Universal Studios, Orlando
By Gaia Filicori, Condé Nast Traveler
Amusement parks are the stuff that kids' dreams are made of. And guess what? It doesn't have to be a nightmare for parents either. With over 290 people visiting 400 amusements parks each year, you need to do your homework ahead of time. That's why we went straight to Susan Kelly of Travel Magic; she's not only Condé Nast Traveler's top travel specialist for Disneyworld, but she's an expert on park navigation of all kinds. Here are her insider tips and tricks on how save time and money at amusement parks.
Should you go with the flow at a park, or do you need to plan it out ahead of time?
• Even though spending time at an amusement park is all about fun, you'll enjoy it more if you take the planning stage seriously.
• Knowing the right tips and tricks is what separates novice park-goers from the experts.
• Your kids are going to be looking forward to this for weeks in advance -- having a strategy and a plan will save you a lot of money, and ensure that you'll enjoy everything the park has to offer.
What about planning -- What days are parks the least busy?
• The key is to avoid the times when kids are out of school, like on major holidays and peak summer season. Try going the week before major holidays, especially the week before Thanksgiving or before President's day.
• Get to the park early in the day.
• Head straight to the rides that are most important to your family, or use another fun tactic, and work your way around the park backwards.
• Follow this mantra: Go early, leave, and come back. Theme park novices tend to sleep late, arrive at park mid morning, and then leave early evening, exhausted by heat and crowds.
Disney's Magic Kingdom
The biggest expense is just getting in. How do you save money on your ticket?
• The "day visitor" does not ever get the deal!
• All theme parks front-load their ticket prices. The discounts really begin on the three, four, and five-day tickets.
• Once you've bought a three-day pass, you've bought 90 percent of a seven-day pass!
• It's standard at this point that if you buy a two-day pass somewhere, you'll get a third day free.
Special access and value through hotels and resorts:
• Some of the best deals come through hotel packages at the on-park hotels and resorts. So do your hotel research first, before buying your park ticket online.
• Hotel packages can include unlimited express passes, whereas parks' express passes are only good for one ride.
• Hotel packages can also include early admission to special rides and sections of the park--which you couldn't even purchase if you tried.
Save money at on-park hotels by:
• Enjoying the hotel pool rather than the attached water park.
• Saving on parking costs.
• Having your own food and snacks in your hotel fridge, so you can avoid the pricey park food.
• Do your online research--the best discounts could be on a Coke can, or on a special promotion you learn about on Facebook or Twitter.