Finding a place to stay and determining the best method of travel is only the beginning of the expense for a trip to Walt Disney World. If you were just wanting to drive to Orlando, Florida and stay in a hotel the total outlay for such a trip would be quite low. Unlike other Florida vacations, where your family relaxes carelessly (and cheaply) on the beach, you will find no beaches in Orlando. This is where careful planning might pay off.
The last time I took a trip to Walt Disney World was in 2011. We had actually thought about visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. I actually love Universal Studios and find it to be very fun. However, due to the pricing structures of bothe Walt Disney World and Universal Studios the economics of visiting both parks is difficult to make work. Both companies charge more for a single day ticket than they do for a multi-day ticket (on a per day basis). From a business perspective it’s a fantastic choice, but for a family wanting to enjoy both parks it can work be difficult to accomodate. A 1 day ticket to WDW is $95 per adult and $88 per child 3-9. A 7 day ticket, by comparison is $302 and $282, which breaks down to $43 and $40 per day. Let’s imagine that on day 8 you wanted to go to Universal Studios for this extra day you would pay about $90 per adult and $85 per child. Alternatively, you could spend your 8th day at a Disney Park again for an extra 10 bucks per person. This really complicates the vacation math and in my case made us stay with Walt Disney World for the duration of our 6 day trip.
When you are trying to vacation on a budget, the last thing you want to hear is for someone to recommend you buy in advance of your journey. In 2011 2 adult tickets for 6 days were $242 each for my wife and me. This same ticket in 2013 would cost me $296 through Disney. This is a 18% increase in 2 years! So one surefire way to save money on your tickets is to buy them early! When’s the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. When’s the best time to buy a ticket to Walt Disney World? 20 years ago. If you cannot swing buying them years early definitely buy them before the yearly price increases.
When purchasing tickets outright the best company that I found was Undercover Tourist. In 2011 their price was better after tax than Walt Disney World tickets were priced at before tax. Remember that Undercover Tourist shows total price you pay while the Walt Disney World website just throws the tax in at the end.
Although I purchased my tickets from Undercover Tourist in 2011 I do not know if they are truly the best choice today if you are willing to take a little extra time. I used the ticket comparison calculator for 2 adults and 2 children on a 6 day ticket the total from Undercover Tourist would be $1,103 while the price through Disneyworld.com is $1,145. Certainly Undercover Tourist is $42 cheaper which makes them 3.67% cheaper. If you just want to buy tickets quickly, this is a good bet.
However, if you time your purchase right you can save more than this by paying with a gift card. Sign up for an American Express Blue Cash Preferred (special offer through card match tool)which gives a $250 sign-up bonus 6% cashback at grocery stores and 0% interest for 15 months ($75 annual fee). Let’s assume you only get this card for your Disney trip and that’s it. At my local Kroger they offer an incentive of 2x fuel reward points on any gift card purchase. During certain times of year they offer 4x fuel reward points on any gift card purchase. What does that mean? Every 100 points earned is good for 10 cents off per gallon. I went to Kroger when they offered 4x fuel reward points and used my American Express card to buy gift cards to pay for Walt Disney World. The price is $1,145 which will earn me $68.70 cashback and 4,580 fuel reward points. The rule for gas points is you can redeem up to 1,000 points for $1.00 off 35 gallons of gas. Purchasing tickets with this method would earn $68.70 (6% cashback) +$250 (sign up bonus) – $75 (annual fee) + $157.50 (gas savings) = $401.20 in total savings on a family of four. That works out to 35% off which is better than the 3% off offered by Undercover Tourist. Plus, the 0% interest means you can pay your card off slowly like a nice savings account. If you really want to amp up the savings take all of your gas with you on the trip and you will be filling up on $1 off gas! I would not condone, recommend or try this trick myself, you would be saving cash on gas.
I have read other advice in the past and have heard many people suggest that people buy Park Hopper, No-Expiration and other more expensive tickets. I found the incremental cost to purchase these tickets were not cost effective. This just goes to show that there are no right answers if two people will recommend opposite things. As adamant as I am to not get the Park Hopper option, other people suggest it’s “a must”. I believe Disney is expensive enough and there is enough to do without worrying about such an option. For instance, if you go to Magic Kingdom, you can leave in the middle of the day and go back to Magic Kingdom. With a little extra planning you can easily get by without the Park Hopper.
Just as opinions vary on what upgrade options should be added to your ticket there are many strong opinions on which parks to see. I find Epcot to be quite boring when compared to the excitement of Magic Kingdom. I believe that Animal Kingdom has promise, but currently there’s not enough to do in the park. That being said, I have had people come up to me and say “Animal Kingdom is so great!” or “I could spend the whole week at Epcot”. I think that spending a week in Orlando and wasting every day at Epcot would be a punishment.
When my family went we had 6 days. We went to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios twice and Epcot and Animal Kingdom once each. I used touringplans.com and undercovertourist.com to plan my trip. I actually made a spreadsheet and evaluated each day based on expected crowd levels. I also looked at the calendar to be certain that we were in attendance during “must see” events. We went to Hollywood Studios on at least one day when Fantasmic was showing. Without good preparation we could have easily just gone to the park and not known what we missed.