When it comes to summer daycations, there's nothing kids like more than amusement parks. But admissions, souvenirs and an afternoon of hot dogs and cotton candy can drain a budget faster than a 7-year-old can suck down a Slushie.
The good news is that there are ways to keep the costs down and one of the best is to get your tickets in advance online. Most parks offer web-only discounts and deals you won't get at the gate. (Plus, printing out your passes at home saves time standing in line for tickets when you arrive.) Sign up for e-mail alerts and venues will send you discount offers.
For example, if you're planning repeat visits, it pays to do the math. Check on season passes, which can save money on regular day admissions.
Go off-times. Some parks offer discounts mid-week or for late-afternoon and evening visits.
Look for savings on sites like Groupon.com and warehouse clubs including Sam's Club, BJs and Costco. Check with your employer, AAA, AARP and other groups to see if they offer discounted tickets. Some parks offer specials to military and veterans.
Check soda cans, cereal boxes, grocery stores and fast food chains for discounted admissions coupons. For example, Six Flags teams up with Coke each year to offer deals. Log onto www.sixflags.com and enter "COKE" in the promo code box. A calendar with discounts will appear; you pick the day you want to visit and order online. Big Y card members get discounts at Old Sturbridge Village, Roger Williams Park Zoo and other family destinations.
Entertainment Books are annual directories featuring hundreds of money-saving offers for attractions, including discounts on one-day tickets at Six Flags New England in Massachusetts. (The books also include coupons for deals at fast food and family casual restaurants. There are two Connecticut editions (Fairfield County and Hartford/New Haven). Just in time for vacation savings, the 2014 regionalized books, which normally sell for $35, are marked down to $8.99, (with free shipping), if you order online at www.entertainment.com.
Save on snacks. Some parks let you bring in your own food and drinks; some don't. Policies are usually listed on park websites. Most will let you bring an empty plastic water bottle that you can fill at fountains throughout the day; along with baby food and formula. Some parks have picnic areas outside the gate. Consider packing a picnic and eating before or after your visit.
Decide on extras before you go. At some parks, you'll pay a surcharge for special areas or activities. Mapping out an itinerary ahead of time — and sharing it with everyone — can help avoid meltdowns. And set your limits on souvenirs. Spending money on junky toys that break on the way home is a fun day buzz kill.
Pack a tote with sunscreen, baby supplies, pain relievers, bandages, your camera and any other necessities you might need. Buying the same items from the gift shops will cost you big bucks.
If you're doing a road trip, fill up with the cheapest gas before you go. Apps such as Gasbuddy, Fuel Finder and Cheap Gas provide updated lists of the best deals.
Use caution when purchasing discounted tickets and season's passes from eBay or Craig's List. The Connecticut Better Business Bureau says summer is a hot time for ticket scams and you could end up with counterfeit tickets or no tickets at all.
Here are some deals at area attractions.
>>Along with a sandy beach, Ocean Beach Park has a boardwalk, amusement park rides, Olympic-sized pool, water slide and spray park and miniature golf. The price of parking, $22 on weekends, includes park admission for everyone riding in the car. (There are additional charges for some activities.) Information: www.ocean-beach-park.com.
>>Six Flags New England in Springfield is offering a Thrill Pass. For $59.99, (the price of an adult full-price one-day admission), you can get unlimited visits all summer.
>>Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury (Quassy.com) has a number of summer discounts, including 50-Cent Fabulous Fridays. On Fridays after 5 p.m., rides, hot dogs, and small sodas are 50 cents each. (Not valid on July 4.)
>>CoCo Key Water Resort, an indoor water park in Waterbury, offers a range of admission specials, including Seasonal Day Passes, good for three months of unlimited visits, for $59 each. On some weeknights, the resort offers discounted "twilight" specials for admission between 4 and 8 p.m. Check the calendar for dates. Information: www.cocokeywaterbury.com or 203-706-1000.
>>Lake Compounce offers online tickets deals. Buy your ticket online three days in advance and you'll save $4 on regular admission price; buy tickets seven days in advance and you'll save $7.