Theme Parks Thrill Visitors with Discounts
New roller coasters and other attractions are likely to beckon vacationers to the nation's theme parks this summer, but what's likely to really thrill cash-strapped visitors are the unusual number of high-season discounts being touted at many of those parks.
"Parks are discounting more aggressively than they have in past years," says Robert Niles, editor of the Web site ThemeParkInsider.com. "They understand that their market doesn't have as much money to spend, but they want them to spend what they do have with them."
Seasonal theme parks typically offer various discounts to drive local traffic, but this summer the large destination parks are attempting to lure customers with offers of free food, free hotel stays and even free admission.
Value-added promotions, such as free room nights, are more common than outright ticket price reductions, notes Jeff Putz of CoasterBuzz.com. "The parks are trying to push the perception of value. They aren't necessarily making drastic cuts in (admission) prices."
Bargains may even get better. Mary Waring of MouseSavers.com, a site that tracks deals at the Florida and California destination theme parks, believes the bounty of offers snapped up earlier in the year for early and peak summer travel, may mean empty rooms come fall. "They may have to roll out some extraordinary deals for fall," she says.
Among the deals:
— Book a Busch Entertainment Worlds of Discovery vacation package for three nights and they'll throw in two extra nights for free, including unlimited admission for four to two parks — SeaWorld and Aquatica or SeaWorld and Busch Gardens — for the length of the stay. Packages start at $637 for four. Book by Sept. 1 and complete the stay by Dec. 31. 888-800-5447; WorldsofDiscoveryGetaways.com.
— Swim with the dolphins for less at Discovery Cove by booking at least 30 days in advance through Dec. 18. The "Book Early and Save" promotion lops $50 off the regular $289 and $359 admissions. 877-434-7268; discoverycove.com.
— Book a five-night hotel/theme park ticket package at Walt Disney World Resort and they'll feed you, too (up to four in a room). The plan includes one restaurant meal, one quick-service meal and a snack from numerous park eateries, daily for every night booked. Rates start at $1,390. Bookings must be made by June 21 for stays Aug. 16-Oct. 3. 407-934-7639; disneyworld.com.
—Universal Orlando Resort has a Kids Free Package that brings the price of a four-night stay at an off-site hotel, with park admission, to as low as $533, including shuttle to the park. The same package at one of Universal's in-park hotels starts at $986. Book by July 31 for travel through Oct. 8.
— Book three nights with park passes at a Disneyland Resort hotel (or off-resort partner hotels) and get two free nights with park passes to Disneyland and California Adventure parks for up to four people. Book by Aug. 11 for arrival through Sept. 26. 800-854-3104; disneyland.com.
—Universal Studios Hollywood has partnered with five nearby hotels to offer lodging with breakfast, parking and shuttle service, plus seven-day park admission, starting at $93 per person, with a two-night minimum, valid through Dec. 31. Book by Aug. 31. It's also offering a second-day pass free, good within 30 days through 2009, with the online purchase of a one-day pass. 818-622-3750; Universalstudioshollywood.com.
— In Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Hard Rock Park, which both opened and closed in 2008, has been rebranded as the Freestyle Music Park and an $39.95 adult entry fee, $10 less than what the old park charged. 843-236-7625; FreestyleMusicPark.com.
—Book a room at the Hershey Lodge or The Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., and get four tickets to Hersheypark, plus breakfast for two kids. Rates start at $295, valid in June with some blackout dates. 800-437-7439; Hersheypark.com.
FINDING PARK DISCOUNTS
Theme park discounts are there for those who look for them. Some suggestions from Robert Niles of ThemeParkInsider.com:
Check individual park websites. Theme parks, particularly smaller regional ones, are sensitive to daily attendance fluctuations and react with short-term deals posted on their sites. Smaller parks also have tie-in promotions with local retail outlets or commercial products.
Always pre-book tickets. You'll make a more informed purchase decision and skip the line at the ticket booth.
Visit destination parks when local schools are still in session. "Time is money in the theme park," says Niles. "If you can do twice the stuff, it doubles the value."
NEW ROLLER COASTERS
A handful of new roller coasters are among the most anticipated new thrill rides at U.S. theme parks. Among them:
— Diamondback is billed as the "tallest, fastest, meanest" coaster at Kings Island near Cincinnati. Its 5,200 feet of steel track rise to 230 feet above the park, where it twists and turns over 10 acres and makes a water landing. Visitkingsisland.com.
— Visitors to SeaWorld Orlando can make like they're swimming with the fishes on the new Manta attraction, a steel coaster built to look like a giant manta ray. Riders are secured face down to the belly of the beast, which reaches speeds of almost 60 mph on 3,359 feet of track. Part of the attraction is the ride's queue, where 10 aquariums house 3,000 animals, including 300 mantas. Ridetheflyingray.com.
— Six Flags Magic Mountainin Valencia, north of Los Angeles, has a new 2,850-foot wooden coaster with a post-apocalyptic theme. Terminator Salvation: The Ride sports five hills and six high-speed banked turns. Sixflags.com/magicmountain.
— Prowler, the latest coaster at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Mo., hits speeds of 51 mph as it soars over 3,074 feet of track that cut through the park's tree canopy. Prowler.worldsoffun.com.
— Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, opening this summer at Universal Studios Florida, is a high-speed coaster that lets riders choose their own music soundtrack. Universalorlando.com.