Choosing - and
Finding - the
Best Value Tickets for Walt Disney World
The Orlando Disney Resort Complex has
lots of ticket choices
The fabled Disney 'E
ticket' (no longer issued) has entered popular parlance as a
definition of a top level experience of any sort.
These days the rides are
essentially free. But park admission is very
A day at the Walt Disney World
Resort complex can cost you as much as $190 - and that's for the
admission fee alone!
It is true that the Walt Disney
World complex kickstarted the Orlando area as a tourist mecca.
But since WDW opened in 1971, the Orlando area has becoming
increasingly more diverse in terms of things to do and vacation
It is still a wonderful
playground for the young and the young at heart, but it is now
also possible for more sophisticated travelers to stay in hotels
that don't have packs of noisy children running up and down the
hallways at all hours, and to similarly dine and enjoy
themselves in luxury.
Whether you want to shop, dine,
relax, or experience activities and adventures, you'll find the
Orlando area has lots to enjoy.
The Evolving Approach to Disney
When Walt Disney opened his
first theme park, Disneyland in Anaheim, on July 17 1955, the
theme park had very few rides. It had some exhibits and
theme areas, and some sedate rides, but nothing too
extraordinary or extravagant.
But within six months, the
theme park started to introduce rides that have lasted all the way
through until now (albeit in sometimes substantially altered and
enhanced format) and a hierarchy of rides evolved.
Originally, one simply paid an
admission fee to enter the Disneyland park, and then paid a fee
for each ride, at the ride itself. Within three months of
opening, Disney started selling 'Value Books' of tickets that
contained a mix of ticket coupons, with each coupon applying to a
particular category of rides, either an A, B or C category ride.
The next year, Disney added a
fourth category of ride and matching coupon, the D coupon.
Then in mid 1959, Disney came out with what became its ultimate
ride category, the E ticket ride. This concept of an E
ticket ride being the ultimate of whatever experience category was
being offered has survived to this very day, doubtless with many
of the people who still refer to 'Wow - that was sure an E ticket
experience' (or words to that effect) not even knowing the origins
of the phrase.
Over the years, Disney juggled
its different attractions into different categories, and came out
with different mixes of coupons and new types of coupons that
could be used for multiple categories of rides.
Here is an
that lists all the Disney attractions in 1972, which ticket
category they were in, and what the cost of the tickets were.
In 1971 something occurred
that ultimately killed off this charging system - the opening of
(Six Flags) Magic Mountain - admittedly a long way from
Disneyland, located north of Los Angeles, but viewed by Disney as
a competitor nonetheless. Magic Mountain simply charged a
flat $5 admission fee, and allowed visitors to enjoy unlimited
rides at no extra cost.
Disney slowly responded to
this, introducing some types of unlimited tickets over the next
decade, and finally in 1982 abolished its ticket system entirely.
Interestingly, because the tickets never expired, you can still
present ride coupons and get a very small discount off a modern
When Disney switched to an
'everything free' policy, it didn't actually make everything free.
A few things (notably the shooting arcade) became coin-in-the-slot
operated, but basically, just about all the key ride activities
are now free, in return for a single admission fee.
Is Disney's All Inclusive
Admission Ticket Good or Bad?
Was the evolution from paying
for each ride individually to paying a flat fee for an unlimited
day at the park a good or bad thing?
This is perhaps a pointless
question, because we don't have any choice these days, but it
exposes an interesting issue that you might like to think about
while standing in an interminable line for the next ride of your
day at a Disney amusement park.
Back when Disney made money
from every person who took a ride, it was in their interest to
enable as many people to take rides as possible. It was in
their interest to make the rides as compelling as possible, and to
allow the rides to handle as many riders as possible, so as to
maximize the revenue they could derive.
But now things have swapped
around. Disney makes all its money from us when we walk
through the front gate. From that point forward, all the
rides we take represent as extra costs. The cheapest thing
for Disney is when we are standing in a line, doing nothing - not
using any of their resources, not wearing out rides, not requiring
This makes for an interesting
point of tension for Disney. Back when every ride was
charged, we as guests and they as hosts were 'on the same side' -
we wanted to enjoy as many rides as we could (and as we could
afford) and they wanted to get us on as many rides as they could
encourage us to take. It was a classic win-win and motivated
Disney to keep the ride quality up and the waiting lines short.
Now, the opposite is the case.
Disney of course needs to have sufficient rides to entice us into
the park and to provide some semblance of value to their all
inclusive fee, but having done that, we fall into an ugly game of
'smoke and mirrors'
now disney disinchentivised
for making rides easier
The history of Orlando can
be traced back to 1838 and the establishment of an Army fort
just south of today's city limits.
A small settlement grew up
around the fort, and in 1856 changed its name to Orlando.
The town was incorporated in 1875 (with 85 inhabitants, 22 of
whom were qualified voters), and reincorporated as a city in
The Places You Need Tickets For
There are four main theme
parks in the Walt Disney World Resort, all of which require an
entry ticket. These are
The Magic Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom
A standard entry ticket can be
used to get entry to any one of these parks (more or less, read
the section on Park Hopping below as well).
There are also two lesser
water park attractions (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) and an
indoor 'interactive theme park', DisneyQuest.
These have lower admission
rates and different admission policies.
info on tkt discounts
What period of validity
Park Hopper or Single Park
Some tickets allow you to
'hop' between the different theme parks in a single day. You
might start off the morning in one park, then go to a different
park for the afternoon, and end up in a third park for the
Other tickets allow you entry
to only one park for the day. You can leave the park and
return, but you can't enter other parks.
Which is better?
The single park tickets are
less expensive, and that is a point in their favor.
While the thought of 'hopping'
between parks sounds appealing, you need to consider two things.
First, moving between parks is nowhere near as effortless as the
term 'hop' might imply. It is a major process that may take
you 60 minutes and considerable walking to switch from one park to
another. One of your Disney strategies has to be to be
careful how much walking you need to do.
To change parks, you first
need to get to the entrance (ie exit) to the park you are in.
You then need to get your hand stamped for re-entry.
Then you go to the Disney
Transportation Center, to take a bus or monorail to the next park.
At busy times of day, you can expect some degree of waiting before
being squeezed onto a bus/monorail.
Then you travel to the next
park. You get off, and you then have to go through the
entrance gates to the new park.
Lastly, you then travel on to
wherever you want to be in the new park.
You've just burned as much as
an hour of time and walked who knows how far, just to change
You'd probably only ever want
to do this if you only had one or two days and wanted to crazily
jam as much as possible from as many parks as possible into your
limited time. If you're planning on being there longer,
simply allocate a day to each park.
One other possibility might be
if you've been to Disney many times before and just want to do a
quick whip through to see what is new and different; it again
might make sense for you then to 'hop' between parks.
Hopping between the two parks
in Anaheim is easy - you go out of one park, walk across a plaza,
and walk straight into the next park. But it is a much
lengthier process in the huge area that Walt Disney Resort in
Orlando is spread over.
No Expiry Option
Discounted Disney Tickets for Florida
If you live in Florida (or if
you have a FL driver's license showing a FL address), you are
probably eligible to get substantially discounted tickets and
annual passes. Complete
proof of eligibility rules are here.
An annual pass can be had for
as little as $275 (including tax), and more restricted annual
passes can be as low as $156. To make these even more
tempting, you can even buy them on a monthly payment program.
Where to Buy Tickets
Of course you can buy Walt
Disney World tickets at their Main Gate after entering their site.
And, again of course, you can
also buy tickets from Disney's website.
It seems to me that sometimes
there are internet specials offered on their website that are not
directly available at the resort itself, so it pays to do your
homework before you go.
In addition to these two
ultra-official sources, there may be other ways of getting
discounted tickets for the Walt Disney Resort theme parks.
Partially Used Tickets
You'll sometimes find signs
from people offering to buy your tickets if they have remaining
days on them, and in turn offering to sell you other partially
used tickets that the brokers have bought from others.
This is a high risk
transaction for you. Disney specifically prohibits such
transactions, and if they catch you out, your tickets will be
voided, and maybe they'll even threaten other nasty consequences
You're also relying on the
fact that the tickets you are using still have the remaining days
of admission on them which they are said to have, and that there
are no other downside issues associated with them.
With Disney now sometimes even
taking fingerprints of guests it is getting harder and harder to
If a friend or family member
offers you their tickets, and if they tell you they didn't need to
be finger/thumbprinted or in any other way have their tickets
uniquely tied to them personally, maybe you could do a deal with
them, but to buy them off the street from someone you don't know -
that's not a recommended way of 'saving' money.
'Free' Tickets from Time-Share
You'll see booths galore at
shopping malls and advertisements along the freeways offering you
a free Disney ticket in return for attending a time share
If you can force yourself to
sit through an hour or two of sales pitch, you truly will get a
Disney ticket at the end of it. If there are two of you, and
you each get a ticket, that's a high value of return per hour of
Make sure though that the time
share company is bona fide and that there are no strings attached
to the free ticket offer. You really want to see the tickets
before the presentation so you know exactly what you'll be given
at the end of the presentation.
On the downside, you are using
up some of your valuable leisure time to attend a time share sales
presentation (and I guess there's even a slight danger you might
end up buying a time share!). So do not think of this as
truly free - there is a time cost and a hassle/inconvenience
factor to offset the free seeming ticket(s).
Note - if you are considering
buying a time share, look at buying a 'used' or 'second hand' one
which a previous owner is now selling. You can pick those up
for massively less than buying a new one.
In both Anaheim and
Orlando/Kissimmee you may find hotels that offer packages
including a hotel stay and other things, with Disney admissions
sometimes being one of the other inclusions.
In such cases, do the sums
carefully. There is no guarantee that you'll be getting a
good deal with these packages, but sometimes you'll find you could
be making a massive saving compared to buying the hotel room the
cheapest way you can and the Disney tickets separately.
Airline and Tour Packages
The 'magic', such as there
ever is, in any sort of travel package is that it can be used, in
times of weak demand, as a way for suppliers to hide discounts
that they don't want to be made public and obvious.
If you are buying a package
that has an airfare, some hotel accommodation, a rental car, and
some Disney tickets in it, maybe one or more of the package
component providers is supplying their product at a steep
discount, and therefore causing the package as a whole to be
significantly less expensive than if you bought the items one by
Of course, this logic only
applies if the components of the package were things you were
planning on buying anyway, and/or if they are extra items of
realistic value to you. There's not a lot of benefit to you
in effectively getting a four day Disney pass at the cost of a two
day pass, and in staying in a five star resort for no more than
you'd pay for a four star property if you're only going to be at
Disney for two days and are happy with four star quality.
Packages can vary in value.
At one extreme, they may be more expensive than buying the pieces
individually, for two reasons. First, the packager is
probably another middleman in the whole process, who needs to take
a share of the transaction too. Secondly, sometimes packages
get greedy - I had one justify this to me by saying 'Of course
people have to pay extra for the value of getting a package from
us' - a concept I still don't understand, two decades later,
particularly because his clients could choose either to buy the
items individually from him for a lower price or buy them all
together for a higher price.
At the other extreme,
particularly in low season, or poor economic times, you may find
extraordinary values in packages.
So be sure to check for
package deals - from airlines, tour operators, and of course,
travel agents. You might save money, but cost it out; don't
assume the package is automatically going to be the best deal.
Family (or Friends) Deals
This isn't so much a discount
on Disney tickets per se, because Disney don't offer any types of
family ticket discounts.
But it can be a way to get an
overall reduction in the cost of a Disney vacation, because maybe
there is a package which includes other items that are in effect
giving a family discount. Even if the items don't have
family discounts, maybe you still get to save by splitting some
costs more ways. For example, it costs the same to park a
car at Disney no matter how many people are inside it (and this is
also the case with your car waiting for you back at your home
Maybe you can fit
another person or two into the rental car. Another person or
two into the hotel room, or get a discounted larger family room.
Bottom line - if two of you
are going, why not see if you can bring another couple with you
and split some of the fixed costs four ways instead of two.
Tickets from Cast Members
It seems that Disney sometimes
give out tickets to their employees - or, as they like to call
them, cast members.
These are intended to be given away to
friends and family, but perhaps some cast members have neither
friends nor family, because you'll sometimes find them for sale;
perhaps on Craig's List or eBay.
Which leads to
Online - eBay and Craig's List
It seems you can buy just
about anything imaginable on eBay, and if you're willing to do
some searching, it is probably to be found on Craig's List as
Disney tickets are no
With eBay, be sure to look for
established sellers with multiple feedback entries, and
overwhelmingly positive. With Craig's List, there's no
such way to try and evaluate a seller.
Cautionary Thoughts when
Try and pay by credit card so
you at least have some degree of come-back in the case of problems
with the tickets.
Whenever you're buying tickets
from third parties, make sure you understand exactly what type of
ticket it is that is being sold, and whether there is an
expiration date after which the ticket is no good, and whether
there are black-out dates during which the ticket can not be used.
It can be helpful to ask for a
scan of the front and back of the ticket, so you can read the
'fine print' of the ticket for yourself before buying it.
Also, on rare occasion you
might find someone selling an old ticket that was issued before
Disney grew to its present four park complex.
Diamond VIP Parking Passes -
Ride Costs Inside the Walt Disney
World Theme Parks
The good news is that once
you're inside any of the Disney parks, almost without exception,
all the rides will be free.
Fastpass ride reservation
tickets are also provided at no extra cost.
The only thing you're likely
to pay for are related items such as souvenir photos, and for
attractions such as amusement park games.
In this respect, you could
argue that the flat admission fee and unlimited rides included is
a fair approach, giving you a known cost for a day of sightseeing,
and with no extra costs whether you do one ride or twenty rides.
On the other hand, this also
has reduced Disney's motivation to make it easy for you to take
more rides. There's no additional financial benefit to them,
once they've successfully enticed you into their theme park, to
now have you enjoying more rides than the bare minimum.
Their focus now is on getting as many people through the gate as
possible, not on encouraging as many people onto as many rides as
Think about this while you're
standing in line for an hour or longer to go on a ride.
While you stand there, doing nothing other than vegetatively wait
your turn for a two or three minute ride at the end, you're saving
Disney money by not using any of their other rides or exhibits or
Maybe a return to paying for
each ride taken might see those lines magically shrink up again?
But that then begs the question - just how much would you be
willing to pay to go on yet another themed roller coaster ride?
But for all intents and
purposes, the story of Orlando really starts in 1965.
Until that time, it was notable primarily for growing oranges,
an Air Force Base (McCoy Air Force Base -- now closed and
converted to Orlando international Airport, which is why the
airport code is MCO) and being reasonably close to Cape
Canaveral. In 1965, Orlando's future took a sharp turn
upwards when Walt Disney announced his decision to locate is
Walt Disney World complex in the Orlando area. He had also
considered areas around Tampa and Miami, but settled on Orlando,
in particular due to it being less susceptible to hurricanes.
These days the Metro area
has a population of approximately 1.4 million, and it is the
fourth largest metropolis in the Southeast United States.
Orlando hosts over 50
million tourists every year, and has the largest inventory of
hotel rooms of any city in the nation outside of Las Vegas.
has been targeted at the budget and middle-of-the-road type
traveler, but subsequent to the opening of the Orange County
convention Center in the early 2000s, five star hotels started
to open up. In 2010, there are now more than 10 five star
hotels located outside of the Walt Disney World complex.
The most recent luxury hotel to open is the Waldorf Astoria
Orlando, being the first Waldorf Astoria hotel custom-built
since its best known New York city hotel was opened in 1931.
The importance of Disney to
the Orlando area cannot be overstated, but these days the area
has become so large that it has achieved 'critical mass' and
continues to grow not just because of Disney, but as a result of
all the other attractions in the area as well. Depending
on how you define and count them, there are over 100 different
tourist attractions in the greater Orlando area.
This reduced reliance on
Disney has also allowed for branching out into more upmarket
type tourist attractions and activities (although it should also
be wryly noted that a visit to Disney World itself is not for
the financially faint of heart).
Where to Enjoy Luxury Stays in
Three of Orlando's finest
hotels would include the Reunion Resort and Club, south of the
Disney area, the Waldorf Astoria, very close to the Disney area,
and the Ritz Carlton, close to Seaworld.
Actually inside the Disney
Complex is their Grand Floridian Resort and Span, and at
Universal Studios there is Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
A downtown Orlando hotel
would be the Grand Bohemian. Another highly regarded
hotel, close to Disney, and which has been around for longer
than most is the Peabody, renowned (like other Peabody
properties) for their ducks.
The Best Places to Dine in
Although there are some
excellent free-standing restaurants in the greater Orlando area,
many of the best places to eat can be found inside some of the
better hotels. Perhaps the most notable of such locations
would be Victoria and Albert's, Orlando’s only AAA Five-Diamond
restaurant, and located in Disney's Grand Floridian Resort.
Also in the Disney complex
is Todd English's Bluezoo at the Dolphin Resort.
At the Universal Studios
complex, two of the best restaurants have a New Orleans theme,
with well known chef Emeril Lagasse operating two restaurants -
Emeril's Orlando at Universal CityWalk, and Emeril's Tchoup Chop
at Loew's Royal Pacific Resort.
Even Seaworld has an
upmarket restaurant - Atlantis.
If you are looking for good
but not quite so extraordinarily great dining, there is a
'Restaurant Row' on Sand Lake Rd in Orlando with over 20
reasonably upscale restaurants to choose from (in particular,
Roy's and Timpano Italian Chophouse), as well as entertainment
Other names to look out for
include Christini's Ristorante Italiano, Del Frisco's Steak
House, Flying Fish Cafe, Jiko - The Cooking Place, Le Coq au
Vin, MoonFish, California Grill, and Norman's.
Orlando isn't just factory
outlet malls, although it sure has a lot of those. Belz
Festival Bay Mall on International Drive, with 1,000,000 sq ft
of retail space is probably the largest, and there is even an
upmarket outlet mall - Orlando Premium Outlets.
The Florida Mall, with 270
stores in 1.85 million sq ft of space is one of the largest one
level malls in the US.
The Mall at Millenia has 150
stores, including Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Bloomingdales as
anchor stores, and luxury stores such as
Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Burberry, Salvatore
Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo, Zara, Tiffany & Co., Apple, Abercrombie &
Fitch, Tommy Bahama's, Juicy Couture, Coach and David Yurman
(this is just a sampling, there are many more such as
Swarovski). And if you can't find anything to suit there,
you can always do just over the road to the adjacent IKEA store.
Both the Florida Mall and The Mall at Millenia's department
stores offer personal shoppers, but it is necessary to make an
appointment in advance so as to be sure of having your personal
Orlando Fashion Square is another notable mall.
If you'd prefer something other than an enclosed mall, consider
the area that styles itself as 'Rodeo Drive East' - Park Avenue
in Winter Park.
Orlando also has the country's largest flea market - Sanford
Flea World. This features over 1,700 vendors, and is open
Friday-Sunday on Hwy 17/92 in Sanford.
VIP Touring and Sightseeing in
Disney itself offers VIP
touring these days, with the opportunity to enjoy a 'behind the
For a special time, take a VIP tour at one of Orlando’s famed
theme parks for a unique glimpse behind the scenes. Be a trainer
for the day at Gatorland or interact with marine life at
SeaWorld Orlando, swimming with sharks at Sharks Deep Dive or a
private group experience with an Elite Adventure Express Tour.
More adventurous types can
hop aboard an airboat for a tour of Florida’s wetlands or frolic
with dolphins at Florida Dolphin Tours & Transportation.
You could consider a balloon
ride - the early morning rides are very early in the morning,
but generally preferable to the later in the afternoon rides
(calmer cleaner air).
Perhaps you'd prefer to be
in a powered plane. How about a vintage open cockpit
biplane ride at the Fantasy of Flight Museum? Helicopter
rides and even hang gliding is also available.
If you'd prefer to stay
closer to the ground, consider going for an airboat ride through
the Everglades. You'll probably see an alligator or two,
and maybe even a Bald Eagle.
And talking about speed,
there is the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney
World that sees you behind the wheel of a 600+ hp racing car at
speeds of up to 165 mph.
Since it’s first destination spa opened in 1995, Orlando’s many
resorts and hotels have expanded to include special spa
treatments for kids and teens as well as families, expectant
mothers, men, couples and more. No matter how you like to bask
in luxury, Orlando has a way for you to indulge.
traveling with kids, the guys or the gal pals, Orlando offers a
luxurious spa for you. Choose from the healing hands at The Spa
at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, Spa at Disney's
Saratoga Springs Resort, Grande
Lakes Orlando, or the Mandara Spas at both Loews Portofino Bay
Hotel and Walt Disney's Dolphin Hotel.
The region's largest spa is
also one of the better ones. This is the 40,000 sq ft Ritz
The official Orlando and
Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau
website is a good
place to start.
For more information on
upscale Disney World experiences in
Orlando, see the other articles on our own website.
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18 May 2010, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.