Life Hacks: Valleyfair and Giordano’s Edition

When sitting down to make my Summer 2015 Bucket List, I largely geared it toward Minneapolis, Fargo, and areas in between (as that’s where I knew I’d be living and visiting). So, this post may seem to apply mostly to Midwesterners, but I hope everyone can get at least a little something out of it. Today’s hot spots are Valleyfair (an amusement park in Shakopee, Minnesota), and the new Giordano’s Pizza in Uptown (Let us rejoice that genuine Chicago-style pizza has finally made its way to Minneapolis!) The following is one poor college student’s discovery of how to save money on summer fun, and how to make to stretch the money that you do spend as far as possible.

If I could have one wish, it would be for an amusement park that fits the following criteria:

  1. Boasts the world’s tallest roller coasters
  2. Is always sunny and 78, with a very light breeze to prevent overheating
  3. Has reasonable prices on admission, food, and rides
    1. And NEVER turns fair-goers away because they can’t pay
  4. And is located about one block away from where I live.

Unfortunately, such a place does not exist, but my boyfriend and I recently visited the next best thing: Valleyfair. After visiting a few times in my youth, and now having been there four summers in a row with Garret (hard to believe!), I’d say I’m fairly familiar with Valleyfair. My number one issue with it has always been the ridiculously high price of EVERYTHING, but over the years, I’ve learned a few ways to keep the prices ALAP (as low as possible—I just made that one up!). For those of you not in the Midwest, I hope that these tips and tricks are equally applicable at a theme park near you! Enjoy!

1. Do your research. Make sure you get the best deal for your admission tickets by scoping out local vendors such as grocery stores and fast food joints. Many have discounted tickets and coupons right at the front desk! Also, check out the website of whichever place you’re going to—at the time I went online, Valleyfair was running a limited-time-only special on the price of weekday admissions. Unfortunately, this was no good for us, as we work on the weekdays. But if we had planned far enough ahead and taken work off, this would have been a good option for us!

2. Take advantage of being a college student. The information desk at your student union likely sells tickets at discounted prices (this is where we ended up buying ours). If not, check to see if the park itself offers discounts with a student ID–they very well could, but may keep it on the DL because we all know that fairs just want to rip people off.

3. Don’t forget about parking. You may save big bucks on your admission tickets, but then arrive on your destined day to find that parking prices are going to take a serious hit on your food and games budget. At Valleyfair, parking is $15—ridiculous! Fortunately, I did my research ahead of time. Unfortunately, the lowest we could get it down to was $12 (Thanks again, student union!). Another tip to save on parking brings me to my next suggestion, which is…

4. Go with a group! Not only can you all cram into a friend’s mom’s minivan and divvy up parking costs, but many places also offer one bulk admission price for groups of a certain size. When divided up, each individual will end up saving money—more to spend on deep fried fair food! Who doesn’t want that?

5. Speaking of food, make the most of your money by (once again) planning ahead. We arrived well before lunch time, but I slowed down in front of every food stall we passed to make a mental note of its options and prices. That way, when our grumbling stomach alerted us of lunch time, we knew what our best options were. And don’t blow it all on lunch—remember to plan for snacks and treats! Garret and I decided that we could both have a greater variety of fair food if we were willing to share our lunch. I’m definitely not one to share food, but in the face of deciding whether to get my own meal and no ice cream v. share a meal and get ice cream, I chose the latter, and I can say days later that I made the right decision. For lunch, we ended up sharing “macho nachos” from a burrito stall. Meals at this place were averaging greater than fifteen bucks for half a burrito and what looked like maybe seven or eight french fries, so we thought we’d try to save by asking how big the nachos would be. To our surprise, it was a pretty large platter, and we shared it for $9.99—only about five bucks each! And we were able to splurge on Ben & Jerry’s when temperatures peaked later in the day.

Sidewinder Burrito, where we got our "Macho Nachos"
Sidewinder Burrito, where we got our “Macho Nachos”

6. Never pay for water!!! Not just at fairs, but in life. Make sure to bring a water bottle and keep an eye out so you’ll always know the nearest drinking fountain location come refill time. I can’t even express how much money this saved us on a hot, sunny day—drinks go for upward of five bucks at a fair. But we had unlimited free refills of good ol’ H2O thanks to our planning ahead!

7. You can’t put a price on memories. Except at Valleyfair, and let me tell you, the price is steep. Roller coaster pictures start at $8.99 for a teensy keychain, and then it’s an extra three bucks to get the picture e-mailed to yourself. E-mailed! To get a regular-sized photo of any physical form, you’ll easily spend over twenty. For ONE photo! Here’s my suggestion: find a photo booth, and you’ll get two strips of four photos for a fraction of the cost. And it will still preserve the wonderful memory of being at the fair thanks to your choice of several fun design options! Another plus: you don’t have to fight over who gets to take the expensive ride picture home at the end of the day.

One of two strips, complete with a Valleyfair insignia!
One of two strips, complete with a Valleyfair insignia!

8. Don’t feel pressured to play fair games. They exist to rip you off. If you do choose to play a game, understand what you’re getting yourself into. Under the influence of a daydream that Garret would win me a plush pikachu from a water game that seemed too good to be true, we almost began shooting our squirt guns without asking what the catch was. It turns out, after the first round of competition (which costs $3 each), the winner is only able to choose a lame little frog from the large stash of prizes. After that round, a second needs to be played, and then the frog can be swapped in for a bigger item. Which means we would have to spend twelve bucks for a pikachu that could probably be won for fifty cents in a crane machine. No thanks. Daydream crushed.

9. Don’t buy fast lane passes. My main reason for stating this is that I have a sort of moral conflict when it comes to line jumping…In high school, I was given a fast pass to use at Disney World when I was in Orlando for DECA ICDC. It was awesome for my friends and I to be able to skip ahead when the wait time for certain rides was an hour or more, but I’ll never forget the groans of the people we sped past—the people who had actually had to wait that full hour to get to the front of the line, thinking that their turn had finally come, only to be budged in front of by spoiled kids who haven’t had to wait for anything all day. Even though DECA had paid for the fast passes (thanks DECA!), I felt incredibly guilty. Like a cheater. Like I robbed a piece of happiness from a family’s vacation that they’d probably been saving for all year. Fast passes are just another way that an already-wealthy amusement park makes even more money off of impatient rich people. Okay, now that my opinion’s out of the way, here’s another fact that might turn you off from fast passes: at Valleyfair, they cost $55. More than the cost of admission itself.

10. Above all else, remember that fair fun is not determined by how many souvenirs you purchase or how much you save on your ticket, but by the people you go with and your own zeal for adventure!

In other summer bucket list items, we’ve been trying to get into this new Chicago-style pizza restaurant since June. Our first try failed because, despite claims that it would be open in late June, Giordano’s remained closed when we tried to pull the doors open on June 31st. We drove by in early July to see the windows packed with people. Excited, we immediately parked and ran to the doors…only to find sign that read “Closed for Private Party.” We resolved to try again the next time we went to our favorite lake in uptown. After swimming until about 6:30, we went back to the restaurant and asked for a table for two. “It’ll be a two hour wait,” said the hostess. Already hungry and not wanting to wait until 8:30, we returned home, pizzaless.

After three failed attempts, we were determined to get in on our fourth try. Our plan was to stop in, get our names on the list, and go swimming until the wait time was almost over. It worked almost flawlessly–we showed up at 4:45pm, were told that it would be a two hour wait, and headed to Lake Calhoun to enjoy the afternoon until dinner time. Giordano’s even got our number so they could send us a text when our table would be ready! They ended up texting us a lot earlier than expected (thank goodness Garret was monitoring his phone), so we booked it back to the restaurant and made it just in time.

I give everything five stars. Our server was very friendly and helpful (we didn’t know quite what to expect, as we’re both newcomers to Chicago pizza), and the food was amazing. The prices, though a bit spendy, were not nearly as bad as I was expecting. Plus, if you’re looking to save money, they have ten-inch frozen Chicago-Style pizzas for $11.95 by the entrance. I almost want to stock up on a few for when I really get a Giordano’s hankering!


All in all, it was amazing, and definitely worth the wait. As we were leaving, the formerly line to the hostess’s had already tripled in size, and I was grateful that it wasn’t us being told “It’ll be a two hour wait” at 7:00pm.

Our large green olive and pepperoni pizza.
Our large green olive and pepperoni pizza.
It's so cheesy! And the cheese is amazing. Honestly, I would eat it by itself; it's that good.
It’s so cheesy! And the cheese is amazing. Honestly, I would eat it by itself; it’s that good.
And these Parmesan garlic fries were also to die for! They weren't at a bad price at all, considering the quality and the fact that the dish is stuffed deep with fries!
And these Parmesan garlic fries were also to die for! They weren’t at a bad price at all, considering the quality and the fact that the dish is stuffed deep with fries!

Well, I hope these life hacks will help you make the most of the summer fun we have left!
Ride on, friends. Ride on.


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