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The First Orlando Theme Parks Have Gone Cashless

The cashless revolution has reached Orlando. Five popular theme parks in Central Florida stopped accepting cash this week. 

Although the banishment of paper currency and coins has been advancing steadily for the past decade, plastic-only transactions made a huge leap toward dominance during the worst of Covid-19.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has been rolling out cashless payment systems at all of its theme parks this year. In late winter, SeaWorld San Diego went cashless. In the spring, Busch Gardens in Virginia followed. 

This week it was Florida’s turn. On Wednesday, August 30, SeaWorld Orlando and its two Central Florida sisters, Aquatica water park and Discovery Cove, all moved to cashless transactions. The Florida outpost of Busch Gardens, an hour’s drive down I-4 in Tampa, also made the switch, as did its water slide park. 

Visitors to those five Central Florida parks may only use plastic for all payments now, no matter what they’re buying. (Because Discovery Cove’s animals interact directly with guests, that park was already essentially cashless for safety’s sake.)

The editors of Frommer’s have some real issues with pushing everyone to use plastic. For one, it forces people to rely on a system designed to profit off debt, and Americans are swimming in quite enough personal debt already. Earlier this summer, consumer credit reporting agency TransUnion calculated that the average American already carries about $5,700 in credit card debt.

No-cash rules can harm users in other ways, too. When several important U.S. national parks implemented cashless entry policies this year, we argued that the move erects “a barrier to accessing public lands for members of the public who don’t have bank accounts.”

But it’s harder to make the same kind of complaint about luxury purchases like theme park tickets and souvenirs. 

At least SeaWorld and all of its parks are making the switch easier on guests by offering free Visa ReadyCARD cash-to-card machines throughout park properties. Those will convert up to $500 in cash (no coins accepted, and bills cannot be wet) into a Visa card, no personal information required, that can be used anywhere in the United States.

There’s no charge to convert cash to a card at SeaWorld parks. Visitors just have to make sure to spend everything they put on that card, because after 92 days without a transaction, $3.95 is deducted from the card’s funds. 

SeaWorld-owned parks also accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa, and even Discover. The parks can handle Apple Pay and Google Pay, too. 

Your cash, though? It’s no good there anymore. Greenbacks are blacklisted.

Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have not announced similar plans to move to all-plastic transactions, but if they did, the transition wouldn’t be as painful as you might think. A significant portion of guests there—those who stay in hotel rooms located on property—already exercise the right to charge all transactions to their accounts. As a result, many visitor purchases at Disney and Universal are already cashless anyway.