save money on flights, hotels, and attractions, but the theme parks are generally less crowded, so you can see more each day.
Traveling off-peak can be challenging when your kids are in school. Between homework, tests, and youth sports, getting away is tough. Talk with teachers & coaches to find out when slower periods are to avoid critical tests and games.
Make dining reservations in advance
When you make dining reservations in advance, you’ll avoid missing out on unique experiences that are part of the magic of your visit. Additionally, this avoids “frustration spending” where you spend extra to make up for missing the experience or to quiet your crying children.
Each theme park has different booking rules for dining reservations, so check their websites to verify the current booking windows. For example, Walt Disney World allows visitors to book dining reservations up to 60 days in advance.
Visit regional parks closer to home
While the major theme parks, like Disney and Universal, get a lot of the hype, regional theme parks have a lot to offer as well. You’ll save money through lower prices and fewer travel costs. Plus, you may not miss as much work or school since these regional theme parks are closer to where you live. One of our favorites is Tropic Falls at OWA, which is on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
Buy a multi-park ticket
Multi-park theme park tickets are generally more expensive, but they may save you money in the long run. In my opinion, Disney Orlando spreads its best rides across multiple parks to encourage visitors to buy tickets for every park. When we visited in the past, there wasn’t enough to do at each park to justify spending all day there. By buying a multi-park ticket, you can hit your favorites at one park, then bounce to the next park to maximize your day. And, while the multi-park tickets are more expensive, you can
Additionally, multi-park tickets open up unique experiences that aren’t available anywhere else. For example, at Universal Orlando, the only way to ride the Harry Potter train between parks is to have a multi-park ticket.
Download mobile apps
Most theme parks today have their own mobile app. These apps provide a lot of useful information for visitors, such as daily hours and a map of the park. The more sophisticated apps also share the wait times of each ride so you can avoid long lines. You can try to hit more rides if you find a favorite has a much shorter line than others.
Mobile apps may also let you buy tickets, order food and pay for parking. Use these features to save time and avoid long waits. Remember, every minute waiting for something else means less time for rides, shows, and other attractions.
Other apps from visitor bureaus, airlines, hotels, and local coupon sites can also save time and money during your trip.
Use airline miles for flights
Airline miles are an excellent option to save money on theme park vacations. The cost of flights varies widely depending on where you’re traveling to & from, the time of year, the day of the week, and the airline. By using airline miles, you can book an award flight for you and your family. Within the United States, when you use airline miles to pay for your ticket, you’ll pay just $5.60 per person each way.
You may not have enough miles to pay for everyone or for a round trip. That’s ok. Buying a few tickets using airline miles can still save hundreds, or even thousands, off your theme park vacation.
The easiest way to earn airline miles is to get a new credit card and earn the welcome bonus. Offers change throughout the year, but many cards offer 50,000 miles after spending around $3,000 within the first three months. Consider having your spouse or significant other apply as well. Then, you can double up on the airline miles you earn.
Book hotels using points
Hotel costs for theme park visitors depend on where you’re staying and for long you’ll be there. Using hotel points to pay for your stay (or at least some of it), can reduce your theme park travel costs significantly.
When booking your room with hotel points, you may also be able to take advantage of free nights. Many hotel credit cards include an annual free night that you can use along with your points to pay for your stay. Additionally, some programs offer a free night when booking longer stays using your points… Marriott 5th night free (all members), Hilton 5th night free (Silver status and above), and IHG 4th night free (with IHG credit card).
If you have elite status, you may be able to get an early check-in, late checkout, complimentary upgrades, and more. Some hotels offer elite members free breakfast, as well. Many hotel credit cards include automatic elite status or the ability to earn it based on your annual spending.
Stay at on-site hotels
On-site hotels may be more expensive than hotels further away, but the higher cost offers certain advantages that can save money in the long run. When you’re at an on-site hotel, you can avoid paying for parking and waking up early to drive to the park. The extra time allows you to eat in your room or grab complimentary breakfast at the hotel.
Guests at on-site hotels often get exclusive access to the park before other guests are allowed in. This benefit makes it easier to hit your favorite rides before the lines get long. And hitting those extra rides can mean you hit all of your favorite rides in three days instead of four, saving an extra day of theme park tickets.
Additionally, when your hotel is close by, you can easily head back to your room to take a nap, change clothes, drop off souvenirs, or grab a snack. With a quick nap, you (and your kids) may be able to be less irritable and can stay until the park closes instead of leaving early.
Upgrade your theme park tickets
Paying to upgrade your theme park ticket to a FastPass, Genie Plus, etc. adds more cost to your experience. For example, prices for Disney World Genie+ start at $25 per day per person. But, you’re able to see and do so much more each day, that you’ll have a better time. And, you may be able to reduce the number of tickets you buy or days spent on the trip. Those savings may more than offset the cost of the upgrade.
Plan your park itinerary in advance
Winging it is a recipe for disaster or disappointment. It helps to plan ahead so you can maximize your time and hit all of the family’s favorite attractions, shows, and events. Many websites offer free or low-cost itineraries, and travel agencies like The Points Prodigy also provide them for free. Speaking with someone knowledgeable about the theme park or the area can also ensure that you don’t miss something fun that you didn’t know about.
Schedule off days
As much as theme parks can be awesome, planning some off days during your trip can recharge your batteries… and save some cash. Many cities with theme parks have other interesting attractions that are worth exploring. Beyond that, if you’re staying at an amazing resort, it’s a shame if you never spend time using its amenities.
Be prepared for the weather
Depending on the time of year you visit, your plans can be derailed due to weather. Bring umbrellas, ponchos, sunscreen, and other necessities. We always travel with bathing suits, even if our hotel doesn’t have a pool. You never know when you’ll have an opportunity to splash around. And many of these items are more expensive at or near the theme park, especially if you’re in an urgent situation.
Attend seasonal events
Most theme parks have seasonal events throughout the year to attract visitors during slow periods. Spring, Halloween, and Christmas are popular seasonal attractions. While you won’t necessarily save money during these events, you’ll often get more bang for your buck. There will be extra attractions, exclusive events and food items, and freebies that add more value to your theme park vacation.
Pack extra goodies in your suitcase
Buying extras when you arrive at your destination can really stretch your budget. They may be higher-priced at the closest stores, and you don’t have time to shop around. Plus, you may not have a rental car, so you’ll have to pay for a taxi or Uber to get back and forth from the store. Many airlines allow free checked bags based on your ticket or if you have the airline’s credit card. If you qualify, bring your biggest suitcase stuffed with goodies from home. As you use up the goodies, you’ll have extra room in your suitcase for any souvenirs you buy during your theme park visit.
Who is Michael Belmont?
Michael Belmont is the owner and chief editor at The Park Prodigy, an authorized Disney and Universal travel agent. He specializes in Disney and Universal theme park tickets and vacation packages, as well as daily park plans to help optimize vacation time.
As the owner, Michael manages The Park Prodigy blog and social media, a Disney-themed podcast, and a Disney and Universal-focused YouTube channel. Prior to starting The Park Prodigy, Michael was a long-time Disney and Universal enthusiast, a frequent visitor of the parks, and even served as a Walt Disney World Cast Member in Orlando, Florida!
Here are a few videos that he created:
- Don’t Make These Mistakes – Your Next Trip to Universal Orlando Could Be Ruined!
- Every HIDDEN CHARGE at Universal Orlando Resort!
- 11 Hidden Charges at Disney World That You’re Likely Not Aware Of
Big thanks to today’s affiliate partner – AwardWallet
This episode is brought to you, in part, by AwardWallet. Using airline miles and hotel points makes travel affordable, but keeping track of all of those loyalty programs can be a challenge. That’s why I use AwardWallet to track my miles and points balances, reservations, and special goodies like free hotel night certifications and airline companion passes.
Having everything in one easy-to-use dashboard helps ensure I don’t let any rewards expire and makes logging into my accounts super easy. Go to WeTravelThere.com/awardwallet to start your free account.
Stay tuned for our next episode
Listen to the next episode when Jessica Mudditt, a freelance journalist and author of “Our Home in Myanmar” (Amazon link), shares the best things to do in Yangon, Myanmar. In this episode, Jessica and I talk about 2000-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, riding the Yangon Circular Train, and getting wet at the Thingyan Water Festival. We hope you’ll join us when We Travel There.
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