The New Walt Disney World Ticket Prices – What Works Best?

by on June 18, 2012 29 Comments

Filed under: Trip Planning

Friends, Romans, and Walt Disney World veterans…lend me your ears. The time has come to make some momentous decisions regarding tickets and Walt Disney World. These are decisions that could change the course of your entire lives!

Okay, now that I have your attention, it’s time to talk about the recent increase in Walt Disney World ticket prices. Based on this price increase, my family and I are reevaluating how we visit our favorite place. What is it really worth to us? Our next trip is planned for January 1-5, so our question is: what is the best option for our family during that trip?

We have Premier Passports now, because of our summer trip to Disneyland. But that may change...

With the Disney Parks Blog announcing the price increase on June 3, I’m faced with the decision of what to do on whether to renew my Annual Pass or not. Sure, Disney increases prices every year, but what I have noticed is that they are slowly but surely decreasing the ease of making multiple visits.

The first step was making No Expiration an option when Magic Your Way came into existence in 2005 (prior to that, all standard tickets never expired!). That was a “hidden” price increase that discouraged people from using tickets over a long period of time. Now, as the price of 1-day or 2-day tickets keeps going up, the price of longer visits goes up at a much slower rate. For someone like me who would prefer to take trips of 2-3 days, it becomes prohibitively expensive. For two trips of 3 days each, I’d pay $484 just for two 3-day Magic Your Way tickets for myself. That’s nearly $2,000 for my entire family for our average trip of 3 days two times a year.

Meanwhile, if our family wanted to take a 10 day-trip (if only I had the time!), it would cost us $1,254 for 3 adult tickets and 1 child ticket. We would save money by going for more days, right? Not so fast.

Sure this plate of food at Crystal Palace is yummy, but is it worth $40?

Here is where the other “hidden” cost comes in: food. In case you haven’t noticed, food prices at Walt Disney World have been steadily on the rise. I’ve written here before about what a value the Disney Dining Plan is if you have children under the age of 10. For $15.99, you can feed them a Table Service meal, including the popular buffets, a Counter Service meal, and a snack. You couldn’t dream of doing this for the same amount of money out of pocket. It more than makes up for what you spend on your own Disney Dining Plan.

However, since my son is now 10 years old, he would have to buy the adult Dining Plan. For each day of our trip, that represents a cost of $169.64 for my wife, my son, my daughter, and myself, and that doesn’t include breakfast. So we are talking at least $180 a day for food with the Dining Plan. Factor that in, and the 10-day trip, despite the ticket savings, now costs $2,950 if you don’t add on the breakfast foods we would have to purchase. The 6-day trip that looked so expensive is now $2,922. So you can see that the price of food quickly becomes an equalizer.

With an Annual Pass, it quickly becomes even a worse comparison. Annual Passes for my whole family would run a whopping $2,296. That’s before we have set foot on property, eaten anything, or stayed in a resort. If we did the Dining Plan, that adds another $170 a day to each trip. Let’s say we didn’t do the Dining Plan but bought Tables In Wonderland, saving 20% on each Table Service meal. By my calculations, I’m still looking at around $112 a day if we went to the cheapest locations to dine in the Magic Kingdom (e.g., Pecos Bill’s and the Plaza Restaurant) and ordered our normal meals. If we wanted to have lunch at Crystal Palace, one of our favorites, then that number jumps to $134 a day. That’s still without the cost of Tables In Wonderland or adding breakfast to the mix.

My family still loves Disney World, but are we better off coming once a year?

So, looking at what we had planned to do for this January, which is to arrive on New Year’s Day and stay through January 5, here are the prices I came up with:

  • New 5-day Magic Your Way tickets, Dining Plan: $1,902
  • New 5-day Magic Your Way tickets, pay out of pocket for food: $1,724
  • Annual Passes, pay out of pocket for food: $2,966

You can see why I may be leaning towards dropping my Annual Pass, right? There are two more points to consider, though. First is hotels – with an Annual Pass, you get room discounts that help pay for the cost of the pass, right? Wrong.

Looking at Disney’s recent sales and rates, a general consumer or a Disney Visa card holder can get very similar if not better rates than an Annual Passholder. As an example, I randomly picked five days this summer: June 25-30, a Monday-Saturday just as I will be doing in January. From both the Annual Passholder site and the Special Offers tab on the Disney website, I came up with $743 for Pop Century, $800 for All-Star Movies and $2,202 for Wilderness Lodge. So there is literally NO advantage to having an Annual Pass when it comes too room pricing.

Then there is the question of a return visit. By paying up front for an Annual Pass, I’ve already pre-paid for the return visit, right? If we return in 2013, it’s likely to be a trip in the summer or for Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. Either way, it looks to be a shorter trip of 5 days or less. For sake of argument, we’ll go with another 5 days with food out of pocket at the $134 a day cost I listed above. Look at the numbers now:

  • Two trips – 5 day Magic Your Way Tickets, food out of pocket: total cost $3,448
  • Two trips – Annual Passes, food out of pocket: total cost $3,636

Events like the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival are what will draw me back.

I’ve actually saved money by buying two sets of 5-day tickets. Sure, there are disclaimers, like not including the Park Hopper option, etc., but you can see that there is a way to get by without the Annual Pass that makes a lot of sense.

Everyone has to run his or her own numbers, and my situation doesn’t apply to you, nor vice versa. But it sure seems to me that Disney, between the increases in the Dining Plan costs, the lack of hotel discounts, and the increases in Annual Pass and other costs, is looking to discourage Annual Pass visitors and get more 5-day or longer “new” ticket purchasers. That’s what I’ll be doing for my trips next year.

What about you? Has the change in ticket prices made you reevaluate how you’ll be visiting the parks?

Posted on June 18, 2012

29 Responses to “The New Walt Disney World Ticket Prices – What Works Best?”

  • We have to re-evaluate our ticket strategy too. This past year we didn’t renew our APs because it seemed silly to pay during a time we weren’t going to be visiting. Now with the elimination of the child AP, we might have to go to straight tickets – can’t see paying an adult price for our 4 year old. Thanks for putting the numbers out there too! It helps us decide the dining plan STILL isn’t worth it for us!

  • For my family it made sense for us to buy 10 day non expiring tickets. It was very expensive up front but we have gotten almost 4 trips out of them over the course of 2 years. We live in MD and go down (with any luck) twice a year. But what we will do when these run out after our next visit. I’m not sure. I wont have any under 9’s anymore so it has gotten very costly. With an annual pass it would likely expire before we could get more than one trip.

  • Great article – thanks for putting everything into perspective! We just bought APs for the first time this year and are debating how to use them going forward given the huge price increase at both resorts. We were initially thinking of getting the Premier/Premium next year since we are also headed to DL for a few days but it really doesn’t make sense from a cost perspective.

  • It’s starting to make me wonder why the parks are still so crowded. Who can afford these tickets?!?! And the food – yikes!

    We’ve cut down our frequency of trips. We only come every 2-3 years, now. And we’ve got part of our stay scheduled off-property at Vistana Villages – we saved a fortune there, too.

    It’s sad to make these kinds of trade-offs, but I want to have some money left to have fun in life besides WDW!

  • We had planned on buying APs for an eight day visit in late Aug this year and scheduling another eight day trip in 2013 in early Aug. Then keeping an eye out for discounts that would allow us to make at least one more trip in between the two. Our oldest is an 11 year old “adult”, and our son will be an “adult” next May. We hopped on-line and got the passes (there will be four adults and two kids traveling all total) when we saw the announcement that the prices were going up. I figure we saved around $400 by buying the annual passes before the increase. Not to mention the amount we’ll save over buying Magic Your Way tickets by getting in at least two trips over the 12 month period. Beyond Aug 2013 we’ll need to re-evaluate the costs and frequency of visits.

  • There are really three different aspects here–accommodations, dining, and tickets. This is not a ticket-only issue. For us, we now stay offsite. I can’t fathom paying $2-$3K more just to be onsite in cramped quarters when I can rent a house with a lot more room (and just as close to the theme parks). We don’t miss a single Disney onsite perk. Breakfast is always at the house now, and most dinners are offsite (at restaurants) now too. As for tickets, adults (10+) have AP, but the under 9 set gets a ticket. No way I’ll buy an AP for my 3 year old at the same cost as me!

    The more Disney raises prices, the less I spend there. I’d have been happy with status quo. I also think we’ll go ahead and still do our normal 10 day trip two years in a row (within a 365 day period to use one AP for those trips), but then take 1-2 years off. It’s time to take an African Safari or visit Europe.

  • I’m thinking of not renewing my AP either. Definitely not my 4 year old’s. We have been making 3-4 visits a year. I don’t understand why the child & AP rates are the same now. Nor do I understand why Disney is discouraging short visits.

  • In the past, we’ve purchased 10-day no-expiration park-hoppers and divided them over 2 week-long visits spread out over 2 or more years (per vacation: 5 major park visits and 1 or 2 minor park visits). It cost a lot up front, but it cost less per park day than buying a 5-day ticket for each vacation. (We no longer buy the water parks option; we still have over 10 minor park visits to use on two different sets of no-expiration passes.)

    I did the arithmetic after the latest price increase. Now it will cost exactly as much per day to get a 10-day no expiration park-hopper as it will to get a 5-day park hopper that expires. The only advantage to no expiration is locking a future visit in at this year’s prices. And frankly, that isn’t worth the up-front cost this year.

    We usually save on lodging by doing a timeshare exchange to a non-Disney resort. Several very nice resorts are just a few minutes from the park entrances; one is even on Disney property.

    This year, we’re exchanging to a DVC resort just to see whether the extra magic hours and other perks are worth the much-higher exchange rate (one DVC week is worth two weeks at our home resort, whereas a week at our home resort is worth more than a week at most Orlando-area non-Disney resorts). If it isn’t THE MOST MAGICAL VACATION EVER!!!!, we’ll go back to staying off-site.

    And of course, timeshare resorts have kitchens and are convenient to off-site restaurants, so we save money on food as well.

  • I also like to “invest” in a longer ticket (like 7 day) with no expiration and use it over a couple of years. We have very young children so we only do parks 2 or 3 days each visit- so a 7 day can last us 3 years. It is costly up front, but then the next couple of trips there is no added cost and of course, we are paying a lot less per day. Plus if you add waterparks- you get 7 waterpark days too – I have tickets almost 10 years old now that still have water park days!

  • I just read on Undercover Tourist that they haven’t increased their ticket prices yet! You still have until Wednesday to by at the old price.

  • I do the ticket/room/food calculation everytime we visit now. I used to buy one annual pass for the room discount and try and time the next visit before it expires (2 for 1). When I price our typical vacation behavior we never save any money trying to leverage any of the Disney deals for food/tickets. I just try and find a straight up room discount and go ad hoc for everthing else.

    I think there is a building full of Disney accountants analyzing us and adapting their cost structure to maximize our spending as much we try and figure out the best deals to minimize it.

  • We always buy 10-day non-expiring tickets and spread the admissions over about 3 years. We usually visit WDW for 6 or 7 days and our itinerary never includes wall-to-wall major parks. Instead, we reserve a day for enjoying the Disney hotel and a day for one of the water parks. We started this strategy when the kids were very little but even now that they’re 9 and 11, we find it’s a good strategy — keeps everyone from getting too worn out.

    When it’s time to buy another set of 10-day tickets, we wait to see whether Disney is offering the “free dining” plan and what the competing %-off deals are. If we’re planning on staying at a moderate, we have always found that if we plan to book even just one restaurant meal, it makes sense to get “free” dining and order 10-day tickets with the package. Otherwise, we order the tix from Undercover Tourist. We do the math every time and just figure out what makes sense for us.

    And I should add, our strategy makes sense *for us*, based on what we want. As Misty pointed out, you can save plenty by looking into offsite deals.

  • I’ve been back and forth with ticket and dining numbers for a while now, and the recent increase didn’t help. However, we’re DVC members, so buying APs is usually the way we go thanks to the discount. And this time around, they didn’t skimp on the DVC advantage as the discount actually went UP to $149 per annual pass.

    So, thanks to that, we’ll stick with the APs and getting 2 or 3 trips in per 52 week window that we have.

    Great post, though. There are just so many ways to price out a trip to the Mouse any more, it’s amazing anybody can keep this stuff straight.

  • We got fortunate and bought our APs before the Disney Stores raised their prices increase (2 adults, one 3 y/o). We are not going until November but it saved us $220 doing it this way. We will be in the Orlando/Tampa area for 12 days so between the AP and “Super Grover” pass we’ve got the area covered. This is our second straight year getting the APs and probably our last with all of us getting the passes. We stay offsite at a timeshare but there might be enough benefit for one of us to get an AP next year to take advantage of free parking, park discounts, and TIW but we’ll calculate it out once we get closer.

  • I’m ashamed to admit this, but I think Disney has people like me in mind when they increase prices aggressively. I have a running vacation fund that I no longer bother to pretend is anything other than a Disney World Vacation fund. I will continue to happily slap down way too much money on Disney World vacations once a year, because I’m a crazy person.

    That said, my average trip to Disney World actually got cheaper with this ticket price changes, because I have always purchased Park Hopper tickets with Water Park option, which can now be bundled together at a lower price.

    • Chris, when it comes to theme parks, Disney is a price maker, not a price taker. Hey, don’t be ashamed — there are plenty of us in the same boat with you. 🙂

  • We also gave up the AP this past year as the discounts on rooms is no better with the AP than without. The main reason also was when WDW offers free dining AP holders have to buy a two day base ticket to get the FD.. Is insane. Now we do know ONE day of the base ticket can be applied to the next AP but you CANNOT use any of that base ticket “at all” until you trade onto the new AP…or we were told it voids it out to trade up. So we assume most never do this at all so those two bse tickets just never used.

  • My family and I have continually bought Annual Passes for years and we will continue to do so. My brother and I go almost every week, sometimes going three times in the course of just ten days, so it’s still a great value for us.

  • Don’t forget when comparing Annual Passes that many of the gift shops, etc. give a 10% discount and 20% with the Premium Annual Pass so souvenirs, misc purchases should also be considered when trying to compare AP, PAP, or standard ticket prices/expense. Also, with the dining play, gratuity is not included for most full-service dining locations and the option of Tables in Wonderland provides a 20% discount basically offsetting gratuity.

  • by Terri Torrez on June 19, 2012, at 1:02 pm EST

    The first comparison makes no sense. You’re comparing 6 days to 10 days, so of course food costs go way up. And leaving off the park hoppers is not a fair comparison to the AP.

    Also, you don’t mention transportation costs getting to Disney. Since we fly, it generally makes more sense to take fewer, longer trips. This Dec we’ll be going for 13 days and then we’ll probably go for a short trip to F&W next year. So the AP was a must-have.

    I understand that everyone’s situation is different and the AP may no longer be valuable to you. But that hardly means Disney is discouraging APs. This article draws some pretty broad conclusions from a narrow(and fairly contrived) set of circumstances.

  • We are going to WDW in October, this is our 10th annual trip there & we wouldn’t think of vacationing anywhere else – however between the Disney ticket price increases, the substantial airfare increases, the resort increases & of course dining we are going to have to change our future WDW plans. We go every year for 7 or 8 days, but after this trip in October we will be going every other year instead. Just the airfare has doubled in the last 2 years! We love Disney & we’ll find a way to go, just we’ll go less frequently & spend less when we’re there.

  • For my family we only got one AP (for myself) and the rest of the family got tickets. Thus we were able to take advantage of TIW and any other discounts without the large investment of APs for all. It worked nicely.

  • by Julie Elberson on June 20, 2012, at 8:58 am EST

    I was SHOCKED! to discover that the regular AAA member discount saved me more money at the Contemporary than the Annual Passholder rate.

  • TIW isn’t accepted at Pecos Bill’s since it is counter service (there are a few that accept it like Flame Tree BBQ and the hotel food courts).

    Luckily, we always go for 8-10 days at the parks since we only go every 2-3 years. This year, I will be buying the 8 day pass (expires) and a TIW card since I am a DVC member.

  • The rule of thumb for buying no-expire seems to be that unless you can get two complete trips out of a ticket, it will be less expensive to get just the days you need for your trip and not pay for non-expiring. Hence if your visits tend to be seven days in the parks, you don’t want to buy the ten-day and pay a hefty fee just to carry over three days. On your next trip, you’ll still need to buy another ticket with the front-loaded cost of those first few days.
    But if you take five-day trips, the ten-day ticket should work for you – provided you are sure you won’t lose the ticket in between!

  • We went to WDW 5 years ago when there was free upgrade to park hopper and water parks. Even though we only needed 4 days, we bought 10 day non-expiration tickets. We figured the free upgrade offset the non-expiration. Now our kids are “adults” so we have really hedged against ticket inflation. We still have 10 water park days and several theme park days left.

  • No expiration option? Isn’t it more simpler than that? I’m not gonna address the Annual Pass option — we live in Texas and can only afford to make it WDW every 2-3 years. We generally spend between 5-7 days there each visit. I guess there are certain scenarios where the no expiration date tickets makes sense, but I don’t see if for my family and how we visit Disney. Don’t overlook the obvious if it works out for your family. A current 10-day no expiration pass comes out to $59/day w/o taxes. If you’re willing to pay the additional up-front costs, why not just get buy two separate 5-day passes, using one now and saving the other for your next trip? That cost is $53/day w/o taxes.

  • Disney park is a world famous.This is a good start, but there are even more ways to find cheap amusement park tickets this summer. Here are our suggestions..

  • I have gone to WDW at least once a year for the last 4-5 years. I have always accepted the price increases and decided it was still worth going. This time, though, I can no longer justify the cost. We have a trip already planned (and paid for) for late August. I had initially intended to swap my 8 day park hoppers for an AP, and come back for reunion, then one more time in 2013 before the AP ran out. With the cost of the new AP, I cannot justify further trips. It will likely be a couple years or more before I go back. It’s sad that the company’s greed has soured what I have always thought were great vacations that were worth the money.