How to save at Disney theme parks
It's still possible to find a deal, but you may have to look a bit harder. Here's how to start trimming the cost of visiting the Mouse.
Disney hiked its theme park prices this summer, raising one-day, single-park tickets over the $90 threshold. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal.
Just ask Tom and Sarah Bricker who travel from Indianapolis to Florida and California about 10 times a year to go to Disney World and Disneyland. They’ve also been to Disney parks in Tokyo -- their favorite -- and Paris.
“It’s not that difficult to find discounts,” says Tom Bricker, 28, who’s been taking these annual treks to Disney parks with Sarah, 26, since 2006. “The easiest way to start is by requesting travel information from Disney,” he adds. “Periodically they’ll send you different discounts. But you can also learn about various discounts by being part of the online Disney communities.”
In June, in what has become an annual price hike for Disney properties, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., upped its one-day admission to the Magic Kingdom more than 6% to $95 for adult tickets and $89 for children ages 3 to 9. Single-day tickets to its other Florida parks, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, rose to $90. Tickets for children ages 3 to 9 are $84. Add the park-hopper option to have access to all four parks and it is another $59 a day per person.
At Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., a single-day, single park adult ticket climbed 5% to $92 from $87. Add a one-day park hopper to go from Disneyland Park to Disney California Adventure Park and the price is $137 for adults.
Ticket prices fall the more days you tack on to the trip. A four-day theme park ticket to Disney World with the park hopper will run almost $360, or roughly $90 a day. A five-day theme park ticket with a hopper will set you back nearly $371, or $74 a day.
A better per-day deal is the 10-day theme park ticket with a park hopper at almost $424 each, or about $42 a day. The tickets must be used within 14 days of the first use unless you purchase a “no expiration” option that will add an extra $130-$150 to the price.
The Brickers have an annual pass, which they bought before the price hikes. Plan to fork over nearly $670 for a premium annual passport, which gives you access to any of the parks in California or Florida for an entire year, with no blackout dates. A deluxe annual passport is cheaper at almost $500 but has blackout dates, like Saturdays during the summer and over holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both passes offer merchandise and dining discounts of 10% to 20%.
Because they’re regulars, the Brickers’ per-day ticket price drops to about $15, he says. “You’re not going to find any place to visit in the real world that is going to cost that little,” Bricker adds.
Though he bought the annual pass directly from Disney, he tells people to shop through reputable third-party brokers for better ticket prices. Undercover Tourist, for example, is a “Disney selected” ticket broker that offers single-digit discounts on tickets and up to 50% off on car rentals. The five-day theme-park ticket runs for $349.95, roughly $20 off the gate price.
The Orlando Tourism Bureaus’s VisitOrlando site is offering a four-day theme park and hopper package with a fifth day free for $335. A AAA membership comes with discount prices for tickets and vacation packages.
Beware of fly-by-night brokers who line the streets near Disney World and Disneyland and even sellers on sites like eBay and Craigslist. Because tickets are nonrefundable, many of these aren't legitimate tickets -- and Disney doesn’t feel pity for those who get scammed.
Disney offers plenty of vacation “deals” that Bricker says to explore with caution. The “free” dining package, for example, could be great if you’re a big family of big eaters, but you sacrifice a hotel discount in the process. Most packages are merely a sum of the parts bundled together without any discounts.
There are plenty of blogs and websites to help you navigate the massive parks. Bricker, who proposed to his wife on the beach of the Polynesian Resort at Disney World, runs Disneytouristblog.com, on which he posts tips on discounts, dining, planning, even taking on Disney with kids, though he doesn’t have any.
Friend Disney on Facebook and follow @Disney on Twitter for other offers. Every so often they’ll advertise promotions or one-day sales.
You can also find 2-for-1, or 50% off, ticket deals at sites like Magical Getaway, which, like AAA, boasts that it is the No. 1 seller of Disney tickets. The site, which is operated by HotelsCorp.com, notes that a hotel stay is required for all offers. TripAdvisor.com also offers vacation packages at discounts.
Among the most talked-about sites in social media circles is Mousesavers.com, which describes itself as “great deals on all things Disney.” The site points consumers to a variety of discounts on travel, shopping, shows and “freebies.”
Rumors persist that Disney will begin lowering ticket prices for off-season visitors -- or basically any time when kids are in school -- but there is been no official word from the kingdom yet. You will, however, find better deals on hotels in the off-season, both in the parks and off-site. During the season, the cheapest hotels will be those off-site and furthest away, though there are a number of them -- from luxury to modest -- around both properties.
Disney diehards insist that staying at the parks will give you the total paradise experience without the real world sneaking in, so research the on-site hotels first and see what amenities they offer as part of their price, which might be worth it for your needs.
“As a general rule, you’re paying a premium for anything that you do or buy on Disney property,” Bricker says. “They have a captive audience and they have it down to a science on how to extract the most money from you.”
If you eat on site, don’t be surprised at a $13 tab for a burger and fries or $200 prix fixe, per person, with wine pairings. Disney does allow visitors to bring their own food and drinks in and picnic on the grounds but you can’t bring alcohol or glass. And it would be substantially cheaper to eat off-site.
Disney’s discounts are limited but the parks do cater to certain groups:
Teacher discounts: People who teach in the U.S. or Canada might find discounted Disneyland tickets through their teachers’ union. Some will offer savings as much as $25-$30 on multi-day passes.
Kid groups: Disney offers a handful of individual and group packages under Disney Youth Programs. The company describes them as a collection of “unique, enriching experiences designed to engage young minds and show students the path to making dreams a reality.” These are programs that range from instrumental and vocal competitions to performance-skills workshops and in-park field studies for middle-school and even college agendas. They all incorporate “Disney storytelling” with the Disney cast and parks environment for a hands-on learning experience. The rates differ between groups and individuals and depending on length of stay, but include about a three-hour session with park admission. Bands, cheerleaders and ensembles also can perform at Disney — for a fee — and get park admission with it.
Military salute: Through Sept. 28, Walt Disney World Resort will offer four-day discounted tickets for active or retired members of the U.S. military, which will include the National Guard, Reservists and the U.S. Coast Guard. They’ll also find specially priced resort rooms. Be aware that some military bases may offer Disney ticket prices that are less than this promotional offer.
More from MarketwatchWatch:
- The world’s weirdest theme parks
- Beyond Disney World: 8 great family getaways
- 10 things summer camps won’t mention to you
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