Disney World just announced an increase in its ticket prices, and Universal Studios quickly matched the rate. It now costs $82 for a one-day/one-park ticket. (Yow.) That price, however, is extremely misleading.
Buying admission tickets should be simple – “I want to spend three days at Disney” – but it’s not. Called “Magic Your Way Tickets,” a purchase involves multiple decisions with four mix-and-match options.
Disclaimers: First, this advice applies only to people living outside Florida – state residents have deals not listed here. Second: Basic ticket packages expire 14 days after first use. Third: Check the date on this posting. Ticket prices wiggle like Jell-O.
What to consider first
The theme parks want you to spend your time with them (eating more food/buying more souvenirs) – not the competition – so price structures encourage guests to stay longer. Before getting sucked in, however, decide what you’d like to do for (insert number of vacation days) you’ll be in Orlando. If your family decides that an ideal schedule is three days at Disney, two days at Universal, and one day at Sea World, you have a baseline for making decisions. If you switch to five Disney days because of cost, you at least understand the trade-off.
In Disney examples below, prices are quoted for only two options to simplify comparisons: A one-day/one-park ticket and a seven day/one-park ticket (seven days of admission but only one park per day.) Disney sells multi-day tickets in any length up to 10 days, however. Also, these examples apply to adults. Kids (ages 3-9) cost slightly less; children two and younger are free.
Understanding Disney tickets
The core of a Disney package is a one-day admission to one of their four theme parks for $82. But you have the following options:
• Multiple day admission.
This is the main program that entices guests to spend more time with Mickey. Each additional day within a ticket package costs less than the day before. Since most people plan to spend at least three days at Disney, the per-day price savings is small at first: $82 for the first day; $80 more for a second day; $62 more for a third day. After that it gets progressively cheaper. The price difference between a 5-day ticket and a 10-day ticket is only $25. (Translation: Days No. 6 through 10 average out to only $5 per day.)
One-day admission: $82
7-day admission: $247
• Park Hopper Option.
This allows you to visit more than one Disney park on any single day. If buying four or more days admission, it’s probably not worth the extra cost. If you finish one park early, rest up for the next day. If you’re a return guest planning to visit “everything that’s new” in two days, it’s a consideration – but note this option’s high cost for short-term visits.
Park Hopper one-day admission: $136
Park Hopper 7-day admission: $301
• Water Park Fun & More.
Add the two Disney water parks, DisneyQuest (an arcade on steroids), ESPN or a round of golf for an additional fee. Visits, however, are not unlimited and depend on the number of days you buy. (Aside: Why would anyone buy a one-day ticket that includes a water park?)
Water Park etc. one-day admission: $136
Water Park etc. 7-day admission: $301
• No expiration date
Adding this makes unused days good forever instead of expiring after 14 days. For some visitors, this is an insurance policy: If they change their mind and forego Disney days, the unused tickets aren’t worthless. For smart guests planning a return trip in a year or two, a 10-day ticket with this option gives them five days this year and five days next year for the bargain rate of $47.50 per day.
No expiration one-day admission: Not offered. 2-day ticket: $184
No expiration 7-day admission: $389
• Mix and match the options
Pick a number of days and add more than one of the options listed above. A 10-day ticket that’s a non-refundable, park hopping, water park extravaganza, for example, would cost $583. The examples below assume all three options; choosing only two of the three would cost slightly less.
All-option one-day admission: Not offered. 2-day ticket: $292
All-option, 7-day admission: $497
• Annual passes (non-Floridian)
Forget everything said above. A basic annual pass bestows unlimited admission to the four theme parks for one year (365 days); a premium pass does the same and adds admission to the water parks, DisneyQuest, and more.
Annual pass: $499
Premium annual pass: $629
Buy Disney tickets online at: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com – click on “Tickets & Packages.” (Note: It can take an hour to stand in line, make decisions, and pay for tickets the day you arrive, a heinous crime to kids who can see Space Mountain but not ride it. Consider booking tickets ahead of time.)
How to buy Universal tickets
This is easier, largely because Universal only has two parks. To encourage a two-day stay, the cost of a two-day ticket ($135) is perilously close to a one-day ticket ($109). Like Disney, however, the company makes additional days extremely cheap. A 7-day pass is $169, or less than $25 per day. (Price reflects an online discount; slightly more expensive at the gate – but Universal also offers discounts through multiple programs, such as car rentals, auto clubs, etc. Check before arrival.) Universal also offers an upgrade price for jumping the lines and riding quickly, though the price varies by season.
Buy Universal tickets online at: http://www.universalorlando.com/Tickets/tickets_2.aspx