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How The Theme Park Wars Will Help You Afford The Family Vacation

Jul 14, 2008
Summer is here, the kids are out of school, the economy is in the dumps, and Mickey Mouse wants your money! Don't count out the family theme park vacation just yet. It is still possible to see the new rides and stay within your budget.

This year, Disney hopes that you'll bring the family to see their newest attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania. The new ride has just opened on both costs and reviews are generally very positive. In a normal year, tens of thousands of families would hop in the mini van or cram into coach to visit Mickey and friends and see the newest attraction. But this isn't an ordinary year.

Gas is at a record high, airline tickets have gone through the roof and many regular flights have been dropped - add to that a weakened economy and you have a recipe for lackluster attendance at the theme parks this year. A one day adult ticket at Disney World is currently $71 ($116 if you add the ability to "hop" between parks on the same day), that's a lot of money in any economy. The price goes down for each additional day that you purchase, but there are also expensive meals and hotel rooms to buy as well. It isn't going to be a cheap trip.

Disney isn't the only one that wants your money. Universal Studios parks in both Florida and Hollywood have also opened new family attractions, themed to the Simpson's TV show. The new Simpson's ride is bright, colorful, funny, and receiving great reviews from guests. A one day ticket to Universal Orlando is $71 for an adult and $79 if you would like to "hop" between the two Universal Orlando parks. While still expensive, Universal is generally less expensive than Disney and offers lower priced dining options on the whole.

The marketing teams of both companies are in a battle to convince you to visit the parks. But hotel bookings in the Orlando area are projected to be soft through the end of the year and as the number of potential visitors to the various parks starts to shrink, Disney, Universal, Sea World, and a host of smaller parks and attractions will need to wage war with each other to capture the smaller number of tourist dollars. Keep your eyes open for offers of lowered hotel room rates, dining plans, and ticket discounts - all aimed at luring you into the arms of a fuzzy mouse or plastic Homer.

If you have a little money set aside, this is the perfect time to take that theme park trip. While expensive, you can save lots of money on your family vacation by planning and doing the following:

1) Look for attractions and parks within driving distance of your home to save on the air fare.

2) Check online for discounts on tickets and hotels. Packages and discounts are available for both theme park owned properties and less expensive Off Property hotels. Search planning sites such as MiceChat and discount ticket sites such as OrlandoFunTickets to save yourself a bundle.

3) Consider visiting smaller less-expensive attractions which might take up a day or two of your trip and which can help lower the total number of days that you would need to buy more expensive theme park tickets.

4) Ask about meal plans and refillable soda mugs (both of which are offered from time to time by the various parks and/or hotels).

5) Consider eating a big breakfast before arriving at the parks for the day and then leaving the parks to have dinner at the less expensive restaurants which surround the resorts. Lower cost snacks are much easier to afford at the parks than pricey meals.

6) Make sure you are buying the lowest cost ticket. Parks often promote the more expensive ticket (in Disney's case the "Park-hopper") but less expensive options (such as a single park ticket) often exist and can save you a lot of money.

7) Avoid the busiest weekends. The fewer rooms that a hotel has booked, the lower the rate you can usually get. In addition, the parks are MUCH more enjoyable when they are less crowded.

8) Consider pushing the family vacation into the fall instead of the summer. Once the summer crowds have gone, the real discounts will begin to show up. If you can swing the time from work and can take the kids out of school, this could be a huge savings for you.

9) Ask the kids. Too many families embark on the big family trip without consulting the kids on the agenda first. Find out what they really want to do. Give them some options. List out all of the parks and attractions in town and have them pick the ones that they'd like to visit. You might be surprised to find out that they would rather visit the less expensive zoo or Legoland than the more expensive Disneyland or Universal Studios. At the very least, you can help pad the trip with a few less expensive days. But you won't know until you've had a family meeting.

10) Know your budget. How much do you have to spend? Then price out the trip: hotel, travel (air or car), tickets, meals, souvenirs. If it adds up to more than your budget, start cutting things out. Keep in mind that trips almost always cost more than you expected (fees, tolls, taxes, etc). Don't even consider making the trip until you know what you have to spend. This is the ultimate key. It will reduce your stress and allow you to be comfortable knowing that you can in fact afford the trip you are about to take.

It is possible to see the newest rides and attractions, have a great time with the family, and still keep your vacation within the budget. You'd be surprised how many things you can cut from a vacation (that you won't even miss) to make it affordable.

Woody, Buzz, Bart, Marge, Homer, and Shamu are eagerly waiting for you.
About the Author
Dustysage is the Editor of MiceChat the wildly popular Disney fan community and news site. You are warmly invited to check out all the theme park magic for yourself.
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