Theme Parks: Tickets, Meals and Wheels.

HRH DiningIn previous postings we covered Special Accessibility Passes, where to stay and how to time your park visiting. Here we’ll cover the best Park Ticket options, where to eat and how to get around. As you might expect, some of the advice for kids on the spectrum is different from that for others.

Park Tickets. Disney has the most parks and, naturally enough, this means that their pricing structure is the most complicated. Let’s try to clarify that.

Their tickets are set up as a “Base” ticket with available options. There are no discounts on 1-day and 2-day tickets but, after that, additional days are discounted. After Day 4, you are only adding $ 10 per day for additional days.

Those Base tickets are only good for 1 park each day. In order to visit more than 1 park on a single day, you add the Park Hopper option. That adds about $ 50 to each person’s ticket for the duration of the base ticket.

You may also buy the Water Park option which will give you admission to the Disney water parks. That will also add about $ 50 per person for the duration of the base ticket. Of course, you can add both options for $ 100 per person.

The remaining possibility is to add the “no expiration date” option. This works in the reverse fashion to the pricing of the base ticket. The longer the pass, the more it costs to add this option.

You may purchase the options at the same time as the base ticket or you may add them at Guests Services at any time that you choose.

That’s the structure. What works for our families ? We recommend purchasing the Base ticket in advance with no options. Here’s why.  Let’s start with the fact that about 2 out of 3 people that purchase Park Hopper don’t end up visiting  more than one park on the same day. They pay for a feature that they don’t use ! That includes all of those people who aren’t even planning on taking a break from the parks in the middle of the day.

You, probably, will plan to take that break. Either you’ll go early and leave as the crowd gets to a peak in the middle of the day and that will be your total visit for the day. If so, you didn’t need the Hopper option. Or, you will go early, leave for a while and then return. If you return to the same park, you still don’t need the Hopper. If you do decide to make a second visit of the day AND you want to go to a different park, NOW you do need to purchase the Hopper option. Once you’ve done that, the option is good for the duration of your Base ticket.

Do you need the Water Park option ? Not if you’re looking for it to be your “quiet” retreat. Make no mistake, these water parks get busy too. The quiet water activity for the middle of the day is your hotel pool (everybody else is out at the parks) and that doesn’t need a ticket at all. It could be that you adopt a plan that goes like this: theme park – early, quiet break – middle of the day, water-park – towards the end of the day. If your child really likes water slides, this may be a good plan and, in this case, it will be worth adding the option.

Do you need the “no expiration” option ? Get out your spreadsheet and do the math. We’ll give you a hint in order to save you from doing that. Two 5-day tickets with expiration dates are actually cheaper than one 10-day ticket with no expiration. Our guess is that you are highly unlikely to get value from this option.

Now let’s look at Universal. You only have 2 parks to think about. The same principle applies, as with Disney, when looking at how many days the ticket covers. Additional days become progressively less expensive.  They are different, however when it comes to visiting different parks on the same day. On a 1-day ticket, the difference between the 2-park and 1-park options is only $ 36. By the time you get to a 4-day ticket, the difference is only $ 10. The other factor in this choice is that their parks are right next to each other. If you walk from the ride nearest to the gate at Islands of Adventure to the walk nearest to the gate at Universal Studios, your total walk time is about 6 minutes. Our recommendation here is to do the 2-park tickets and benefit from the flexibility that this gives you. Of course, as recommended in our posting on accessibility, you should bundle in Unlimited Express access.

Dining Options.  If you have opted to stay at a Disney hotel and to limit it to Disney Parks, you will get value from a Disney Dining Plan. Ditto for Universal. Disney has 3 plans, Universal has 1. It should cost less than paying as you go along.

In both cases the plan is good for their on-site restaurants. The Universal plan is 1 table service meal, 1 counter service meal and 1 snack per day. Disney offer a similar plan but also offer a lesser option (no table service, 2 counter service meals, 1 snack) or a higher option (3 table service meals and 2 snacks).

If, however, you don’t plan to spend all day at the parks and you’re not staying on-site, you will be better to pay as you go and to eat away from the parks and the on-site hotels. But where ?

 

Here is something very useful. We all know that the unfamiliar can be a challenge. This is just as much so, if not more so, when it comes to eating out. Orlando has every possible “chain” represented and, in lots of cases, represented in several locations. Take, as an example but with no recommendation one way or another, Olive Garden. There are 3 in Orlando and there is probably one somewhere near to you at home. Since they are all pretty much the same inside, you get to “practice” locally before you go –as many times as you want. In Orlando, you get to dine in a place that’s familiar. Try the same thought for any restaurant chain that you like and that works well for your child or, at least, that you can try with your child.

Getting Around. We are full of admiration for Disney’s transportation. It is clean, covers everything and is formidably efficient. That may not actually be enough for you and your child. If you are staying at a Disney hotel and only visiting Disney parks, you could rely on their Magical Express (transfers to/from the airport) and their internal transportation between hotels and parks.

The downside is that they operate to their schedule and their routes. Imagine that you want to leave the park early because your child is heading towards being overwhelmed. Do you need the complication of having to wait around for the transportation and having to make numerous stops, and/or changes, on the way back to the quiet of your hotel room ? You might be better to have rented a car (Orlando is reasonably inexpensive for car rentals) and to be able to go there directly. You’ll still need to know that the parking lots are enormous and that you need the shuttle from the park entrance to where you are parked but that is, relatively, quick and easy.

Here’s a tip that we thought that everybody knew but it turns out that some don’t. It will work for pretty much any parking lot but is particularly useful in the huge lots and where you may not even remember the make of the rental car let alone model and color. When you can’t find your car, hold the key up and hit the “panic” button (almost every car key has one). You’ll be able to hear your car from quite some distance away and locate it. Out of consideration to others, you will cancel the panic once you’ve spotted your car, won’t you ?

If you are not staying at a Disney hotel, you could opt to take bus transfers to the hotel and to stay at a hotel that offers shuttle service to Disney or to Universal or to both. The problem with that is that you have all of the downside mentioned above and most of the other services aren’t as well run as Disney so the problems could be worse.

We think that car rental works best for our families in almost all circumstances. Here is another consideration. It’s back to that familiar/unfamiliar thing. If you drive a compact car at home, it makes sense to rent a compact car there. If you drive a large SUV at home, which is your child going to find more familiar, an SUV or a compact ? Rent accordingly. As a word of caution, don’t take this concept too far. Don’t look for the exact same model as you drive at home. Most rental companies give examples of the type of car that falls into each class and they do it by showing a particular model. For example; compact car like a Kia Rio (or similar). It’s the “or similar” that causes the problem. If you drive a Rio at home, the odds are that you’ll get there and they’ll have 5 different compacts and not one of them is a Rio.

The remaining thought on car rentals is; off-airport or on-airport ? The less expensive rental companies tend to operate from an off-airport lot. Make sure that the lower cost is worthwhile. For an off-site lot, you’ll need a shuttle to and from the lot and that is yet another transition. If the price difference for the type of car that you want isn’t that big, it may pay to use the more convenient on-airport rental company.

We’ve covered a lot over this and the two previous posts but it is quite possible that we haven’t touched on something that’s going to be important to you or your family. What do you do if this is the case ? You contact us for that extra information. Get the information that you need for you. We’ll help.

Speak Your Mind

*