Theme park admission prices tend to go up for the summer season when kids are out of school, but if the price hikes we’ve seen recently become the norm, more and more parents may end up having a conversation that goes something like: “Sorry kids. It’s either college or a trip to Disney World.”
A jump in theme park prices is expected during popular seasons, and parents usually just have to grit their teeth and pay the few extra dollars to keep the kids smiling. But recent price increases may force a lot of American families to put off this year’s -- or next year’s -- vacation.
Walt Disney World in Orlando raised the price of its one-day, single-park ticket to $89 -- a 4.7% jump from the old price of $85. That price is for ages 10 and older and doesn’t include taxes. Just a few weeks ago, Disneyland in California announced price hikes of up to 30% on various tickets and season passes. A one-day pass now costs $87, up almost 10% from its previous price of $80.
The problem is, this isn’t just one price hike you can try to maneuver around. What’s going to hit families so hard is the fact that almost all of the tickets offered by these theme parks have gone up in price. Disney’s “Park Hopper” ticket option jumped to $57, up 3.6% from $55. That ticket allows you to go to more than one of Disney’s theme parks on the same day. And to round it all out, Disney’s premium annual pass, which includes access to Disney World’s four theme parks and the resort’s water parks, rose 7.7% to $699. For Florida residents, that ticket now costs $425, compared to the previous price of $389.
Maybe you were hoping to save a few bucks on your youngest ones? If they aren’t wearing a diaper, then you can count on their tickets costing as much as yours. The cost for all premium and seasonal passes is now the same for children and adults ages 3 and up, so those tickets for kids between the ages of 3 and 9 are no longer discounted.
And just in case it crossed your mind, ditching Disney for the other major theme parks won’t do you any good, either. Just a week ago, Universal Studios in Orlando raised its one-day, single-park price to $88, a jump of 3.5%. The park also raised the price of a four-day ticket to $256, a five-day ticket to $268 and a seven-day pass to $288.
What it all means for you
So let’s take a look at what these numbers really mean for the average American family of four. First of all, it’s cheaper to buy multiple-day passes, so let’s look at the cost for a family buying four-day passes:
For two adults, a 10-year-old and a six-year-old to spend one whole day at each of Disney’s four major theme parks, it would cost close to $1,000. OUCH! That’s about $60 a day for the six-year-old and $64 a day for the 10-year-old and both parents. The price per day goes down as you add more days to the ticket, so instead of buying four single-day passes, it would be cheaper to buy four-day passes. And don’t forget, those prices do not include taxes.
So before you even begin to factor in travel, food and accommodations, families should budget at least $1,000 just to enter the parks at Disney World. And for struggling American families, a trip to Disney has become something can involve months or even years of saving.
How to save
If you want to take your family to Disney World and the budget is tight, the best way to save is on everything besides the park tickets. HLN Money Expert Clark Howard is a big fan of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. The latest 2012 edition includes information on updated hotel, attraction and restaurant ratings; new park expansions; latest prices and policies of the Disney Dining Plan; 30 best hotel deals for 2012; and information on car rental agencies and the best discounts throughout the year.
Booking accommodations through discount sites like Hotwire and Priceline can save Disney visitors a bundle. Staying at the Disney resort can end up costing you a fortune, but by booking early through one of these sites, you’ll be able to choose the type of hotel and price range that won’t break the bank.
Another way to save on accommodations is by booking through VRBO , Vacation Rentals by Owner. The site allows homeowners to rent out their vacation home directly to renters. This is a great way for families to save by renting a condo or house for the week, instead of paying for multiple hotel rooms, especially when prices are up.
And when it comes to the time of year you should go, fall is the best time for Florida vacations, if you want to get the lowest prices. So if you can skip the popular summer season, wherever you decide to stay may cost at least a little bit less.
One thing a lot of Disney visitors don’t think about is rain! Head to the dollar store and pick up some ponchos before the trip so you don’t end up buying overpriced ones at the park for $10 each. When it comes to saving at these parks, every little bit counts, because it adds up quickly.
Last, and certainly not least, the cost of food can be outrageous at theme parks, so Clark suggests eating two meals a day outside of the park. That way you can pick and choose where you eat and how much money you spend on each meal. The Unofficial Guide does have pricing information for restaurants at the Disney parks, so you can also check that out in advance.