One of Your Best Travel Bargains: Annual Park Passes
Are you a bargain hunter? Love budget travel? History? Outdoor Adventures? What about supporting local, state, and national treasures? Well then, read on for one of the best (and my favorite) travel deal: annual park passes.
One of the things that enables us to travel as often as we do is to save money where we can and get the most out of our travel dollars. One way we do that is with annual passes. In this post I will tell you about some different passes, why we love them, their benefits, and our favorite pass. It’s kind of long post (I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I love to talk, wink), but I want to make sure my readers have plenty of information, so get comfy.
State Park Passes
I’ve briefly mentioned park passes before and one of those is state park passes. There are some really great state park systems out there. You can usually find a state park within a short drive from home, making them perfect for day trips or weekend getaways. Rhode Island for example, has 9 state parks, even though it is such a tiny state! If you are lucky enough to live in Washington State, you really get a deal because they have 186 state parks! That’s not even counting the state recreation and wildlife areas. Their Annual Discover Pass is only $35 for a family and good for up to two vehicles. What an amazing value! (Ok now I sound like an infomercial. This is NOT a sponsored post, but I’m not opposed to doing a sponsored post if anyone is interested!) Makes me wish I lived closer to Washington. Oh well, maybe someday…
In South Carolina, where we currently live, there are 43 state parks in SC. There are two state parks in my region, both less than a 30 minute drive away. Both of these parks have great hiking and biking trails, beaches, swimming, fishing, camping, nature centers, and wildlife. One also has a National Historical Site. Within a two hour drive south are 3 more parks and a wildlife preserve. Two of these parks, Charles Town Landing and the USS Yorktown, would be worth an annual pass if you only went to these parks. They have almost endless activities, history, outdoor, and educational opportunities. You get unlimited visits for a calendar year to all 43 parks for $75! This is an incredible travel deal and most state parks are within this same price range. Some state park passes, as you read above, are even less.
Most states also offer reduced or free passes for seniors, short term or permanently disabled, military, etc. I found it very interesting that Washington State offers a free park pass for registered foster parents, which I just love.
We always get a SC State Park Pass and if we will be visiting multiple parks in another state while on vacation, we will get their state park pass as well. If you live close to a state line, it may also be worth getting a bordering state pass. I’m all about #findyourpark!
* Travel Tip: If you pay for your passes with your travel rewards credit card, you add to your savings.
For the adrenaline junkies, annual amusement passes can be a great travel value. While these won’t be suitable for everyone, there are numerous locations with amusement parks close enough to visit multiple times a year so the annual passes pay off. In my experience, you can do that by making 2-3 visits in a year. My family typically uses ours more than that, but that’s pretty much the minimum to get your money’s worth out of the pass. Some (most) passes come with additional perks and discounts such as percentages off food, lodging, camping, and souvenirs. Some also offer free or discounted friends and family passes, as well as entry to special events like Halloween and Christmas. These passes generally run from $75-150 each, with the exception of bigger parks like Disney World and Universal. If you’re lucky enough to live close to Disney though, you probably live in Florida and qualify for a FL resident discount, yah!
When I lived in Florida in the early 2000s, I bought a Universal Studios annual pass every year. This was back when they were $99 for a year. I haven’t had one since about 2004 when I left Florida. Since we were making at least two trips to Universal Studios Orlando in 2017, we looked at the annual passes to see if they saved us money. Shockingly, a 1 day – 2 park Universal ticket is $165!!! The way we looked at it, if you are going for more than 3 days, the pass saves you money. It is also nice that they offer a down payment with low monthly payments instead a several hundred dollar cost at once. (Plus to get this you have to charge them and you get more credit rewards points) The Power Pass worked best for us since the only blackout dates were most of the month of April (Spring Break) and Christmas week. They offer 4 different annual pass levels ranging from $208 to $432 per pass. Florida residents get a pretty decent discount on passes, especially if you add in that you live closer and can use them more. That definitely makes for a low per visit price. The pass includes the two amusement parks and (hopefully) the new water park opening May 2017.
Walt Disney World
So I’m just going to drop the bomb all at once: Disney Platinum Annual Passes are $780 plus tax for the year…I’ll give you a minute to catch your breath. This is for all 4 parks, no blackout dates, free parking, photo pass downloads, and 20% off select food and merchandise. Florida residents passes are $724 for Platinum plus tax and they do offer payment options. They also offer some lower levels of passes. If you are going for a full week or you live near enough to go several times during the year, it may be worth it. Disney is expensive but it is awesome folks and sometimes you have to pay for awesomeness lol. Plus, I kind of consider Disney a splurge but it’s one that is worth it. We spend a week there every other year at Thanksgiving but usually just do 3-5 day passes and go to Universal Studios the other days.
Living in SC, we get a Carowind’s Gold Passes, which I think are a good value. Depending on when you get them, they run an average of $100 but if you renew or buy early you get additional perks. It is basically two parks in one because it includes both the amusements and water parks.
Carowinds is also part of the Cedar Fair group of parks which means the Platinum Pass ($189 each) is good at all 13 parks. They have great add-ons too like a drink cup with free refills for the season ($27), and meal plans that include two meals for each day you’re at the park(s) for the season ($87 single park, $113 for all 13 per person/season pass).
With the exception of the central US states, there is a Cedar Fair location fairly close to almost everyone else.
Cedar Fair Parks and Locations
California Great America – Santa Clara, CA (near San Francisco)
Knott’s Berry Farm/Soak City Water Park – Buena Park, CA (southern California)
Worlds of Fun/Oceans of Fun Watermark – Kansas City, MO
Valley Fair – Shakopee, MN (SW of Minneapolis)
Michigan Adventure, Muskegon, MI (NW of Grand Rapids)
Cedar Point/Cedar Point Shores Waterpark – Sandusky, OH (SE of toledo)
Kings Island – Kings Mills, OH ( Near Cincinnati)
Canada’s Wonderland – Vaughan Ontario (Toronto)
Dorney Park – Allentown, PA
Kings Dominion – Doswell, VA (Richmond)
Carowinds – Charlotte, NC
* Travel Tip: Usually, if you renew annual passes to amusement parks, the price goes down a little for each year of renewal. It’s a way to reward their loyal, repeat customers.
National Parks Pass/America the Beautiful Pass
And now for our favorite purchases of the year. This is not just our favorite park pass but our favorite vacation investment. I also consider it an investment in America’s and our children’s futures as well. It is the America the Beautiful Pass from the Department of the Interior! Aside from Americas’s stunning National Parks, this pass also includes National Battlefields, National Historical sites, National Recreational sites, National Forests, and other federal lands. It is good to almost 500 different sites! It is all for only $80 a year. All 4th graders qualify to get a free annual pass, the passes are also free if you are current/retired US Military or Disabled. If you are a senior 62 or over, a lifetime pass is only $10.
The passes cover the park entrance fees and occasionally some museum fees as well. It usually gets you at least a discount on any additional fees for tours, etc, as well as on camping and in some of the gift shops. Some of the larger parks, like Yellowstone, have entrance fees of $25 so if you are going to be visiting a couple in a year, (and you will if you travel like an Adventure Dawg!) the pass will pay for itself. Even if we didn’t use it enough though, I would still buy it just to support our National Parks and Landmarks. We buy one every year and will continue to. I know I say it often, but if we don’t support and teach our children and upcoming generations to protect and support these places, they will not be here in the future. That is a future I don’t want.
I know this was along post but I hope you found it helpful. I know there are other passes that didn’t get included too. Look around and research your own area to find the deals that are out there. You can also check organizations like AAA to see if they have any offers for members. In my book, the vacation starts with the planning! The better the research, the better the deals, the better the trip. Plus, the more money you save, the more adventures you can have!
Your turn, how about y’all? Any passes you know about or buy annually? How about any other travel deals? Let us know in the comments or shoot us an email! We love to hear from you!
Live Your Adventure,
Sharing is caring!