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Choosing - and Finding - the Best Value Tickets for Walt Disney World

The Orlando Disney Resort Complex has lots of ticket choices
 

A Disney E Ticket

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 expensive.

 

 

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 experiences offered.

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 Tickets

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 interesting website 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 admission ticket.

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 extra staff.

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 1885.

 

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

  • Epcot

  • Hollywood Studios

  • 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.

 

 

 

Ticket Types

 

 

 

 

https://www.mouseplanet.com/9628/Disneyland_Resort_Update has info on tkt discounts

 

Official site https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/

 

 

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 evening.

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 parks.

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 Residents

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 too.

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 swap tickets.

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 Sellers

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 presentation.

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 sales pitch.

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.

Hotel packages

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 one.

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 airport too).

 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 well.

Disney tickets are no exception.

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.

 

Parking Too

Diamond VIP Parking Passes - on eBay

 

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 possible.

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 attractions.

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?

 

 

Disney Dollars

 

 

 

 

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.

Historically, accommodation 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 Orlando

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 Orlando

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 venues.

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.

Upmarket Shopping

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 shopper available.

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 Orlando

Disney itself offers VIP touring these days, with the opportunity to enjoy a 'behind the scenes' tour.

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.

Spas

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.

Whether you're 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 Carlton Spa.

Resources

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.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 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.

 
 
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