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Originally published Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 7:03 PM

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How to save at theme parks

Tips for cutting costs on entrance tickets, food, parking and more.


The Associated Press

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Some U.S. theme parks — including Disneyland — recently raised ticket prices, just in time for summer travel. But don’t let that put a damper on your plans. Here are some ways to control the costs of a visit.

TICKETS

It’s usually cheaper to buy tickets online than at the gate. Printing out tickets at home also means less time wasted at the park waiting to buy tickets.

You’ll pay premium prices for one-day tickets, making multiday tickets a better deal. Universal Orlando’s one-day ticket for both its parks runs $136, but a four-day park-to-park pass is $195.99 — $49 a day.

At some parks, a season pass will pay for itself in two visits. At Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, you can trade in a single-day general admission ticket for a pass good for the rest of the year at no additional charge.

Sign up for park email newsletters, which often include exclusive deals; look for savings on websites such as Groupon.com. Check park websites for special offers and planning guides.

Christopher Elliott, a travel-consumer expert (whose column runs in NWTraveler and online at seattletimes.com/travel) says “a lot of travel agents — particularly AAA agents — have some really great deals not available online.”

Also check with your employer, union, university and other groups to see if they have access to park deals. Many parks also offer discounts to members of the military.

For Costco’s theme park discounts, see costco.com/theme-parks.html. For AAA offers, click on “Entertainment and Attractions” at AAA.com/searchfordiscounts. And don’t forget to check airline packages

Some parks let you bring in food and drinks; others don’t. You can always bring a collapsible water bottle and fill it from a fountain.

If you’re not parked too far away, plan a tailgate picnic at mealtime.

If you don’t mind sharing, the supersized drink is always a better deal than small cups. Some parks offer large souvenir cups with free refills.

PARKING

If you’re flying to California or Orlando and plan a multiday visit to Disney or Universal, consider the cost of car rentals, gas and parking when pricing hotels. Even if rooms are cheaper away from the park, you might save money (and time) staying at a park-run hotel with free shuttles to and from the park — and avoiding renting a car completely. Packages at park-run properties may include other incentives, like meal discounts and extra hours at the park.

Elliott notes that “time is money” at a theme park. The longer it takes to get into the park from your car, the less time you have for rides.

EXTRAS

Before you go, make a budget for extras. Give kids $10 or $20 each to blow as they please, but once you set the limit, don’t budge.

Alternatively, declare all extras off-limits. Stay out of gift shops; ignore pricey souvenir photos of screaming kids on roller coasters; say no to activities with additional fees like carnival games, bungee-jumping and ziplining.

PACK WELL

Avoid rip-off prices in the park. Bring sunscreen, camera supplies and rain ponchos from home.



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