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It’s not exactly a secret. Walt Disney World is EXPENSIVE. I’m taking my little guy to Walt Disney World in January and we are spending several thousand dollars on just a 3 day trip. No wonder so many dads walk around the park in “most expensive day ever” shirts. Our little family of 3 dropped over 1k on the tickets alone. Universal is another theme park that is high in prices. Whether you are going to Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, you should expect to pay a good amount of money on tickets.
So what if a family doesn’t have that kind of money for a vacation? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered with some wonderful budget-friendly, but still very magical, Ideas!
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Dollywood – Pigeon Forge TN
Dollywood is truly the most beautiful theme park I’ve ever set foot in and as a mulit-season pass holder and travel agent, I’ve set my foot in many! And since Theme Parks are kind of my thing, that’s not an honor I bestow lightly. Since Dollywood is built into the Smoky Mountains, it’s really the natural scenery that shines here.
One of the things I loved about Dollywood is they do a really good job of having things for nonriders to do. There are lots of live shows, country music, of course, and craft demonstrations. Plus, there’s a historic train. And the food at Dollywood is amazing! Don’t miss Aunt Grannies and the CINNAMON BREAD.
Best For: Multigenerational trips, as the grandparents will love all the stuff for non riders. And those looking to escape the city and enjoy the natural beauty of the Smokies.
Skip it if: Your kids are preschool or younger, not much for them to do.
Cost of a 1 Day Ticket: $89
Getting To Dollywood
Fly into Knoxville and rent a car. Pigeon Forge is about a half hour away, but it’s a gorgeous drive, so you won’t mind!
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Where To Stay Visiting Dollywood
Budget-friendly hotel: The Fairfield Inn and Suites is typically less than $100 a night. That’s where my family stays!
Cedar Point – Sandusky Ohio
Cedar Point, located right on beautiful lake Erie, is the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. There are currently 17 (!!) roller coasters at Cedar Point, there will be 18 this summer when they finish the Wild Mouse. Cedar Point is a great destination if you are trying to get your coaster count up.
Although Cedar Point is built for thrill seekers, they have three beautiful kids’ areas, two of which are themed after the Peanuts. And your little ones only need to be 36” tall to hit their first coaster. Most Midwesterns ride their first coaster at Cedar Point.
Cedar Point also has a great waterpark and a beach. Yes, Ohio has beaches.
Best For: Thrill Seekers and Coaster Buffs
Skip it if: You don’t do Roller Coasters. While the kids areas are great for toddlers, they aren’t worth a special trip.
Cost of a 1 Day Ticket: $60 on weekends. They run lots of promotions though, so be sure to check for any available discounts. If you want to go more than 1 day, discounted 2 day tickets and season passes are available.
Where To Stay At Cedar Point
Cedar Point has their own budget hotel, called the Hotel Breakers, which is steps away from the fun! Plus, you can book a ticket package that will save you even more money. If you can’t swing that, there are plenty of other hotels nearby.
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How To Get To Cedar Point
Sesame Place- Philadelphia PA and San Diego CA
Finally, a spot for your preschoolers! Sesame Place has something for everyone, with rides and attractions for the littlest of babies all the way up to roller coasters for the grown-ups to ride. Even though we visited on Memorial Day weekend, the roller coasters were a walk on most of the day, so if you have a little thrill seeker, they’ll be happy!
You can, of course, meet your friends from Sesame Street, eat a meal with Elmo, and take in a parade.
Bring your water gear if it’s warm. There are plenty of splash areas for the kids to enjoy!
Best for: the preschool and younger set, for obvious reasons.
Skip it if: your kids have outgrown Elmo and the gang. While there are adult friendly attractions, this place is built for the little guys.
Cost of a 1 day ticket: $85 but they frequently run sales so you shouldn’t have to pay full price
Where To Stay Visting Sesame Place
The Courtyard Philidelphia offers free shuttles to Sesame Place and free wifi for around $100! If San Diego is your place, check out the Rambler House, with bright rooms and an outdoor pool within miles of the parks. Get your Sesame Place discount tickets here.
How To Get To Sesame Places in SD and Phili
Fly into Philadelphia or Newark for the park in Langhorne, PA or San Diego for the park in San Diego. San Diego is about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles depending on where you start. In both Pennsylvania and California, you will probably want to rent a car since the park is well outside the city. In San Diego, it is possible to Uber or Lyft, but in Philadelphia, the park is much further from the city, so while a car service is probably possible, it wouldn’t be budget-friendly.
Morgans Wonderland – San Antonio TX
Morgan’s Wonderland is the first theme park built for kids with disabilities and special needs in mind. Everything is ultra-accessible and well thought out. The creators of Morgan’s Wonderland had all sorts of special needs in mind when they designed the park. Most of the rides are wheelchair accessible, and there is a sensory village and plenty of quiet areas for those of us who might get a bit overstimulated and need a break.
Forget the big dollar price of Disney Parks, check out the cheap ticket prices for these great theme parks!
There’s also a waterpark next door built with the same ultra-accessible concepts, including revolutionary complimentary waterproof wheelchairs available to borrow.
Best For: Any of the 1 in 6 families who have a child with a disability.
Skip It If: You’re roller coaster people, there aren’t any.
Cost of a 1 Day Ticket: Around $30 for a combo theme and water park ticket. As a non-profit, Morgan’s Wonderland admits folks with disabilities for free.
Where To Stay Visiting Morgan’s Wonderland
Morgans Wonderland recommends the Drury Inn and Suites for discount rates
How To Get To Morgan’s Wonderland
Fly into San Antonio, Morgans Wonderland is right by the airport.
While the above theme parks are all amazing, and you should definitely visit them if you are a theme park buff like me, the cheapest theme park is often the one in your backyard! And don’t be afraid to branch out from the “big names” and visit a small local place near you. Lots of small local theme parks are full of history and very reasonably priced. The most important thing is the memories you make!
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