Let’s start with the bad news. Disney just hiked the price of its “Magic Your Way” tickets. The good news is that it doesn’t mean your trip to Disney World has to cost more. Chances are, you were going to spend more than you had to for tickets, anyway, so this is a perfect opportunity to rethink how much Mickey you really need.
At first, Magic Your Way may seem like a simple à la carte system, but figuring out the best deal for your family can take some calculation. Keep in mind that children 10 and older pay the same price as adults. Kids 3 to 9 pay a lower child’s rate. Admission is free for little ones under 3.
Here’s how it works: You start with a Magic Your Way base ticket, a card with a magnetic strip that grants admission to one of the four major parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, or Disney-MGM Studios) each day. The base ticket is available as a single-day or multi-day pass, with a volume discount that increases with the number of days. So, while a one-day adult base ticket costs $71, the six-day ticket is priced at $217, bringing the per-day cost down to just $36.17. (Note: Prices are discounted for Florida residents.) Things quickly get more complicated, and more expensive, when you start adding on the possible options. Let this sink in: A 6-day ticket loaded with all the options is a whopping 80 percent more expensive than the simple base ticket.
Let’s suppose that the Pattersons, a family of four with 7-year-old twins, wanted to purchase 6-day tickets. They would pay $1,436 for fully-loaded tickets, compared with $796 for just the base tickets. The best way to keep costs down is to be really frugal with the add-ons, and purchase only the options you really need. Here are some general guidelines to help you get value from Magic Your Way:
Park Hopper: This option adds flexibility to your schedule, allowing you to come and go as you please between the four major parks during the entire length of your ticket. In a single day, for instance, you might decide to visit Animal Kingdom in the morning and then catch Extra Magic Hours at Epcot after dinner. Extra cost: $45 for a 6-day ticket. For the Pattersons, our family of four with 7-year-old twins, this option makes their 6-day tickets jump from $796 to $976—a difference of $180. When is it worth it? If you’re staying five days or more. The park hopper option doesn’t make a lot of sense for shorter stays at Walt Disney World, since most families need at least one full day to explore each of the major theme parks. Consider your kids’ ages and limitations. Think about the crowds and the Florida heat. Ask yourself how far you want to push your family. (Still feeling ambitious? See .)
Water Park Fun & More: Want to visit more than the four main theme parks? This option provides admission to Disney’s two waterparks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. It also gives you a free pass to your choice of DisneyQuest, Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island or Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Extra cost: $50 for a 6-day ticket. The Pattersons would pay an additional $200 for this option.
When is it worth it? To break even, you need to make at least two visits to the waterparks or other listed attractions. Otherwise, it makes more sense to buy single-day tickets to the attraction of your choice.
No Expiration: Magic Your Way tickets expire 14 days after their first use. By electing the “no expiration” option, you’re free to take advantage of unused admission on future visits to Disney World. Extra cost: $65 for a 6-day ticket. For the Pattersons, this option would add a hefty $260 to the cost of their 6-day passes. When is it worth it? Almost never. This is an extremely expensive insurance policy to guarantee that you don’t lose what you don’t use. This option can backfire if you end up using all your admission or losing your tickets before your next trip. It’s much smarter to plan your vacation wisely and buy just what you need. (For planning help, see our .)
Dining Plan: The Magic Your Way plus Dining package lets you bundle a meal plan into your ticket. Extra Cost: $39 a day for each adult, and $11 a day for each child 3 to 9. When is it worth it? If your family plans to have one sit-down meal per day, this plan is generally a good buy. (Want to make the most of this option? See .)
WeJustGotBack.com is an authoritative online guide to family trip-planning. The site features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, destination insider guides, vacation deals, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter to hear about resort specials and exclusive, money-saving offers.