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Walt Disney World ticket advice: Which ticket to buy?

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Published: June 13, 2011 at 8:57 AM

Update: An updated version of this article is available! Here is the new version: Which Walt Disney World ticket should I buy?.

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As Theme Park Insider readers reported on the Discussion Board over the weekend, Disney has raised its theme park prices. You're looking at a $3 increase on a one-day, one-park ticket at Walt Disney World (from $82 to $85) and a $4 increase on the same at Disneyland (from $76 to $80). Prices increase across the board from there.

Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

(Ah, theme parks. The only thing that costs less in Southern California than Orlando.)

Disney says that its guest surveys show that visitors continue to see a Disney vacation as a good value. And at this point, I don't think that a modest increase in ticket prices is going to keep anyone from making a trip - though it might prompt a few more people to look for discounts. (Check out our ticket advice page for links to major parks' current ticket deals.)

But I did run the new numbers to see what advice I could offer on which tickets to buy, given your situation.

Here's the per-day cost of the various Walt Disney World Resort theme park admission tickets:

Days1 park per dayw/ Park Hopperw/ No Expirew/ Hopper and No Expire
185140----
284111.5096.5124
377.3395.6789107.33
460.7574.5079.593.25
550.2061.2073.284.20
643.1752.3364.8374
738.14466168.86
834.3841.2558.7565.63
931.4437.5655.8962
1029.1034.6051.6057.10

(Here's the link to the complete price list.)

Disney offers the "park hopper" option, allowing you to visit multiple theme parks on one admission day, for a flat $55 on any ticket you buy. So if you buy a one-day ticket, that inflates your cost from $85 to a staggering $140. But if you buy a 10-day ticket, adding the park hopper option adds just $5.50 a day to your ticket.

Adding the park hopper to a one-, two- or three-day ticket inflates the per-day cost of that ticket above the basic one-day, one-park rate. So if you're looking for the best possible deal on tickets, I'd suggest not adding the park hopper option unless you're staying at least five days at the Walt Disney World Resort. Most first-time visitors will opt for a four-day ticket, spending one day at each park. You don't need the park hopper option for that. Getting the most of a park hopper requires some "insider" knowledge of transportation between parks, as well as how crowded each park is at different times of day and days of the week, too. So it's not the best option for rookies. (Hang out around here and you'll pick up some of that knowledge, though!)

It's tempting to look at those low per-day prices on extended stay tickets and to think about buying the full 10 days, then saving your unused days for a future trip. But remember that your days will expire 14 days after you use the first day on the ticket, unless you pay extra for the "no expire" option.

Take a look at that column, and you see how you give back much of the savings on extended tickets with the no expire option. It makes no sense at all to add no expire to two- or three-day tickets, as it would be cheaper to just buy a one-day ticket for each day of your stay.

If you are thinking about the no-expire option, first think about the average number of days you visit Disney theme parks during your trips to Orlando. If you spend four days or fewer at Disney each time, then go ahead and buy the full 10-day ticket with no expire option. That will bring your per-day cost down to $51.60, as opposed to the $60.75 you'd spend per day on a four-day trip without the no-expire option. (You get a better price on park hoppers with no expire on trips of five days or fewer.) To me, it makes absolutely no sense to buy less than 10 days if you are adding the no-expire option. If you're tying up your money like that, you might as well get the lowest possible per-day rate on your tickets.

I wouldn't recommend buying long Disney World tickets simply as an inflation hedge. There are better places to save your money for that. But if you can get a significant per-day savings with a no expire ticket, go ahead.

Later today, I'll post my analysis of Disneyland ticket prices and advice on what to buy when you're visiting Southern California.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Walt Disney World tickets, in the comments.

More: Why Disney World's pricing structure ensures it will remain Orlando's theme park leader

Readers' Opinions

From Dave Stroem on June 13, 2011 at 9:21 AM
I always suggest to people that are going and considering buying the park hopper to take the money for it, but don't purchase it till they need it. Many times I have seen friends get it, then never use it. This can save some big bucks if you don't use it, and adding it on can be done at anytime while the tickets are valid.

I am also not a fan of the never expiring tickets because we almost always stay on-site with some kind of a promotion. Most of those promotions require purchasing a certain minimum number of days pass. Thus the non-expiring days just sit there till we decide not to stay on-site.

From Todd Houts on June 13, 2011 at 9:31 AM
Great advice, Robert. I was looking at booking a trip just last week and didn't finalize it. Although checking now - either they already were factoring higher prices in the vacation planning tool - or they've yet to update that as the price is exactly the same as last Wednesday. So if you're on the fence - book now!

Another reason to consider the park hopper addition is if you're buying a dining plan that has sit down dining. The last time I did that I made plans to more or less eat in a different country in Epcot each night - which meant returning to Epcot daily even if that was the only reason and the park hopper was essential for that.

From Amanda Jenkins on June 13, 2011 at 9:36 AM
I read some comments on the Disney Blog concerning this, and most of them were negative. Logically, I wonder how people expect theme parks to not increase ticket sales, when everything else has increased in price. Theme parks are a business and what do businesses want? To make a profit. Why people get so defensive about this, I will never know. My advice to people who moan and groan over increases is this...don't buy a ticket. You don't have to. It isn't a necessity.

Now that I have had my rant for the week. I do think that people who have never been to Disney World/Disneyland do need to do as much research as they can before coming. One of our trips, we sat and talked with a family from Canada who were under the impression that buying a one day base ticket allowed you to visit each of the four parks. They were shocked at how much it cost their family of five and were trying to squeeze in all of Orlando into five days. These people were also under the impression that every ride was just in the Magic Kingdom and were asking where Expedition Everest, Soarin and the Hulk coaster were on the MK map. We hated telling them that they were at the wrong park for these.

People are sadly under the impression that if you are going to a theme park for a day or two that there is no need to plan. These are the people who are complaining in line about the crowds, heat, and the prices of the place. I treat a theme park centered vacation like I would if I were to travel to another country. I make sure to map out the "must sees" and "must do's". I plan and make dining reservations. I map out time frames and alternate ways to get to where we need to be. I also make sure I have the correct prices and see if we can afford tickets, special events, souvenirs, etc.

From Robert Niles on June 13, 2011 at 9:36 AM
Nice point, Todd, though I would also point out that most people on a Dining Plan are visiting longer than four days, too.

I have a 10-day park hopper with the no expire option, which I use to drop in for a day or two whenever I'm in town. (Full disclosure: my mother is a WDW CM, so I sometimes get into the parks for free when visiting her and she signs me in.) I think the 10-day no expire is a great option for a frequent visitor to the area who wants a quick Disney "fix" on each trip, as opposed to someone who takes a week-long (or more) annual visit to the resort. Those folks should skip the no expire and buy as they go, IMHO.

From 64.231.247.84 on June 13, 2011 at 9:55 AM
I always suggest the Park Hopper. You never know if you're at Animal Kingdom (who has earlier closing hours) and finish up with hours left and want to spend a few more hours at a different park. Or to eat dinner at a country in Epcot.

I have the say the most relaxing trip I had was one where I stayed onsite and the room key = Key to the kingdom. Where the park hopper was included in my entire trip and for the duration of my stay. If we woke up and wanting to go to Blizzard Beach, we could do that if later that day we wanted to eat dinner at the Diner at Hollywood Studios & see Fantasmic, we could do that. It offered a lot of freedom to experience the entire Disney World.

From Brian Emery on June 13, 2011 at 10:35 AM
A nice well written article Roberto..
When visiting Orlando, Disney has many options to choose and I believe anyone can find the perfect option for their budget…

What about stopping by one of those time share booth in Denny’s? Any cheap tickets there?

From 173.162.139.169 on June 13, 2011 at 11:30 AM
I bought a 10 day no expiration with the water park fun and more option from a third party vendor when I heard prices were going up. IMHO it is a great savings as we usually spend about 5 days in the park so we will get two trips out of it (probably over an 15-18 month span so APs won't do) and we now have 10 waterpark($49 /day) or disney quest($43 /day) visits that never expire. The break even on the extra $55 for the WFM add on is just over 1 visit...Of course you need to be careful not to lose the tix. But the savings can be significant.
From Scott B on June 13, 2011 at 11:41 AM
So is it just me, or did their annual price increase come earlier this year? Isn't it usually in August? Will this be the new ticket increase time or did Disney need some fast cash and decided to rope the summer crowd into this increase early?
From Sylvain Comeau on June 13, 2011 at 11:52 AM
We always take park hopper, and on our trip in May, we made copious use of it. Some days, we visited three parks in one day: one park in the morning, water park in the afternoon when it got too hot, and a third park at night. Another time, we switched to the Magic Kingdom after a day at EPCOT, to catch the Electrical Parade at 9. By keeping an eye on the Times Guide, you can switch to whichever park has the event that you want to experience.

Also, I wouldn't recommend a four day trip for "rookies." It's impossible to see and do everything you want in four days, unless you completely run yourself ragged. Give yourself enough time to explore at a leisurely pace; that's why they call it a vacation.

From M. Ryan Traylor on June 13, 2011 at 1:50 PM
My next WDW trip, I will be purchasing the Gold Pass, in order to use it on return to the West Coast at the Disneyland Resort.
From Lucas Lee on June 13, 2011 at 8:51 PM
wait so if you get the no expire one, it'll never expire ever? you can use it anytime?
From 98.21.96.192 on June 14, 2011 at 12:03 AM
I think the parkhopper thing is a waste for the most part unless you just have to have it. All the parks have so much in them that running from park to park just is a waste of time to me. Unless you only like Disney for a select few rides that happen to spread out over several parks I don't see the point.... I want to enjoy the day and not run myself ragged trying to go to Animal Kingdom for one ride, and then Epcot for another.
I tried to do Animal Kingdom and Epcot in one day and I wish I would have had a whole day for both now. Paying that much to hop parks is not appealing to me.
From 98.21.96.192 on June 14, 2011 at 12:06 AM
Also Robert, when checking out prices before I noticed that the Water Parks seemed like a rip off if you used your Magic Your Way passes..... the single day water park pass is way less than a day at a regular park and then if your doing Magic Your Way passes for the all the parks I think there is an additional charge for waterparks (that is different from the park hopper charge). So unless you are staying a really really long time you'd probably be using a day of your pass that is worth more than the pass to the water park would be.....
From duncan henny on June 14, 2011 at 12:53 AM
we have the 10day hopper passes which we got as a wedding gift in 2010. we had to cancel our honeymoon trip then but we are going back in 2012 :) i will try to upgrade them to the no expire so i can save days for future visits
From Larry Zimmerman on June 14, 2011 at 6:27 AM
Congrats, Robert -- just heard you quoted by a Bloomberg reporter on how the WDW price increases won't discourage attendance.

Personally, I think the new prices will force people to put a little more thought into their ticketing decisions as to hopping or other add-ons, and QS dining might become considerably more popular.

Can I have your autograph?

From Anon Mouse on June 14, 2011 at 8:10 AM
Personally, I think the prices are way too high for a family. It made me think carefully on what I exactly want to get out of my vacation. Maybe I don't want to do only Disney in my 7 day trip. How about 2 days at Disney and 2 days at Universal, with one half day at the Space Center? I will reserve an extra day to visit a water park. You see, I can spend nearly the full price for a 2 day Disney pass and save money in the long run for my entire vacation.

Disney's prices are pricing me out of considering Disney exclusive vacations. With Universal's Harry Potter attraction, I have to visit the best new thing. There's no way to fit Disney's 4 parks into my trip especially since Disneyland and DCA are much better than the Magic Kingdom and Studios. I will visit Epcot and Animal Kingdom.

The sweet spot for Disney tickets are between $200 and $300. I will reduce my cost to around $160 for 2 parks, thus saving the other $100+ for Universal and other attractions.

Unless Disney has better incentives like a gradual decrease in prices for 2 or 3 day trips with park hopping, then my behavior will be as I described.

From Robert Niles on June 14, 2011 at 9:03 AM
Following Larry's comment, I've been telling reporters that I don't think Disney's ticket price increase will affect its attendance.

First, there's a percentage of the population that, due to the economy, simply can't afford theme park vacations any longer. But they're out of the market already. Among the rest of the public, a few dollars' increase won't make or break the vacation, especially when compared to the much more volatile prices of gas, airfares or hotel rooms.

Sure, people will keep looking for discounts. And few bucks more at the front gate might lead some people to spend a few bucks less inside the park.

Ultimately, bad decision making on what ticket to buy, where to stay, when to go and what to do in the park costs uninformed visitors far more than Disney's price increase will. That's why it's important to continue doing research in advance of your vacation by coming online to site like Theme Park Insider.

If you were spending this kind of money on anything else, you'd do research in advance of your purchase. Vacations should be no different. (Plus, trip planning for a vacation can be half the fun anyway!)

Also, in answer to Lucas' question, yep, "no expire" means that the tickets never expire. I've used 15-year-old tickets to get into Disney (and Universal) theme parks. Granted, if you try to use an old paper ticket these days, they'll make you switch to one of the new cards, but you'll still get your days.

From M. Ryan Traylor on June 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM
Seeing these prices make me wonder if anyone has ever paid full price for a one day ticket. Do those guests exist?

In high school I remember a teacher explaining you can't have a sale without first selling the item at the original price. Does Disney set their prices at WDW to encourage the multi-day vacation so you are "saving" money per day.

Of course, I believe, if you go to Disney, you need a multi-day vacation anyway to experience everything.

I'm interested in learning where the break point is now with families doing the research to find the best pricing/season to attend versus just saying "screw it, we gotta pay whatever they say". Wish I could stand at the turnstile and do a survey to find out what guests paid to see how many actually use a vacation package, "timeshare" tickets, gate tickets, etc etc.

From Anon Mouse on June 14, 2011 at 11:13 AM
"Seeing these prices make me wonder if anyone has ever paid full price for a one day ticket. Do those guests exist?"

Full price is whatever you agree to pay. It might seem like a good idea to breakdown a multi-day ticket and rationalize the per day cost, but you actually paid more for your trip than a day tripper.

"Of course, I believe, if you go to Disney, you need a multi-day vacation anyway to experience everything."

It is a bit presumptious to think that anyone should have to experience everything. It is not necessary or required. Whenever I go on vacation, it is best to visit the highlights and use the other times to relax or take a more leisurely approach. Everyone should tailor their vacation to their own preference instead of Disney's.

From 71.57.233.92 on June 19, 2011 at 6:52 AM
One-day one-park? Does anyone actually even buy those?

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