Park Hopping With Kids

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer
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The Disney Parks sell two types of admission: Base or "single park" tickets and multipark or "park hopper" tickets. With a single-park ticket, guests can only visit one park per day. A more expensive Park Hopper allows guests to move between parks as often as they wish, as many times as they choose during a day. When traveling with children, there are pros and cons to both options. This week, we asked the Parenting Panel: Do you use Park Hopper admission when you visit the Disney parks with your families?

Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and a co-owner at EscapadeAdventures, who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary writes:

This is a question that I find to be more relevant for the Walt Disney World Resort than for the Disneyland Resort. Generally, I think having hoppers for Disneyland are the best way to go, for the greatest flexibility. It's just so easy to cross the Esplanade to the other park, and that's really useful if one park is very busy.

If you have to watch every penny, though, having single-park admission tickets are workable at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. You just have to plan your day accordingly. People only had one park in Anaheim for many years, and you can have an absolutely splendid day in only Disneyland Park without any problem. As a travel professional, though, my experience is that nearly all my clients opt for the Park Hopper option rather than single-park admission.

One downside to not having park hoppers in Anaheim is the lack of a Magic Morning entry for your trip; this option is available with three-day, or greater, Park Hopper tickets. However, if you are staying at a Disney-owned resort hotel, you have Early Entry access to either Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park every day of your stay.


This throwback photo from 2011 shows just how close the front gates of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are to one another, making park hopping in Anaheim very convenient. Visitors very easily walk between the two parks. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

For Walt Disney World, because there are four theme parks and such a large area that they encompass, it's very split between base (single-park) and park-hopper tickets. The park hoppers give more flexibility, so if you are staying onsite and take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in the morning in one park, you can hop to another when that first park begins to get busy with all the base ticket holders who can't go elsewhere. Also, if you want to go to Extra Magic Hours in the evening, it will be in a different park from the morning schedule.

If you choose base tickets for a single-park experience per day, that's fine. You can make the most of your day in your selected park. It's also a cost savings for your vacation, although the park-hopper option is a flat rate for your entire stay, not a surcharge on a daily basis (this means, if you have five-day tickets, or seven-day tickets, the cost for the Park Hopper is the same).

So, should you park hop with kids? Well, again, that's entirely a personal choice. Sometimes it is nice to start the day at one park (Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, for example), take a break mid-day, and then go to another park (such as the Magic Kingdom) for their nighttime entertainment, like the fireworks. With very young children, one park per day is a pretty good choice because you will travel more slowly than families with older kids.

Another way that I've seen families "stretch" their vacation dollars is to buy tickets with fewer park days than their stay, and this can be with or without park hoppers, but add the Water Parks and More Fun option. This option gives you one entry per ticket days (so, if you have five-day tickets, you'll have five admissions to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon water parks, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course, or the two miniature golf courses: Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens. This option gives guests different options for their vacation days besides just visiting the theme parks!

Chris Salata, also known as GusMan, is a Disney-inspired author and photographer, and loves to help people get the most out of their Disney vacation. Chris writes:

Over the years, I know that the cost of a Disney trip has increased quite a bit. I also know that there is a difference between cost and value, especially when it comes to how you spend your hard-earned vacation dollar. In fact, I just helped some friends of ours plan out their ticket strategy, and they asked me about the idea of skipping the Park Hopper option in order to save some cash. To some, the extra costs are not a shocker. To others, it can mean the difference in how many days you can afford to visit. The finance aspect of this question is quite real.

On our very first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, we were only able to afford two days of the parks. We chose the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (Disney-MGM Studios at the time). Because we only had two-day tickets and no park hoppers, we were locked into our plans. While we didn't think about if we should go to the other parks, by the end of our trip, we wished we had more time or more options.


Filled with many attractions, many families easily spend an entire day at Magic Kingdom without thinking of visiting another park. Others prefer the flexibility of visiting other parks, or revisiting on another day to catch a missed attraction. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka

Personally, since that first trip, my wife and I decided that we would not skip the Park Hopper option going forward. We wanted to make sure that we had a level of flexibility in our touring plans that just could not be had without the option. Yes, the extra cost is something to consider, but I also know that when it comes to touring with kids, sometimes the flexibility pays for itself.

Here are some examples of how having the Park Hopper option added value to our vacations:

  • Park choice versus dining plans. While we do try to plan out our dining with our park choices for the day, sometimes you can't get the Walt Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) for the day or time that you really want. However, to enter a park even for an ADR requires a ticket. Without a Park Hopper, your ADRs are park plans that need to be in sync. This can be important when snagging that special meal with Cinderella, but you also have Fastpasses for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
  • Crowd changes. While we use tools, such as Touringplans.com, on a very consistent basis, there are times where special events or extra touring groups tend to make a park even more crowded than planned. Sometimes heading over to a different park can make for a less-stressful day.
  • Attempting a missed attraction. Sometimes that one special attraction or event that you and your kids really wanted to experience was down or not operational for one reason or another. Maybe it was missing a parade or a fireworks show due to weather. Maybe Test Track was down unexpectedly and you wanted to still give it a shot. Having a Park Hopper will allow you to give those missed attractions a second chance while not having to change all of your plans for the day.
  • Splitting our day. Many times we would start our day at one park, go back to the resort during the middle of the day to enjoy the pool, and then hit a different park in the evening.
  • The "Greatest Hits" day. This is something of a tradition of ours where we start real early on our last full day in the parks. We each get to try to do one last big attraction of our choosing at a park. We make sure that we do all our last shopping tasks while at each park and end the day watching fireworks or seeing Fantasmic. It's a great end of the trip for us and one that can only be done with the Park Hopper option in hand.

Think of having a Park Hopper as an insurance policy for your park plans. Plans can change and it's best to be prepared, even if there is a bit of cost involved.

Elizabeth, who posts on our MousePad message board as eabaldwin, has been a Disneyland Annual Passholder since 2010. She and her husband have three little ones: two daughters and a son. Elizabeth writes:

There are a couple of factors that we consider when deciding to park hop. For us, it really depends on the type of ticket that we have, since we usually use an annual pass and military multi-day tickets, which are typically Park Hoppers. The age of our children has also factored into whether or not we park hop.

When we went to the Disneyland Resort with an Annual Pass (and military Park Hopper tickets), we would park hop. We would often use that walk between parks to help our kids fall asleep in the stroller. It is fairly close to get from Disneyland Park to Disney California Adventure Park, in comparison to the parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, since it is a walkable distance. It is also a little easier to park hop when there are only two parks. We did not always park hop, and sometimes we would spend almost a whole day in one park and just go to the other for one attraction or for the evening show, such as World of Color or the fireworks. I think that we would have been happy not park hopping and spending one day in either Disneyland or California Adventure. There is enough to do in each park, even for very young children, which would fill up a whole day. We would likely not park hop during a future trip to Disneyland, due to the cost, if we did not have an annual pass and military Park Hoppers.

When we went to Walt Disney World in April of 2013, we did not park hop. At the time, we had a 3 year old and a 14 month old. There were several reasons why we chose not to park hop. Since they were so young, we thought it would be an inconvenience to unload them from the stroller (as well as all of the items that we carry with us), get them in the car or on the bus, and get them back into the stroller at the new park. This was our first visit to WDW in many years for both my husband and me, and the very first for our girls. We wanted to maximize our time in each park. Also at the time that we took this trip, the military tickets were not hoppers. There was the option to make the tickets a Park Hopper or to add in the water parks for an additional charge. We decided to save money and not add that cost to our trip. With the size of WDW and the parks, I do not see us park hopping there even on a future trip.

It seems as though we are Disneyland hoppers, but a one-park-per-day family in WDW. For us, it all comes down to cost and size of the parks, or ease of changing parks.


Many families enjoy the Illuminations evening show at Epcot in Walt Disney World. With a Park Hopper, many families enjoy spending part of the day in one park and then finishing the day in another park, with a night time show. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry, his wife, Diane, Samantha (16), and twins Casey and Alex (13), live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

We've never done anything but hoppers, no matter who was on our trip; small kids, teenagers, large group, small group, just the two of us grown-up kids. I couldn't imagine going to Walt Disney World without purchasing Park Hoppers. It just makes sense, especially with kids. The beauty of the Park Hopper is that it opens up your schedule and allows you the freedom of flexibility.

We prefer to get to the parks bright and early, before opening. You can belt out a whole bunch of attractions in those early-morning hours. A perfect example is The Magic Kingdom. We'll get there before it opens, watch the awesome opening ceremony, and then head straight back to Fantasyland. That was typically where our kids wanted to go first. Once we got back there, we could knock out pretty much all of Fantasyland before the lines got too long. On occasion, we would get to ride Peter Pan twice in a row.

After attacking Fantasyland, and maybe another ride or two, we would have a late breakfast with Pooh and his pals at The Crystal Palace. By the time that was done, it would be approaching noon and the park would be filling up. Then we might hit another attraction or two, maybe shop for a bit, and then bail out of the crowds and heat. Then we would be back to the hotel for a swim or some air-conditioned room time, or chill out away from the parks. That left our night open. We love Epcot at night, so that was usually the place to go for us. Having a Park Hopper made this day and night schedule possible and, truthfully more enjoyable. As much as I love The Magic Kingdom, it was nice to have another park to look forward to spending our evening in.

Another example would be Disney's Hollywood Studios. We have a great time there, but it's our least-favorite park. A typical day for us at the Studios would be to hit Star Tours, hopefully a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania, Muppetvision 3D and, when, they were younger, The 'Honey I Shrunk The Kids' Playground, or maybe some character meet and greets. Then we were typically done. I love The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, but the kids never did. The same could be said for the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. All things said and considered, we were usually done with that park after half a day. So, the Park Hopper allowed us to have the fun we wanted to have there, leave, and have some fun someplace else for the second half of the day.

So many people complain that due to the overscheduling that has become so common when traveling to the Disney Parks, much of the spontaneity has been taken out of the experience. To us, the Park Hopper still allows us to head back to the resort, regroup, recharge the kids (and us) and then go someplace different. Many, many times we have sat around the pool at the hotel and reconsidered where we were going to spend our evening based on how that particular morning went. You can't do any of that when you don't have the ability to park hop.

It's completely worth the extra cost and, I think it's been beneficial to our kids on all of our trips. They've been able to see what they want and still relax in the middle of the day. That makes for happy kids and that, of course, makes for happy parents and a happy vacation.

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 bumblebeeonarose

    Mary says the Magic Morning is only available with park hoppers. This isn't true. From Disney, "Magic Morning allows one early admission into select attractions, stores, entertainment and dining locations at Disneyland Resort Park before the park opens to the general public. For admission, each member of your travel party (ages 3 and older) must have a valid 3-day or longer Disneyland Resort theme park ticket purchased online." They don't have to be hoppers, just purchased online.

    We did non hoppers the year we didn't buy APs and it worked well with little ones. Just make sure to go opposite of the Magic Morning schedule so you're not getting there after the Magic Morning crowds. When we've had APs we have park hopped, and also just spent a day at one park. It's nice to have the flexibility, but with little ones we often find it's easiest to stay in one park, at least until the midday break.

  2. By mkelm44

    I'm a Florida Resident Season Pass holder, so I admit that I more or less come and go as I please, but on previous trips I've discovered the park hoppers have 3 great advantages. The first is the dinner and special event planning, which your article touched on. Since it's not always possible to get dinner reservations and ride plans to line up perfectly, not having to worry about being locked into one place is always great. I've had days at one park followed up by dinner at one of the Magic Kingdom resorts and a quick dash into the MK to see the fireworks. Also if you have a "princess" in your family, the bibbidi bobbidi boutique is a must do, and I have to say that the one in Cinderella's castle is better than the one in Disney Springs. Not in terms of quality, but because when your done your princess is in a castle surrounded by magic, not in the middle of a store surrounded by other stores- but good luck getting the boys to stick around while their sister is getting a makeover. Likewise, you can grab dinner at one of the Epcot Resorts (Yachtsman steak house is good) and then "sneak" in and out of the park via the international gateway for fireworks and a stroll through the countries then go back out to your car or take a boat or whatever through the less crowded back gate. The second great advantage is not being "locked in" when you aren't feeling a park. Maybe Hollywood Studios is too crowded (a problem these days given so much of it is being rebuilt) or you had such a good time at Magic Kingdom yesterday that you want to go back. Park hoppers let you audible your days and keep things spontaneous, which is not always easy to do.

    But lastly I think the biggest thing for park hopping is the traveling with younger, nap needing children. I admit that there is a certain appeal to getting there at rope drop and staying until park close, and it's easy to say "just let the kids nap in the stroller" but given the Florida heat (especially during summer time) it's good to go back to the hotel, take a nap in the air conditioning, play in the pool, or just sit down for a while. The parks are usually open until late, and if you're staying on property, extra magic hours will keep one of the parks open even later until midnight at least. As an Orlando resident, I can tell you that the evenings (after our regularly scheduled 4PM thunderstorm) are quite pleasant- warm but not humid and its easier to enjoy the parks in the evening than say, at 1 PM when you're standing in an open queue of an hour in the heat. So knowing that we were going back to the hotel for a while, we'd often schedule our days (especially Epcot days) so we did the morning in one park, went back to the hotel, then finished at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood studios after doing "adult things" as my neice calls it over at Epcot (adult things being watching the movies in the pavilions).

    Given that Disney vacations are already so expensive, the relatively minimal upcharge for built in flexibility is worth the expense.

  3. By DisneyGator

    When it comes to Disneyland, it's just crazy to NOT have a parkhopper. On our last trip, we were at CA and I read online that Hyperspace Mt was having a soft opening. We stopped what we were doing and ran across the promenade and got in line.

    At WDW, you really can't do that. To park hop, you have to walk out of the park, then from the exit all the way to the bus stop (which is a longer walk than the distance between the two parks in Anaheim), if your lucky the bus arrives in 5 minutes but if it's normal it arrives in 15-30 minutes, then you ride all the way to the next park, then walk to the security gate and then the main gate. The time you spend going from the Magic Morning park to another park can amount to 2-3 attractions. For me, totally not worth it. For what it costs my family to get park hoppers, I can stay another night at a Moderate hotel and extend our tickets one day. That's far more worth it to me. And that's why we haven't purchased park hoppers since 2006 (and we never even used them that trip!).

  4. By davidgra

    We've always park-hopped. It didn't matter what age the kids were. The main reason for us was dining -- we go to WDW often enough to have strong preferences about restaurants, and 90% of our favorite dining locations are in either Epcot or DHS (or their nearby resorts). We don't want to spend 90% of our trip in Epcot or DHS, though, so we'll start our day in one park, then hop over to another park for our meal (if the reservation is for dinner), or start the day in the park with the restaurant (lunchtime) and hop to a different park later in the day.

    With the kids being teenagers now, we'll usually start the day together in one park, but then let the kids head to a different park after a while if they want to do that.

    Once DHS and DAK have more to do in them, it might be less necessary to park hop at WDW, but we really consider both to be half-day parks right now. We might spend half a day at DHS more than once on a trip, but we rarely spend an entire day there, preferring to spend more time at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom.

    One final reason for park hopping is for dealing with Extra Magic Hours crowds. People staying on property who do not have the park hopper option all head to the park with the extra magic hours that day, making that park more crowded than it is other days. Since we always stay on property (DVC members here), we take advantage of extra magic hours by going to that park only during the extra magic hours, and spending the rest of the day in a different park.

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