July 2012: Buying theme park tickets should be simple – “I want to spend three days at Disney” – but it’s not. The parks’ pricing system is designed to keep you away from the competition. By making it extremely cheap to spend one more day at Universal, for example, guests, by default, spend one less day at Disney. And vice versa. (For more on the bizarre pricing, read Ticket prices: It’s all a game.)
Before getting sucked into “one more cheap day,” however, decide what you’d like to do in Orlando. If 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 after studying the costs, you at least understand what you’re giving up.
Worthy of note: First, this advice applies to people living outside Florida – state residents have deals not listed here. Second: Basic ticket packages expire 14 days after first use with exceptions noted below. Third: Prices here don’t include a sales tax of 6.5%. Fourth: All price are rounded up or down to the nearest dollar to make comparisons easier and the text less junky. Fifth: Check the date on this posting. Ticket prices wiggle like Jell-O.
Disney World tickets
Called “Magic Your Way Tickets,” Disney makes you think about more than “should we go for three or four days?” You must also consider three mix-and-match options. By adding and subtracting options and days, guests literally have 80 ticket choices. That can be mind numbing when standing in front of a ticket counter upon arrival, so plan a bit before leaving home.
In Disney examples below, prices are simplified by giving only two comparisons under each additional option: A one-day ticket and a seven-day ticket. 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.
The core of a Disney package is a one-day admission to one of their four theme parks for $89. It’s the starting point, and all other prices and options spring from that baseline number. Beyond the first $89, 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 in 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: $89 for one day; $176 for two days ($88 per day for a savings of $2 per person); and $242 for three days ($81 per day for a savings of $24 per person). After that, each added day gets progressively cheaper. The price difference between a 5-day ticket and a 10-day ticket is only $50. That makes a 10-day ticket cost $32 per day. However, looking at it another way, adding five days onto a five-day stay only adds $10 per person per additional day.
One-day admission: $89
7-day admission: $288
• Park Hopper option
Adding this multiple-day admission option allows you to visit more than one park per day – without it, you can’t go to Epcot in the morning and Animal Kingdom in the afternoon. For most people, a single park is exhausting, and the parks aren’t close enough to “hop” from one to another. You must either drive or take Disney’s free transportation – a bus, boat, or monorail, depending on the trip. Be realistic if considering the park hopper option. Note also that the park hopper option is expensive if buying only one or two days and cheaper (per day) for longer visits.
Park Hopper with one-day admission: $124
Park Hopper with 7-day admission: $345
• Water Park Fun & More
You can add the two Disney water parks, DisneyQuest (an arcade on steroids), ESPN or a round of miniature golf to a multiple day pass by adding this option to a ticket. Visits, however, are not unlimited and depend on the number of days you buy.
Water Park etc. with one-day admission: $146
Water Park etc. with 7-day admission: $345
• No expiration date
All of the multiple day admissions – up to 10 days – expire after 14 days. By adding the no-expiration-date option, however, they’re good for … well, forever. However, Disney significantly increased the cost of this option for longer passes to make it less attractive for adults who buy 10 day tickets to use over the course of two or three years. While it costs only $15 to make the second day of a two-day ticket good forever, the price rises to $27.50 per day for a 10-day ticket, or $275 per person. However, it’s still a good deal for people who visit multiple times over the years since the last five days of a 10-day ticket add only $10 per day onto the base fare, making a five-day vacation next year cost only $37.50 per day. However, it’s not the bargain it once was. (A decade ago, tickets never expired, and if you still have an old, old ticket with days remaining, it’s still good.)
No expiration one-day admission: Not offered. (2-day ticket: $202)
No expiration 7-day admission: $477.98
• Mix and match options
You can select a base ticket based on the number of days and then add one, two, or three options listed above. An all-inclusive 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 less.
All-option one-day admission: $181. (No expiration option isn’t offered on a one-day pass.)
All-option, 7-day admission: $592
• 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. For many visitors staying more than a week, this is the best choice. Price applies to everyone over the age of two – no child discounts.
Annual pass: $574
Premium annual pass: $699
Buy Disney tickets online through Disney World’s website or through private vendors that offer tickets at a very slight discount.
Universal Studios Orlando tickets
This is easier, largely because Universal only has two parks. To encourage a three-day stay, the cost of a three-day ticket is perilously close to a two-day ticket. All tickets expire after 14 days; there’s no way to use them next year unless you buy an annual pass. Discounts may also be found through private vendors online, but certain groups also offer discounts at the gate. Check with your insurance company, affiliations, company programs, etc. Sales tax is extra; children 3 to 9 about $10 cheaper.
• One park pass
Tickets admit you to only one park per day. The per-day cost averages only $40 if choosing the maximum four-day pass.
One day, single park: $88
Two days, single park per day: $120
Three days, single park per day: $136
Four days, single park per day: $160
• Park-to-park admission
Equivalent to Disney’s park hopper pass, you can visit both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios in a single day, going back and forth at will using this pass. Unlike Disney, the parks are within fairly easy walking distance, situated on opposite ends of Universal CityWalk.
One day, both parks: $123
Two days, both parks: $140
Three days, both parks: $153
Four days, both parks: $160
• Annual pass
Power Pass: 365 days’ admission; doesn’t include parking: $189
Preferred Pass: Same as Power Pass plus free parking and a few discounts: $260
Premier Pass: Same as Preferred plus fast-lines after 4 p.m. and valet parking: $400
SeaWorld Orlando tickets
SeaWorld also owns Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (two hours away), Aquatica (water park), and Discovery Cove (expensive, one-on-one time with sea animals in an all-inclusive, beach-like setting.) Multiple-day tickets are valid for 14 days from first use with unlimited access to any park included in the package. The Orlando FlexTicket includes Wet’n Wild, a less-themed water park close to Universal Orlando that also has the best rides in the area.
SeaWorld Orlando: $85 (includes a second day free)
Discovery Cove: Varies by season but at least $200
Multiple-day tickets (unlimited admission for 14 days):
SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and Aquatica: $145
SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica: $125
SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: $135
Buying SeaWorld tickets online saves about $10 per person ($5 for Aquatica). The company has one web page for single-day admissions and a second one for multiple admissions. Discovery Cove has its own website.
Some non-Disney properties got together to offer multiple-use tickets to parks not owned by the same company, including both Universal Studios and SeaWorld. More info is available on SeaWorld’s website.
Orlando FlexTicket: SeaWorld, Aquatica, both Universal parks, and Wet ‘n Wild: $290
Orlando FlexTicket Plus: All the above plus Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: $330