Vote of the Week: Do You Most Want Free Food, Time, or Money or Your Theme Park Vacation?

May 15, 2015, 12:00 PM · Everyone seems to ask the same question when pricing a theme park vacation: What deals can I get?

Disney, Universal, and other theme parks that offer on-site hotel accommodations have have that question, and have plenty of options available to answer it. Want to eat free when you're at the Walt Disney World Resort? Disney is again offering its free Disney Dining perk for guests who book before July 10 for a visit this fall. Prefer free front-of-the-line access to attractions, instead? Head up the street to the Universal Orlando Resort, where Universal Express Unlimited passes are available to all guests at the park's three "deluxe" on-site hotels.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Theme Park Insider readers rave about Disney's Wilderness Lodge at the Walt Disney World Resort.

How about free days in the park? Universal offers ticket and vacation packages that will add an extra day on your visit. Prefer extra hours in the park? Stay with Disney, and you'll get Extra Magic Hours, before and after regular operating hours at selected parks each day of your stay. (Universal offers early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for its hotel guests, and guests at many other theme parks with on-site hotels also get early entry deals.)

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort has become a popular go-to option for budget-conscious theme park fans.

Or are you someone for whom money talks loudest and are looking for a straight-up discount on room rates, instead?

Theme parks offer a wide variety of discount and extra-value options to entice potential visitors to become actual visitors. You can find the latest available deals for the top Orlando theme parks on Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando websites. We'd like to hear which of these popular discount offers is the one that is most likely to convince you to book a theme park vacation.

For the many frequent theme park visitors reading this, what has been the discount or added benefit that you found your family enjoyed most on your past vacations? What would you recommend that other families look for when booking an on-site vacation? Tell us your stories, in the comments.

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Replies (9)

May 15, 2015 at 2:34 PM · Since so much of the vacation is already prepaid, free gift cards would be useful. Discounted Park admission would be helpful.
May 15, 2015 at 7:14 PM · Room discounts are definitely the biggest draw for me. It's really made the difference on some of my visits, enabling me to stay at deluxe resorts several times when I likely would not have been able to otherwise. "Free" dining is never worth it for me- I just don't eat in the way that the dining plan works. (But if they ever decide to forgo the dessert and include adult beverages and/or appetizers, I'm there!)
May 16, 2015 at 3:41 AM · Seeing "Free Front Of Line" getting so many votes only serves to remind me how much I hate that concept.
I realize that, lately, Universal has been knocking them out of the parks, while Disney has only been getting base hits (or just using that little brush the umpire has to clean off the plate). But I'm always glad that Disney doesn't have that kind of pay-extra-for-front-of-line program. Although a bit of a pain, Fastpass+ is available to everybody, for free.
I heavily resent paying $100 for each member of my family, to be told that I only qualify for B status. But if I want to pay even more, I can be treated even better - at the inconvenience of those that wouldn't, or couldn't, pay more.
That always leaves a bad taste in my mouth with Universal.
May 16, 2015 at 5:16 AM · Well said B Goodwin. Universal are happy to take my money to guarantee me 'an amazing time' or whatever their latest catch-phrase is, but then they are equally happy to make sure I am made constantly aware that I am a second-class guest because I didn't pay even more money for front-of-line access. As customer service that model sucks.
May 16, 2015 at 9:48 AM · I understand the view that Universal's express pass system is unfair because it only benefits the people that can afford it. But I look at it this way:

I can stay at Disney in an overpriced hotel room and still have to deal with scheduling fast passes and dinner reservations. Or I can stay at Universal in an overpriced hotel room and have a nice, relaxing vacation without having to plan ahead for when I want to experience a certain attraction. At least I'm getting a benefit out of the overpriced hotel room. At Disney, I'm still paying the price (probably more for a comparable room....), but getting nothing for it except a bed to sleep in.

Again, I understand the argument... But for folks who are choosing whether to stay onsite at Disney or Universal, it seems to me Universal provides better overall value and benefits.

May 16, 2015 at 9:50 AM · I hate the "Rich kids go first" fastpass systems too... But, and I gotta be honest, and this does make me a hypocrite I know, but as long as its there I have Universal on my "visit" list, and disney not.

I'm Holiday. I don't want to plan, I don't want to rush around the park to collect tickets, but I also don't want to waste time standing in a queue.

What I would like to see is Parks move to a Qbot-by-default system. Give everyone with a smart device No-Time-Reduction fastpass. That way I can be in two queues at a time (or eating and queing, or seeing a show and queueing), and leisurely stroll over when I'm ready.

If we all had that, then I don't think I'd object to parks selling a 50% or 90% time reduction upsell.

May 16, 2015 at 11:53 AM · Since I have a mild case of autism, I always just get the special needs pass, so front-of-line isn't much of a problem for me. Instead, I voted for the hotels. Disney or Universal, money is money and sleep is sleep. By the end of the day, you're tired, your feet ache, and you probably don't smell very good. The only thing you want is a warm shower and a comfy bed. The last thing you want is to have to deal with Orlando's horrible traffic. And wouldn't it be nice to wake up with a great breakfast, an expertly themed pool area and so much other cool stuff? Plus, the parks are just a short drive or even a short walk away? It would be, if you didn't have to pay over $100 for it. Wait, did I say over $100? Sorry, I meant over $100 per night! So, yeah, I'll take a good hotel deal any day!
May 16, 2015 at 1:37 PM · I may be in the minority, but I'd take a free bonus day at the park over the other options. By having an extra day, extended hours and front-of-line passes are less important, plus these benefits are far less significant during lower crowd periods. I'm also not a huge food person and generally just eat at quick-service restaurants to maximize ride time.

As far as front-of-line passes go, I'm a huge fan of virtual queues such as Fastpass or the Q-bot system. However, I don't really like the separate queue systems like Cedar Fair's Fast Lane, as those do actually make the regular line longer and tend to be really expensive (at Cedar Point last year, I spent more for one day of Fast Lane than I did on my two day admission ticket). I'll still use them if necessary, but I've always felt bad about it and try to avoid using it repetitively on any one attraction.

May 17, 2015 at 8:54 AM · Extended days for me!

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