Your family vacation just got a little more expensive. Last year, Walt Disney World announced that ticket prices for those 10 and up at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando now exceed $100. Single-day tickets cost $105 per day for ages 10 and up or $99 for kids 3-9. Tickets to Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios rose slightly to $97 for ages 10 and up and $91 for children 3-9. While a trip to see the mouse certainly doesn't come cheap, we have some Disney tricks, tips and secrets that will help your family get the biggest bang for your buck.
Tip 1: Buy Tickets From Disney or Certified Partners
Only buy from Walt Disney World or its certified partners, like your hotel concierge, a professional travel agent or Visit Orlando. You might be tempted by promises and deals from third parties, but if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you think something might be a Disney ticket scam, report it immediately to the Better Business Bureau. I was once at Epcot and watched an entire party of 15 people get turned away because they had bought their tickets off property and didn't read the fine print. Devastating.
Tip 2: Look for Disney Discounts
There are some great deals for military families along with Florida and Georgia residents during the non-peak season (starting from $139/child or $159/10+ for a three-day pass). And if you're planning more than one trip per year, an annual pass is a good option and also comes with free parking and dining and merchandise discounts. My family paid $1,500 for our annual passes, and we have received every penny's worth. Ask Disney's reservation desk about packages for lodging, tickets and a Disney dining plan. Or, research some off-site properties, which typically offer lower prices.
Tip 3: Choose the Park-Hopper Option
For around $165 per person, you can visit two theme parks in one day instead of buying two one-day passes for $194. Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite parks, but many of the attractions close at dusk. You can leave from there to Epcot, for example, enjoy a few rides and dinner around the World Showcase, and then watch the spectacular fireworks show at 9 pm.
Tip 4: Go for Multiple-Day Tickets
Multiple-day tickets are a better deal. Five-day tickets are $63/person per day and four-day tickets are $76/person per day. That can lead to substantial savings, if you play it smart with your daily expenses. (See tips 5-8.)
Tip 5: Pack Food and Drinks
One hot dog, an ice cream and a coke costs around $20 at Walt Disney World. While Disney's critics frown upon admission pricing, they can applaud the lenient policy for snacks. I once saw a family rolling around a massive, 4-foot cooler. It was totally acceptable. Alcohol is not allowed, but bring as much food and as many drinks as you'd like. In the hot, summer months, bringing some ice and bottled water is smart planning. And as a bonus, you avoid the lines for food.
Tip 6: Bring Your Own Strollers
Disney provides strollers and wheelchairs, but renting them can cost anywhere from $13-$31 a day. There is plenty of stroller parking at each attraction around the parks, and it's a convenient carrier for not only the kids, but your snacks and souvenirs.
Tip 7: Get Costumes and Souvenirs Ahead of Time
If you know your child is going to want to dress up like Elsa the day she meets Elsa, order the costume on Amazon before the trip. You can save more than 50 percent. Same is true for toys; all rides end at the gift shop, but your children will be far less tempted if they know a surprise is waiting for them back at the hotel that you've packed in your suitcase. You can even visit a Target or Dollar Tree in town to load up on T-shirts, glow sticks and postcards for a fraction of the price at Disney.
Tip 8: Avoid Parking Fees
Parking at Disney now costs $25 per day, which can really add up. If you stay at a Disney resort, parking is complimentary. Or many hotels—both on and off property—provide free shuttle services to the parks. Inquire before booking your stay and that can add value. Taking an Uber might be another good bet.
Tip 9: Bring Your Toddlers
Many of my friends have said they're waiting until their children get older before bringing them to Disney. As the mother of a 2-year-old, I say there's nothing like enjoying the present. Not only do children under 3 get in free, there is so much for them to see, do and enjoy. The teacups, Dumbo, It's A Small World, the parades, the character meet-and-greets—these are all truly magical in the eyes of a toddler.
Tip 10: Sign Up for FastPass+
FastPass+ is completely free and available to anyone with a Disney ticket, not just guests staying at a Disney resort. FastPass+ allows you to sign up for three rides per day per park, up to 30 days prior to your visit (or 60 days if staying at a Disney resort), and then you get to skip in line for those rides. When you've completed all three rides, you can find a FastPass+ kiosk at the park and sign up for an additional FastPass+, and so on. This new system allows guests to bypass the really long lines—Peter Pan (Magic Kingdom), Mine Train (Magic Kingdom), Toy Story Mania (Hollywood), Everest (Animal Kingdom) and Soarin' (Epcot) typically all exceed 60 minutes. The less you wait in line, the more you can ride and the more you get for your dollar.
Tip 11: Take a Break Mid-Day
I have seen so many families falling apart in the late afternoons at the Disney theme parks. Mom is yelling at Dad, who's yelling at the kids, who are kicking and screaming and sobbing. Mom and Dad probably just wanted to make the most of their day and their pricey admission ticket. But I would pay $100 not to have a temper tantrum. Especially with young children, go back to your hotel in the early afternoon to rest. Then you can head back to the park (no additional parking fees required), and start fresh again for more rides, the evening parade and the fireworks show.
Tip 12: Take Advantage of Disney Freebies
There are many ways to enjoy Walt Disney World without buying a park ticket, which is especially nice if you have an extra day at the beginning or end of your trip. Anyone can hop aboard the monorail or the ferry for a ride (parking fees might apply). All Disney resorts and restaurants are open to visitors with an ID. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a spectacular resort to visit—here you can even see the giraffes and zebras from the main lobby. Fort Wilderness Lodge offers horseback riding and walking trails along the lake. Disney's Boardwalk is free and offers a view of the Epcot fireworks. Disney Springs is another fun option without admission, and parking is free. You can ride the water taxi, play with LEGOs and watch the 2 pm princess parade—all for free.
Cliché as it might sound, a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando truly is priceless. You will experience the very best service, amazing rides, fabulous parades, extraordinary fireworks and all your favorite characters, while creating family memories that stick around much longer than your credit card bill.