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Have A Scream For Less: Big Theme Park Savings

(Updated April 21, 2003)

Americans love their theme parks in a big way. It is estimated that over 500 million people will visit one this summer. Most of the population of the U.S. lives within a few hours of an excellent amusement park, so it's easy to see why attendance can be so high.

Competition among theme parks for visitors is getting interesting. We are seeing incentives and perks like branded credit cards along with programs where people can pay to jump to the head of the line for a ride or attraction. Another, even bigger, attraction this year is the new generation of mega-roller coasters being unveiled.

Theme parks are great, but with single-day admission prices often exceeding forty dollars visiting one is not exactly cheap. However, there are some things you can do to cut the costs of taking your family to a theme park while still having a great time.

Consider A Season Pass

If you are a true theme park fan, consider purchasing a season pass. A season pass is a card that guarantees you admission on any operating day of the year with unlimited visits. In many cases -- at Six Flags® parks, for example -- the charge for a season pass is only as much as you would normally pay for two days' admission, or less! As a result, if you visit the park twice, you've already saved money. Furthermore, depending upon the theme park, passes are often good at other, sister parks. For example, all Six Flags® passes are valid at other Six Flags® parks throughout the country. This is an especially great deal if you plan to travel. In addition, certain parks' passes (for example, those for Six Flags Marine World®) also allow admittance to nearby partner water parks without additional fees. Before buying, check to see if the pass you wish to purchase is valid at other parks.

May is the best time of the year to buy a season pass. Theme park admission prices can rise as the season progresses, so buying early ensures the lower price for your pass, which adds up to even more savings. You can save still more if you purchase a "Family Pass" which consists of four or more season passes. The savings for buying these packs of passes can be as much as 25%.

Another great thing about season passes is that they offer fringe benefits such as discounts on food, souvenirs, and parking. In addition, most offer early entrance privileges so you can beat the crowds.

Residents Save More

Residents of Florida and California can receive additional savings on park passes to Disneyland®, Disneyworld®, Knott's Berry Farm, and Busch Gardens, which offer discount tickets to state residents. If you live in California or Florida, inquire about them.

Online Savings

Always check the theme park's official website before you go since there could be an online savings offer. In addition, check the local tourism authority for the park you will be visiting. For example, Orlando theme park discounts are available at Go2Orlando.com.

Also, check the Valpak Coupons site before you venture off. Often there are great discounts for theme parks or surrounding attractions, hotels, and restaurants. All you need to do is print out the coupons. Cool!

Tasty Savings

Watch your soda cans and cereal boxes. I've seen many great offers on soda cans with savings for Six Flags, Cedar Point, Sea World, Universal Studios®, etc. By bringing the right can or cereal box top with you to the theme park you could save up to $10.00 per admission!

Savings By Association

Many union members with AFL-CIO affiliation are offered great savings at theme parks with their union privilege card. AAA has some of the best theme park discounts. Members can save 10-20% on admission. In addition, AAA offers great discounts on hotels near theme parks.

Use The Right Credit Card

Six Flags was the first theme park to have it's own credit card offering points and special deals to card holders, now the other big parks are following.  

  • Six Flags Platinum MasterCard® allows card holders to earn Six Flags reward points with every card purchase, good toward free admission, food, or merchandise.
  • Use Universal's Entertainment MasterCard and earn Universal Points that you can use towards a wide variety of entertainment rewards. And there's no limit to the amount of rewards you can earn.
  • Disney's Bank One Visa allows users to accumulate Disney Dream Reward Dollars that can be used for Disney merchandise and vacations.

Coaster & Line Wars

Visitors to the Walt Disney World® theme parks can learn about the FastPass on Disney's web site. The FastPass lets visitors spend less time standing in line and more time enjoying the parks. Visitors just stop by some of their favorite Walt Disney World® attractions and are given a special time at which to return. When they come back at this appointed time, they can quickly board the ride or enter the attraction without the wait. It's easy, and, best of all, it's free!

Another free "line jumper" option is Universal Studios® Universal Express Pass that allows you to jump to the front of any long line. 

The theme park with the fastest, tallest, and scariest roller coaster could be the big winner this summer. So, which roller coasters are considered the best? Answers can vary widely depending upon whom you ask. However, one group does have a list. The National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA) polled its members and came up with the top five wooden and steel coasters:

Top Five Wooden Coasters:
  • Thunderbolt at Kennywood (near Pittsburgh)
  • Cyclone at Coney Island
  • Megafobia at Oakwood Coaster County (Pembrokeshire, U.K.)
  • The Beast (Paramount Kings Island, Ohio -- near Cincinnati)
  • The Comet at Six Flags Great Escape (Lake George, New York)

    Top Five Steel Coasters:

  • Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point (near Cleveland)
  • Steel Phantom at Kennywood (editor's note: Steel Phantom has been replaced by a new faster and scarier coaster called "Phantom's Revenge." )
  • Raptor at Cedar Point
  • Steel Force at Dorney Park (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
  • Nemesis at Alton Towers (Staffordshire, U.K.)

I have been lucky enough to ride eight of the aforementioned coasters. One new coaster is bound to make the next list is Cedar Point's Millennium Force in Sandusky, Ohio. The roller coaster's first hill towers 310 feet, five feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. Having taken a spin on this crazy thing, I will tell you it is scary, and I love it!

Six Flags theme parks across the globe are opening twenty-one new coasters this year. Ohio is the place for hot new roller coasters; four new coasters are being added at Six Flags Ohio (formerly Geauga Lake) near Cleveland. In addition, Paramount's King Island outside Cincinnati is debuting Son of Beast, the tallest, fastest wooden roller coaster. It is also the only looping wooden coaster in the U.S.

With all these new choices and options, plus some savings, it promises to be a great summer at the theme parks!

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