Before school starts is a great time to go to a local amusement park and have a last bit of family fun. I love to go to IsItPacked to see when the “ghost town” days are at Disneyland, since it is practically in my backyard (two hours away). If you are like my girlfriends and I, you might even want to go AFTER the kids are in school, so you can enjoy all the big girl rides without taking turns while your spouse watches the kids. But be careful, my besties ended up in jail when we went to California Adventure! Here are my best tips to get the most out of your theme park experience and they will also keep you above the law:
- Start with the Tickets: Full price should always be the last option, even when shopping for tickets to Theme parks. Always keep an eye out on little things like Coke cans, deals at local grocery stores, and online specials for discounted tickets to your favorite theme parks. Purchasing more days or “Park hopper” tickets will save you money if you choose to go for more than one day. AAA and AARP also have discounts on tickets. If you or a family member is in the military, check out the deals they have for military families. Disneyland has a 3-day park hopper pass for only $143, and military members can get up to 6 tickets per ID.
- Eat Breakfast in Your Room – Unless you’ve got a character meal or some other exciting option for breakfast, eat in your room! Some hotels offer free breakfast, so take advantage before you head out to the park. Leaving a free breakfast at the hotel is like leaving money on the table. You may even choose to bring a new box of cereal and disposable bowls and silverware. Buy milk (store it in the room if there is a mini-fridge) and have cereal in the room.
- Give each child a budget: Set a budget for the day and give a set amount to each child. This will account for food, treats, and souvenirs. Help them with the math along the way, and remind them that when the money is gone, there is no more but they may keep what is left over. It will save you (and them) from spending mindlessly, and it teaches children to spend money wisely, as well!
- Share – Sharing is one of the smartest ways to save money. Many portions are large enough for two, and you definitely don’t want o carry around left-overs around the park for the rest of the day! If the meal wasn’t enough, have snacks in your bag or order more food, but I think you will find that fruits you bring with you are satisfying and healthy, which brings us to our next tip.
- Bring Snacks – While this is not necessarily the time forgo little treats once in a while (can you say cream cheese filled pretzels at Disneyland?), curb the hunger before the next meal by carrying snacks with you. A granola bar, almonds or fruit that you carry around in your bag without it getting smashed or melting are good options. Depending on the park’s food policy, you may need to leave it in a locker outside the park or in your car (or room if it’s nearby) and eat it in the picnic area outside the park.
- Bring out the Kid in You – If there is not an even number to share a meal, or you would like another inexpensive option, adults can order Kid’s Meals at restaurants, and sometimes that’s all you need. There are some table service restaurants that prohibit it, but others will let an adult order a plus-size kid’s meal for a reasonable price (normally a few dollars more than the standard kid’s meal). Just ask at the restaurant when you arrive. Counter service restaurants will almost always let anyone order a kid’s meal.
- Eat Offsite – It’s very easy to eat offsite at Disneyland. At any point during the day, you can walk across the street and have several less expensive options within walking distance. McDonald’s, IHOP, Mimi’s Cafe, the list goes on. They’re convenient and can save you money, especially if you check RetailMeNot for discount coupons and codes (see more on point 9).
- DVC, AP, Disney Visa, D23 Discounts – When you eat on the property, ask about any discounts you may be eligible for. There are almost always Annual Passholder discounts, and there are others for Disney Vacation Club Members, D23 Members, or Disney Visa cardholders.
- Several Downtown Disney Restaurants Have Coupons – There are lots of restaurant coupons out there, you just have to look! The Landry’s Select Club, which includes the Rainforest Café, typically gives $25 bonuses both for signing up and birthdays. By registering on the Simply Patina Group website, you can get a $30 birthday gift card. The Simply Patina Group includes Tortilla Jo’s, Catal, UVA Bar & Café, Taqueria, and Naples. Woo hoo! Food discounts!
10. Entertainment Book Coupons – Order an Entertainment Book for Orange County, or another entertainment book for the area where your theme park is located. The Entertainment Books are chock full of possibilities. There are usually discounts for the Rainforest Café, Wetzel’s Pretzels and other area eateries. There are also deals for other great places in the area if you would like to see something else while you are there.
Whether it’s just you and your spouse, a group of girlfriends or your entire family, be sure to have guilt free fun by spending the least amount possible.
I’d love to hear YOUR ideas of how you save at theme parks!
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)