These Clever Tricks Will Save You Tons of Time and Money at Amusement Parks

During the hottest days of summer, visiting an amusement park can be a fantastic way to cool down and entertain the kids. However, lots of families have steered clear due to mounting admission prices and all the expensive extras that come along with spending a whole day there. Disney is famously expensive, but even smaller parks are raking in huge profits.

Let’s make one thing clear: Amusement parks are specifically designed to get the most money out of their patrons. Lance Hart from the theme-park website Screamscape says, “Most parks, especially the big ones in Orlando and California, have it down to a science these days to make it nearly impossible to shave corners and save money.”

But just because they’re trying to get the most cash out of your wallet doesn’t mean you have to let them. Ahead, we’ve gathered some of the best money and time-saving tips for visiting amusement parks this summer.

1. Get a season pass

rollercoaster against blue sky

Single day passes are always the biggest rip-off. | iStock.com/pressdigital

It might seem illogical, but often you can save a lot of money on the cost of admission by committing to go more than once.

The New York Times offered the example of Busch Gardens: A one-time ticket costs $89.99, while a season pass good for an unlimited number of visits is only $99.99. And season passes often come with other perks, such as free parking, coupons, merchandise, and other incentive items.

If you have a local amusement park you know you’ll want to visit a couple times in the summer, be sure to purchase your season passes before the summer starts, which is when prices are lowest. Planning ahead in this instance can save you a lot of money on fun.

2. Visit during non-peak days

swing ride at the amusement park

Avoid weekend and holiday visits. | iStock.com/12ee12

Most people want to visit amusement parks on summer weekends, which is why those days are the most expensive by far. If you want to save money on your visit, try taking the day off from work to go during the week, or visit during non-peak months, such as May or September. Most parks have online calendars highlighting the price differential between the days and weeks so you can plan — and budget for — your trip accordingly.

3. Buy tickets ahead of time

Tickets sign at county fair with Ferris wheel

Pre-purchase your tickets for additional savings. | iStock.com/MarkTantrum

Your admission ticket will almost always be cheaper when it’s purchased online before you go. You can also visit local retailers, such as supermarkets, or try membership clubs, such as AAA, for discount tickets that can be purchased in advance.

4. Stay local

kids enjoying a ride on a fun carnival carousel

Your local amusement park might worth visiting. | iStock.com/Yobro10

Obviously, visiting an amusement park within driving distance is much cheaper than an overnight stay. Ask your network for recommendations for parks within a close radius, so you don’t have to spring for a hotel room. You just might uncover a hidden gem you didn’t even know existed.

5. Follow social media

Facebook screen on ipad

Follow amusement parks on social media for the insider scoop on coupons and events. | iStock.com/mactrunk

Looking for the best deals and discounts for a particular park? Check out Facebook and Twitter for promos you might not see anywhere else. And don’t forget to scour the comments section for additional ideas from other fans.

6. Check discount sites

Dreamworld amusement park with roller coaster

Never pay full price for admission. | iStock.com/sihasakprachum

Popular sites, such as Groupon, Living Social, and RetailMeNot, are great for discounted amusement park tickets. Commit to doing a bit of online research before you buy your tickets to save a significant amount on the cost of admission.

7. Consider a fast pass

People stand in line to ride The Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Skip the line with a fast pass, and ride more rides. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Yes, they’re more expensive, but buying a line-hopper pass can save you a lot of time and will guarantee you get to ride all the attractions that you want to. If you’re going to spend the money going to the amusement park, then you might as well make the most of your experience.

Purchasing a fast pass online prior to your arrival can be cheaper than buying it at the front gate, so be sure to add it on when you’re ordering your admission tickets.

8. Travel in a group

friends at the funfair

Take advantage of the group discount. | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

Get together a huge group of friends and family to enjoy discounted group rate admission. Try creating a Facebook event and adding everyone you know for a day of fun in the sun.

9. Park smarter

Parking ticket machine in New York City

Try parking your car outside of the park. | iStock.com/JaysonPhotography

If you’re just visiting for the day, the cost to park at an amusement park can be exorbitant. If you’re visiting with friends, load as many people into one car as possible and split the cost, or even hop on the local bus if you can. Bus tickets for an entire family might be cheaper than the cost of parking your vehicle for the day in the amusement park lot.

Before you go, you can also research public parking lots that are close to the park, and use those instead. A little extra walking could save you tons.

10. Get there early …

Enthusiastic young friends riding roller coaster ride

Get there when the park opens, and leave before lunch. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

The longer you stay at an amusement park, the more money you’re likely to spend on food and souvenirs. To avoid this, arrive right when the park opens, so you don’t have to spend so much time waiting in line. Plan to visit the most popular attractions first, so you’re not stuck waiting two hours or more to ride the hot new roller coaster.

11. … or get there late

chairoplane at sunset

Night rides can be fun, too. | iStock.com/dwphotos

Many parks offer twilight admission — that is, discounted tickets after a certain time of day. Take advantage of longer daylight, and plan to spend your afternoon and early evening at the park instead of going there first thing.

12. Know the food policy

Young women eating lollipops

Find out the policy on outside food before you go. | iStock.com/william87

Some parks allow coolers, while others only let you have bottled water. Research the policy on food before you go, and be prepared to bring your own if possible. If not, consider leaving the park during meal times and coming back after you eat, especially if there’s a decent fast food or fast casual restaurant in walking distance. It’s guaranteed to be cheaper than eating in the park.

If you must eat while you’re there, be sure it’s just one meal by filling up with a hearty breakfast before you arrive.

13. Map out your day

A vector illustration of a map

Get the park map, and make a plan. | iStock.com/artisticco

The attractions closest to the entry typically fill up first. If you want to maximize your time at the park, print out a map ahead of time, and plan which rides you’ll conquer and in what order. Start at the farthest corners of the park and work your way toward the entrance/exit — the exact opposite of what most people do.

14. Don’t forget the umbrella

roller coaster

Prepare for the rain, and stay if you can. | iStock.com/jimfeng

A quick rain shower doesn’t have to dampen your day. Bring an umbrella or poncho in case it rains, and if it’s a quick one, just wait out the storm. Most people will leave, so the lines will be shorter once the rides reopen.

15. Skip the souvenirs

Family with toys

Skip overpriced trinkets that you probably won’t want when you get home anyway. | iStock.com/Image Source

It might be tempting to get a hat or shirt to commemorate your wonderful day of fun, but it can be quite expensive. Instead of purchasing mementos in the moment, try waiting until the end of the season when prices get slashed or looking online for deals instead.

16. Remember where you parked

full parking area

Don’t waste time searching for your car. | iStock.com/JamieWilson

Nothing’s worse than coming out of the park after a long, exhausting day and realizing you can’t find your car. Snap a quick photo of your car’s exact location when you arrive to avoid wasting time searching for it later.