Consumers sick of riding> this year's bumpy economic roller coaster can find great deals on the real thing at amusement parks nationwide.
Declining attendance has parks slashing prices at the gate. Wet N Wild Orlando, for instance, is currently advertising its best deal ever -- unlimited visits to the park during 2009, for the regular single-day pass price of $45. (That's half the price of its regular annual season pass.) Southern California residents can snag a three-day pass to Disneyland at a special rate of $99, compared with $180 for other visitors. In fact, discounts on admission are pretty much standard these days.
"There's typically so much discounting going on at parks that few people actually pay the gate price," says John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors LLC, a Richmond, Va.-based consulting group. Cheaper admission prices are a good start for families watching their wallets, but savvy consumers can cut costs even further by using a few smart moves. Here's how:
Visit on weekdays
Saturdays are amusement parks' busiest days, so many offer discounts for weekday attendees, says David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade group. Through June 11, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is offering a $30 pass to those who visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (regularly admission would cost $44), while Wet 'n Wild knocks $40 off the price of its season pass (regularly $90) if you opt for weekday access only.
Ticket prices on the web are often 35% cheaper, plus you'll save time waiting in line. Online-only promotions are also plentiful this year because the date-specific tickets let parks estimate headcount, they can cut overhead on slow days, says Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com. Buy online at Knott s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., and you ll save $17 off the regular $52 one-day pass.
Stick to one park
With plenty to see and do and long lines for everything aiming to visit multiple parks in one day is overly ambitious for many people, says Danielle Courtnay, spokeswoman for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Save with a single park pass for short visits. At Walt Disney World, a one-day, one-park ticket is $75, while a one-day Park Hopper is $125. You ll save $50.
Arrive late in the day
Arrive at the park once the afternoon rush has dispersed, and you can easily save 20% or more with so-called twilight entry passes, says Mandt. Knott's Berry Farm cuts its ticket price in half after 4 p.m., which gives you four to seven hours in the park.
Look for amusement park coupons on the groceries you buy, and at the restaurants you frequent. Coca-Cola (KO)
Get a season pass
Season passes typically pay for themselves in just two visits, and offer additional value through freebies and special access, says Niles. Six Flags Great Adventure's 3-Park Combo season pass for 2009 costs $130 and includes free passes for a friend on specific dates, free access to 15 other Six Flags parks nationwide and $300 worth of in-park coupons. The $100 VIP season pass for 2009 at King's Dominion in Doswell, Va., provides first-in-line ride access, early entry to the attached water park, half-price deals for friends and free, specially-designated parking.
Check your wallet
Employers, banks, professional organizations and clubs may offer discounts or specially-priced tickets. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers employees $34 tickets to Carowinds (regularly $47), and a $20 discount at Six Flags Over Georgia ($40). Even your driver's license may be helpful in securing a deal. Walt Disney World offers Florida residents discounts on both daily tickets and annual passes. A seven-day park hopper would be $238 $40 cheaper than out-of-state visitors pay.