As many of you may know, we were on vacation for 11 days, just arriving home earlier this week. We spent the majority of our time in Southern California in great “beach condo living” for CHEAP!
While we were there, we decided to head to some theme parks for a few days of the trip. We took this trip as our vacation, but also as a family celebration for getting out of our loads of debt (and took the trip debt-free too after saving to pay cash for it).
We went to Disneyland for 3 days that week between Christmas and New Year 2011. We had limited computer time, but we did tell you a bit about it when we could. But before we tell you about how we purchased our tickets and share our ideas for you to get discounts to these and possibly other theme parks/attractions – we need to address something that could be on many of your minds.
With that in mind, if any of you were reading our site while we were gone and about how we were planning to visit Disneyland during this time, you were probably at home laughing and saying to yourself, “this is not the thrifty couple but instead the stupid couple.”
I will be the first to humbly admit that this was a really stupid time to go. Why? Well it is historically the busiest and highest traffic time at the Disneyland (and Disney World) resorts. By our admission, we knew this fact in the beginning of the planning but didn’t realize just how crazy it would really be!
As a family we discussed when we wanted to go – our family thought this would be a great time and a memorable way to celebrate the holidays too. It was perfect for my work schedule as it meant less days of vacation I had to take. Then to top it off – we found and incredible deal on one of the major expenses (accommodations) and so it was all working out beautifully.
We knew it was called “peak time” as when we were researching our accommodation deals, it is best to travel on non-peak times. But we were blessed to find a deal that was cheaper than we could have thought, especially during “peak season.” As crazy as it is, we were celebrating the fact that this condo deal came through at this time even though the idea of “peak season” did not seem to drum up the idea that this also equates to “peak people.”
First, bit of advice – do not go during a “peak season” even if you are blessed to grab unbelievable deals on for the trip during this time – the amounts of people in the parks will off-set your deal seeking excitement. If we ever have the opportunity to go to a Disney park again, we will be sure to check the traffic trends first. Although the amount of traffic in the park was almost unbearable, we somehow managed to use a few tricks to maximize our time as much as possible and do everything, but a small handful of things, that we wanted to do. If you would like us to share some strategies that we quickly developed, then just let us know and we can make it a separate post.
Here are 10 Ways to Save on Theme Park Tickets.
These would apply for any Theme Park (not just Disney) that you and your family are interested in going to!
- Check directly on the theme park’s websites. In this day and age, if a company is offering a discount, it will most likely be found somewhere on their website!
- If you are a part of any of these groups, then check on a AAA, AARP, Military, Sam’s Club or Costco. We have found that you can get a discount to most theme parks through one (or all) of these outlets!
- Check with your local banks and credit unions, even if the theme park is not local. What I mean is that we have a lot of credit unions in our area and the area we grew up in. Neither are close to Disneyland, but they offer discounts and discount packages to Disney and other Theme parks.
- If you are planning to stay multiple days and hit multiple attractions, then consider a multi-day pass or a multi-attraction pass. Theme parks like Universal Studios or SeaWorld have offered “buy one day, get one free.” Disney’s park hopper passes are cheaper and cheaper each day the more days you purchase. Also, the CityPass is a popular way to go (for visiting multiple attractions) as you save 30% right off the top going through CityPass directly. You can actually get discounts on the CityPass itself through AAA, Costco and more!
- Have a travel agent work up a deal! Contact your local travel agents and tell them that you are looking for discounts galore and see what they quote you for a price! You never know, but they might actually be able to grab bigger discounts with their insider information than you can find!
- Check on the discount prices using your Entertainment Book. This little (BIG) book is not only filled with coupons to your local businesses, but both in the book and then access your online account as there will be many more offers online, including many theme parks!
- Check with local (to the theme park) restaurants/businesses, Coke Cans/Convenience Store Cups, etc. We live near Lagoon Amusement Park and many local fast food restaurants, in addition to the Coke cans distributed in our area and convenience store cups will have a coupon for a discount into this local park. Even when we were down in CA, we ate at Wendy’s (using our free fries coupons) and noticed that the drink cups down there had an $8 discount to SeaWorld or San Diego Zoo. So you could potentially find these all over the local area of the theme park.
- If you are local to the theme park, consider season passes, going with a large group for a group discount (this could work if you are not local and going on a road trip with a large group too!), or even checking with your employer for a discount! One of my previous employers corporate offices are based out of San Diego. They offered discount tickets to the San Diego attractions, even for their employees in other offices across the country.
- As a risky option, but potentially very big savings, consider buying multi-day tickets from classifieds, Craig’s List or Ebay. Often times, people will buy a 5 or 6 day pass but only use 2 or 3 days and so the remaining days are still good. The tickets are good for a two-week period typically for Disney and so as long as you are going before they expire, then you could have found a treasure of a deal. I call this risky because we researched this option online, and found many places where people got a steal of a deal, but they have no way of verifying if there really is 2 or 3 days left until they get down to the park. In some cases, they were “scammed”and stuck at that point. They were out the money on those tickets and paying full price at the gate. But… I am mentioning it with caution.
- Similar (but safer) to the above option, if you know someone going and plan to go shortly after them, consider going in on a 6 day ticket and sharing the tickets. If this is pre-arranged with someone you know, you would probably be safe from scammers!
One big thing to consider when seeking out a discount is: “What are the restrictions on your discount tickets?” and consider the “nickel and dime” expenses. Answering this question can save you from regret later as some discount tickets might not be all that they are cracked up to be!
- Is there certain times only that you can enter (time of day, season, blackout dates, etc.)?
- How much will the parking be?
- Are there rides/attractions that are not available with this ticket?
- Any other restrictions or considerations that you need to weigh?
With all of that in mind, we recommend taking a quick look at all ten ideas above and then selecting your best option from the list!
So with the above list and our research, here’s exactly what we did:
- We went with our AAA discount. AAA saved us loads of money on this trip between the hotels for the road trip down and up, our BUMP in the road and now theme park tickets!
We went with AAA because we were able to snag the CityPass (as we were visiting multiple parks) for a discount. But here were the other things that came with it:
- Free parking at Disney in the parking garage. Considering that it costs $15 a day to park there, this was an additional $45 savings for us.
- Preferred seating tickets to many of the shows at Disney. I can’t tell you how much we appreciated this during those “peak days.” Most shows had two lines, one for preferred seating ticket holders and one for everyone else. They let all of the preferred seating ticket holders go find seats first before they let everyone else in! We had the absolute best seats in the house of Aladdin (we asked one of the cast members where the best seats were and followed their advice, since we were one of the first in the theater, although one of the last to get in line, we got those seats!). Some theaters, it was a reserved row for the preferred ticket holders, so no matter how full the theaters got, we could walk right up and walk through the rope to the preferred rows.
- It also included a discount card that we could show and use in Disney, Downtown Disney, and surrounding restaurants and businesses for 10% discount. Although we had other plans for eating and souvenirs (which we will share next), we didn’t end up using this, but if we didn’t have our plan, this would have been very handy!
- It also included one day of early admission (1-hour before the public) into Disney. I think most discount tickets still offer this and comes with all 3-day park hopper passes.
So there is a very lengthy, but hopefully helpful post on how to save on theme park tickets for many different types of attractions! Please share any ideas that you have done too!
And for a funny sidenote, see the report that the Orange County Register did on Tuesday, December 28th when then closed the gates 2 hours after opening from meeting capacity. The pictures are very much what we experienced the day before (when they also closed the gates)! We actually did not end up at the Park on Tuesday like planned due to our bump in the road – good thing! We went Monday, Wednesday and Thursday that week.
To catch up on more of our vacation savings:
- Here’s the article on How We Saved On Accomodations this trip
- Here’s the article on How We Saved On Food For This Trip