By Robert NilesYou can't tell anyone that you cover theme parks for a living without being asked: "How do I get cheap tickets for Disney World?" (Or Disneyland, if you're talking with someone on the west coast.) People have been conditioned by hotels and airlines never to pay the "full price" and always to look for discounts. But theme parks don't change their prices from customer to customer like hotels and airlines do.
Published: January 27, 2015 at 9:22 PM
Still, you can find discounts if you take the time and know where to look. Always start with theme parks' own websites to learn about ticket options and to find what you should consider the "baseline" price. We've linked the online ticket stores for all the major U.S. theme parks on our How to Save Money on a Theme Park Vacation page, so start your search there. You'll find links on that page to the parks' current vacation package specials, as well as to discounted admissions for convention attendees.
Many other retailers sell theme park tickets, too. If you buy from the parks themselves, you know that you're getting legitimate tickets that will work. When you buy elsewhere, that might not always be the case. Never buy theme park tickets from Craigslist, eBay, or people on the street. Multi-day Disney and Universal theme park tickets are linked to photos or finger scans of the people who first use them, so unused days are worthless to anyone else. If you try to use the unused days on someone else's theme park ticket, the park won't let you in.
Fortunately for deal-seekers, theme parks do work with a small group of authorized sellers who will provide tickets every bit as legit as those you can buy from the parks themselves. Here are links to the online stores of five major authorized theme park ticket resellers. No single retailer offers the best available deals on tickets to all of America's three major multi-park resorts — Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Orlando — so be sure to look around to find the best deal. (Discount levels might vary over time, too.) We've focused on the Disney and Universal resorts here, but many of these retailers also sell tickets to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and Legoland parks, too.
The American Automobile Association sells a wide selection of discounted attraction tickets to its members. That link is to the Southern California Auto Club's website, but if AAA doesn't redirect you automatically to your club via that link, just look for the "Not Your Club?" link at the top of the page to find your local AAA chapter's discount page.
Walt Disney World: AAA does not provide discounted tickets to Disney World, but does offer travel agents who specialize in setting up Disney vacations, via aaa.com/disney.
Universal Orlando: AAA sells Universal Orlando tickets online at aaa.com/universal, but the prices there are the same as you will find on Universal Orlando's online ticket store — which are $20 off the gate price for multi-day tickets.
Disneyland: AAA sells Disneyland tickets in person at its branches, for $4.75-8.50 off the gate price. That discount might not be enough to entice you to make an extra trip, but if you're already in or near a branch anyway, go ahead and get your tickets in advance and save a few bucks while you do.
This online travel agency also sells a variety of attraction tickets.
Walt Disney World: Not currently available.
Universal Orlando: You can find discounted Universal Orlando tickets here for up to $23 off on certain multi-day tickets.
Disneyland: aResTravel sells Disneyland tickets for up to $24 off the gate price of a multi-day ticket.
Another online travel agency, Kijubi lists several online theme park ticket deals.
Walt Disney World: No discounts, but you can buy Disney World tickets at the same price as you can get from Disney, at the gate or online.
Universal Orlando: Same deal with Universal Orlando. The prices here are the same as on the Universal Orlando website.
Disneyland: You will find some Disneyland discounts here, with prices $3-6 off the gate price per ticket.
Recreation Connection handles ticket discounts for many corporate HR departments across the country. If your employer offers things such as discounted movie and attraction tickets, they might becoming through Recreation Connection. But deal-seekers also can buy direct through Recreation Connection's website. For what it's worth, we've found that the lineup of attractions sold through this source changes more often than with other resellers.
Walt Disney World: Not currently available.
Universal Orlando: Not currently available.
Once pretty much limited to the Orlando area parks, Undercover Tourist now is an authorized reseller for a wide variety of theme parks across the country.
Walt Disney World: Undercover Tourist's Walt Disney World tickets will save you up to $27 per multi-day ticket, though be careful as the site's prices on one- and two-day tickets are actually more expensive than the gate prices. (To give Undercover Tourist credit, it does note that fact on its sales page.)
Universal Orlando: These Universal Orlando tickets are prices up to $10 off the prices for multi-day tickets available on the Universal Orlando website.
Disneyland: Not currently available.
What's your favorite sources for buying theme park tickets? Tell us in the comments whom we should be using... or whom we should be avoiding when we want to find the best deals on theme park tickets.
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By Robert NilesWhere is your favorite place to eat at the Walt Disney World Resort? Theme Park Insider readers have been rating and reviewing the restaurants in the Disney World theme parks, and here are our top 10 highest-rated table-service restaurants in the parks. If you'd like to have your say for our weekly Top 10 lists, just visit our "Park Guides" section and click through to the parks you've visited recently to rate and review their rides, shows, restaurants, and hotels.
Published: January 26, 2015 at 10:35 AM
10. Restaurant Marrakesh
Somewhat hidden in the back of the Moroccan pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, Restaurant Marrakesh wins high marks from readers who like its north African cuisine and often easy-to-book tables. But if tagines, roast lamb, lemon chicken and the like aren't your favorites, you'll find more popular options on this list.
9. Chefs de France
The downstairs restaurant in World Showcase's France pavilion, Chefs de France offers a variety of French bistro fare, including a Croque Monsieur at lunch and duck, salmon and beef selections at dinner.
8. Via Napoli
Patina Group's pizza restaurant sits at the back of Epcot's Italy pavilion, baking its Neapolitan thin-crust, wood-fired pies in three ovens named for Italy's famous volcanoes: Etna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius.
It is Oktoberfest every day at this buffet in World Showcase's Germany pavilion, with an oompah band and diners singing and dancing along with the performers.
6. Le Cellier Steakhouse
Themed the wine cellars of historic Canada hotels, Le Cellier's most popular dish might be its Cheddar Cheese Soup, available at lunch and dinner. You'll also find a selection of beef, venison, pork, chicken, salmon, and pasta.
5. Liberty Tree Tavern
The first restaurant outside Epcot to make our list, the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Tree serves lunch to order, with pot roast, roast turkey, hamburgers, and salads, while dinner offers a fixed-price menu of roasted meats and sides, served family-style.
4. Teppan Edo
And now, back to Epcot for this Japanese Teppanyaki-style restaurant, offering a variety of steak, chicken, shrimp and scallop combinations, as well as sushi and appetizers.
3. The Hollywood Brown Derby
A replica of the original (and now demolished) Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles, this table service restaurant is the Studios' top dining experience — and its most expensive. The Brown Derby's most famous dish was the Cobb salad (named for Bob Cobb, the original restaurant's owner), and you'll find it on the menu here as an appetizer or entree, served with the original Cobb dressing.
2. Be Our Guest
The toughest table to book in the Disney theme parks, Be Our Guest offers three dining rooms depicted in or inspired by the Disney's Best Picture Academy Award-nominated animated classic, Beauty and the Beast. The French bistro-inspired menu includes steak, chicken, salmon, pork, and lamb at dinner and a selection of salads and sandwiches at lunch.
1. Monsieur Paul
Our readers' choice for the top restaurant in the Walt Disney World theme parks, Monsieur Paul is named for legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, whose family operates both of the France pavilion's table-service restaurants. The restaurant's signature dish might be its "Soupe aux truffes VGE." Created by Bocuse and named for former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (the VGE in the title), the soup offers beef broth and finely diced oxtail, carrots, onions and celery, with a larger dice of mushroom pate, flavored with generous slices of black winter truffle and crowned with puff pastry.
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By Robert NilesThe measles outbreak that got its start at the Disneyland Resort has grown to more than 80 cases, with the latest involving a walk-on baseball coach at Santa Monica High School.
Published: January 25, 2015 at 9:32 PM
A reporter from a local public radio station interviewed me last week about the outbreak, asking what Disneyland should be doing about all of this. I replied that it was a unfair to be putting any responsibility for this on Disney. As "southern California'a family room," a place where tens of thousands of people congregate on any given day, Disneyland is one of the more likely places for an outbreak of a highly contagious disease to happen. People are calling this the "Disneyland outbreak" simply because that's where this one got its start, much as we name earthquakes for their epicenters and wildfires for the place where someone first saw the flames. But Disneyland's no more dangerous to visit today than any other public place in southern California or any other community to which the measles now have spread.
Maybe we need to go back through the Mighty Microscope again, this time to learn about vaccination.
As an employer, Disney has done what any responsible employer should do in this type of situation. It has seen that infected employees are treated, and that other employees at risk are isolated until they are immunized or the danger has passed.
Let's not forget, though, that this outbreak happened not because of some failure on Disney's part, but because of the failure of thousands of people across Southern California to get properly immunized and to immunize their children. Millions of Americans have chosen to ignore science on immunizations in favor of believing conspiracy theories and junk reports from talk shows and celebrities who haven't the slightest clue about medicine, biology, or anything other than getting themselves noticed. (You can imagine that this is where we cut to a shot of people over at SeaWorld nodding their heads in sympathetic frustration.)
The thing is, the Walt Disney Company used to be pretty darned good at not just educating people about things such as science, but getting people to buy in that they should get to know something about science. Before Disney's theme parks became solely focused on extending animation and comic book franchises, Disney's Imagineers did some pretty fun work with non-fiction themes. Attractions such as "Adventure Thru Inner Space" and "Body Wars" not only entertained us, they provided gentle lessons about chemistry, biology, and the human immune system. Seems like those are some lessons that we could use more public enthusiasm for these days.
Let's take a step into the Wayback Machine are revisit these now-closed Disney classics:
There have been more than 144,000 cases of preventable illness and more than 6,000 preventable deaths in the United States since 2007 due to people not getting immunized on schedule, according to one analysis of the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. But I don't think that those numbers will motivate change from anyone who's already chosen to ignore the massive amount of data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Some people think they are, well, immune, from that sort of thing.
If we're going to get Americans vaccinated the way we once did in this country, we need to get people bought into science they way we once were. We need someone to do specifically for medical science what Neil deGrasse Tyson just tried to do with his reboot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos [affiliate link]. If cold statistics and physician lectures won't rekindle demand for better preventive medical care, perhaps we need a warmer, more entertaining approach.
Perhaps we need some Imagineering know-how right now. Disney doesn't have to do anything more than it has about this measles outbreak. But if Disney wants to show its civic mindfulness, what better time to charge its creative talent to come up with something that might inspire more Americans to do the right thing by themselves and their neighbors and to get vaccinated? As a Disney Legend once wrote, "one little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation."
Disney used to be great at creating those little sparks of inspiration. I'd betcha that, if it wanted to, Disney could start doing that again.
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By Robert NilesWe are approaching that time of year when the Walt Disney World theme parks raise their ticket prices. Last year, Disney raised the prices of a one-day ticket at the Magic Kingdom to $99 and the other parks to $94. Of course, few people buy one-day tickets to Disney World. Disney's ticket price structure lowers the per-day prices of its tickets the more days you buy, encouraging you to stay longer at the resort. (And, of course, making it relatively more expensive to leave property for a day or two to go visit Harry Potter and friends at Universal Orlando.) That's why almost all visitors to Walt Disney World buy multi-day tickets.
Published: January 23, 2015 at 8:42 PM
But you've got many more options beyond the number of days you buy when you purchase a Disney ticket. One way that people have gotten around the ever-increasing price of Disney World tickets is to buy the "no expiration" option on their tickets. By default, multi-day Disney World tickets expire 14 days from the ticket's first use. But if you buy the no-expiration option, your unused days are good forever, locking your future visits in at today's prices.
Of course, Disney charges plenty for this benefit, sharply reducing its value. Many years ago, when the no-expiration option didn't cost that much, going with the no-expire tickets was a good deal for fans who planned regular visits to the resort. Today, many fans have done the math and decided that paying $77.60 a day for a 10-day park-hopper with no-expiration versus $41.40 a day for the same ticket that does expire doesn't provide enough of a hedge against future price increases to make the option worth its price. (Some of those fans have decided instead to join the Disney Vacation Club, the company's time-share deal, which provides some discounts on park tickets as well as the potential to get a better room for your money when staying on-site.) Two years ago, Disney took the no-expiration option off its website and many ticket booth boards, making it an "off the menu" option you had to ask for in person or over the phone.
Ever since then, we've heard rumblings from within the company that Disney wants to eliminate the no-expiration option altogether. Disneyland doesn't sell a no-expiration on its tickets, and the elimination of the option in Orlando would bring the two resorts in line on this issue.
What do you think?
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By Robert NilesCourtesy Stefan Zwanzger, we have our first look at the Enchanted Storybook Castle as it takes shape at Shanghai Disneyland.
Published: January 23, 2015 at 2:26 PM
Shanghai's castle will be Disney's largest, housing a boat ride as well as a princess meet and greet, a "Once Upon a Time Adventure" walk-through attraction, and a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Here's what the exterior will look like, according to Disney's design concept:
The park was scheduled for completion by the end of this year, but that deadline has slipped, and now insiders are hoping for a 2016 opening.
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By Robert NilesYou know you're a Theme Park Insider when you see a new piece of technology and your first thought is "how could this be used in a theme park?" And so it is with Microsoft HoloLens, the holographic glasses that Microsoft introduced this week with its announcement of Windows 10. Let's take a look at what Microsoft says that HoloLens will be able to do:
Published: January 22, 2015 at 4:20 PM
Sure, the video shows some gimmicky features that no one will ever use. C'mon, who wants to see 3D weather forecast icons on their kitchen table? No one. But a virtual TV on the wall? Intriguing. Could the TV set be the one of the items we drop in favor of holographic glasses? Now, a pair of glasses only serves one viewer while a single TV set can be seen by many. But the flexibility of a TV "screen" that moves around with you might prove more alluring than buying multiple sets, especially in a home with smaller families who can afford a pair of glasses for everyone.
A reporter from Wired spent some time last fall testing the glasses and came away impressed. These aren't the weak, and now discontinued, Google Glass. Microsoft's partnering with Pasadena's JPL to use the HoloLens for analysis of Mars rover data, by creating a 3D holographic space for scientists to explore. But it's Microsoft's illustration of how HoloLens could expand the Minecraft experience should get theme park fans thinking.
Holographic technology provides theme park designers with the opportunity to more seamlessly blend practical and virtual space. Designers have been putting screens together with practical effects in award-winning rides such as Universal's Transformers: The Ride and Disney's Mystic Manor. Holograms would allow designers to take that relationship to another level. Imagine what a theme park attraction could look like if we dropped today's 3D glasses in favor of tomorrow's HoloLens.
Of course, new technology creates challenges as well as opportunities. Virtual reality gear such as HoloLens create an individual experience, often in a fixed location. They typically just simulate the experience of being in a physical space with other people. Yet theme parks do much the opposite. They put people in close proximity with one another in practical spaces through which the park would really like people to keep moving.
So creating a compelling HoloLens-powered theme park attraction isn't as simple as putting a few demo models in Innovations (though, hey, at this point, many of us would be perfectly happy if Disney just did that). A great HoloLens-driven attraction would play to the relatives strengths of the technology and the parks that would house it.
We don't need HoloLens to help us interact with the people who already surround us in a theme park. But it would be a wonderful new way for us to interact with the characters that cannot be there in "real," practical form. Imagine the Genie from Disney's Aladdin show rendered as an animated hologram rather than a physical character who by that nature cannot morph his form the way that an on-screen animated character can. In holographic form, he could.
A compelling animated holographic character could help drive parks' need to move people through the physical space of an attraction by serving as a guide who draws us to follow. Imagine how much more amazing Universal Orlando's Poseidon's Fury walk-through show could be if it used HoloLens as the platform for its characters, whom we would follow through the show space.
Parks also could use holographic technology to complement practical sets to expand the visual range of an attraction's setting. Think of how Microsoft showed how HoloLens could allow viewers to see the Minecraft universe breaking through physical walls in a living room.
Imagine SeaWorld taking another crack at its Antarctica ride, but instead of confining us in those penguin-less caves for the first two scenes in the ride, we were whisking through the vast outdoor Antarctic wilderness which SeaWorld would create in holographic form. With holograms, a park could save on the expense of building and maintaining massive projection systems to create screen-based environments, building only suitable surfaces upon which we would see the holograms projected inside our glasses, with enough practical setting to help sell the illusion.
Sure, we've got questions: How much will holographic development cost? We're not just talking labor hours to design and program systems, we're talking about creating the server and network capacity to support multiple, moving wireless glass units in a defined attraction space, too. When might parks (and consumers) be able get these glasses, and at what price? In the short run, it's almost certain that existing technology will prove less expensive for parks to create screen-based attractions. But in a few years? Who knows?
And, ultimately, can Microsoft deliver? If you're skeptical that the company behind Windows and Office programs might be able to pull this off, remember that this is the company behind Xbox and Kinect, too, which might be more relevant technology to what HoloLens seeks to do.
So let's get dreaming here. Do you think that HoloLens could drive a compelling theme park attraction? If so, how would you like to see theme parks use HoloLens in the parks?
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By Robert NilesIt is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Daniel Etcheberry, who covered disability issues for us here on Theme Park Insider. Daniel, a resident of Tampa, was 42 years old.
Published: January 22, 2015 at 10:43 AM
Daniel had been a member of the Theme Park Insider community since 2010 and in 2013 started writing a monthly column covering theme parks from the perspective of a fan who used a wheelchair.
He was particularly honored when the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation chose to share his column, How using a wheelchair changes the theme park experience, to its thousands of followers in Facebook. In that post, Daniel wrote: "My theme park life can be divided in two parts; my able body experience and my disabled experience. 1999 was the year that changed the way I would experience the same rides that I rode before. Ending up in a wheelchair with no ability of standing up on my own and with upper torso weakness, it changed my ride’s experience."
What disability never changed, however, was Daniel's love for theme parks and visiting them. His columns provided advice and inspiration for many Theme Park Insider readers who did not want to let a physical disability get in the way of their enjoyment of the parks, either.
I've reached out to Daniel's family for information about services. In the meantime, I hope that you will enjoy these links to some of Daniel's best columns, as well as to take this opportunity to remember Daniel and to express your condolences to his family, in the comments.
Some of Daniel's top columns:
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