Eight ways to save as theme park ticket prices soar

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The news for Disneyland daytrippers earlier this month was grim. 

In anticipation, of the opening of its new Star Wars land later this year, the California resort hiked the cost of a regular single-day, single-park ticket for the second time in less than a year. It’s now $129, up more than 17% since January 2018. 

Prices also have been rising fast at sister resort Walt Disney World near Orlando and the big Universal parks in California and Florida – now all charging well over $100 a day for single-day, single-park tickets.  

Still, all is not lost for theme park fans on a budget. Even as single-day ticket prices soar, there still are plenty of ways to bring the cost down. Longtime park-watcher Gene Sloan offers his tips:    

1. Go off season. Many of the most popular theme parks, including those at Disney World, offer lower rates during less busy times of the year. In October, Disney unveiled a new date-based ticket pricing system for Disney World parks that brings savings of as much as $20 on single-day tickets on less popular days. Single-day tickets now start at $129 for adults during peak periods around Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas but drop as low as $114 on weekends and $109 midweek during the slower months of January, February and September.    

2. Stay longer. The cost of single-day park tickets at Disney World, Universal Orlando and other top park destinations is shocking, for sure. But you’ll pay a lot less on a per day basis if, like many people, you stay a few days. While the starting price for single-day tickets at Disney World is $109, you’ll pay as little as $78 per day if you buy a five-day pass. Seven-day passes start at $58 per day. At Universal Orlando, single-day tickets start at $114, but five-day pass go for as little as $51. At nearby SeaWorld Orlando, parkgoers will pay $79.99 for a single-day pass but just $20 more to add additional days at sister park Aquatica Orlando or Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.    

3. Don’t buy more ticket than you need. The theme park giants are masters of the upsell. Both Disney World and Universal Orlando offer “park hopper” passes (Universal calls them “park-to-park” passes) that let you jump between more than one park in a day. But you’ll pay up for the privilege. At Disney World, a single-day Park Hopper ticket starts at $164 – $55 more than a one-park pass. A single-day Park-to-Park pass at Universal Orlando is $169, also $55 more than a one-park pass. The upcharge isn’t quite so bad on a per-day basis when you buy multi-day passes. But if you’re not absolutely sure you’re going to be moving from park-to-park during the day, it’s hard to justify.   

4. Buy in advance. Quite a few park destinations offer discounts for buying tickets early. Disney World’s prices for multi-day tickets of three days or longer are $20 less when bought in advance directly from Disney either online or over the phone instead of at a ticket booth, guest services locations or Disney hotel desk. Universal Orlando offers a $20 discount on multi-day tickets when bought online, over the phone or in person at a Universal hotel ticket desk. Another reason to buy in advance: You’ll lock in current rates. With prices rising regularly, that can mean big savings.  

5. Consider a ticket broker. It won’t save a huge amount, but buying multi-day park tickets through a reliable ticket broker such as Undercover Tourist can make at least a small difference. Undercover Tourist buys tickets wholesale from parks and sells them at a small markup. A three-day pass to Disney World starting Jan. 16 from Undercover Tourist was $312.20 including tax. That’s $13.69 less than the cost of buying the same package directly from Disney. Undercover Tourist offers similar deals for multi-day passes to Disneyland in California and Universal parks. When comparing prices, note that Undercover Tourists lists its rates with tax while Disney and Universal do not. 

6. Don’t miss the (spectacular) military discounts. U.S. military personnel and veterans often will find great deals at parks reserved just for them. A current Disney World promotion available through Dec. 19, 2019 offers active and retired military personnel a 4-day “military promotional ticket” that includes the Park Hopper feature for just $241. That’s more than $200 less than what a civilian would pay. There’s also a 5-day military ticket for just $16 more. Even better: Active and retired military members can buy up to six of the tickets and use them for family and friends.

7. If you’re a local, flaunt it. The big Florida parks also offer hefty discounts for locals who buy multi-day tickets and annual passes. While prices fluctuate, Florida residents who show valid identification often can get multi-day Disney World tickets for around 30% less than a regular ticket. Among several annual passes available only to Florida residents is the Disney Silver Pass, currently $479. It offers admission to all four Disney World theme parks on most days of the year. Blackout periods include days around Easter, Christmas and a good chunk of the summer. 

8. Go when your kids are little. There’s one small group that hasn’t been affected by soaring Disney World ticket costs: Children under the age of three. In keeping with longstanding Disney policy, it costs exactly nothing to bring them into a park. While newborns probably won’t get much out of a Disney World visit, there’s plenty there to wow a nearly-three-year-old, including character meet-and-greets and such toddler-friendly rides as the Magic Kingdom’s It’s a Small World. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eight ways to save as theme park ticket prices soar

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