With this being the first weekend that most seasonal parks either begin advertising or actually open, it’s time to get beyond just the planning of how you’re going to pay for admission – it’s time to actually plan your trip.
These “General Tips” will help maximize your fun and enjoyment at ANY theme / amusement park, not just the ones located in my great State of California.
THE No. 1 RULE – “Always Plan Ahead”
The Boy Scouts are famous for their motto: “Always be prepared.” It should also be you and your group’s motto when planning an amusement / theme park trip. Weather is the most crucial factor, but there are many other smaller factors that can add up quite quickly (and that most regular park guests overlook) but not I.
These are the questions you and your group should always, ALWAYS ask before heading out the door to the park:
What’s the weather supposed to be like?
Parks are under no pressure or obligation to give you a rain check and / or refund for bad weather. If the weather looks (and is predicted to be poor) don’t spend a whole day’s worth of admission, to only to get rained-out two hours later.
Some parks do offer rain checks, in the form of a free complimentary ticket (or comp as they’re called) given to you as you flee the park to find shelter in your car – but don’t bank on all of the parks you visit to do this.
Many parks (especially in the Midwest) now show the chance of bad weather right at the ticket booths. If the number is 50% or higher…be sure you know what you’re getting into. Remember that you’re wagering a coin flip that you’ll lose your admission over the weather…
There are many guides out there that will suggest that these “inclement” days are the best to go to parks, as crowds usually stay away, and lines tend to be shorter. For the most part, that’s true. However, if that rain or severe weather doesn’t clear up, the park is not going to re-open, no matter how loudly you and your family complain to Guest Services.
Plain and simple…I don’t take the chance and neither should you – do as a zeppelin airship does…if the weather has a hint of being bad, cancel!
Are there any park sponsored special events going on when we’re visiting?
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING will ruin your day at a theme park faster that driving up to the front entrance to find out you visited on a “Cheerleader Competition” day. Screaming, running, loud and obnoxious cheerleaders…waiting in line for hours in the hot sun…with you and your family. Ugh!
Fireworks, certain holidays and other special concerts / shows can also lead to larger crowds, so be aware of them when you’re visiting. Also, be aware there are religious and alternative lifestyle events held at parks too, which may or may not agree with your personal beliefs.
The moral of the story – always call or log on ahead of time! That being said, there is always the “lone exception” to this rule, so make sure to read all the specific park descriptions later on in this blog!
The park’s webpage is always a good, first source to visit in planning for your trip. These types of special events are usually found under the “Special Events” section or header.
If you’re not a fan of computers, you can always call the park information line. The switchboard operator should be more than happy to assist you, or direct you to the correct department.
With all the pre-planning completed, you’re still not quite finished, but you’re close! When the big day finally arrives, there are still a few more questions you’ll need to ask to make sure all your planning was worth it…
In my next post: “What should I wear and bring to the park?”
With gasoline expected to hit $5 a gallon this summer, it’s no surprise that that smaller, regional theme parks will see a significant jump in their attendance this year, while the larger, destination parks will see a hit (a la 2008, when gas spiked over the summer as well).
The difference between these two scenarios, however is the cost and fragility of the economy. Sure, we all want to give our families a good time, but in the back of our heads, we’re all still worried if our job is going to be there when we return from our vacation (Funny story – back in 2009, I went on vacation and returned to find out I had been laid off…so I know what I’m talking about here.)
So how then, does a family of four save money at their local amusement park while not skimping out on the experience?
Sounds simple, right? but when you’ve got a few caffeine-filled kids running amok down the midway, it can be difficult to pace yourself. So start your planning NOW for trips, especially if you plan on driving any significant distances to visit a theme / amusement park.
I calculated that back in 2008, when gas was (at that time) a record cost, I ended up SAVING the amount I spent in gas for my 1400 mile road trip just by thinking ahead and purchasing season passes “with benefits,” most notably, a parking pass.
Because I visited several parks owned by the same chain, I never once paid for parking or admission at full price.
So with prices as low as they’ll be at the start of the season, my first tip to save you money at your local park is to seriously consider those season passes, especially if you’re planning on staying close to a park this year. It could save you a ton of dough! Don’t forget about adding extras too, such as meal plans or parking. Yes, it’s more money up front, but consider this: it’s an investment in six months of fun up front. Spread that out over that time and you end up saving money over paying for items (such as parking) individually.
In my next post…
“Is packing sandwiches in the car REALLY saving you money on theme park food?”