Rose | Edited by Steve N
Updated July 2016
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.
30 Disney and Florida theme park tips, including...
WARNING! Before buying ANY tickets, read the booking tips below and for extra safety, pay on a credit card.
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 planning 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 between 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 – 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 and 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 tickets.
If you can access the US site you can buy single-day, no-frills base tickets; on the UK site you can't. It's also worth noting that adult tickets are required for children aged 10 and up.
Disney UK - get a 14-day ticket for the same price as a seven-day ticket
Disney's UK site* sells seven, 14 or 21-day ‘Ultimate tickets’. Right now, you can get a 14-day Ultimate ticket for the same price as a seven-day one - both cost about £330 direct. 14-day tickets are valid for consecutive days.
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, in sterling, include taxes and charges.
All tickets now also include FastPass+, which allows you to book certain activities and skip the queues up to 30 days in advance. Plus book tickets for 7 days or more and you'll be able to hop between parks and access Disney's two water parks (both these options cost extra if bought on the US Disney site).
You'll also get a free 'Memory Maker' with each ticket. This gives you access to all photos taken by Disney photographers while you're at the park. The photos will be saved for you to download and print later.
Disney US - better for one-day ticket options, not available on the UK site
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 £75 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 and if you're going to book, ensure to pay the right way with specialist overseas credit cards.
If you're redirected to the UK website when trying to buy tickets, select 'English (USA)' from the language options in the top left hand corner and it should change to the USA site.
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 and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Read full info
Base tickets vs bonus tickets
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 £100 for a day at a single park), but it's worth checking for reductions if you're going for multiple days. For example, its website currently gives $20 off gate price for multi-day tickets, making it cheaper to buy online than at the gate.
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 £165 for an adult two-park bonus ticket, they're generally cheapest if you're going for two days or more. 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). For a weekday ticket, you can save $20 on the anytime one-day single park ticket – it's $79 (around £60 at the current rates) as opposed to $99 (around £75).
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, for from £97 for a two-park adult ticket (£91 for three to nine year olds).
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 suitable for all ages.
Read full info
Tickets are available via the Busch Gardens US and SeaWorld Parks 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 £50 for an adult day weekday ticket, £58 for an anytime 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 £95 (£913 for three to nine-year-olds).
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 parks' own ticket prices as a benchmark, then see if the top discount re-sellers below beat 'em. To do this, check a 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. All the below include taxes in prices.
And if you use a US site and pay in dollars, don't forget to ensure you've specialist overseas plastic to pay with.
WARNING! Before buying ANY tickets, read the booking tips below and for extra safety, pay on a credit card.
Get a £6 discount per Disney ticket from official Disney seller American Attractions
UK seller American Attractions* guarantees to give the best prices, plus you get £6 off per Disney ticket via our link and using the code MSE6.
You'll need to enter this code in order for the discount to be applied, the box to do so is on the page that comes up after you go to your basket and hit 'checkout'.
The code gets you that amount off per seven, fourteen or 21-day Disney ticket (it's not valid on tickets to other theme parks), and it can be used on multiple orders. The discount is shown at the total when you scroll to the bottom of the page.
Standard delivery is free and there are no added credit or debit card charges. American Attractions is also an official Disney ticket seller.
£5/ticket off Disney with Orlando Attraction Tickets but it's not an official Disney seller (though reviews are good)
UK seller OrlandoAttractionTickets.co.uk* has some strong prices and offers free Royal Mail Signed For delivery in 5-7 working days and there's no fee for paying by debit or credit card. Plus you get £5 off Disney tickets with code MSE5. The discount applies per ticket and can be used on multiple orders.
However, it's worth noting 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).
Like-for-like price match guarantee from UK-based Florida Tix
UK-based attraction ticket broker Florida Tix* specialises in tickets for attractions around Florida (it's the sister site of Attraction Tix, offering tickets for global attractions) including Disney, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. It also guarantees to beat prices on like-for-like ticket offers (excluding those on promotion), charges no credit card fees and offers free delivery.
You can secure tickets with a deposit (min £10) but you must ensure you pay the full balance at least five weeks before you travel. Prices are competitive and it's an official Disney ticket seller.
Good all-rounder with positive feedback – Orlando Attractions
Plus the big boon here is it offers extra Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) cover for standalone tickets, so if it went bust, ABTA would refund you for any tickets you'd bought.
It offers free Royal Mail Special Delivery in 14 working days on all UK ticket orders. Alternatively you can collect from its Orlando office (10 mins' drive from Disney) for free by appointment Mon-Fri. Payment can be made in pounds or dollars – handy if you want to avoid overseas transaction fees.
Be careful when booking
Looking for tickets for attractions in another country in advance is always going to have its complications, so here are some crucial points to consider. You're unlikely to be protected, so spending less on tickets means you've less to lose if the worst happens, but 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. Some other tips to help:
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 the park separate from each other, 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 using 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.
Consumer Contracts Regulations don't protect you. Sadly, under the Consumer Contracts 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 the regulations to get money back if you had to cancel.
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 to convert prices to pounds for you itself, beware as you may get a poor exchange rate (though things are closer than they used to be). Check it using the TravelMoneyMax currency converter, which uses typical bureaux 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 prices include taxes. In the US companies don't have to include taxes in advertised prices 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.
Visiting lots of parks? Consider a FlexTicket (though it doesn't include Disney)
If you've factored in trips to many of Florida's non-Disney theme parks, you may want to consider booking a FlexTicket or a FlexTicket Plus.
A FlexTicket includes access to five parks – Universal Studios, Universal's Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld , Wet 'n Wild, Aquatica – and a FlexTicket Plus gives access to these as well as Busch Gardens.
These tickets give you unlimited access to five or six parks for 14 consecutive days. The theme parks included sell these tickets directly, though they're often cheaper via the specialist ticket agents above, so check those first for the latest prices.
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.
Parking. If you’re driving, factor in parking costs. For example, a day’s parking at Walt Disney World Resort is $20. The Orlando Gas Prices website also has useful info on local petrol prices to help you find the cheapest fuel.
Public transport. The I-Ride Trolley bus is a super-cheap way of getting around International Drive, where many of Orlando's theme parks are found. It runs about every 20 mins, 8am to 10.30pm, and a single fare is $2. Day passes are available for $5.
Pushchairs. 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 taking a light pushchair with you or even buying a cheap one when you get there. You can find them from about $20 at Walmart.
Sat-navs. 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 take the console with you. See Cheap Car Hire for more tips to keep costs down.
Walkie talkies. 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 $30 in Walmart.
Snacks. Stock up on snacks and drinks cheaply from local supermarkets, as even small eats in the parks can be pricey.
Book early to grab free delivery – or print tickets and save the wait
Many discount sites offer free postage within 14 days or so. If you're booking tickets, order in good time if you can, otherwise you'll end up forking out for express delivery or wasting time queuing to pick them up when you're there.
Plus most sites now give you the option to print tickets which can then be used at the gates and save you queuing. This is especially useful if you're visiting at busy times.
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 – Disney says individuals are not allowed to resell tickets.
Also, some parks (including Disney) use a fingerprinting security system on their tickets preventing others from using them. So, unless a ticket is completely unused (and admittedly sometimes they haven't been used), watch out – your cheap ticket may turn out to be a turkey when you get there which could cost you more in the long run.
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. As Florida's a popular destination with Brits, it's well worth checking to see if you can get a package – where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price – for less than the DIY route.
Package holidays generally come with added ATOL or ABTA consumer protection. This means that if the travel company fulfilling your booking goes bust, you'll be refunded if you're yet to travel, or found alternative accommodation and flights home if you're abroad.
Always ask a broker before you book: “Is this holiday ATOL-protected?” and “What happens if my flight is cancelled?” Also, watch out for holidays booked through airline companies – not all are ATOL-protected. With all holidays, if you're covered, you'll get an 'ATOL certificate'.
But when it comes to booking, timing is crucial. The later you book, the cheaper, but this means limited choice. If you can't book late, book as early as possible – savings are possible, if it's early enough.
Don't forget about the powerhouse weapon that everyone has the ability to use – the art of haggling. It is possible to knock £100s off, especially because of the fierce competition between travel agents. See the full step-by-step guide in Cheap Package Holidays.
Use comparison sites 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. The closer it gets to the departure date, airlines hike prices to take advantage of the business folk they can rely on to pay top dollar at the last minute.
Our top pick sites to compare are Kayak* for range, speed and filtering, Skyscanner* for ease, speed and price and TravelSupermarket* for extra breadth. See Cheap Flights 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 stays for less. You can also bag a luxury bargain uncovering secret hotels. For a full how-to and more tips, see Cheap Hotels.
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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 former 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 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 Moneymaxim* 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.
Make a note of your ticket's serial number
Forumites 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 Priceline Hotel Bidding for the full technique.
Got really little ones? Under-threes get free entry
Florida's big four theme parks — Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens — all offer free entry for tots under three. Just turn up at the gate to get it, though you'll need proof of their age.
Don't wait till you get there to plan what you want to see
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 offers a free Walt Disney World Resort guide* you can order online. It includes fold-out mini-maps of the parks and info about what to see and do.
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 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, where you can often find discounts for local restaurants, shops and attractions, while websites International Drive Orlando and Flamingo World have discount coupons you can 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 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.
Holiday 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 in to, 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 per person to apply via the official ESTA site, so ignore other sites that imply there's a larger fee. The website 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 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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