Theme parks are a big hit among families, and for good reason: There's something for kids of all ages (including parents). They can be a fun week-long getaway, or just a day excursion—with varying types of entertainment ranging from a castle to fast-paced rollercoasters. Either way, hitting the amusement park is a great chance for your family to make lifelong memories, whether that's your kid finally meeting the height requirement for the big rollercoaster, winning at one of the carnival games, or just spending some quality time in the fresh air.
But theme parks are masterminds at getting people to part with their money. Surrounded by so many fun and adrenaline-inducing rides, it's easy to opt for more treats. Coming back home and to reality might have you facing wallet shock when you start to add up those weekend amusement park costs. But there are some easy tips to help ensure you stick to a budget while having the time of your lives—and don't allow your trip to be tainted by unnecessary financial strain.
Stay on Property
On-site hotels can often seem more expensive, but they provide many amenities that aren't available with nearby offsite resorts, such as transportation and early entry hours. At Universal Orlando Premier Hotels, guests will even receive free Universal Express Unlimited ride tickets—a savings of over $100 per person. Universal Orlando has multiple hotel categories—including an affordable suite option for families. See here for each Universal Orlando on-site property broken down by category.
By using on-site transportation, you can save on having to pay for parking expenses—and save time, because most bus systems are allowed to drop guests off closer to the entrance. This can prove to be a big cost-cutter if you plan to visit the park(s) on multiple days during your stay.
Be Flexible When You Visit
Many theme parks use a flexible cost calendar, charging the most during the prime days and offering cheaper tickets for the less in-demand days. However, these cheaper tickets often coincide with school calendars, restricting many families from visiting during this time. But if you have a child who's not yet in K-12 school, this can be a great time to get a better price on tickets while also enjoying less wait times for many attractions. Just make sure to double-check that the theme park you're visiting is still operating on weekdays, as some close during the week due to the low attendance.
Buy Souvenirs Ahead of Time
If you have little children, buying souvenirs ahead of time can be a huge saver. Parents know that souvenirs bought at the park can add up quickly. Therefore, when you start planning your theme park adventure, sign up for the park's newsletter to be alerted to coupons for their online merchandise. Purchase the item(s) you know your child will love and hide them until you get into the park. Kids won't know the difference because the online merchandise is the same as what's being sold in the parks, but you'll get it at a discounted price.
If you don't use them already, it's also a good idea to look into coupon apps to save even more. Extensions such as Honey can automatically look for coupons for you, and sites like Rakuten will give you cash back on your purchases.
Give Your Kids Their Allowance Upfront
For older kids, a trip to the theme park is also a great opportunity to teach them money management skills. Before entering the park, give each child their set allowance; this can be physically handed over, or you can just tell them the amount and write it down on a piece of paper if you're worried about them losing it. Allow them to spend their money on whatever they want—food, merchandise, additional cost games, etc.—but then stick to the rule that once it's gone, that's all.
Pack Theme Park Essentials
If you're visiting Orlando during the summertime, know that it will rain. And an easy way to lose a big chunk of change is not having the proper rain gear. Other must-haves include a battery-powered fan, phone battery backup, refillable water bottles, and sunscreen—none of which you want to end up buying onsite at a markup.
Bring Your Own Food
Theme park food is known for being expensive. Check the park's policy on bringing in outside food and drink before you go; then, plan on packing easily portable lunches such as sandwiches, chips, cut vegetables, and reusable water bottles.
Growing up, my family would even keep a cooler in the car filled with food and drinks for parks that didn't allow outside food. Pausing for a car snack is a great chance to regroup and take a break from the hot sun while enjoying food that you know your kids will eat. You'll keep your family well-fed and hydrated without breaking your budget—and any extra-special snacks purchased at the park will be even more memorable.
Work With a Travel Advisor
The easiest way to save money, of course, is to work with a travel advisor whose expertise lies in theme parks like Disney. Not only will they know the best time to visit parks, but they also know the best patterns and timing for purchasing ticket packages and making hotel reservations. Plus travel advisors know how to get add-ons like free dining plans—and how to navigate the new fast-pass tickets (the "Lightning Lane" system) and Genie .