If you’ve ever read anything about D-Day, you know about the intense planning, subterfuge, and calculation that went into pulling off that epic World War II landing. With Walt Disney World’s recent announcement that ticket prices are rising to their highest levels ever, families attempting to create an affordable Disney vacation in Florida will have to strategize just as carefully as Eisenhower and his generals did.
That’s because, starting December 8, entering the Magic Kingdom will cost as much as $189 per person per day.
That’s not a typo.
A family of four may pay nearly $600 per day, and that’s before factoring in hotel costs, transportation, and meals. It's a price tag significantly heftier than the cost of many Caribbean and ski vacations.
So how can regular families take part in this classic American rite of passage? Here are a few smart strategies.
Go to the right park on the right day.
Since 2018, Disney has been charging varying entry fees depending on the day of the week and the month. Peak days—usually weekends and school vacation periods—are priciest, with entry fees bottoming out on weekdays during the school year.
An additional level of complexity has now been added to that formulation, especially for short visits. As of December 8, one-day tickets for the Orlando parks will rise to new highs. Magic Kingdom will carry the highest price tag (with the Christmas holiday period currently priced at $189 on 9 days). Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios will have mid-range pricing. And Disney's Animal Kingdom will be the least expensive, with its entry fee capped at the current highest rate of “only” $159.
Thankfully, all of these costs are spelled out on the booking calendar that Disney posts on its website. So smart families will visit the more expensive parks on the cheaper days of the week, leaving the Magic Kingdom for the days when it costs the least.
If there's any bright side to the price hikes, it's that vacationers who purchase one-day tickets to the parks will automatically secure a reservation on the same day. All other Disney park tickets in the United States require both a ticket purchase and a separately arranged reservation for the dates tickets will be used, a complicated and cumbersome process that has become one of the banes of a modern Disney vacation.
Here’s a look at the new price ranges for one-day tickets to each park at Walt Disney World:
• Magic Kingdom: $124 to $189 for one-day, one-park tickets
• Epcot: $114 to $179 for one-day, one-park tickets
• Disney’s Hollywood Studios: $124 to $179 for one-day, one-park tickets
• Disney’s Animal Kingdom: $109 to $159 for one-day, one-park tickets
Buy a ticket that's good for multiple days.
Those who buy multiday tickets spend considerably less per day then those who pick the one-day option, although the best discounts kick in for vacations longer than 5 days or so.
Be careful how you use Genie+.
In 2021, Disney eliminated FastPass, a free system that allowed parkgoers to reserve timed, quicker entry to the most popular attractions. In its place, Disney introduced Genie+ for ride reservations, but the system requires a fee—sometimes a significant one. As a matter of fact, Genie+ is so complicated that we devoted an entire feature to the top strategies for using it intelligently: Click here to read that.
Stay in a non-Disney hotel.
Now that there's no longer a free shuttle bus (Disney's Magical Express) from the airport to Disney hotels, there are fewer reasons than ever before to stay at a Disney property. That’s especially true because the budget resorts at Disney World are farther from the attractions than non-affiliated ones elsewhere in the area.
Yes, if you stay off-property, you lose the option to get additional time in the parks, but that only amounts to a half-hour each morning. Some families find that their kids can only handle so many park hours before melting down anyway. Plus, most Orlando visitors today prefer to split their time among Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and other area attractions.
If you buy a multiday package, be careful about when it starts and ends.
Too many visitors are pushed into buying park passes on the days they arrive or leave Orlando, and then end up paying for hours or entire days when no rides are ridden. Let travel days just be travel days.
For more of Frommer's award-winning Walt Disney World advice, click here.