Aside from the lack of snow and ice, it's great to be a Floridian in winter for the deals theme parks and attractions roll out during the slow time. The bargains come when the weather and the crowds are tepid.
Some of this year's Florida resident deals, especially at Walt Disney World, are pricier than in years past. With parks adding more-elaborate attractions every year, and with one-day tickets climbing over the $100 barrier, some theme park veterans worry that the days of deep discounts are dwindling.
But there are bargains to be found: Busch Gardens is throwing in a free Adventure Island water park pass. Disney and Universal essentially give you a third day free. And even Lowry Park Zoo has a new ticket that lets you pay for a day and come back all year.
"This is the time of year to go," said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, an industry blog. "The holidays are over, spring break hasn't started yet, neither has the humidity or the afternoon thunderstorms, and you can find relatively small crowds."
Niles emphasized the word "relatively" since Disney World, the largest tourist draw in the world, rarely has much of a slow season anymore.
"Gone are the days when you can show up on a slow day and walk on everything in the park," Niles said.
David Carik of Sarasota is the kind of roller coaster fan who will stop by Busch Gardens in Tampa once a week to "sit back and ride out my stress on a roller coaster without having to wait in a 45-minute line."
This is one of his favorite times of year, he said, before spring breakers arrive.
"I've learned more about the animals at Busch Gardens these past couple weeks than ever before because employees aren't so busy with crowd control that they can spend some time" answering questions, said Carik, 47.
He noted that the special programming Busch Gardens rolls out this time of year, such as oldies acts like the Drifters and Felix Cavaliere's Rascals, give older crowds a reason to come to the park.
Niles worries that 2017 might not see as many deals because all of the major theme parks have attention-getting new attractions coming this summer. Busch Gardens' new Cobra's Curse ride opens later this year. SeaWorld is almost finished building Mako, touted as the tallest, longest and fastest roller coaster in the Orlando theme park market. Disney is opening Frozen Ever After in Epcot. And Universal is opening Skull Island: Reign of Kong, a mammoth attraction getting lots of buzz.
"The parks have been using discounting to keep people moving in during slow times," Niles said. "But by 2017, we're going to see a lot opening up, and unless the economy completely tanks, I worry these discounts could really go away."
Busch Gardens: Get a free pass to the Adventure Island water park if you buy a 2016 Busch Gardens Fun Card — a savings of nearly $50. The $99 Fun Card gives you unlimited admission through Dec. 31. The special ends Feb. 29. Visit buschgardens.com.
Disney World: Disney upped its ticket prices last year and, in the same fashion, isn't offering as steep a discount on its Florida resident deals as in years past, though it's still a deep discount. The best bargain is a four-day pass for $209, or $52 a day. There's also a three-day deal for $189, or $63 a day. That gets you into one Disney park per day, and you have flexibility on when to use them, though there are blackout dates. Still, it cuts in half the usual $105 cost of a one-day adult ticket to the Magic Kingdom. And Florida residents can find hotel packages at Disney that start at $99 a night for most Sunday through Thursday nights if booked before March 3. Go to disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Universal Studios: The Orlando home of Harry Potter has a third-day-free offer on sale through April 12 if you buy a two-day ticket. They are good for 14 days from the first use and must be used by May 31. The deal works on both park-to-park tickets to move between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure within the same day, and one-park tickets. And you don't have to be a Florida resident for this one. It's valid for residents of the United States and Canada. The current price of a two-day, two-park pass is $194.99. But for Florida residents, there's a deal right now valid through April 18 that adds up to three months free on any annual pass, starting at $214.99. You need a Coca-Cola UPC Code to get the three months free on an annual pass. The offer is valid on new purchases only and must be purchased and activated by April 18. Click on the Annual Passes page of universalorlando.com.
SeaWorld: This year SeaWorld unveiled a simplified ticket pricing structure with discounts. Though the park raised its gate ticket price to $99, you can save $20 just by buying online. For Florida residents, the Preschool Card gives kids 5 or younger free admission through Dec. 31. Cards must be registered online and redeemed in the park by May 27. Other online deals include two visits to any park for $99, or three visits to any park for $109. Visit SeaWorldOrlando.com.
Lowry Park Zoo: New this year at Lowry Park Zoo is a pricing deal that lets you pay for a day and come back all year. The park also added some benefits to memberships, such as bringing a guest for free. The new "pay for a day" ticket, nicknamed the ZooperPass, can be purchased online or at the ticket window for $29.95 for adults, or $22.95 for ages 3-11. The pass is valid from the date of purchase through Dec. 31, and blackout dates apply. Visit lowryparkzoo.org .
MOSI: Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry, which just opened a visiting Dinosaurs in Motion exhibition, has a $20 Pirate Deal that saves $5 per person for up to four people using the promo code "pirate" at the box office or online at mosi.org. The museum also has a discount for guests 60 or older to buy one admission pass and get one free using the promo code "SeniorBOGO." Both deals run through Feb. 29. Regular admission is $22.95, $20.95 seniors, $18.95 ages 6-12, 5 and younger free.
Great Explorations Children's Museum: Florida residents take $3 off admission in the month of February at Great Explorations. Regular admission is 10, $9 for seniors. Babies younger than 1 are free. Go to greatex.org.
La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil: Florida residents can save at least $20 on tickets to this show housed in Disney Springs, formerly called Downtown Disney. Tickets for performances Tuesday through Saturday nights now through April 2 start at $59. Visit disneyworld.com/cirque.
Gatorland: Florida residents have until Feb. 12 to take advantage of a half-off discount at Gatorland, the old-school Orlando attraction crawling with gators and various reptiles. The special ticket is $13.50 ($9.50 for ages 3-12). Proof of Florida residency is required. Go to gatorland.com .
Blue Man Group: The Orlando CityWalk show is featuring an online deal for a meal and a show for $74.50 adults, $42.50 children. Save $10 on show tickets when purchased online. Regular price $70 adults, $40 children. Visit universalorlando.com.