Forget Disney World! Here Are The Best Parks With Cheap Theme Park Tickets

by | Jan 6, 2023 | Destinations, Family Adventures, Travel Tips, USA

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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! 




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. 


water wheel restaurant - cheap theme park tickets

This is very important. This is where you get the Cinnamon Bread.


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. 


Listen to me very carefully. If you remember one thing from this article, let it be this: GET. 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! 


DON’T MISS! The Best Things To Do In Dollyworld


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. 


water park grasshopper statue - cheap theme park tickets

My little guy was obsessed with the kid friendly water park!


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. 


DON’T MISS! How To Hit 42 Roller Coasters In One Weekend


How To Get To Cedar Point

Fly into Cleveland (about a 1 hour drive) or Detroit (about a 2 hour drive) and rent a car. 


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. 


oscar the grouch in parade - cheap theme park tickets

Even Oscar, typically a Grouch, loves this place!


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. 



There’s also a waterpark next door built with the same ultra-accessible concepts, including revolutionary complimentary waterproof wheelchairs available to borrow. 


Entrance to Morgan's Wonderland - cheap theme park tickets

Morgans Wonderland is a great place for people of all abilities to play TOGETHER.
Photo Courtesy of Druidhills via Wikimedia


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!




Emily Householder Stacey is a Travel Agency Owner and a Travel Writer based in the birth place of Football, Canton Ohio. Emily is a real theme park buff! Her favorite theme park is Kennywood in Pittsburgh PA, where she rode her first roller coaster as a kid.