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 in Orlando, Fla., for instance, is advertising its "best deal ever": unlimited visits to the park in 2009 for the regular single-day pass price of $45 -- half the price of its regular annual season pass. The Six Flags amusement parks are offering the rest of 2009 for free to those who buy 2010 annual passes. In fact, admission deals 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, the managing director of Leisure Business Advisors, a consulting group in Richmond, Va. 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
Wet 'n Wild knocks $40 off the price of its season pass (regularly $89.95) if you opt for weekday access only.
Disneyland fans can buy annual passes to the Southern California amusement park for $289 -- the same cost as three daily tickets -- if they skip holidays and peak season Saturdays.
On select "Summer Savings" days, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is offering a $30 pass (regularly admission would cost $44.99), while
Buy onlineTicket prices on the Web are often as much as 35% cheaper; plus you'll save time by not waiting in line. Online-only promotions are also plentiful this year. Because the date-specific tickets let parks estimate head count, they can cut overhead on slow days, says Robert Niles, the editor of ThemeParkInsider.com.
Buy online at Knott's Berry Farm,for example, and you'll save $23 off the regular one-day pass. Buying a one-week pass to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Island of Adventure takes $25 off the $124.99 at-the-gate price.
Stick to one parkWith 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 Courtenay, a 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 $79, while a one-day Park Hopper pass is $140. You'll save $61.
Arrive late in the dayArrive 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.
Wet 'n Wild cuts its at-the-gate ticket price in half after 2 p.m., which gives you three hours in the park.
Clip couponsLook for amusement park coupons on the groceries you buy and at restaurants you frequent. Cereal and soft-drink makers are among the most frequent coupon providers.
Be sure to check for online-only coupons you can print out for additional savings.
Get a season passSeason passes typically pay for themselves if you visit as little as twice in a year, and offer additional value through freebies and special access, says Niles. Busch Gardens in Tampa sells a one-year pass for $99.95, while a day's admission costs $69.95 at the gate. Similar savings are available at SeaWorld in San Diego: a single-day pass is $65, while you can buy a 14-month Silver pass online for $99.
The $174.99 VIP season pass for 2010 at Kings 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 walletEmployers, 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 $37) and a $20 discount at Six Flags Over Georgia ($40). Even your driver's license may be helpful in securing a deal. Disneyland offers Southern California residents steep discounts on annual passes. Members of the military also enjoy cheaper admission at many U.S. theme parks.
This article was reported by Kelli B. Grant for SmartMoney.
Updated Sept. 29, 2009