Park Passesby Steve Russo, staff writer
I have long avoided writing anything about Disney World’s park admission tickets—mainly because it’s such a tangled web of nested options and alternatives. It makes me a bit crazy and confuses even the most astute followers of Disney’s Carousel of Policy. So what changed my mind?
Last November, my daughter returned from a business trip and announced that I needed to write an article about purchasing Disney World tickets. On her return flight, she had picked up the airline’s complimentary magazine and happened upon a travel article that promised to explain “How to Get Cheap Disney and Universal Tickets." Naturally, that piqued her interest.
In this article, the author was responding to the following email:
My husband and I (both retired) are looking for tickets. They are so expensive! Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks, Donna
The author sympathized with “We feel your pain," then explained how, while a single day ticket can be expensive, there are dollars to be saved if you plan a week’s worth of theme park visits—so far, so good. Then she adds, “But, frankly, do you really want to spend seven days at Disney World? I doubt it!” Huh? That was enough to get my radar up.
The article then goes on to offer a series of tips, which the author says, are gleaned from “a little online research, posts on my Twitter account and on my personal Facebook page.” Here’s a summary of the “tips” offered:
- Get a free ticket on your birthday (this surprised her);
- Find a hotel and ask if they have room packages that “include discounted tickets”.
She then talks up some very valid Web sites, such as Mary Waring’s Mousesavers.com, but seems not to have read a thing on any of them.
OK, I’ve attacked the article as one that offers very little useful information (and the one you’re now reading is well on its way to offering the same) but I’ll be the first to tell you it’s a very difficult topic. I often see or hear questions from people asking, “What type of pass should I buy?” The fact is there is no one answer to that question because it really depends upon many variables, such as the length of your stay, your desire to park hop, any plans to return, planned water park visits, etc.
I really thought these people were just lazy. They wanted someone else to do the work for them. I now understand it’s not laziness—they’re just confused and justifiably so. It’s a confusing topic and things change often enough to keep it that way.
I’m hoping that what you are about to read will de-mystify some of it for you and make your decision a bit easier when it comes to deciding which Park Passes to purchase. Please understand that the information below is accurate and current to the best of my knowledge at the time I write this. For simplicity, I will report rounded prices that include tax. If you read this in two years, two months, or maybe even two weeks, things could have changed (and prices certainly will). I will also avoid any options for Florida Resident passes or Military discounts. It’s confusing enough without them. Got all that? OK, here’s how to decide…
Begin by asking yourself, “How many days will I be visiting the parks?” Disney’s Magic Your Way tickets are available in lengths from one to ten days. The price per day will obviously decrease as you add days to the ticket. Current pricing tells me a 1-day Adult ticket is $84 while a 10-day ticket is $259 (approximately $26 per day). That’s $84 per day versus $26 per day— big difference, right? In fact, once you’ve decided on a 3-day Magic Your Way ticket ($233), you begin adding days for a fraction of the cost. Day 4 will cost $6; days 5 through 10 will cost approximately $3 each. What does this tell you? Staying longer will help maximize the value of your Park Passes—but don’t forget that longer stays mean more hotel nights and meals as well.
For the sake of argument, let’s say we decide that we’ll visit the parks for seven days. The (current) cost of our 7-day Magic Your Way pass is $249 for an adult (10 and up) and $214 for a child. What’s next?
The base Magic Your Way ticket is good for one park per day. That’s it. If you visit the Magic Kingdom on a Monday, you can’t even use a second day from your pass to visit a second park that same day. You have to wait until Tuesday. However, you may visit that one park multiple times on that same day.
Visiting more than one park on the same calendar day involves “park hopping” and you can add that feature to your pass. It’s added as a flat rate ($52 plus tax) to the cost of a base, non-Hopper ticket. This, of course, means the option has more value on longer length tickets. In the case of our 7-day Magic Your Way ticket, we would make it a 7-day Magic Your Way Park Hopping ticket and the price would jump to $305 for an adult (10 and up) and $269 for a child.
Do I advocate upgrading to the Park Hopper ticket? You bet! Personally, I wouldn’t consider anything else. Our typical touring strategy is to visit one park in the morning, take a mid-day break, and then return to a second park in late afternoon or evening. The ability to park hop also lets you visit the Extra Magic Hours park in the morning to take advantage of the more popular rides without crowds, then “hop” to another park when the first one begins to get busy.
No Expiration Option
What’s common about all the Magic Your Way tickets we’ve discussed so far is that they will expire 14 days after their first use. What does that mean? It means I can buy a Magic Your Way pass and keep it in my wallet for years, and it’s still valid. However, the first time I push it through that turnstile slot, it starts a countdown timer that will expire that ticket in 14 days. If I don’t use all the entries on that ticket, those remaining days are gone forever.
How can I avoid losing days? Proper planning is one way. I’m going to visit for 7 days and visit at least one park on each day. However, suppose I or someone in my party gets sick? That’s a problem; one way to safeguard against that possibility is to add the No Expiration Option to your Magic Your Way ticket. This means that the unused days on this pass will be there forever. Unlike the Park Hopper feature, this additional charge will vary based upon the ticket length. In our case, our 7-day Magic Your Way Park Hopper tickets just went to $427 for an adult (10 and up) and $392 for a child. We’ve come from $249 for the 7-day pass, to $305 for the Park Hopping option, to $427. Can you see where this is going and why it’s so important to plan?
I don’t usually advocate purchasing this option because we typically use each day of our passes during the trip but I have been burned by this on a couple of occasions when a family member took ill for a day. This was back in the “old days” when we had Length of Stay (LOS) passes, but it can happen.
There’s one other reason that you might consider the No Expiration Option: Are you coming back? Let’s say you plan a trip for June. It’s a one-week trip and you expect to spend five days visiting the theme parks. Let’s also assume a return trip, with the same five-day park plan, is tentatively planned for some time in the future. You could purchase two expiring 5-day Magic Your Way Park Hopping passes ($298 each or $596) or… you could grab one 10-day Magic Your Way Park Hopper with the No Expiration Option ($537) and save almost $60! Isn’t this fun?
Water Park Fun and More Option
Here’s where things get even more confusing… Do you plan to visit a water park—either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach? How about Disney Quest at Downtown Disney’s West Side? Or ESPN’s Wide World of Sports or a round of golf at Disney’s 9-hole Oak Trail course? Those are the current options available if you choose to add the Water Park Fun and More Option.
Like the Park Hopper option, this is a flat rate per ticket (currently $52 plus tax) and provides you a number of entries into one of the venues mentioned above—and please note that these are “entries”, not “days”. The number of entries is the same as your ticket length (i.e. – a 5-day Magic Your Way pass will offer five distinct entries). There is no “hopping” allowed, however. If you visit Blizzard Beach on a Tuesday, entry to Disney Quest on that same Tuesday will require another “entry” from your fixed allotment.
Do I recommend this option? Typically, no— but if you think you’ll use some, all, or most, of the entries it might be worthwhile for you. If you feel you’re more apt to make a single visit to a water park or Disney Quest during a stay, the cost of that single entry will be less than adding this option.
Annual Passes are just what the name implies—although a current program has them valid for 15-months. These passes can be had for the four main theme parks (Annual Pass), or they can also include the Water Parks Fun and More options (Premium Annual Pass). Additionally, there are Annual Passes offered just for Disney Quest, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, or combinations of them.
Do you need an Annual Pass? Maybe. Do you plan to make more than one trip within a 12-month period? If so, compare the cost of an Annual Pass (currently $521 for an adult pass) versus whatever combination of Magic Your Way Passes you would purchase for those multiple trips. A spreadsheet could come in very handy. I think you can also now understand why the answer to the question, “What kind of passes should I buy?” is very difficult to answer. But wait… it gets worse.
It’s common for Disney to offer discounts to its Annual Passholders. Discounts on shopping and for certain meals at certain restaurants are frequent but I would not recommend you buy an Annual Pass for them. They’re nice benefits but should be treated just that way—as perks. However, Disney will also offer room discounts as well. Is it worth it to buy an Annual Pass in order to get 30-45% off the rack rate for a Disney World resort? It depends (I can hear you screaming but, unfortunately, this requires more math).
Let’s use our example of the one-week stay and assume we’ve decided on the purchase of a 7-day Magic Your Way Park Hopper (expiring). That cost is $305. The cost of an Annual Pass (adult) is $521. It would be worth it, for at least one member of your party to buy an Annual Pass if the subsequent resort savings are more than the difference of $216. That will obviously depend on the length of your stay and the specific resort chosen. A savings of 30% off the rack rate of Pop Century in Value Season may be around $24 per night or $168 for our one-week stay. The same stay at the Polynesian, however, would save us $106.50 per night or $745.50 for the week. Please note that all these numbers are approximate and will vary with the time of year, type of room, etc. But it does demonstrate how a judicious acquisition of an Annual Pass could save some serious dough.
Discounts and More
Let’s get back to the column in that airline magazine. The article advised not to “buy tickets from a third party on eBay”. I second that and will further caution you to avoid roadside or supermarket kiosks or any deal offering tickets if you sit through a timeshare presentation. The timeshare demonstrations will cost you time and your sanity and the kiosks might cost you money. When they sell you a pass that supposedly contains five unused entries, you have no way to verify that until you try to use the ticket. You’ve been warned.
You can get discounts buying passes through AAA or one of several certified-by-Disney ticket resellers (Orlando Fun Tickets is a MousePlanet advertiser and I provide a shameless plug here because… I am a company man). If you are a Disney Vacation Club member, you can receive a significant discount on Annual Passes through DVC.
All tickets are upgradeable. You can buy a 7-day Magic Your Way ticket and add an 8th day… or the Park Hopper option… or… This gets very confusing and it would take another article to explain it all. At its core, any upgrade will cost the difference between the current value of the ticket you own (the unused portion) and the upgraded ticket you want it to be.
I will offer one other piece of advice I’ve picked up that may be useful if you have purchased a discounted ticket. Let’s assume you buy a 7-day Magic Your Way Park Hopper pass from a Disney-certified reseller. Let’s further say you saved $20 buying that ticket and now, on site, you’d like to upgrade it to an 8-day pass. If you simply bring the unused ticket to a ticket booth, they will charge you the difference between a list-price 8-day ticket and the discounted ticket you purchased. Effectively, you will lose your $20 discount. What you want to do is to use your pass to enter a park first. That locks in the value of the ticket and, when you upgrade, you’ll be charged the difference between a full-price 7-day and full-price 8-day pass— about $3.
Hopefully, this little dissertation has given you a road map to follow the next time you ask the question, “What kind of tickets do I need?” I know it’s confusing but, if you break it down to the important components, I think it’s manageable:
- How many days do I need?
- Will I park hop?
- Do I need the No Expiration option?
- Will I visit a water park or Disney Quest?
- Will an Annual Pass make sense?
- Can I buy discounted?
Those are my opinions. What are yours?