Remove all loose items, tighten your safety harness, grab that safety bar and get ready for the holiday of a lifetime. Nothing beats the excitement of visiting a theme park, whether you’re heading to the Gold Coast, Germany, Singapore, or the United States to spend time with the world’s most famous mouse.
Whatever theme park you decide to visit, you need to make the most of your day and your dollars to ensure everyone has a great day out. Maximise your time, save money (and your sanity) and keep the fun factor high when you visit a theme park with these theme park tips for every type of traveller and holiday budget.
When to visit a theme park
Visiting a theme park during low season can save you plenty as there are often special deals, plus accommodation is cheaper. However, based on our family’s two day visit to Walt Disney World in December, you shouldn’t rule out visiting big American theme parks in peak season. The mid-year summer season is ideal for water parks and December offers a magical Christmas experience.
As for the crowds and waiting in line, this didn’t end up bothering us which was a surprise. Everyone was in a good mood and ready for holiday fun, and many locals dressed up in themed outfits such as funny festive t-shirts, loud Christmas sweaters, and Christmas light necklaces. We had such a great time, it felt like all our Christmases had come at once while we were there.
If you would prefer to avoid low season when the weather can be less than ideal, weekdays are better than weekends. School holidays are always the worst when it comes to costs and crowds, but that rule applies to local school holidays, not necessarily those in Australia. We’ve had some fantastic September school holiday visits to overseas theme parks when the local kids were still at school.
Where to stay at a theme park
Finding accommodation which suits your family and your budget is child’s play at the Gold Coast, with hundreds of hotels within easy reach of the theme parks. But what if you’re heading to a theme park overseas? The biggest question for most families visiting USA theme parks is, “Should we stay at an on-site hotel or cheaper accommodation that is close by?” After our visit to Florida last year, we discovered the answer is, “It depends on the size of the park – and your budget.”
Even though we had been to a few other Disney parks, nothing prepared us for the massive size of the five park Florida resort which is as big as San Francisco. Even our handy on-site accommodation at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort was a long way from many parts of the resort. If we had stayed off-site, it would have been a disaster, especially as we only had two days to ‘do Disney’.
However, you don’t need to pay a premium to stay on-site at all USA theme parks. For example, a room at the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando for two adults and two kids costs about US$180 per night, whereas you’ll pay around US$500 to stay on-site at Hard Rock Universal.
Check the theme park ride rules
Before you visit any theme park, check out the map, rides and show times online and ask everyone in the family what they would like to do. Get your measuring tape out too. Now is the best time to break it to younger (or shorter) kids that they can’t go on some rides. Sometimes it won’t be possible to do everything, but everyone can still choose one ‘must do’ activity. Do this before you leave home so the family can plan their days effectively and no one misses out.
How to save money at a theme park
Perhaps surprisingly, many big-name overseas theme parks cost around the same as those in Australia. For example, it costs US$104 for a one-day pass to Disney World and AU$95 for a one-day pass to Dreamworld which is much, much smaller. While the exchange rate and airfares add to the overall cost of heading to an overseas theme park, you get a lot of fun for your holiday dollar.
Whether you are heading to a theme park in Australia or overseas, buying tickets online is usually cheaper, plus the park entry process is quicker too. Keep an eye out for special offers outside local school holidays or during low season when there are accommodation and entry deals.
If you’re travelling with kids, your biggest spend inside the park will probably be food. The good news is many USA theme parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios allow visitors to bring food in. We saved a bundle in Florida by bringing our own lunch, and buying an ice-cream as an affordable treat.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy on the Gold Coast as Dreamworld, SeaWorld and Movie World don’t allow food from outside the park, unless it’s for medical reasons. However, you can ask for a pass-out and eat your lunch outside, then return for more fun in the afternoon.
The other big spend is souvenirs. Agree on how much your kids can buy (or not!) at those tempting theme park gift shops before you arrive. For older children, a daily allowance to cover extras such as soft drinks, snacks, and souvenirs helps to avoid arguments and teach responsibility.
Jump onboard the fun express
There are plenty of ways to get to the front of ride queues faster, even in peak season. And, no, we don’t mean pushing people out of the way. If you are visiting Universal Studios at peak season, consider buying a Universal Unlimited Express Pass which cuts hours off the wait for popular rides. Movie World has a Fast Track pass which allows you to skip the queue on selected rides.
Disney on-site hotel guests can access Magic Hours which allow entry to the park before or after regular opening times. There is also a free Disney FastPass+ option for reserving three rides per day, up to 30 days in advance (or 60 days if you stay onsite, a huge bonus in peak season).
One last tip especially for Australians. Americans tend to gravitate towards the queues for security and entry on the right, probably because they drive on the right-hand side of the road. Opt for a left-hand queue anywhere in the park and you’ll get through quicker.
5 of the best theme parks
Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen in Demark is one of the world’s oldest and most Instaworthy theme parks, filled with historic amusement rides, grand pavilions, carnival games and modern attractions. Don’t miss the Rutschebanen, a wooden coaster built in 1914, which still uses a real brake man on each train.
Walt Disney World Resort
The fun never stops at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Along with half a dozen different theme parks – Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon – there is also a huge Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment precinct.
Wet’n’Wild Gold Coast
Australia’s biggest water park is the perfect way to enjoy the Gold Coast’s fabulous weather. Thrill seekers can take on the Tornado, Blackhole and Kamikaze slides while youngsters enjoy Wet’n’Wild Junior, a kids zone filled with mini versions of the larger thrill slides at Wet’n’Wild Gold Coast.
Germany’s largest theme park has more than 100 attractions, including 13 rollercoasters. One of them has won awards for its ground-breaking VR technology and is so hard core the minimum rider age is 14. For something less intense, there are 15 globally themed lands with their own architecture and foods at Europa-Park.
Universal Studios Orlando Resort
Discover magic of Universal Studios Orlando which is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and three different theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Universal Islands of Adventure and Universal Volcano Bay. More heart-pumping rides than you can poke a wand at make this a top choice for teens. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, we loved the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando
Want to travel smarter and save money? Check out our tips for flying a low cost airline, keeping your luggage safe, visiting Europe in peak season, getting a great car hire deal, avoiding travel scams, saving money at the airport, staying at an Airbnb, finding cheap five star hotel deals, catching public transport overseas, staying safe in a big city, getting the best round-the-world airfares, making the most of a five star hotel stay, travelling during low season, visiting a theme park in peak season, packing a carry on bag, visiting a wine region, planning a romantic getaway, early morning flights, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, multigenerational travel, travelling in a motorhome, buying the best souvenirs, going on safari, visiting the Eiffel Tower, travelling with pets, holidaying with adult children, travelling with teens, and sleeping on a plane.