Theme park day passes: Tips and tricks for making the most of your purchase
Theme park pass prices have recently jumped
Theme parks are a quintessential experience for the young and the young at heart. So if you’re taking your family to destinations like Orlando, Florida; Anaheim, California; Tampa, Florida; Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Sandusky, Ohio; or Williamsburg, Virginia, having a game plan in place before you go saves time, money and hassles.
When you buy a day pass for a theme park, you get access to the park, the shows, the rides and more. Food and drinks are most often extra, unless the park is running a special that includes a meal plan.
Theme park passes are not cheap, so we’ve compiled insider tricks and hacks that can yield value and enhance your experience while visiting a theme park. Fox News has asked travel experts for their tricks to make the most of your theme park tickets.
Waking up extra-early might not sound like your idea of a relaxing trip, but it’s worth it if you’re headed to a theme park.
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"If you can get on the most popular rides before the crowds have arrived, you’ll likely experience far lower wait times," said Sally French, travel expert at NerdWallet.
Arrive within the first hour of the park opening and, if possible, even earlier, she said.
"Not only does an early arrival allow sufficient time to find parking, but some theme parks open the front gates early, thus allowing you entry to the park before it’s even officially opened," added French. Use that time to get through the ticket turnstiles so you’re ready to snag a place in line early as the park opens.
Take an Inventory of the Park’s Offerings
Be sure to check out the theme park’s website to learn about the attractions, rides, shows and special exhibits. For example, at SeaWorld Orlando, the Orca Encounter show only takes place at certain times. Know the show schedule before you arrive so that you can build your itinerary around a particular time. You can also plan to see other highlights at the park like Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin and the Mako roller coaster.
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Go Against the Crowds
Cindy Richards, a spokesperson with SheBuysTravel.com, told FOX Business that most theme parks are set up in a circle so you end up back at the entrance after you have made your way all the way around.
"Most people naturally go right when they enter and work their way around the park counter-clockwise," she said. "So go left and experience the park clockwise. You'll have shorter wait times at least for the first few hours of the day and can cover more ground and ride more rides."
Consider Line-Skipping Services
Services like Genie+ at Disneyland in California can put you in an expedited queue for an additional fee (which recently increased), said French.
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"It’s not for everyone, especially if you’re on a budget," she said. "But even at the newly higher price point, it can still be worth it — especially on busy days."
In general, prices for Disney's Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane vary depending on the day and park demand, said Jodi Grundig, a family travel expert with Family Travel Magazine.
"In my opinion, it's worth splurging if you have limited time on your vacation and want to maximize your time and do as many rides as possible.," she said.
She said Genie+ is a paid upgrade to tickets that is most like the old FastPass system.
"You can make a reservation to return at a specific time to go through a much shorter line," she noted.
Individual Lightning Lane is for the most popular rides at the parks — for example, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot, also in Orlando. Those attractions aren't part of Genie+, and you purchase access to the shorter lines individually, said Grundig.
While you may want to bring lots of things into the park for the day, remember that you will need to carry your bag with you, said Grundig.
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"Moderately heavy bags in the morning become extremely heavy late in the day," she warned.
If your plan is to use a locker to store your belongings, you certainly can, but if you are at a large park it would be a lot of walking to go back and forth — cutting into your time and your day pass’ value.
"One end of Epcot's World Showcase to another is 1.3 miles — it's a big park and the lockers are at the front," Grundig said.
Look for parks where dining is included
Some theme parks offer an all-inclusive option. SeaWorld, for example, runs SeaWorld All Day Dining promotions at select times during the year. Another park, Discovery Cove in Orlando, is all-inclusive day resort guests get a full day to swim, eat and learn.
"Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive day resort, where families can book a day knowing their food, drinks, amenities, and immersive animal adventures are covered," said Crystal O’Hea, spokesperson with Discovery Cove. In addition, Discovery Cove offers military discounts.
Consider Travel Insurance
Many theme parks do not offer refunds for prepaid tickets. For instance, French with NerdWallet said Walt Disney World tickets are nontransferable and nonrefundable except in rare exceptions such as for hurricanes.
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"Therefore, it can be useful to hold travel insurance in case plans change," said French.
For example, "cancel for any reason" coverage is among the most comprehensive types of policies you can have, and covers you no matter why you cancel, as long as you cancel your trip per the requirements in your travel insurance plan, so read it carefully. This top-tier upgrade isn’t cheap, but it gives you the liberty to keep your plans flexible.
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Also, research credit card benefits you may hold in your wallet.
"For travel insurance that won’t cost you anything extra, look to your credit card. Some credit cards offer travel insurance as a benefit, as long as you purchased the trip on that card," added French.