To Park Hop or Not To Park Hop… That is the Question.

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Recently, on a walk around town with my husband, we were discussing how our trips to Walt Disney World have varied over the years and how we tailor our plans depending on who we are traveling with. One thing, however, that has always remained a constant is our desire to park hop. That got me thinking… how many people actually pay the extra money to park hop and why do they opt to do it?

For us, we really like utilizing morning Extra Magic Hours but we don’t always like to stay in that park the rest of the day. Most of the time we travel in Disney’s off-season so we don’t have to worry about following TouringPlans.com’s Crowd Calendar perfectly every day. Something I realized is that I let our Advanced Dining Reservations lead my planning. If I can’t get into Le Cellier for lunch on Tuesday but I can on Thursday then I’m going to make sure we spend our morning at Epcot on Thursday and then possibly hop wherever we want to end up for a nighttime show or other activity. When I do my planning I only make note of what park I want to start my day on and leave my group room to decide where we’d like to end up. This is great when we come to the last days of our trip and realize we missed a few attractions at a park.

Park hopping provides guests with the ability to travel from one park to another on the same day. This brings variety and spontaneity into the trip, I think. You can make more decisions on a whim without having to stay in just one park. I think about guests new to Walt Disney World that experience a park for the first time and around 3:00 p.m. they realize they’re out of things to do (*cough* Animal Kingdom *cough*) and aren’t as impressed as they might be. With a park hopper, they wouldn’t feel obligated to stay at that park all day. They could just move on to another park that interests them more.

Another benefit of park hopping is specific for guests that are spending fewer days in the parks. They can get more done in less time and focus on the attractions that the really want to experience. It’s always a stress on short trips to feel the pressure of getting everything in. When this is you, I suggest using a customized itinerary from TouringPlans.com or mix and match the morning and afternoon specific touring plans. That way you can make sure you’re hitting everything you want to.

Let’s say you have a short trip, two full days, at Walt Disney World and you want to hit each park. This is how you might lay out your itinerary.

Day One

Eat breakfast at the hotel and start your morning at Animal Kingdom following the Animal Kingdom Morning Touring Plan. Try and eat an earlier lunch before you leave the park.

Hop to Magic Kingdom for the afternoon and evening and use the Magic Kingdom Late Arrival One-Day Touring Plan. Be sure to exclude any attractions that don’t interest you and fill in things you’d like to do with shorter lines.

Day Two

Start off your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and follow the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Morning Touring Plan.

After lunch, hop to Epcot via bus (for time saving reasons) and start on the Epcot Late Arrival Selective One-Day Touring Plan. Again, skip attractions you don’t care to experience and proceed on with the plan.

Personally, I don’t think that park hopping is suitable for everyone. Those traveling with small children should take caution. It’s worth remembering that one of the top things that kids hate is traveling. They don’t want to be stuck in line waiting for a bus, on a bus, or in a car. They want to be doing something or seeing something that interests them. You may be sacrificing your sanity just to park hop. Knowing your children and their irritability level will be helpful when deciding whether to park hop or not. Speaking of traveling… park hopping tends to eat up some time when you have to move to a different park. This is especially true if you are without a car and are using Disney transportation which is known to be slow at times. You have to leave the park, walk to the bus stop, stand in line waiting for a bus, get on the bus (this moves slower sometimes than you can imagine), wait until the bus arrives at your new destination, get off the bus, walk to the entrance, get through the turnstiles, and then you know that by the time you get there someone in your party is going to have to use the restroom right away. See? It takes a while to park hop.

What might be the deal breaker when deciding whether or not to park hop is if it fits into your budget. For a family of four, two adults and two kids, it costs $966.00 total for every person to have a five day base ticket without park hoppers. That family would end up spending an added $220 to allow everyone to add the park hopper option for all 5 days. A family on a budget probably needs to think about if their funds allow them to indulge in park hopping. I like to think about what they could do with an extra $220. The family could book a tour, schedule a few more table service meals, come home with more souvenirs, head to a water park for a day, or even enjoy water sports activities.

For every family planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll have to decide what works best for you because the answer isn’t the same for everyone. How many of you dish out the extra dough to park hop? Who of you don’t find that it works for your family and why?

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Posted on July 22, 2011

42 Responses to “To Park Hop or Not To Park Hop… That is the Question.”

  • Park hopping also revolves around eating where you want to when you want to. And not having to have a set do or die plan for every single day. Make your ADR and just wake up and go where ever you want, knowing you can just park hop to your ADR later on.

    With that said, I wouldn’t pay for park hopping on less than a 4 or 5 day trip. Too much money per day to switch between parks.

  • We’ve never done the park hopper, but are considering it for our trip in January 2012. Thanks for the info – I think we’ll give it a try!

  • We love the park hopper!! Inevitably, we play at one park during the day, head back for naps in the afternoon and head somewhere else for dinner, usually with an ADR. Especially if you are staying at one of the resort hotels with easy access to MK or Epcot this is a great option so you don’t feel tied down to one park. The extra benefit is pricey but we have never gone to WDW and planned on a cheap vacation. Well worth the price for the flexibility it gives you!

  • In the end I think park hoppers save money on a shorter trip. We like to buy 7 day park hoppers with no expiration up front. We only go into the parks 2-3 days per trip and the park hopper option allows us to visit all the parks within the 2-3 days. This ticket lasts us a couple of years. Yes, up front it is costly, but if you know you are going back you pay about $40 per day instead of $80!

  • We are fans of the park hopper! I think adding the park hopper is a must for longer trips…especially if you want to dine in Epcot for most of your meals. We have two young children and they actually enjoy riding on the buses, boats and monorail (sad to say, but when my son was 3 he said his favorite ride was THE BUS). So, I would encourage those staying for more than 4 days to park hop b/c it adds a level of flexibility and keeps your trip interesting.

  • I always thought park hopping was what everybody did. We have always bought park hoppers because my family is more of the “spur of the moment” type much to my chagrin (I’m the planner type). The way it generally works for my family is we go to one park in the morning and then in the heat and crowd peaks we will come back and swim, eat supper and then head out to a second park in the late afternoon/evening.

  • We like to park hop. Definitely worth the money. We go with a rough plan of which parks to go to each day. We base that mostly on extra magic hours. We still typically end up spending 1 full day at Epcot without hopping, one full day at Magic Kingdom without hopping, and one full day (open to close) at Animal Kingdom (it closes so early that we then hop to another park.) I don’t think we ever run out of things to do at Animal Kingdom like others seem to. Hollywood Studios is our ‘half-day park.’

    We never go with a plan set in stone. If we get to a park and it’s totally overrun with people, we definitely hop to somewhere else.

    We only do one or two ADRs for a 7-day trip so that only plays into our plans a tiny bit. I think ADRs at table service places eat up way more time than park hopping (and cost a heck of a lot more too!)

    • This sounds a lot like what we do when we park hop. I don’t plan my days out fully but I have a rough guess of the layout. I like flexibility. Makes it feel more relaxed and vacation like.

  • We’ve always park hopped. We travel during the off-season, so when Animal Kingdom closes at 5, we hop over to Epcot or the Magic Kingdom to finish our day. This fall, we’ll park hop to Epcot most evenings to graze at the Food and Wine Festival after a day in another park.

    • I keep going back and forth with myself about this coming October when I’ll be visiting for F&WF. We’re only going for 5 days but we have decided not to park hop for the first time. I want to maximize my Epcot time but… I don’t know if I’ll want to put up with the travel time. Tough decision.

  • Isn’t it possible to add hopper anytime you want? So if your 2 days intoyour trip and at 2pm you decide you would rather be at at MK instead of Epcot you could just add park hopper then?

  • I can’t imagine not being able to park hop. Like others have said, it gives you a lot of flexibility.
    We have been known to hit 3 parks in one day.

    • We have a Florida seasonal pass and have done all 4 non-water parks in one day, I think once or twice. DHS first b/c of Toy Story, then AK. Epcot for an afternoon walk around the pond and perhaps some of the headliners if lines aren’t too long, then we’re always at MK from about 5-close.

      Can’t really do this anymore with a newborn, but we would get a lot of miles in!

  • I used to park hop but took advice elsewhere and last trip we got to parks for opening, gathered FPs, had break back at resort, and then back to same park where we could use those FPs collected in the morning/see nighttime shows. Worked well for us. It was when Fantasmic! was only a few nights a week so we thus missed it so we could have a low crowd day at HS.

  • I’ve never been able to understand taking the time out of my day to go back to the resort. It just seems like such a waste of time to me. And I don’t really see the point. Then again, I don’t have kids so no one in my group needs a break. And I go to the parks in the off-season where the park hours are fairly short.

    To each their own though, of course.

    • I’m hoping I feel the same way in October. I’m willing to try NOT park hopping for a trip to see if I like it. If I do, I may not bother paying the extra for it in future trips.

      • I don’t think park hopping is a waste of time for the most part. But wasting time going back and forth to the resort seems like a major time-suck to me, unless you have young kids who want to nap.

    • Totally agree! Unless you are at a close resort (MK or Epcot area), I can’t see going back for a “rest.” I tried this once and it took FOREVER. Plus, while I was supposed to be “resting” all I could think about were the attractions I was missing out on, lol. No rest for me!

      • I’m the same way. Unless I am truly tired, I won’t take a break. I’ll chill for 20 minutes and then want to leave again. I don’t think 20 minutes of “rest” is enough to drag me out of the parks and waste time traveling.

  • Without the hopping option, you can’t do funky maneuvers like starting in DHS to ride TSM, hopping to AK, deciding you want a kaki gori in Epcot so ride the bus to BC and head into Epcot thru the International Gateway, then wandering down to the monorail so you can catch Wishes at MK. :-)

  • I think park hoppers are a must with young kids. After the first day at MK, we head to AK or Epcot the next few days and get to see things the adults are interested in, then head back to MK when the kids get restless.

  • For us, the park hopper pass is the only way to go. The wife and I are retired and live in Northern Illinois. But we are Disney Vacation Club members, so guess where we like to spend time as often as we can? Having a place stay via DVC takes care of one expense because it is already paid for – we have to use it. DVC members get $100 off on an annual park hopper pass, so we just opt for the annual pass and now we have a place to stay and the park hopper pass is taken care of for the year. We like to go during non-busy times of the year so it is easy to go down on the spur of the moment any time of year that we want.

    We like to take friends and family with us – just get a bigger room and party for a week. It isn’t hard to find people to go with us and they like staying in a first class DVC resort with kitchen and laundry in the room. Since we have our park hopper passes, our guests are kind of obligated to get the park hopper too if they want to knock around with us. Actually everyone that goes down with us tends to be Mickey-heads themselves, so it doesn’t take any arm-twisting to get them to go with the flow. You go with us, you get a park-hopper pass.

    That brings up the other good reason for everyone having a park-hopper pass. Since we have been going to WDW for many years, we know the best places to go, the best rides, the best food stops, and the best things to do at each of the parks. So, with the park hopper option, we can better plan the best way to take our newbies and friends around to the various best places during the one trip when everyone is together. Sometimes that means you have to go from one park to another in a day to make things work. For us, WDW is the happiest place on earth and we can hardly wait for the next trip in November (Food & Wine Festival) with our group of 8 newbies.

    • 8 newbies!? That sounds SO exciting! Thanks for your input on this topic… you make some great points. Have a fantastic trip in November!

      • Thanks Stacey! We always have a good time whether it is just the wife and I or whether we take friends. We like to share our Disney experiences with others that we enjoy being around so that is what makes these trips even better. Our favorite resortsto stay at when we go down are the Boardwalk and the Beach Club because they are within walking distance of Epcot which is our favorite park. We have gotten into pin trading and converted our adult kids and my sisters and when we all go down, we have a little competition to see who makes the best trades each day. We love stopping and talking to cast members and looking at their pins. You meet some very interesting people by stopping and chatting and trading pins. We have also discovered that the new Bay Lake Tower is a great place to stay as you can walk to the monorail, walk to MK and the views from the top of BLT is just awesome – especially to watch the MK fireworks at night.

        This is a great website to be able to read others comments about their past trips and what they like about WDW. We are always learning something new that we can add to our own fabulous library of WDW facts and figures for future reference and enjoyment.

  • We usually do a 7 day trip every year and never park hopped. We have a DS4 and a DD7 so we hit the park in the morning and stay all day. Staying 7 days we are able to hit MK twice, EP twice, AK once, DHS once and have a down day with a visit to DTD. It works well for us at this point.

    I definitely can see when the kids get older getting hoppers to hit more stuff or allow for the guys to go one way while the girls go another and meet up somewhere.

    • The flexibility park hopping provides for some families is unbeatable. Others are really good with sticking with a schedule and being content with one park a day. I feel like if people start with park hopping they don’t want to stop because they are already comfortable with the convenience of it. But, if you’ve never done it then it probably doesn’t phase you. :)

  • by David Davies on July 23, 2011, at 3:24 pm EDT

    I had a free park hopper and water parks and more upgrade on my first with-wife trip back in 2006, and we never hopped. We used Touring Plans during a time of year when park hours were short, and we were able to do all we wanted (including dining; it was easy to get a Le Cellier ADR back then!) without hopping. It’s completely possible to have a good trip without park hopping.

    On most other trips since I have had the park hopping option and used it extensively. It is nice to be able to run to Epcot for dinner or whatever, and park hopping is also very useful for meeting up with folks I’ve met in the Disney fan community. However, if I don’t have an annual pass in the future, I’ll think carefully before plunking down the cash.

    That said, I think this is a like the Disney Dining Plan in that people either emphatically embrace park hopping or don’t based on habits and preferences they develop, making it the “only” way to travel, even if it does not make practical or financial sense. Different things work for different people.

  • We never park hop. But, as others have said, different things work for different people. For us it doesn’t make sense. Maybe it will in the future, just not right now.

    You are correct, Stacy, the $ we are saving by not park hopping could go toward extra spending $ or pay for a special meal. We are a family of 4 + 1 (traveling with my Mother in Law) for 7 days, 2 of which are travel days and non park days (I won’t even fork over the $ for park tix for travel days to save even more $). We prefer to save the money and be happy with the fact that we are in for one park and one park only that day. The kids (ages 8 and 5) have no idea what park hopping is, so they are none the wiser when it comes to that topic. I prefer not having to jump from here to there to everywhere, I already do that at home; home to school, school to practice, practice back to home again. I know, I know, Disney is different. I just don’t find park hopping relaxing and since we will be reliant on Disney transportation, a big time waster. I want as much time in the parks as possible.

    As you mentioned, AK is a partial day park. It gives us an afternoon at the pool back at the resort and later that night hubby and I are off to an Anniversary dinner at California Grill while grandma and the kids have a pizza party/movie night back in the room. The kids can rest and relax after 3 days of non-stop and get ready for their super early morning the next day, starting with breakfast at the Crystal Palace at 8 a.m. It’s a winner of a plan for all of us!

    Since I love to plan and love to follow a plan, it was nothing for me to come up with a schedule that works that does not involve park hopping. I got all the restaurants I wanted at the times I wanted for each day with no problems.

    The only benefit I can see to park hopping is if say Fantasmic was canceled the night that you intended to see it. If you have a park hopper you can come back on a different night. If you don’t, then you either have to go back to DHS instead of another park you were planning on or miss it altogether. That’s a $200+ chance I’m willing to take. Yes, it will be disappointing, but that’s all the more reason to make another trip back to the World. : )

    • I apologize, Stacey, I spelled your name wrong above.

    • Also, I should mention that we are going at the end of October, which according to TP : ) is a relatively low crowd time of year. Since that’s the case and most parks close early during that time, I just don’t think Park hopping is as effective as say the middle of summer. Parks are opened til all hours of the night during the summer, providing more hours to hop between parks. Since we will never go in the summer heat and stick to fall trips, I still don’t see us ever purchasing a park hopper.

      • We agree. We save money by NOT park hopping. And we save TIME by not park hopping. You really have to take into account the time and frustration involved in transportation. We have not added park hopper for the last 6 years, and haven’t missed it. We’re never out early enough to take advantage of EMH and then leave to go to another park; we’re never up late enough to take advantage of nighttime EHM. Also think it is true: if your kids are used to the flexibility of Park Hopper, it may be impossible to go back to basic 1 park/day tickets!

  • Three years ago we knew that we would be taking our daughter to Disney multiple times for her October birthday before she entered Kindergarten. We bought a 5 day non-hopper pass and a 7 day hopper pass for each of us. This allowed us to plan 4 days per year for 3 years with a mix of hopper and non-hopper days. Since we go durring the food and wine festival this has been great as we will start at one park, go back to the hotel for lunch/nap/swim and head to Epcot to “Eat our way around the World”.

    Sadly all days are used up and Kindergarten starts next month. My daughter sighed the other day and said “Will we EVER go back to Disney” I said “Yes, but we aren’t sure when yet”. She decided that if we don’t she would just have to take her kids when she becomes a grown-up. Now that’s what I call planning!

  • Despite having a PAP and being able to hop whenever I want, I usually don’t. Maybe I’ll hope once a trip (usually start at Epcot and then hop to MK for evening EMH). I’m surprised so many people love it — I just don’t see the need. It’s easy to kill a whole day in one park with no problems. And if the park is closing very early (off season, AK, whatever), then I usually head back to the resort after closing or to DTD.

  • I love park hopping. I think its most valuable in the off season when parades and shows are not shown every day. We wanted to make sure and see the Electrical Light Parade, but it was only on Monday and Thursday. But MK had EMH on Sunday, so we wanted to go to MK then and it was a 2 on the Crowd Calendar that Wednesday. If not for park hopping, we would have either had to miss the parade or go to the MK on a busier day. With park hopping we did all the above!

    Plus park hopping for us is always the break in the middle of the day. The hour it takes to get between parks is usually enough to re-energize us for the rest of the day.

    Also, since DHS and AK close early (5-7ish) during the off season, those of us who aren’t quite ready to head back to the hotel can hop on over to MK or Epcot for 3-4 more rides before calling it a night.

  • We park hopped on our first trip with the kids,3 and 5 at the time, and they hated it for all the reasons you mentioned. I really wish that I had taken those factors into account when booking that trip.

  • We live in Northern Illinois, so it is a trip for us to get to Orlando. However, we are such Disney nuts, the wife and I have annual park hopper passes. Oh yes, did I mention we are retired and can travel to WDW whenever we want? Plus, we are Disney Vacation Club members, so we always have a place to stay when we go down. I hate Summer in Florida, so, we like to go down in the fall (think Food & Wine Festival at Epcot) and Spring (think Epcot Flower & Garden show). I couldn’t think of going down without a park hopper pass. As DVC members, we get $100 off an annual pass, plus when you renew, you get another $40 off. So, a park hopper annual pass is a no brainer for us.

    We like poking around at all the parks and being able to go to any park any day and multiple parks in a day. Annual park hopper passes also get you discounts when you buy Disney Merchandise. I like to walk into Pin Traders at DT Disney, stop, take a sweeping look at all the Disney China junk, and say “Honey, we’re home!” (Ha..ha..)

  • This is another topic that depends on your family situation and Disney experience, as well as the time of year and wehat is scheduled to be going on in Disney.

    For our very first trip in April (Mom, Dad, daughter 8, son 6), we did not park hop. There was way too much to do at each park, to catch up on years missed: we opened and closed them all! No midday break. We saw the MK opening show, and each park’s nighttime spectacular on their designated day. We even repeated MK at the end of the week. And we still didn’t see EVERYTHING we wanted to, not even counting refurbishments.

    We went right back in October the same year, and got park hoppers for a few reasons. First, with Food & Wine, we wanted to have some nighttime meals at Epcot. Second, with the Halloween Party at MK, it closed at 7 pm 3 of the nights we were there. If we wanted to see nighttime shows (parade, Wishes), we had to be there on a non-party night. But being a faithful TP Lines user, I knew the crowd levels dropped drastically on a party day.

    So, in order to get value in our trip (to spend more park time, less wait time), I added the park hopper. This enabled us to hop to Extra Magic evenings a couple of times, since park hours were a bit shorter than our April trip. So we started at MK twice on party days, had very low crowd levels, and hopped to Epcot in the evening. Then, we ended at MK for spectaculars on 2 different nights, specifically when AK closed at only 5 pm!

    BUT, I don’t think I would bother with it again. It takes way too much time, especially with kids. I only felt the need to hop a few times, due to the MK party, and the Epcot F&W nights. I didn’t feel like the 2 Extra Magic evening we hopped were worth it, not enough was open after hours. Yes, many attractions, but not much food. I took only my son to a rare Epcot evening magic hour, after MK closed at 9, and it took us a full hour before we were in the park and on Mission Space, and we even raced thru the monorail.

    I also won’t go back in the Fall again. We loved Food & Wine, but didn’t find it worth an expensive trip down, when the hours are cut for other parks (shorter hours, as well as the Halloween party at MK). We did it, we’re done.

    I could find plenty to do at each park, and then just leave and be done for the day. Even at AK, it closed at 7 in April, and that was simply our short day (that we desperately needed since we opened & closed the parks each day). We will tour this way a few more times I am sure.

    And how anyone runs out of things to do at any park is beyond me, unless you’ve been there a bunch of times already. I suppose when the kids are older and outgrow some of the kiddie stuff, and/or we have had our fill of the “one-and-done” attractions (for us: Country Bears & Tiki Birds), then we will probably “run out of things to do” and feel the need to hop.

    So it definitely depends, on your family makeup and family dynamic, the Disney schedule, as well as how many trips you have under your belt.