It’s here! It’s here! After all your pre-planning, hype and waiting – the big day has finally arrived! You’ve walking up to the entrance right now and you’re ready for a day of fun and excitement. But, like all good theme park fans, you’ve also got a plan to execute. It starts with when you’re going to refuel your body…
“When should we eat?”
The traditional eating times (11am – 2pm, 5pm – 7pm) are some of the best to ride the park’s bigger and more popular attractions. If you can offset your meals by a few hours you’ll find yourself going on more attractions and having much more fun.
Water rides traditionally get large lines during the hottest part of the day. If you don’t mind it being a little cooler, you can hop on these attractions just as the park opens. Night time or the half-hour before closing is also a perfect opportunity to tackle the water rides…but just be mindful that you might be driving home a bit moist!
“What should we ride when?”
This can vary with each park, and when you visit. Check out each individual park’s section for a more detailed plan on tackling the, “big ticket attractions” of each park. General rule of thumb is that the newest, latest and greatest ride is best to ride at the start or very end of the day.
Should I purchase a season pass or just purchase my tickets at the gate?
A season pass is a good idea only if you’re going to visit the park multiple times a year (or are planning a trip to several parks in a national chain).
One of the best ways to save time and money at amusement parks is to check their website. Most now offer the option to purchase discounted tickets online, which will almost always save you money versus paying for tickets at the main gate. Be sure to also check if any promotions are being run, such as bring a soda can in for discounts.
Well, there you have it. The complete pre-planning guide to all theme parks, regardless of location. If you follow these steps and suggestions, you will not only save yourself money, but also get more for your money.
With all that generic planning complete, let’s now take a weekly look at the California parks, starting in the North and working our way down South…
Be sure to check Great American Thrills each week for these updates. You can even send us your ideas or thoughts too via WordPress!
Alas, you’re one step closer to enjoying a day out in your local amusement or thrill park – but there’s still a bit more pre-planning that you must accomplish…exactly what are you going to bring to the park with you? If you’ve read my blog thus far, the answer shouldn’t surprise you…
It goes without saying, but if the weather report says the high temperature is expected to be above 70 degrees – pass on the pants.
Too often, people misjudge the weather and end up passing out in line because of a heat stroke or exhaustion. The $3.50 bottles of water in the queue lines certainly don’t help the situation, either! So do yourself a favor, go with shorts when the weather’s over 70F.
If you absolutely have to, pack a jacket and pair of pants and leave them in the car! You can always go back to the car if you or anyonein your party gets too cold. There is no reason to lug all that, for lack of a better term – CRAP – around all day. It will inevitably tire you out much faster than a quick walk to the parking lot.
There’s also the option of a multiple-use day locker within the park boundaries, which is a good investment if the parking lot is a significant distance away from the entrance. An example of this would be Six Flags Discoery Kingdom, where even a brisk walk from your car to the entrance is fifteen minutes.
Nearly all parks today do not allow loose articles on their larger rides and attractions. The reasoning behind it is simple – it’s a major safety issue, as flying objects can seriously injure patrons or disrupt safe operation of the ride. In fact, on Knott’s Berry Farms’ “Jaguar!” roller coaster, a loose jacket jammed the wheels of the coaster, stalling it midway through the circuit.
That being said, if you absolutely have to bring loose items into the park, make sure they’re just the absolute bare necessities: your wallet, possibly a small camera, sunglasses and maybe a cell phone. That’s it.
Purses, backpacks and bags – although convenient – will only add to your wait times getting into the park, as security will be poking, prodding and rummaging through them, looking for unsafe items. It will also inevitably raise your stress levels as you attempt to keep track of all your stuff as you leave it on the ride platform while on the larger attractions.
Plus, there’s no reason to bring your iPod, iPad (seen it twice now) or any other iDevice unless you’re using it to keep track of others in your group. Even then, a tablet computer at a theme park makes for a tempting steal even for the casual thief.
Besides, those green pigs will still be there to knock down with those exploding birds…
So let’s say you still didn’t listen to my insider tips and tricks, and you STILL brought all your crap with you inside the park. To help with the glut of loose items you might still have despite our warnings, the best parks offer semi-secure bins or shelves to place your items in while riding. But beware! The parks’ are not responsible for anything lost, stolen or damaged. It’s a gamble every time you ride – whether or not you come back to find your items all still there.
Even worse, several park chains are now requiring that you place all your loose items in PAY PER USE lockers just before you ride. Personally, I feel like if that’s the case, why not just charge guests for each time they ride, rather than a flat admission at the front of the park. But, there’s a little trick to save you a few bucks each time you ride.
In order to “beat” these systems, and save you a handful of money that you shouldn’t have to have spent in the first place, I recommend that you wear cargo shorts, preferably with zippered or double buttoned pockets.
As silly as it sounds, these pants can be a real money-saver at parks. They allow you to ride any attraction knowing your items are safe and secure, while at the same time not forcing you to put items in a $1.00 single use locker! On our last trip to Six Flags Great America, we saved nearly $10.00 in locker fees per person, saving our group nearly $50.00 for the day. (That’s more than the price of a single admission!)
Wearing sandals of any kind is also a big no-no, despite how hot the day might become. Sandals are easily lost on rides, extremely painful to walk several miles around a park in and expose you to all sorts of nasty things found on park pathways. A good pair of sneakers will keep you comfortable (and clean) all day.
In our next adventure…the big day finally arrives – now what?!?
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?”