Don't go Goofy over Florida's theme park prices. Whether Disney, Universal, SeaWorld or Busch Gardens, visits can cost £100s.
We've 30 tips to help lasso cheap Disney tickets and more, including discount sites and how to dodge hidden extras.
In this guide
WARNING! Before buying ANY tickets, read the Safety Tips below
Plan your theme parks
With flights, theme park tickets, accommodation and extras, let's face it — a big trip to Disney World Florida isn't MoneySaving. But if you are going to go, there's plenty you can do to make it more affordable.
Finding cheap tickets depends on how long you're going for, which parks you hit, and the ticket type. So decide which parks to take in, and which to ditch.
Pick your must-sees
Work out what you want to see and how long you want to spend there, as this determines which tickets you'll need. Unless you're a seasoned theme park-goer, it's ambitious to do more than one park a day. The more kids in tow, the slower it usually is.
Often when you buy tickets for a main park (eg, Disney), ticket add-ons can get you cheaper entry to a subsidiary park (eg, water parks). Factor this in when deciding where to go, as it means your time will need to be split betweeen the extra parks.
Avoid the 'perfect trip' trap
Don't forget, as well as being a wonderful place to celebrate, theme parks are also a celebration of commerciality. They're environments honed to make you spend more and more, using emotive language like 'precious moments' and 'magical memories'.
Too many plan a dream Disney holiday, then only afterwards consider how they'll pay for it. That’s a recipe to end up disappointed or broke. Instead, ask "what can I afford to spend on this holiday?" then work out how to have the best trip possible within that budget. A holiday lasts a week or so — don’t ruin the rest of the year for it.
Disney tickets: the need-to-knows
The big daddy of Florida's theme parks, Walt Disney World Resort features four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and two water parks (Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon).
Read full info
Base tickets vs ultimate tickets
When buying tickets, the first thing you need to know is that Disney UK and Disney US have different websites, and each sells different types of ticket. It's also worth noting that adult tickets are required for children aged 10 and up.
For longer stays, Disney's UK site* sells seven, 14 or 21-day ‘Ultimate tickets’. A seven-day Ultimate ticket costs about £272 direct.
These allow you to visit all the parks on any day and go to more than one park on a single day, plus they include access to Disney's water parks. Prices are in pounds, including taxes and charges.
All Ultimate tickets now also include FastPass+, which allows you to book certain activities and skip the queues up to 30 days in advance.
Disney's US site sells standard day tickets, also known as base tickets, for no-frills entry to one park a day for up to 10 days. These are cheaper if you just want basic entry for a few days, and tickets get cheaper per extra day added.
Prices fluctuate, but a one-day adult Disney ticket's about £62 at time of writing. US site prices are the same as gate prices on the day, but booking saves queuing to buy at the park. Prices are in dollars, and don't include taxes or charges.
If you're redirected to the UK website when trying to buy tickets, scroll to the bottom of the homepage where it says 'International versions' and select the USA link.
Add-ons for extra parks
If you're buying base tickets, Disney's Park Hopper add-on lets you visit more than one park per day. At the time of writing it's about £8-£22 extra per day, depending on the number of days. Most people won't get round more than a park a day though, so only seasoned theme park-goers or adults without kids should usually consider this.
The 'Water Park Fun & More' add-on gets a specified number of visits to Disney’s water parks and entertainment venues. The number of visits you'll get is generally the same as the number of days the ticket’s valid for, so it's two visits with a two-day ticket. At the time of writing it's about £8-£35 extra per day, depending on the number of days.
Pay to save unused days
Disney tickets generally expire 14 days after the first use. Yet if you've gone for base tickets, you can usually pay from about £10 per day, depending on your ticket length, to upgrade unused days to have no expiry date.
For example, say you buy a five-day base ticket, but use up to three days. If you were going to come back on a later trip, you could then upgrade the two unused days so they wouldn't expire, so would be good to use on your next trip.
Disney's US website lets you add this upgrade at the time of booking, but its UK site doesn't. However, as you can often do it at the resort at the end of your visit (depending on your ticket type, see below), you may be able to leave it until then so you don’t have to use up a 'no expiry' ticket unnecessarily.
So if planning a return trip to the park (perhaps you or a friend own a holiday home) it may be cheaper to bulk-buy the first time, and upgrade unused tickets to ‘no expiry’, rather than buy separately for each trip. Always check how much it'll be for your ticket before buying though - you can find the full price list on Disney's US site.
Sadly, you can't buy 'no expiry' upgrades at the park for 14/21 day UK Ultimate tickets, but you can do this for 5/7 day UK Premium tickets.
Universal Studios tickets: the need-to-knows
Florida's Universal Orlando Resort has two main parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure — as well as the Wet 'n' Wild water park.
Read full info
Base tickets vs bonus tickets
Like Disney, Universal has separate Universal UK and Universal US sites, which each sell different types of tickets. If you're going for up to four days, Universal's US site offers no-frills base tickets for one or both main parks (prices don't include taxes and charges).
Its US online prices are generally the same as gate prices (about £60 for a day at a single park at time of writing), but it's worth checking for reductions if you're going for multiple days. For example, at the time of writing, its website gives $20 off gate price for multi-day tickets, making it cheaper to buy online.
If you want access to the theme parks for longer, Universal's UK site offers tickets valid for admission for 14 consecutive days. As these start from £126 for an adult two-park Bonus ticket, they're generally cheapest if you're going for over four days. Taxes are included, but watch out for the unavoidable £5 delivery fee.
SeaWorld tickets: the need-to-knows
This marine-life themed attraction in Orlando features dolphin, orca and sea-lion shows, as well as water rides. There are four main parks: SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica water park, Discovery Cove Orlando, and Busch Gardens.
Read full info
Single day vs multi-park tickets
If you're after a no-frills day ticket to one park for a single day, these are available via its US site (don't forget to factor in taxes and charges). As a rough guide, a single day's about £54 at time of writing.
However, if going for two days or more, it's generally cheaper to buy a 14-day ticket from its UK site. This sells two-park and three-park tickets valid for 14 consecutive days, starting from £85 for a three-park adult ticket (£81 for kids).
Check online for extra discounts
SeaWorld tickets are generally cheaper to buy online as its website prices often include discounts on the gate price, so it's well worth checking these as well.
Busch Gardens tickets: the need-to-knows
This African safari-themed attraction in Tampa Bay has rollercoasters and thrill rides, and is home to an array of exotic and endangered animals. Part of the SeaWorld group, it's a single park, and is suitable for all ages.
Read full info
Tickets are available via both the Busch Gardens US and Busch Gardens UK websites. The US site offers tickets for a single day's entry (don't forget to factor in taxes). As a rough guide, these are about £54 for an adult day ticket.
But for two or more days' entry, it's generally cheaper to buy a 14-day three-park ticket for Busch Gardens and SeaWorld from its UK site for about £85 (£81 kids).
Check online for extra discounts
Again, there's often online discounts by going direct, which generally make it cheaper to buy online than at the gate on the day, so always check.
Check specialist ticket agents
A number of specialist ticket agencies bulk-buy from the parks and then re-sell, sometimes at a discount to customers (not always, check first). By contrast, many travel agents add their own costs.
So use the theme park's own ticket prices as a benchmark, then see if the top discount re-sellers below beat 'em. To do this, check the park's official site for the latest price for your ticket, including taxes and charges. This gives you a firm figure to try to beat.
However, discount ticket agents' margins are small, so price variations generally aren't huge, and remember to check whether ticket delivery and card payment add extra.
WARNING! Before buying ANY tickets, read the Safety Tips below
Seriously consider paying by credit card, due to the added Section 75 protection it gives if the ticket costs over £100. Before booking, you should also be aware of the extra issues of buying items from a different country, in a foreign currency (see booking tips).
Do beware that if you're buying from a third-party ticket agency, you do so at your own risk. Only buy from a company if you're happy with it.
Of the companies below, Disney’s confirmed American Attractions is an official UK Disney ticket seller, and Orlando Attractions, Undercover Tourist* and Maple Leaf Tickets* are registered sellers in the US. Orlando Attraction Tickets* is not an official UK Disney ticket seller, although it has received positive feedback online.
Orlando Attraction Tickets. £5 off per Disney ticket
UK seller OrlandoAttractionTickets.co.uk* has some strong prices and offers free Royal Mail Signed For delivery in 5-7 working days.
It's worth noting though it's not an official Disney seller - we have no way of checking what it actually delivers other than online feedback (which is very good on TrustPilot).
You can get £5 off Disney tickets until 31 Dec 2015 with code MSE5. The code gets you that amount off per ticket, and it can be used on multiple orders.
At the time of writing they are also offering a choice of either a 'VIP Dine 4 Less Card' or a 'Kids Eat Free Card' for 'free' (usually £10 each) if you spend over £400.00.
There's no fee for paying by debit or credit card.
Orlando Attractions. Good all-rounder
Similarly named and US-based site Orlando Attractions also came up with competitive prices and lots of positive feedback. It sells both US and UK Disney tickets (for the difference between the two see the Disney ticket need-to-knows).
It offers free Royal Mail Special Delivery in 14 working days on all UK ticket orders. Alternatively you can collect from its Orlando office for free by appointment Mon-Fri (10 mins drive from Disney). Payment can be made in pounds or dollars - handy if you want to avoid overseas transaction fees.
A useful advantage over the other sellers is that Orlando Attractions has taken out extra ABTA cover for standalone tickets. So if it went bust, ABTA would refund you for any tickets you'd bought.
American Attractions. Easy to use
Also check out UK ticket site American Attractions, which offers payment in pounds and free 14-day delivery.
It has good feedback and there's no charge to pay by debit card, but watch out for the 1.5% credit card charge.
Maple Leaf Tickets. Extra 1% off
Or try US ticket site Maple Leaf Tickets* (payment's in dollars). The site has good feedback and offers some automatic upgrades, like a five-day Disney base ticket for the price of four days.
It starts getting cheaper than the gate price when you buy multi-day tickets. Plus book through the above link for an extra 1% off all its ticket prices.
Sadly UK ticket delivery's $23.95, but there's an option to pick them up for free from the ticket office in Kissimmee (approx 5-10 miles from Walt Disney World Resort), or delivered to a local hotel for $6.95.
Undercover Tourist. Good for sales
US-based ticket site Undercover Tourist* has good feedback and often runs sales on particular ticket types.
It offers free UK delivery within 12 business days and you pay in dollars or pounds, depending on which tickets you choose.
WARNING! Safety tips before you buy
When buying tickets you're unlikely to be protected, so spending less on tickets means you've less to lose if the worst happens. Only buy from a company you're happy with.
If the price difference is only a few pounds, it may be better to go with a more established name than one you've never heard of. There are a few fall-backs to try:
Pay by credit card for extra protection.
Do this and if each individual ticket costs over £100, the law says the card company's jointly liable with the retailer if things go wrong, even when you buy things abroad — a great comfort. Of course, always pay the card off in full so there's no interest (see the Section 75 guide).
If tickets come to over £100 together, eg, a family of four bought individual tickets at £50 each but wouldn't have visited alone, it's always worth contacting your credit card company to make a claim. The rule is untested so there's a chance you'd have a case, though don't rely on this.
Hidden protection if paying by debit card.
You also have some protection when spending on a debit card, but it isn’t as strong as Section 75. See the Visa/Mastercard Chargeback guide for full details.
UK sellers may get extra help.
UK sellers that aren't ABTA registered have a very marginal advantage over US sellers. If they went bust, there's a chance ABTA may step in to ensure tickets are replaced, though this isn't guaranteed (plus Orlando Attractions above has extra ABTA cover for tickets - read more).
Some travel insurance policies will cover tickets.
Most travel insurance policies don't cover lost theme park tickets, but some will cover any unused tickets if your holiday's cancelled or cut short. Double-check your policy before you go, and see Cheap Travel Insurance for the latest best-buys.
Distance Selling Regulations don't protect you.
Sadly, under the Distance Selling Regulations items that have to be used within a specific period aren't covered, including tickets. This means you wouldn't be able to use these to get money back if you had to cancel.
Be careful when booking
Looking for tickets in another country in advance is always going to have its complications, so here are some crucial points to consider.
Pay the right way.
Buying tickets in US dollars from a website counts as an overseas transaction. This means most credit and debit cards will automatically add a hidden 3% fee to the exchange rate. But there are a few specialist cards which don't do this, making it much cheaper.See the Cheap Overseas Spending guide for more.
Should I convert prices to pounds?
If a US site offers the option of converting to pounds for you itself, beware as it may be a poor exchange rate (though things are closer than they used to be). Check it using the TravelMoneyMax currency converter, which uses typical bureau de change rates. If the site doesn't beat those, avoid it.
Wait for a better exchange rate?
Unpredictable exchange rate changes mean UK ticket prices fluctuate. Yet there's no way to know whether waiting will make them cheaper or pricier, known as currency speculation. Find current rates using the TravelMoneyMax tool.
Not all tickets include taxes.
In the US prices don't have to include taxes in the advertised price by law, unlike the UK. So check the rate you're seeing includes them before you buy. Generally, most UK-based sites include taxes, and all the specialist ticket agents mentioned above include them.
Compare prices on the same day
Parks can change prices frequently and discounters follow to undercut, creating an ever-changing landscape of competing rates.
To give yourself the best chance of getting a good rate, ensure you compare on the same day.
For up-to-the-minute prices, go to the end of the booking process just before payment, as advertised prices can lag behind the latest changes.
Check the latest ticket deals
There are occasional special deals out there, so check for these too in case they can beat specialist ticket agents. Often these only suit particular circumstances, but it's always worth a look in case that's you. Here are the latest deals - if you've seen any more, please suggest them.
Unlimited access to five parks for 14 days
If you want to visit several of Florida's big parks, consider an Orlando FlexTicket. These combined tickets let you come and go as you please to five big theme parks over 14 days (sadly it doesn't include Disney): Universal Studios, Universal's Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando, Wet 'n Wild Orlando and Aquatica.
The big theme parks often sell these tickets direct, but they're often cheaper via the specialist ticket agents above, so check these for the latest prices.
Book early to grab free delivery
Many discount sites offer free postage within 14 days or so. If you're booking tickets, order in good time if you can, or you'll waste time queuing when you're there, or end up forking out for express delivery.
Beware buying tickets on eBay
There are often cut-price Florida theme park tickets on eBay*. But be aware that buying them may mean you're breaching the official terms and conditions.
For example, Disney says individuals are not allowed to resell tickets. Also, some parks (including Disney) use a fingerprinting security system on their tickets.
So unless it's completely unused (and admittedly some are), watch out - your cheap ticket may turn out to be a turkey when you get there.
Haggle down already-cheap package deals
Finding cheap theme park tickets can really help to make a Florida trip more affordable, but don't waste the saving by paying over the odds for the rest of your getaway.
A package holiday is an all-in-one, where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price. They're best suited for standard breaks of standard length.
As Florida's a popular destination with Brits, it's well worth checking to see if you can get a package for less than the DIY route.
The later you book, the cheaper, but this means limited choice. If you can't book late, book as early as possible.
Fierce competition between travel agents means it's possible to haggle £100s off. See the full step-by-step guide in the Cheap Package Holidays guide.
Use screenscrapers to bag cheap Florida flights
If you've decided on the DIY route, it's worth remembering that generally the earlier you book flights, the better.
Business folk will pay top dollar at the last minute. Airlines know this and so hike prices as you get closer to the departure date.
Screenscrapers are a type of price comparison site that quickly find cheap flights to match your criteria. Our top picks are Skyscanner* for ease, speed and price, TravelSupermarket* for extra breadth and Kayak* for gadgets and gizmos. See the Cheap Flights guide for the full step-by-step cheap flight-finding technique.
Pay less for the same hotel room
Never assume one price fits all for a hotel or room. The same hotels and B&Bs are often available at different prices from different places, meaning it's possible to save £100s if you know where to look.
Start by putting details into a comparison site and sorting hotels by price to instantly see who's offering it for less (full how-to and best buys in the Cheap Hotels guide).
To stay in first-rate hotels but pay a lot less, go for an unnamed hotel at a super-hot discount. All you do is specify the star level and your particulars to see what comes up, then turn detective to uncover where you're staying before you book. See Unnamed Hotel Mega-Bargains for the price-busting technique.
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Free Disney tickets with timeshare pitches
Brits are huge buyers of holidays and property in Florida, so a lucrative market's sprung up there to try to flog us timeshare properties.
A common way to draw people in is to offer pricey park tickets for free. You'll usually need to meet certain criteria (eg, have a credit card, or be aged 23-65).
While this is a legitimate way of getting tickets, be warned, only do this if you can withstand a very hard sell. A timeshare's much more expensive than a ticket for Mickey.
To help give you an idea of what you might be in for, see MSE Rose's blog How a sales rep claimed timeshares prevent cancer.
Though many have reported finding timeshare ticket offers online and on holiday, there's always the risk that you may not manage to find one while you're there. So be prepared to pay for tickets separately if this is the case.
ALWAYS book car hire early
If you've got kids in tow, or you're staying far from the parks, it's likely you'll want to hire a car during your trip. Yet never leave this until you get to Florida, as the earlier you book, the more you'll usually save.
Once you've found the right deal, don't just go with the excess insurance it offers - these are often hugely inflated. Comparison site Money Maxim* lists and compares lots of insurance excess providers to help you find it for less. For more info plus safety tips, read the full Cheap Car Hire guide.
Ditch sneaky hidden costs when you're there
There's an army of sneaky little extras that'll quickly eat up your holiday cash if you aren't careful. Use these tricks to help keep costs down when you're out there. Thanks to all MoneySavers who suggested them in the Orlando/Florida Q&A and Disney Hunt discussions:
If you’re driving, factor in parking costs. For example, a day’s parking at Walt Disney World Resort is $17. The Orlando Gas Prices website also has useful info on local petrol prices to help you find the cheapest fuel.
The i-ride trolley bus is a super-cheap way of getting around International Drive. It runs about every 20 mins, 8am to 10.30pm, and a single fare is $2. Day passes are available for $5.
Hiring these at the park can be costly, starting at about $15 per day at Walt Disney World Resort. If you need one for more than a few days, consider bringing a light pushchair or even buying a cheap one when you get there. You can find them from about $20 at Walmart.
Don’t assume these are included in car hire. If you're hiring for a long stay and already have a sat-nav, it may be cheaper to buy US map software before you go, and bring the console with you. See Cheap Car Hire for more tips to keep costs down.
If you're the type of family who'll split up at a park but still need to keep in touch, this is a way of doing so without worrying about hideous mobile costs when calling overseas (also see Cheap Mobile Roaming).
Importantly, US and UK walkie talkies use different frequencies, so you can't legally use a walkie talkie built for the UK in the US, and vice versa (see more info). Some villas include them in the rental cost, or you may be able to find them cheaply while you’re out there. Prices start from about $25 in Walmart.
Stock up on snacks and drinks cheaply from local supermarkets, as even small eats in the parks can be pricey.
Make a note of your ticket's serial number
Forumers recommend making a note of ticket serial numbers somewhere safe as soon as you get your mitts on them, to help with re-issuing if you lose them.
Loophole gets up to 70% off posh US hotels
Giant US site Priceline* flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it's especially strong for US hotels.
On Martin's own trip to the States, he got a nice hotel for 63% of the comparison sites' cheapest price, though not as good as one MoneySaver, who got the Times Square Sheraton for £55 a night rather than the listed £200.
It's all about Priceline's 'name your own' price function, where you pick a city area and star level, name your price and see if any hotels accept it. Of course the aim's to find the minimum acceptable price, so start low, then keep raising your bid till it's accepted, but you can ONLY bid once a day.
There are techniques to get more bids per day, either by bidding with a partner, or adding more areas of a city. See the Priceline Hotel Bidding guide for the full technique.
FREE entry for under-threes
Florida's big four theme parks — Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando Resort and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay — all offer free entry for tots under three. Just turn up at the gate to get it, though you'll need to bring proof of age.
Plan, plan, plan
Work out where you’re going before you get there and you'll make far better use of your entry fee than if you have to spend the first hour squinting at a map.
You won't be able to see and do everything theme parks have to offer, so a little time spent planning is well worth it.
Grab a free Disney guide booklet.
Handy for planners, Disney also offers a free Walt Disney World Resort guide* booklet that you can order online. It includes fold-out mini-maps of the parks and info about what to see and do when you get there.
Arrive early to beat the queues.
Give yourself the best chance of avoiding the rush-hour park traffic. Get an early night if you can, set your alarm and get in before the busiest tourist footfall arrives.
Work out the real travel time.
Distances given from accommodation to parks can be misleading. Use free online aerial maps like Google Maps to work out the real distance before you go.
Take it easy.
Try to cram too much in while you’re there and you’ll end up exhausted and broke. Remember, the point of going is to have fun!
Grab local coupons for extra discounts
Watch out for these when you get to Florida, as they often have discounts for local restaurants, shops and attractions. Websites International Drive Orlando and Flamingo World both have discount coupons to look through and print before you go.
Instantly find the best travel cash rate for dollars
NEVER leave buying travel cash till the airport. They know you're a captive customer, so give hideous deals (even pre-ordering and picking up at the airport boosts it).
Instead, use our TravelMoneyMax Holiday Money Comparison tool to instantly find the best rates, plus key warnings and a handy quick currency converter.
The tool lists all the big currencies, and also lets you see who's cheapest for exchanging any unused dollars back to pounds when you get back (if you've any left!)
Swipe five-star villas for two-star hotel prices
If you don’t fancy battling for a sun-lounger each morning, villas offer space for for large groups of friends, or families with kids who need to let off steam. The bonus with these is that, as a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the bigger the per-person saving, so they're great if there's a party of you visiting Florida.
Holidy rental website VRBO* is one of the top sites for USA properties. You book directly with an owner though, so there's less protection. Also be careful how you pay. For full dos and don'ts, plus how to check it's not a fake villa, see Cheap Holiday Rentals. One MoneySaver reports:
Make sure you haggle and definitely don't take the first price they tell you. Most property owners will knock money off.
We use VRBO and saved $1,000 on a three-week rental in the US. The year before last, we got a much bigger place than we expected just by pushing them.
Free or cheap entry to Florida's state parks
If you're off to Orlando, don't forget it doesn’t all need to be about big, expensive theme parks. Many of Florida's state parks are free or just a few dollars to get into, and let you see more of Florida’s natural geography.
Warning! Don't forget your ESTA
Everyone from the UK going to the USA by air or sea, even those just passing through, must fill out the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in advance or they'll be turned back.
It costs $14 to apply for via the official ESTA site, so ignore other sites that imply there's a larger fee. It only takes five minutes to fill in, and the visa will last two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Read the step-by-step ESTA Guide for full info.
Nab sub-£50 worldwide family travel cover
When you're caught up in planning a big trip to Disney it's easy to forget about travel insurance, yet it can be invaluable if something unexpected happens while you're out there. One forumite reports:
A medical bill in the US can be huge! A friend was hospitalised twice in four weeks here and her medical bill for the hospital alone was $158,000+. PLEASE - don't be an ignorant traveller - find out prior to travelling and not the "hard way".
It's possible to get a year's worldwide travel insurance for the whole family for under £50, depending on your circumstances. See the Cheap Travel Insurance guide for best buys.
Going more than once a year? Check annual prices
If you'll make more than one trip in a year, check annual pass prices. Whether it's worth it for you will depend on the length of your ticket and which theme park you're off to. This can save a wad, but only if you're sure you'll return and can afford the outlay.
Get inspiration from other Disney-goers
The Overseas Holidays and Travel Planning forum board is a great resource for finding tried and tested travel tips, and sharing excitement with others in the run-up to the big trip.
Plus if you've any tips to pass on, share them in the Cheap Florida Theme Parks forum discussion.
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