5 Ways to Save Money at Theme Parks This Summer

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Inside Six Flags Magic Mountain Amusement Park Ahead Of Earnings Figures
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It's that time of the year again: Regional amusement parks are opening for the season, and national theme parks are bracing for peak summertime crowds. If you find yourself chasing roller coasters and funnel cakes in the coming weeks, you won't be alone. Roughly 300 million guests are expected to visit U.S. amusement parks this year.

It doesn't have to break the bank. Let's go over some of the tips and tricks to help take some of the financial sting out of a summer of fun at the parks.

1. Respect the Value of a Season Pass

If you think you might end up visiting the same park more than once this summer, a season pass is usually the best deal. Six Flags (SIX), Cedar Fair (FUN) and even SeaWorld (SEAS) price their annual or seasonal passes at price points lower than two separate one-day admissions.

Different passes have different nuances. Some include parking, and that will require working the math of how many times you actually do plan on using the pass. Six Flags and Cedar Fair passes also include admission to sister parks. It's an easy value proposition for them to offer, since few visitors plan to travel to other parks. However, if you do plan to travel around a bit this summer, the season pass is an even better deal.

2. Buy Your Tickets Early

There are still plenty of ways to make a single day at the park cheaper. Discounted tickets are typically available for folks willing to preorder online. Check your park's website for any e-ticket discounts. Pennsylvania's Hersheypark, for example, is offering single-day tickets at 30 percent off through the end of May when purchased from its website. They have to be used by the end of July.

Buying tickets online also usually means you have one fewer line -- at the ticket booth -- to worry about during your day at the park. In short, you can save both time and money by buying your tickets ahead of time through the park's official website.

3. Local Merchants Offer Discounts

Many amusement parks team up with area supermarkets, fast-food chains, and drugstores, offering prepaid tickets on the cheap. Meijer supermarkets, for example, offer Cedar Point tickets for $12 off the gate rate. To be fair, Cedar Point offers the same $12-off discount to folks buying the tickets online, but it's something to keep in mind for folks who don't want to engage in online transactions.

A lot of park operators may not promote these local affiliations on their websites, so a smart strategy is to find enthusiast groups online and ask about any area discounts.

4. Show Up Late

The key to enjoying a day at the park often is to arrive early. Lines for rides will be shortest during the first hour of a park's operating day. However, that's not always an option. Some folks just can't help but to arrive later.

Don't worry, there may be a bargain to be had there, too. Some parks offer discounted tickets to folks arriving later in the day. You can show up at Indiana's Holiday World after 3 p.m. and pay $10 less than those who arrived earlier. Cedar Point offers a discount to arrivals after 4 p.m.

There's also a sweet deal at Hersheypark, where folks with single-day tickets can "preview" the park during the final two-and-a-half hours of operation the night before at no additional cost.

5. Arm Yourself with Potential Discounts

There are plenty more discounts that are readily available. If you're a member of AAA or the military or a first responder, many parks extend cheaper admissions. Teachers can get into SeaWorld or Legoland for free. If you're a member of a credit union, there may also be access to discounted tickets.

Spend as much time researching deals as you do plotting out your day at a park, and you can make sure that you get the most bang for your amusement park buck. It's going to be a great summer to head out to an amusement park, and wild rides don't have to go wild on your pocketbook.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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