Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Saving Money at Busch Gardens
When I was a kid, you couldn’t even pay me to ride a roller coaster.
Now that I’m a little bit — all right, a lot — older, I can totally see the appeal in being strapped into machinery that throws you around at wild speeds. (Adulthood is weird, man.)
But that’s where we run into a problem: The folks who own those contraptions generally ask you to pay them for the privilege of screaming your head off. And in many cases, they ask you to pay quite dearly.
Maybe kid-me was on to something.
How to Save Money on Your Busch Gardens Adventure
Fortunately, high costs don’t have to break a Penny Hoarder’s adventurous spirit.
There are tons of ways to save money on your next trip to your family’s favorite theme park. And if you live near Tampa, Florida, or Williamsburg, Virginia, Busch Gardens might be it.
Each park offers roller coasters, live entertainment, a variety of dining options and even the chance to get up close and personal with wildlife.
At the risk of sounding as cliche as possible, this really is a something-for-everyone scenario.
Unfortunately, that fact is reflected in the parks’ ticket prices, which start at $80 per person in Williamsburg and $89.99 per person in Tampa… just for one day.
So we did some research and spoke to an expert to bring you the very best Busch Gardens coupons, promo codes, discounts and tips for chipping away at that high price on your next trip.
Here they are.
1. Buy your tickets ahead of time.
Let’s get one thing straight right up front: You do not want to buy your ticket at the park.
“Don’t ever buy your ticket at the gate. I’ll tell you that right now,” quipped Busch Gardens Tampa associate marketing manager Stephanie Fred, when I asked her for her best single piece of advice on saving money on park tickets.
That $89.99 I quoted above for a day pass at Tampa? That’s what it costs to buy your ticket online. If you buy your pass when you arrive at the gate, you’ll pay $104.99 — after waiting through an atrocious line. No, thank you.
Buying online ahead of time will save you time and money — and it’ll also give you the chance to scout around for an even better deal.
Which leads us to:
2. If you want the best Busch Gardens coupons and promo codes, do your research.
The good news is, you can find tons of Busch Gardens discount tickets, coupons and promo codes.
The less-good news is, there’s no easy way to tell you where to find them or which one’s best.
“There are usually about 20 promotions going on at one time,” explained Fred, and they all depend on your individual market.
For example, Busch Gardens Tampa partners with Publix, Firehouse Subs and Dailey’s to bring different discount offers to customers.
You might also find steeply marked-down tickets for either park on Groupon, depending on the time of year.
Your best bet is plan well ahead and shop around.
“Definitely do your research online,” Fred remarked.
3. If you’re eligible, take advantage of student, AAA member or active duty military discounts.
To add another complication (but in a good way, because saving money), Busch Gardens also offers a wide array of membership discounts.
For instance, Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers a special discount to university and college students, and Busch Gardens Tampa used to. (The program was discontinued due to alleged lack of interest, but it might come back.)
The parks have also run promotions specific to residents of their respective states, but again, the details change seasonally.
Many SeaWorld-owned parks, including both Busch Gardens locations, offer the Waves of Honor pass, which allows active duty military members one complimentary park admission per year for themselves and up to three direct dependents. This offer is — you guessed it! — only available online, and not at the park gate.
If you’re a AAA member, check current club offerings for Busch Gardens discount tickets. They’ve been offered for both Tampa and Williamsburg in the past. Specific promotions vary and are available only to current members, but may beat out the prices listed at the official park website.
4. Consider upgrading your ticket — strategically.
No matter where you finally end up buying your tickets — and which promotions, coupon codes and discounts apply — if you plan on making a repeat trip anytime soon, upping to the next tier might save you a bundle.
For instance, let’s consider a one-day ticket to the Busch Gardens park in Tampa. As mentioned above, that ticket will cost you $89.99 — and that’s before you pay for parking, which, as I write this post, costs a minimum of $20. Yikes.
If you spend an extra $10, however, you can get a “Fun Card,” which gets you free access to the main Busch Gardens park as well as its associated Adventure Island waterpark for the rest of 2017. (This is a seasonal promotion that ends on April 30, 2017 — but something similar is bound to take its place thereafter.)
And if you upgrade to an annual pass for $168 (or 12 monthly payments of $14), you’ll get unlimited access to the park with no black-out dates… and you’ll also score free parking.
That means if you visit Busch Gardens four times in a given year, you’ll make up the extra cost of the annual pass in parking costs alone.
Annual pass holders also get a stream of fun monthly rewards — everything from lanyards to Christmas ornaments to free samples at the Food and Wine Festival.
And if you’re vacationing for several days and want to check out more than just one park, it’s way better to bundle your ticket purchases together than to buy them a la carte.
Both Busch Gardens locations offer discounted packages that include access to other affiliated parks in their area — like SeaWorld and Aquatica in Florida, or Colonial Williamsburg and Water Country USA in Virginia. If you’ve got more than roller coasters on the brain, Tampa’s City Pass includes a single-day Busch Gardens ticket, as well as admissions for the Lowry Park Zoo, two local aquariums and a museum of your choice.
That said, avoid frivolous upgrades, like the $6 upcharge on the already-absurd parking fee. All “preferred” means is you get to park a little bit closer to the entrance. Since you’re already planning on walking all day long, what’s a few hundred extra yards?
The best advice: Thoroughly review all the upgrade options, and take advantage of the ones you’ll actually use… but only those.
With so many combinations, you might get overwhelmed and be tempted to simply say, “The works.” But take your time and purchase wisely, and you just might save a heap of cash.
5. Get smart about snacks.
One upgrade that may very well be a smart move: the all-day meal deals available at both parks.
Although it might seem like the price of entry is the major pain point, Fred explained, kids get hungry — and when you see the tempting, carnival-esque offerings in the parks, you might cave in, too.
Both Busch Gardens locations offer inclusive “meal deals” that offer a decent amount of food at a fixed price, so you know exactly what you’ll spend on food ahead of time — instead of nickel-and-diming yourself to death on turkey legs and funnel cakes.
Right now, it’s $34.99 to upgrade an adult ticket to the All-Day Dining Deal in Tampa, and $19.99 to upgrade a child’s ticket. That might sound steep, but check out what it includes:
- One entree
- One side or dessert
- One fountain drink, iced tea or bottled water
That doesn’t sound great, until you see that you get all of that once per hour at each of the five participating restaurants in the park.
Heaven help you if you need more food than that to get you through a day.
(Do note, however, that “sharing is prohibited,” so each party member will need their own wristband.)
Williamsburg’s current offers are a little more complicated and arguably less exciting.
The main deal gets you a single meal, and it’s just one entree and one snack — though the adult price of $23.59 includes two alcoholic beverages, so that’s fun.
If you upgrade to the “deluxe” dining plan for $33.59, you’ll ditch the booze but get two entrees, a side and a dessert or snack, as well as a 28-ounce “Drink All Day” souvenir cup, which gets you free fountain drinks or ICEE refills — but only on the day of purchase. (You can also buy it on its own for $13.99.)
One final piece of advice — and this is a bit of a gray area — consider bringing your own food into the park.
Although each park’s official rules say “outside food and drinks are not allowed in Busch Gardens,” Fred says that as long as it’s short of an out-and-out picnic meal, you can probably get away with packaged snacks.
Since some people have specific dietary restrictions that won’t necessarily be met by theme park food (imagine!), it’s more of a “safety issue,” she said. It might be cheating a little… so always let your conscience be your guide.
One thing thing you’re definitely allowed to bring inside, however, is your own water bottle, and we would highly recommend you do so.
Bottled water is always way overpriced at theme parks, since it’s an absolutely necessity. Fill up at the water fountain and quench your thirst for saving both your money and the earth.
Happy adventuring, Penny Hoarders — hold on tight!
Your Turn: What’s your favorite ride at Busch Gardens?
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere.