How To Save at Theme Parks (So You Can Eat Even More Funnel Cake)

Right up there with beach trips, barbecues and baseball games, spending the day at the amusement park is one of those quintessential summer activities. As far as we’re concerned, summer hasn’t started until we’ve screamed our guts out on a roller coaster and eaten too much funnel cake. 

But while there’s a lot to love about amusement parks — exhilarating rides, a family-friendly atmosphere, deep-fried twinkie stands — these venues come with one glaring flaw that’s hard to overlook: the cost. 

Theme park admission can be expensive enough. Stack on parking fees, meals and accommodations, and the price of spending a day at the park can become astronomical. According to data from Home to Go, the total cost of visiting a theme park can range anywhere from $95 to a whopping $280 per day. 

The good news? You can dramatically cut down the cost of visiting an amusement park with a bit of preparation, resourcefulness and creativity.

Here’s how to save at theme parks without sacrificing fun or funnel cakes:

1. Purchase Tickets Online

six flags
Image: Six Flags

The first rule of saving at indoor and outdoor amusement parks: Never buy tickets at the gate. You can often land significantly lower rates if you purchase tickets online before your trip. You might also be able to snag deals from online ticket brokers like Undercover Tourist. If you are a member of AAA, you can book through their members-only online portal to save up to 40% on tickets to major parks like Six Flags, Seaworld, Legoland and Disneyland

Another reason to buy tickets online? You’ll be able to hunt down and apply digital coupons and promo codes. To get started, we suggest checking out our collection of promo codes for indoor and outdoor amusement parks on RetailMeNot. 

2. Skip Peak Hours

disneyland
Image: Disneyland

Indoor and outdoor theme parks tend to price their tickets higher at peak times when they know most guests are likely to want to visit — such as on weekends and during the middle of the day. You may be able to score lower rates if you book during the weekday and/or in the evenings. 

For example, at our local theme park, Six Flags Over Texas, the price of general admission for one adult is $59.99 on a Saturday or Sunday — but only $34.99 if you book on a Wednesday. Similarly, you can save if you visit an outdoor amusement park during the offseason. For most outdoor theme parks, this means fall or spring (with the exception of spring break). 

3. Park Off-site

seaworld
Image: Seaworld

Depending on the amusement park, you can pay anywhere from $0 to $32 for parking. It’s a good idea to check with the park ahead of time to see what they charge for parking. To avoid paying extra, consider parking elsewhere and either walking or hopping on a bus. If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s worth checking to see if they offer a free shuttle service to your park. 

4. Pack the Essentials

legoland
Image: Legoland

Once you’re through the gate, you’re essentially at the mercy of theme park owners when it comes to pricing. Should you need to purchase sunscreen, sunglasses or bottled water, you’ll likely be charged a premium. You can spare yourself from the indignity of having to pay $27 for a tube of sunscreen by packing the essentials.

Here’s a quick checklist to refer to when packing your day bag:

For Outdoor Theme Parks: 

  • Sunscreen.
  • Brimmed hat.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Misting fan.
  • Aspirin. 
  • Poncho. 
  • Bug spray. 

For Outdoor and Indoor Theme Parks: 

  • Waterproof cellphone case. 
  • Hand sanitizer. 
  • Refillable water bottle. 
  • Quick-dry towel. 
  • Charger. 
  • Wipes. 
  • Swimsuit.
  • Water shoes.
  • Lip balm. 
  • Hair ties. 

5. Pack Snacks and Meals

universal orlando
Image: Universal Orlando Resort

You can expect to pay up to $17 per head per meal at an amusement park. Factor in a snack ($7 and up), and you’re looking at $96 for a family of four. If you stay late enough to get dinner, the price raises to $164. 

You can save big by packing your own snacks and meals. But before you do, make sure to visit the amusement park’s website to see what their policy is on outside food, drinks and coolers. Many — but not all — outdoor and indoor amusement parks permit small snacks and meals that don’t require heating. 

6. Skip On-site Souvenirs

magic kingdom
Image: Walt Disney World

We get it. Of course, you want a shot glass (or, if you’re at Disney, a “toothpick holder”) emblazoned with your theme park logo or a grain of sand with your name written on it. But you can save on souvenirs if you skip the on-site shops and purchase keepsakes at surrounding drugstore chains, where they’ll often offer theme park-inspired T-shirts and knickknacks at a much wallet-friendlier price. 

What about a framed photo of you flailing your arms as you careen down the track of the Zippin Pippin or the Cardiac Coaster? Instead of using the park’s official photographer for a price, have a friend, family member or passerby capture the thrilling memory instead. 

7. Visit Affordable Outdoor/Indoor Amusement Parks

wild adventures
Image: Wild Adventures Theme Park

The cost of theme park visits can vary wildly from venue to venue. Here are a few of the least expensive theme parks in America where you can have an incredible, funnel cake-filled time for less:

Tropic Falls Theme Park at OWA (Foley, AL): At this award-winning, 530-acre outdoor theme park, admission starts at $22.49 and parking is free. Despite its low admission, Tropic Falls Theme Park doesn’t disappoint with its tropical-themed rollicking roller coaster rides and carnival games.   

Quassy Amusement Park (Middlebury, CT): Admission to Quassy Amusement Park is $39.99, while parking is $10. Your entry ticket gets you access to more than 20 rides, as well as direct entry to the beach on the south shore of Lake Quassapaug. 

Wild Adventures Theme Park (Valdosta, GA): For $49.99 admission (plus $15 parking), you get access to 170 acres of roller coasters, rides, arcade games, exotic animal exhibits, and more. In 2022, Wild Adventures park added the Wanyama Observation Deck & Botanical Garden, which features giraffes, water buffalo, zebu and other captivating animals native to Africa and Asia. 


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