recoil in shock when they add all the costs of visiting the Orlando theme parks. There's the price of airfare, hotels, rental cars, and the biggie for many visitors — the tickets to the parks themselves.A lot of fans planning their first trip to Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando
With one-day tickets to all the Disney and Universal theme parks costing more than $100 each, you can't blame fans for thinking that an Orlando theme park vacation just costs too much for their family. But I'm here to talk you through the initial sticker shock and to find ways to get a Disney or Universal trip for much, much less than a $100 a person per day.
We've talked before about where to buy discounted theme park tickets online, so do look at that page before you book your vacation. But I want to introduce another trick that many of us use when we visit Orlando.
On a price-per-day basis, Disney and Universal tickets get cheaper the more days you visit. A one-day ticket to one park costs from $102-129, but the per-day price of a five-day visit drops to as low as $79 a day at Disney and $45 a day at Universal. And the per-day cost of tickets keeps getting lower from there.
But if you want to get the lowest possible per-day cost for theme park tickets, and you're looking at spending several days to a week or more in the parks on each visit, buy an annual pass. Update: Check the comments for the numbers on the "break even" point for annual passes versus multi-day tickets. That point is the longest at the Disneyland Resort in California, followed by Disney World, then Universal Studios Hollywood, then Universal Orlando. For regional parks, it's often better to buy an annual pass if you're visiting just three days a year, and sometimes even just two.
Universal Orlando also offers monthly payment plans for its annual passes, potentially allowing you to reduce the up-front cost of your initial visit as you spread payments over the year. (Disney World only offers a payment plan for Florida residents.)
Notice that I wrote "initial visit." That's because the trick to getting the most value on an annual pass is to plan a second visit to the same parks within the next 12 months. That way, your ticket purchase is covering two visits instead of one, allowing you to use a more efficient annual pass to get you into the parks, rather than two separate purchases of multi-day tickets.
Annual passes also can provide you in-park benefits such as free parking, discounts on food and souvenirs, and park hopping (Disney's term) or park-to-park (Universal's) access, so that you can visit more than one park per day. You would have to pay a lot extra for that perk on regular, single- or multi-day tickets.
The lowest-priced annual passes have blockout dates, so you will need to either time your vacation to periods when the passes are valid or choose to buy a more expensive pass. You can find the prices, benefits, and blockouts of the parks' various annual pass tiers on their websites: Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.
Not ready to commit to multiple Orlando theme park vacations? Remember that you can apply the cost of regular tickets to the purchase of an annual pass. You just have to do that before your regular ticket expires. So before you leave the parks on your initial visit, ask at the park's Guest Services office about upgrading to annual pass.
Playing the AP trick doesn't commit you to a lifetime of Orlando theme park vacations. You just need to time two trips within a 12 month period. Then you can take as long as you like before buying another AP and doing another two (or more) trips. Just be sure to call in advance of your pass expiring to cancel if you are on a monthly payment plan, so you are not caught by an automatic renewal.
This annual pass trick works for any theme park, not just the ones in Orlando. And if you're interested in regional parks such as those from Six Flags, Cedar Fair, or the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, you can buy annual or seasonal passes from them that are good at all the parks in their chain. That can make an AP the preferred choice if you are planning a summer roadtrip to multiple parks.
Do you have an annual pass to a theme park? Please share your tips for getting the most value from it, in the comments.Tweet
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