Park Hopping vs. Single-Park Tickets for Families

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer
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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!

Comments

  1. By mkelm44

    While I haven't been with my own son yet, having gone with just about every young cousin I could find lead me to the conclusion that park hoppers were the way to go. On one trip with my cousins (at that time they were 13 and 9) the younger just had a complete meltdown. For whatever reason he wasn't feeling EPCOT that day. We thought it would be right up his alley (even as a young boy he loved learning about different things) but it just wasn't working for him. So we had a choice... stay in EPCOT and hope he came around, or go on to the next park. Being sound of mind, we made way over to Animal Kingdom, which was what he wanted to do. The next day (when we originally planned to go to AK) we went back to EPCOT to do the stuff we missed, and we all had a blast.

    Lesson learned for me- park hopping option with kids is your eject button- rather than feel like you *have* to be in a park, you always have the option of going somewhere else if it just doesn't happen...

  2. By danyoung

    The main reason I've always advocated for the park hoppers is that the park schedules are not the same. If I was doing a DAK day, for example, and the park closed at 6pm, it would just kill me to not have access to another park. But with hoppers I can always hop over to Epcot to finish the evening. Course, I'm an AP holder, so it's kind of a moot point for me . . . . .

  3. By GusMan

    Quote Originally Posted by mkelm44 View Post
    Lesson learned for me- park hopping option with kids is your eject button- rather than feel like you *have* to be in a park, you always have the option of going somewhere else if it just doesn't happen...

    "Eject Button." I like that.
    But you are right - there is something freeing about not being tied down.

    There is also one other thing I meant to mention, but thought I would wait... touring groups.
    There are times in the summer where the parks get slammed by tour groups. They all flock to one park as well. If you find yourself surrounded by tour guides with flags and lines that are longer than typical*... head to another park.

    After all, there are just some things that a touring plan cannot anticipate.

    (* = a typical tour group numbering at least 75 people enters the line for Soarin' or Test Track equals nearly doubling the wait time all at once.)

  4. By DisneyGator

    First two trips without kids, we park hopped all the time. Nearly every day. But then the kids came along. We got a park hopper on the first trip... and never used it once. It became too much of a pain hauling around strollers, diaper bags, and everything else a kid needs onto the Disney bus. Our thoughts have become, "Get on the bus once to go and once to leave - no more and no less". And we have found that it's much better this way because you don't waste nearly an hour of prime park time traveling around. Plus, you can't take advantage of fastpass all day when you're switching parks all the time.

    As far as days at the AK, we used to cut out early and go to another park. But cutting out the park hoppers, now we plan character meals at different resorts in the evening. That helps fill up the empty time, and we get to knock out some character photo ops.

  5. By sasmmb

    For first-timers or people who haven't been in a while, and they also have kids under the age of 9, I would recommend only getting the Single Day option. There is so much to see and do at any one park, coupled with the fact that it just takes longer to see and do things with younger children that 1 park per day is fine. You can still leave the park and take a mid-day break. The only difference between that and park hopping is you see more of your morning park. And if you only do selected lands in the AM and save other lands for the evening it really is like going to a different park but you save cash. And let's face it, sometimes your 5 year old really wants to do ____________ (insert Barnstormer, Tea Cups, Small World, etc.) over and over and over again. And that's OK!!

    For more frequent visitors, or those with older kids, park hopping is a must since there are often attractions you really have no interest in so you may find yourself not staying a full day at Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.

    Also, others have pointed out the flexibility of the parkhopper that makes planning easier. I tend to think the flexibility of the parkhopper makes planning harder by allowing WAY too many choices. By limiting yourself to 1 park per day, the planning actually becomes easier. So what if Animal Kingdom closes at 6 PM? Go to Animal Kingdom Lodge, eat at Boma's, enjoy the storytellers out back by the fire and view the savannah thru binoculars at night. It's still a full day and what you save in parkhopper pays for your Boma's meal.

  6. By adriennek

    In Anaheim, packing up to get on a bus is a non-issue - you don't even have to go through bag check to hop between the two parks. The two parks are closer to each other than the length of Main Street - It would take longer to walk from the entrance of Epcot to World Showcase, than to walk between Disneyland and DCA.

    I will say emphatically: Our first trip to WDW, my kids were 5, 8 and 11 and I'm VERY glad we had park hoppers. We would've been very disappointed if we didn't have the option to go to one park in the morning and finish the day in another, on a few days. Yes, we had a stroller with us. We didn't use buses, though. We had a rental car or used the monorail. I suspect that had we used buses, my opinion might be different. Maybe it's because we are so used to having our own car when we go anywhere, but the bus system at WDW frustrates me greatly.

  7. By Maus

    This is a very interesting article. I had never thought of using single-park tickets to save money. We are so used to park hopping at Disneyland that I've automatically purchased park hoppers at WDW. I'm planning a trip now for next January with a 5 and 6 year old and after reading the comments here I'm really thinking of single-park days. We don't use strollers any more, always use the buses (which never frustrate me ) and naps are rare. The parks close early most days in January so early bedtimes will work for us. Great food for thought.

  8. By davidgra

    I find myself agreeing with almost everyone -- using the park hopper option is really a must. While you might save a *little* money by keeping your tickets limited to single-park admission, you will lose the ability to maximize your money by being stuck in parks that close earlier than other.

    One of the main reasons to use a park hopper has to do with "extra magic hours." Parks that have extra magic hours that day are more crowded. If the Magic Kingdom is open three hours later for resort guests, every resort guest with a single-park ticket will go to the Magic Kingdom that day and spend all day there. Our family looks at the extra magic hours schedule and picks a park that ISN'T having extra magic hours that day. Once we get to the extra magic hours time, we hop over to the park that IS having the extra magic hours. It's the best of both worlds. (We rarely do extra magic hours in the morning, but it's the same scenario where we'd start in the extra magic hours park, then hop over to a different park once the regular park hours have started.)

  9. By THpoohbear

    I'm in the minority on this one. I now go for single park tickets at WDW. My first trip I purchased park hoppers and used them nearly every day. I planned to start the day in one park and finish the day in another. While it was fun, and I enjoyed visiting each park multiple times, I also found it very time consuming and a little jolting to our day. Maybe we are unflexible?! I don't know, but it seemed to us that we didn't enjoy the second park of the day nearly as much as the first.

    My second trip I purchased park hoppers and used them only once. The itinerary was planned that way, I think on our AK day. I did appreciate having it for that one night, but didn't miss the capability on the other days whatsoever. From the next trip forward, we've stuck with single day tickets and have never looked back.

    If you are planning on a mid day break at the hotel anyway it doesn't take any more or less time to park hop. But if not, it's an added hour or so using Disney transportation to leave on park and get to the next.

    I will not use morning EMH without the park hoping ability, so we've lost out on those, BUT my last couple of trips has been with a very small child and our day goes much better if I perish the thought of waking him earlier than I really need to, so now we just avoid EMH entirely.

    Now, at Disneyland, it's a whole different story. When we hop we are inside the bag check area so we don't need to go through it again. AND the parks are so close to each other. AND we don't have to drag strollers and diaper bags on any transportation, so I do heartily recommend park hoppers on the West coast. Interestingly, my sister lives out of state but is a disneyland vet. When she visits, she prefers to use single park tickets. She likes to focus on one park a day vs. ping ponging back and forth.

    In the end I really do think it depends on one's situation and demographic, and to some extent, personality. I personally have a grand time at WDW without park hoppers and am kind of relieved to only focus on one park per day.

  10. By Mermaid

    I have never gotten or wanted PH on my adult only trips to WDW. I felt like it worked fine for us to just focus on a park per day and on AK day we wither got to rest a little or went to DTD. But, I can see the appeal of them with children to maximize early entry, head out of a park that people aren't feeling that day, switching after nap etc. We plan to go back to WDW when my kids are 5 and 6, so we have some time to mull this over, ha ha, but this has given me a lot to think about!

  11. By 3Princesses1Prince

    We didn't get PH on our WDW trip and I won't make that mistake again. If you are taking mid day breaks then park hopping is easy and convenient.

    We always hop at DLR. It's so easy. Though we don't always hop every day. We do on most days.

  12. By cstephens

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    The main reason I've always advocated for the park hoppers is that the park schedules are not the same. If I was doing a DAK day, for example, and the park closed at 6pm, it would just kill me to not have access to another park. But with hoppers I can always hop over to Epcot to finish the evening. Course, I'm an AP holder, so it's kind of a moot point for me . . . . .

    I also think there's a huge difference in planning/travelling for a single person and when you're vacationing with children, especially younger children.

  13. By danyoung

    I would think with younger children the need to take a nap back at the hotel would be even greater.

  14. By 3Princesses1Prince

    Quote Originally Posted by danyoung View Post
    I would think with younger children the need to take a nap back at the hotel would be even greater.

    I agree.

  15. By shna

    We went to WDW twice in 2009 -- once with our daughter (who turned 5 during the trip) and once without. We didn't get park hoppers either time - and we did NOT regret the decision. During our trip with DD, we were staying at a rental house about half an hour from the parks, so we weren't heading back in the middle of the day. We weren't starting at the crack of dawn, either (nobody in the family is a morning person). We made plans around ADRs & avoiding whatever park had EMH and things worked out just fine.

    When DH & I went without DD, we stayed at POFQ. It was in September, so we were able to do the Halloween party. I *think* we did that after we had visited another park during the day, so we sort of hopped without having hoppers (but paid for the Halloween party tix). It worked out well.

    When we go in 2014, the choice of tickets *might* depend on park hours. If parks are closing before 10pm, there's really not much point to hoppers for us. If everything is open late, then that might sway us. Since we'll be going in September again, I'm guessing the parks won't be open terribly late & we won't need hoppers.

    That said -- when we go to Disneyland, we almost always hop. Even if it's only to ride one ride or to get one special yummy treat -- but we have APs, so it's no big deal.

  16. By EeyoreGirl

    I have been debating which tickets to buy for our upcoming DLR trip. I was thinking about getting single park tickets to save money. But reading these posts and talking to my husband who agrees with many of you we'll be getting the park hopper tickets even though they are more money.

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