Disney World Tickets - How to Figure Them Out and Save Money

Disney World Ticket Prices
••• There are many options for Disney World tickets. © Arthur Levine.

Effective February 2016, Disney World raised its theme park ticket costs -- in some cases considerably. It also introduced variable pricing, which made an already confusing menu of tickets much more baffling. Relax. I'll help you wade through and make sense of all of the options and help you get the best deal for your next visit.

First, the bad news: The cost for a one-day, one-park admission to the Magic Kingdom has gone up from $105 to as much as $124.

Ouch! That's not chump change. It's critical to understand how the program works so that you can make an informed decision and maximize your savings.

Before we jump into ticket pricing and buying strategies, here are some resources about Disney World's ride reservation and trip-planning program, MyMagic+. You will need to link your tickets to your MyMagic+ account (which is explained in the pages referenced below). Note that you do not have to purchase your tickets directly from Disney to participate in MyMagic+.

Variable Pricing and 1-Day Passes

Following the lead of Universal Studios Hollywood, Disney World switched its 1-day passes (and only its 1-day passes) to a variable pricing model.

It's similar to airlines and hotels, which charge more, based on demand, during peak seasons. The resort has assigned three categories for 1-day passes: Value, Regular, and Peak. As the names imply, Value tickets cost less during lower-attendance times of the year such as September, while Peak tickets cost more during busy times of the year such as spring break, early summer, and the days leading up to and following Christmas.

The practice is also known as "surge pricing."

Regardless of the time of year, a 1-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom, Disney World's most popular park, costs more than 1-day passes to the other three theme parks. For its revised February 2016 prices, the resort held the line on 1-day passes but only for the Value tickets. If you want to visit at other times of the year, you'll have to pay more. So, one way to save on 1-day tickets would be to visit during the Value seasons. In addition to saving money, you'll enjoy less crowded parks.

Multi-Day Passes

To purchase 3-day or more Disney World tickets, you could buy direct from the Best of Orlando, a vendor that offers Disney World passes at a slight discount. It often features special deals, such as tossing in an extra day on multi-day passes. To purchase one- or two-day passes, you could buy them at the park or online from Disney.

Remember that surge pricing is not in effect for multi-day passes. But you might still get a better value by visiting during lower-demand times of year when you'd encounter smaller crowds and less wait times, and you'd be able to get on more rides and enjoy the parks more

Yes, multi-day passes have gone up. However, multi-day tickets, particularly the 5- through 10-day passes, still offer substantial savings.

And the relative amounts of the price increases for multi-day passes from 2015 to 2016 have been less than for one-day passes.

An 8-day Disney World ticket with Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More, for example, which includes unlimited admission among the 4 theme parks for 8 days plus 8 visits to any combination of the resort's two water parks, a round of golf, a round of miniature golf, or Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, costs $475. (All examples included here, unless noted, are based on tickets for ages 10 and older. Tickets for ages 3 to 9 cost less; children under 3 are admitted free.) That's about $59 per day, which is fairly reasonable considering all of the options. A comparable 10-day pass costs $495, just $20 more than the 8-day option. That brings the per-day cost down to $49.50, which is a pretty good deal.

Of course, the Disney folks are no fools. Guests staying longer on their property will spend more money for hotels, food, and merchandise, AND they won't be escaping to Universal Orlando to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or other nearby parks.

BEWARE, however. Unlike Disney's unused tickets from years ago, which were good indefinitely, current tickets expire 14 days after first use. And effective 2015, Disney World no longer offers visitors the opportunity to purchase a no-expiration option for multi-day passes. Therefore, you should only buy passes for the number of days you would be able to use them for an upcoming visit. Note also that passes are non-transferable, so be sure that each member of your party has his or her own ticket.

Note also that unlike past Magic Your Way pricing, Disney is NOT offering any discounts for purchasing tickets online in advance. The prices online are the same as the prices at the ticket booths. (And, if you choose to pay for express shipping -- a free will call and standard mail option is available -- the price will actually be higher.) You would, however, be able to save time by purchasing tickets in advance. And you would be able to carefully consider the options rather than making a rushed purchase.

Tickets Features and Options

Are you confused by the different terms and options that Disney World offers? Let's break them down.

Base Ticket prices are for one-day, one-park tickets. The $290, 3-day option for example, gets you one park each day for three days. Check out discount Disney World Base Ticket prices at Best of Orlando.

With the Park Hopper option, you could visit multiple parks each day. For instance, you could go to Disney's Animal Kingdom in the early morning (when more animals are likely to be visible), the Magic Kingdom in the middle of the day, and cap off the evening with Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Park Hopper cost above the Base Ticket price varies. It is $50 for a one-day pass (or $40 with a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket, which makes all one-day hopper passes the same price). A 2- or 3-day Park Hopper is $55 additional. It is $69 more to turn all 4-day or higher tickets into Park Hopper passes. Check out discounted Park Hopper ticket prices at Best of Orlando.

Water Park Fun & More adds admission to Disney's wonderful Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water parks. The "& More" includes admission to Disney's Wide World of Sports as well as a round of golf at Disney's 9-hole Oak Trail Golf Course or the resort's two (charming) miniature golf courses. The cost, at $64, stays the same regardless of the number of days with the exception of a 1-day pass to Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, or Disney's Animal Kingdom. The cost to add WPF&M to that ticket is $74.

The number of WPF&M visits starts at 2 for 1- and 2-day tickets and increases to 3 for a 3-day ticket, 4 for a 4-day ticket, etc. up to 10 for the 10-day ticket. Again, discount Disney World ticket seekers, the higher the number of days, the greater the value. Keep in mind that you can purchase a-la-carte tickets to the water parks and other WPF&M attractions instead of springing for the Magic Your Way package. Get discounted Water Park Fun & More tickets at Best of Orlando.

Getting the Most for Your Money

We'd all like to find reduced prices on Disney World tickets, but unlike most other parks, the Mouse does not directly discount its passes. By raising the 1-day, 1-park ticket price to a staggering $124 for the Magic Kingdom, Disney is really putting the squeeze on our pocketbooks and making the 1-day option nearly cost-prohibitive. At the same time, its multi-day ticket pricing, particularly for 5 or more days, offers considerable value. What would make the most sense -- and cents -- for you?

Clearly, if you are a huge Disney fan and are planning to spend 10 days or more on vacation, a 10-day ticket with Park Hopper and Water Park Fun would be the way to go. In fact, regardless of the number of days, Disney World offers a discounted rate of $95 to purchase both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options together. Purchase discounted Park Hopper with Water Park Fun and More tickets at Best of Orlando.

But most folks based in the U.S. don't spend 10 days on vacation (our European counterparts, however, often spend 2 weeks or more on holiday) and, as much as Disney might wish otherwise, there are other wonderful Florida theme parks to visit. Also, there's more to vacations than theme parks (and that pearl of wisdom comes from About.com's Theme Parks "Expert," no less!), so you might want to explore some of the other things to do in Orlando.

If you are planning to spend 1 or 2 days at Disney World, I think the Park Hopper option would make sense. Disney didn't offer 1- or 2-day park hopping before 2005, and the option would allow you to visit all 4 parks in 2 days for $257, or about $64 per park. If you started early in the morning and stayed till the last park closed each day, you'd be getting an OK deal (and tired feet).

One way you might be able to get discounted Disney World tickets would be to purchase a hotel and park tickets package. See all of the latest Disney World specials and deals on my regularly updated Florida Theme Park Deals page.

Florida residents (who must show proof of residency) get a break on ticket costs. Check out Florida Resident 3-day tickets or Florida Resident 4-day tickets at Best of Orlando.

Be Careful with the Water Parks Option

If you want to visit the water parks or any of the other non-theme park attractions, the Water Park Fun & More might be the way to go for longer stays and multiple visits to the attractions. You could certainly get a great value if you went to the water parks or attractions every day of your visit. But would you do that? If you're only planning to go once, say to one water park, the $64 extra cost would not be worth it.

The reduced Best of Orlando price for either of the water parks is $53. You could purchase those a-la-carte and be ahead of the game. Get discounted Blizzard Beach water park tickets or discounted Typhoon Lagoon water park tickets at Best of Orlando.

2 tickets to the water parks, however, would cost $106, so the $64 Water Parks Fun option would make sense for guests planning to visit both parks. Why anybody would get both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun options for a 1- or 2-day ticket is beyond me. Even the most proficient multitasker would find it challenging to visit multiple theme parks plus water parks or other attractions in a couple of days.