Many vacation planners putting together their own plans look for opportunities to save a few pennies here and there. Recently, on our MousePad message boards, a reader asked about purchasing single-park tickets instead of park hopper tickets. Single-park tickets allow a family to visit only one park each day, while park hopper tickets mean families can travel between parks. In Orlando, guests may need to travel by car, bus or monorail between several parks, but the Anaheim parks are only a few hundred feet apart. This week, we asked the Parenting Panel: Do you park hop? Would you buy single-park tickets? All three panelists wrote independently but came back to the same core concept: Flexibility.
MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry, his wife Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 10-year-olds Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:
I notice that with these Parenting Panel queries I often find myself in between two opposing viewpoints floating somewhere in the middle. My answers usually contain the phrase “it depends.” This is not one of those times. When it comes to park hopper tickets, I have always enthusiastically endorsed their use. To me—and I might add to my whole family—the ability to visit more than one park each day and to essentially come and go as we please has always been invaluable. We park hop just about everyday that we are visiting Walt Disney World. The days that we don’t hop, it’s usually because we had a last-minute change of plans or we took a vote and decided to do something different. But, the mere fact that we have the Park Hopper tickets in place always adds to the flexibility that we find so important on our vacations in Orlando.
Flexibility especially comes into play when we’re vacationing at Disney in the warm summer months. The midday break is crucial to escape the summer swelter. Here is a well-spent, hot August day at Walt Disney World: We wake up early with plans to hit the Magic Kingdom before opening. After catching the opening ceremony, we make our way back to Fantasyland. Being in the park this early usually guarantees us success in ticking off nearly if not all of our favorite attractions in this section of the park with cooler temps and no crowds. Then, we’ll head to the Crystal Palace for a fantastic late breakfast with Pooh and his Friends. It’s usually around 11:30 a.m. or so by then. We’ll hit another favorite or two, probably in nearby Adventureland taking us into early afternoon. The heat of the day is now upon us and so are the Magic Kingdom crowds; no better time than to head back to the resort to swim in the pool or relax in the room. We do this with full knowledge that we have an evening planned over in Epcot with dinner in World Showcase, a great spot for Illuminations and some shopping time in the best shop of all, Mouse Gear. As we ride home to the Polynesian Resort on the monorail, our day was completely full and we were able to experience two of our favorite places in the World—the Magic Kingdom and Epcot—all in one day because of something known as the park hopper ticket. Not having that flexibility is just not an option for us.
Let me hit you with another example. We’re not that crazy about Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a family. The kids aren’t into the big thrills like Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. None of us are into the stunt shows or American Idol. The kids have grown out of Disney Junior. So, we’re most likely to get to the Studios early in the morning, make our way over to Toy Story Mania, take in The Muppets, Star Tours and The Great Movie Ride and then quite possibly be done. Then it’s off to Epcot on the Friendship boats to use our park hopper tickets and spend some time in Future World.
These are just two examples. The flexibility and options that open up merely by having park hopper tickets are worth the added expense.
A Disney trip costs. It’s unavoidable. There are lots of ways to trim dollars and cents and still have the same wonderful experience. I have always thought—and I’m quite sure I always will—that I’d rather save up a little more and purchase the park hopper option than to make this a cost-cutting practice. They truly open up the whole “World” to you, and I think they’re an essential add-on.
Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 14, 11, and 8. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and annual passholders since their third birthdays. Adrienne writes:
As Disneyland Resort annual passholders, my family enjoys visiting both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. We very rarely only enter one park when we visit the resort for a day. Our boys, and we adults, always seem to want to do something in each park. I feel confident that if we had to limit ourselves to one park, we could. In fact, last December, my mom asked us to guide her through her first visit to DCA and, although we left the option to visit Disneyland open, ultimately, we spent the entire day at DCA.
With that said, I can definitely say I prefer to have a park hopper option. My opinion may be skewed when I think about the Anaheim parks, but when I think of my family vacation to Walt Disney World, I know that I would much prefer to have a park hopper for visiting Disneyland Anaheim or for visiting Walt Disney World.
Truth be told, if you only planned to visit Disneyland for two days total, you could spend one day in Disneyland and one in Disney California Adventure. But… there’s something to be said for having a little flexibility for handling the unexpected.
When we travelled to Florida, I thought I had our plan all figured out. I planned in advance which days we would visit which parks. Because we had park hoppers, I did occasionally plan to visit two different parks in the same day. Near the end of the trip, I had a day set aside to spend entirely in Epcot, but we realized that we missed a handful of attractions at Magic Kingdom earlier in our trip. Thanks to our park hoppers, we changed the plan and started off the Magic Kingdom in the morning, taking the monorail over to Epcot for lunch and the rest of our day. The park hoppers gave us flexibility to handle the unexpected.
Several factors can throw curveballs into a Disney trip, from unexpected crowd levels to shows and parades cancelled due to weather. When we visited Walt Disney World, I lost my eyeglasses while wearing my sunglasses. Fortunately, I brought a backup pair, but the trip back to our hotel to grab the backup glasses before dinner cost us time at the Magic Kingdom. If a show or parade in one park is cancelled due to weather on the only day you planned to visit that park, you can easily arrange to pop in and visit that park another time with a park hopper, especially in Anaheim where you can easily walk between the two parks.
Once at the parks, you never know what rides, attractions or even shops and restaurants might strike your fancy. My boys have their favorite rides, all in different parks. In Anaheim, the gates for both parks share the same bag check security tents. Once inside the Esplanade area, we do not need to have our bags rechecked; we can just walk between the parks. There may be lines at the gates but nothing much different than standing in line for an attraction once inside the parks. The difference between a single-park ticket and a park hopper in Anaheim could be something as simple as this: On the last day of your trip, a chance to pop into DCA to pick up a fresh Mickey Mouse-shaped sourdough loaf from Boudin Bakery to take home, before making one last wish at Disneyland's Snow White’s Wishing Well that your family will return soon.
And once you have a taste of that Boudin bread, you’ll want the flexibility to go back to take some home.
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well share his experiences. Chris writes:
In the world of choices, the type of ticket you purchase for your Disney vacation makes a difference. But like any choice, there are advantages and disadvantages along with cost differences that are not so subtle. For the first-time guest or for the guest on a budget, costs might play a significant factor in making such a decision. However, would you be making the correct choice? .
The ability to go between different parks in a single day with a park hopper ticket can be one of the best decisions you can make. The reason is simple: flexibility. When you are dealing with an environment that is filled with variables, you don’t want to find yourself wanting to go somewhere else after plans slide awry at what you thought was going to be the park of choice for the day. That description alone comes from our experiences from our first short trip when we did single-day tickets. We knew that we wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom the first day but had a hard time deciding what park to go to on our second day. While we chose Studios at that time, we thought about our future trips and wondered about if having the park hopper option was worth it. Here are some of the reasons our family thinks that park hoppers are good idea: .
- Planning becomes easier – while there are different ways to plan a trip, there are times where you want to do something at a park at a certain time of the day but otherwise wish to spend your day elsewhere. One example is when you would like to spend your day at Epcot but would like to visit the Magic Kingdom in the evening because of extra long hours.
- Crowd adaptability – sometimes you think that a park might be less crowded than others only to find out that international touring groups picked that park as their park of the day (it can really wreck some havoc in your plans). Have no fear—hop over to another park.
- Dining options. Much like planning your park time, there might be times where you would like to dine within a park but could only get an advanced dining reservation for a certain day—a day where you already planned on being elsewhere. In a case like this, instead of changing all of your plans for a special dining opportunity, you can do both.
- Location to your hotel – let's face it—every hotel has a closest park which gives it more desire. You may want to stay near Epcot during one of the festivals, or maybe near the Magic Kingdom around the holidays. In similar cases, you have a good idea that you might want to pop into a certain park near your hotel more than once during your trip and not want to use a full day's admission.
- Weather – sometimes you just hit a bad weather streak. For example, our family went during what ended up being a very rainy time. We really wanted to see Illuminations one night but a big storm came through. Because we had park hoppers, we were able to enjoy another park during the day and Illuminations at the end.
As you can see, flexibility becomes a key component in your vacation plans. The cost difference is not small, but as you can see, it becomes something of an insurance policy to help you maintain a level of control when extenuating circumstances make an appearance. Would there still be times when I would use single-entry tickets? Sure. However, I would use them during shorter trips when I know that everything is going to be in my favor (crowds, weather, travel plans). At the same time, I would still feel like I am assuming some additional risk.
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!
(Send an email to Adrienne Krock)
Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being mom to her three boys. Adrienne, Matthew, Spencer, and Colin visit Disneyland frequently, usually with Dad, Kevin.