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Disney keeps hiking prices but the people keep coming, so don’t expect it to relent. This will be the biggest expense, so assess your needs before laying down plastic. All park tickets (excepting annual passes) are purchased by the day. You decide how many days you want to spend at the parks, and once you nail that down, you decide which extras you want to pay for. Both decisions are fraught with temptation and the risk of overspending. It’s possible Disney intentionally makes the process complicated so that customers spend more money than they have to.

Unless noted, the following prices do not include the 6% to 7.5% sales tax (Disney actually falls in two different counties). Note: Price hikes are frequent occurrences (and usually come about in mid-August), so call tel. 407/824-4321 or visit www.disneyworld.com for the most up-to-the-minute pricing.

Note: All tickets include unlimited use of the WDW transportation system. Bear in mind that Disney considers children 10 and older to be adults for pricing purposes, and children younger than 3 aren't charged admission.

Magic Their Way

We recommend visitors to Orlando spend the first 3 or 4 days of their weeklong vacations at the Disney parks, and by the fourth or fifth days, move on to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and the Kennedy Space Center. However, the Disney resort uses Magic Your Way, a scaled pricing scheme that appears to reward people who stay on Disney turf for more than 4 days. The delayed economy of Magic Your Way is a honey trap that locks in purchases and entices families to stay on Disney property longer, spending more money. It crowds out anything non-Disney.

Like on an airline, you add the options that you want. They are (including tax, rounded to the nearest dollar):

     1. Base ticket. You must at least buy this. This is your theme park admission. With it, you are entitled to visit one park per day, with no switching on the same day. So the first, and most important, decision you’ll make is to select the number of days you want. The trick will be sticking to your plan, since after 4 days, the biggest per-day discounts kick in. (My take: When it’s all new to you, one park per day, or 4 days, is plenty.)

     2. Park Hopper. Should you crave the privilege of jumping from park to park on the same day (I recommend it for seasoned visitors), you must add the Park Hopper option. With it, you can do the early-morning safari at Animal Kingdom, take a nap at your hotel, and then switch to the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks. As the chart below shows, this flexibility costs a total of $52 for 2- and 3-day tickets, but $64 for longer ones, no matter how many days of tickets it covers. This is a handy option to have, but you may decide you do not need it.

     3. Water Park Fun & More (WPF&M). From here on out, willpower is crucial to saving money on Magic Your Way. Should you plan to visit a Disney water slide park, DisneyQuest, or see an event at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, then the Water Park Fun & More (WPF&M) option includes a set number of admissions. That add-on is $64 no matter how long you stay. The pitfall here is that too many people overestimate the amount of time and energy they are going to have, buy this option, and fail to use it. Think carefully about your own plans, and be realistic. During the course of 3 days of theme park going, and after miles of walking, are you really going to have enough juice for the water slides? Or are there other things to do in Orlando that you’d like to try (for example, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Kennedy Space Center)? If you don’t pre-add on WPF&M, you will always be allowed to buy separate admission to any attractions it includes, and you might save money by not adding it; if you’re realistically only going to visit Typhoon Lagoon once and do nothing else on the list of WPF&M inclusions, the walk-up ticket there ($56 adults/$48 kids 3–9) is cheaper for adults than buying this option. Here’s another way to lose money by using this option: On days you visit a water park, your visit there will likely consume the whole day and most of your energy—and on that day, you probably won’t set foot in a theme park, but you will have paid for a theme park because Magic Your Way is calculated by the number of days on your Base Ticket. So if you don’t go to a theme park on the same day you’re at a water park, you will be paying admission to two places in 1 day. This is the biggest reason to avoid WPF&M and just buy second-tier entry tickets separately once your allotment of Base Ticket days is over. You may add this to your ticket while you’re at Disney, but you’ll still pay the rate applicable to your total length of stay. If you plan to buy both the Park Hopper and the Water Park Fun & More options, they come bundled for an $86 add-on, no matter how many days you stay.

     4. The No Expiration option. If you don’t buy this option, unused Base Ticket days are dead after 14 days of your ticket’s first use. If you buy it, they’re good until you use them up, no matter when. Disney hikes prices each spring like clockwork, but if you select this, your ticket can be used as long as there are days left on it. Assuming you bought 10 days of tickets, the maximum allowed for North Americans, you’d spend $739 for an adult no-expiration pass, which equals $74 per day ($80 with Park Hopper). Day-of tickets are currently $100 to $105—so there’s a savings, but only if you return later in your life and you don’t lose your ticket information or MagicBand. There’s a side benefit: Paying extra for No Expiration frees you to explore the rest of Orlando without guilt because you know there’s no ticking clock. So buying it actually buys you the freedom to have lots of other worthwhile experiences. For this reason, I recommend it.

Finally, very slight discounts on Magic Your Way are available. If you buy your tickets in advance (online or at a Disney Store), save the shipping fee by arranging to pick them up at the gates of one of the parks (long lines) or at Guest Relations in Downtown Disney Marketplace (short line). Florida residents are offered entirely different discounts (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/florida-residents) that come with blackout dates, as do AAA members; if you’re one, call 407/824-4321 for the latest promotion. (See “Other Ticket ‘Discounts’ & Deals,” below, for a more on potential discounts.)

During some times of year, the park mounts special evening events, such as the ones around Halloween and Christmas that require a separate, expensive ticket. You will get less value out of your Magic Your Way ticket if you attend during the day before one of these parties because if you haven’t paid for the evening-event ticket, you’ll be rounded up and sent out in late afternoon.

Disney Ticket Options*

         Base Ticket       Add Water Park Fun & More      Add No Expiration      Add Park Hopper

Days of Use              Age 10 & up              Age 3–9

1       $105/100**         $99/94**    $59/$64** (1 visit)      N/A            $37/43

2       $200 $186          $64 (2 visits)              $43            $52

3       $292 $272          $64 (3 visits)              $53            $52

4       $313 $292          $64 (4 visits)              $107          $64

5       $324 $303          $64 (5 visits)              $170          $64

6       $334 $313          $64 (6 visits)              $224          $64

7       $345 $324          $64 (7 visits)              $266          $64

8       $356 $345          $64 (8 visits)              $288          $64

9       $377 $356          $64 (9 visits)              $314          $64

10     $339 $320          $50 (10 visits)            $325          $59

* Prices include sales tax of 6 to 7.5 percent. Prices accurate as of August 15, 2014. Prices rise each spring.

** The higher price is for the Magic Kingdom, and the second price applies to the other three theme parks.

Other Ticket “Discounts” & Deals

A few businesses shave a few paltry bucks off multiday tickets. International visitors are eligible for tickets good for longer stays and unlimited WPF&M admissions, but only if they are purchased from abroad. At recent exchange rates, non-Americans may find it’s cheaper to buy American-issued tickets with Park Hopper options at the gate; do the math. Really big fans carry a Chase Disney Rewards Visa credit card (800/300-8575; www.chase.com/disney), which grants points to be redeemed on all things Disney, a few discounts, and a character meet-and-greet area just for cardholders.

Buyer Beware!

Before Magic Your Way made ticket expiration standard, pretty much every Disney ticket was good forever. That means there are a lot of unused days floating around. It’s illegal to sell them, but that doesn’t stop people. When you see a sign on the side of U.S. 192 promising discounted tickets, guess what may be for sale? Buying a ticket like this is a gamble, particularly if you don’t have the expertise to recognize a fake or a spent ticket. Often, only a Disney laser scan can tell for sure.

Other organizations, such as timeshare developers, do offer legit tickets to theme parks and dinner shows, but to get them, you will have to endure heavy-duty sales presentations that last several hours. The requirements for attendance can be tight: Married couples must attend together (gay couples are often excluded—that’s legal in Florida), you both must swear your combined annual income is above a certain amount ($50,000, for example, for Westgate branded resorts—yes, run by the timeshare baron in “The Queen of Versailles”), that you are in a given age range (23–65 is common), and that you commit to staying for at least 90 minutes, although being pitched for long as 4 hours is also common. Even if you’re fearless, an entire morning of your hard-earned vacation time is worth a lot more than whatever discount is being provided. After all, how many days of working did it take for you to accrue those 4 or 5 hours? You also may not arrive at the parks until lunchtime, missing (in some cases) a third of the opening hours. Don’t be so cheap and discount-obsessed that you throw away your time.

 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.