(Actual footage of two Park Hoppers, hopping parks)
The B Family’s 2018 Trip to Walt Disney World saw a lot of firsts. It was my first (and last!) time traveling to WDW while pregnant. It was our first time staying at Caribbean Beach Resort and it was our first time using Park Hoppers.
Park Hoppers are one of the add on options on the Magic your Way Ticket. When you purchase a ticket to Walt Disney World’s theme parks, they are what is called a “base” ticket. A Base ticket allows you entry to one park per day. You may leave that park and come back, but you may only visit the one park. Paying for Park Hopper enables you to visit any and all Disney theme parks in one day. So with a base ticket, you start your day at the Magic Kingdom and decided to head back to the hotel for a nap? Cool. You can head back to the Magic Kingdom after a siesta and hit up Splash Mountain ten more times. But if you have Park Hopper, a whole new world opens to you. You can start the day at Magic Kingdom, shimmy on over to Hollywood Studios after lunch, and end your day at Epcot. You could visit all four parks in one day, if you were really looking for a thrill!
The reason my family hasn’t done Park Hoppers before is pretty simple. We’re cheap and have small children. The base tickets are less expensive and with our littles both being little, the finagling of the double stroller on buses, the waiting for the buses, boats, and/or monorails just didn’t do it for us. With little people bedtimes, Park Hopper seemed like an extravagance we didn’t need.
Then came this trip. Our pregnancy dictated dates had us visiting the World during the Free Dining promo. A package where we paid for dining, stayed at CBR, and had three days base tickets ended up being MORE expensive than free dining, CBR, and four day park hopper tickets. Now remember what I said before: we’re cheap. Park Hoppers it was!
Here, in no scientific or orderly fashion, are our subjective thoughts about whether Park Hopper is worth the up-charge.
Visit Parks You Wouldn’t Normally Visit
Let’s be real, the B Family are all about Magic Kingdom. It is literally every member of our family’s favorite park. Most trips, we’re lucky if we even see Epcot. But Park Hoppers enabled us to spend as much time as wanted in our favorite space, while still affording us the opportunity to pop over to a less familiar park and experience a few of the cool things it had to offer.
Another plus side here? Beat the crowds. Park you planned on a little packed? Leave! Do your FastPasses and find greener pastures. This happened to us one day. We hopped on the My Disney Experience App, found the park with the shortest wait times and headed over there. normally, I have a pretty high tolerance for crowds, but since I was already existing for two, I did not have the time to be squashed against the masses.
Verdict: A nice treat for us, but if your vacation includes more than four park days, maybe not a necessity. You can base ticket each of the parks, hitting up your favorites on additional days.
Have Scheduling Freedom
Day 1 we started at Magic Kingdom, heading back to the hotel for a rest after lunch. While deciding what to do with our evening, a quick glance on the My Disney Experience App showed us all the available FastPasses at all the parks. We looked at what we most wanted to do, and let that guide us. We were able to score a coveted sunsetting FastPass for Kilimanjaro Safaris, so off to the Animal Kingdom.
This is a good time to mention the rule with Park Hoppers and FastPasses. You must use all three of your initial FastPasses at one park before you get to redeem your additional FastPasses. So, if you start your day at Hollywood Studios, you’ll need to use all three FastPasses before you go hang out with Anna and Elsa at Epcot. Sadly, you cannot make an FP for Seven Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, then another for Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios, and end with Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom. Once you’ve redeemed your initial three, though you can do whatever you want with subsequent FastPasses. Do al three during your morning at Epcot, make a fourth for Aliens Swirling Saucers, and once you’ve done that you’re free to park hop again if you can grab something you want in the evening at Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom. This is one of the many ways Disney manages crowd control.
Verdict: Great for families with varying interests, familiarity with the parks, and a low key touring style vibe. For first time families, this might just make things harder. Now instead of choosing between fifteen awesome things you won’t be able to do all of, you’ll have to choose between forty.
Spend a Lot of Time on Disney Transportation
With our littles both being under five, and me carrying B3, we had to head back to the hotel for napping/resting/recouping everyday. So, we would get a bus from whatever park we were at to Caribbean Beach, trek to our room, do the nap thing, get ready all over again, trek back to the bus stop, wait for another bus, and take that to a new park. It was a lot to be getting on with.
Now, to be fair, we would have taken the exact same number of buses on base tickets, only we would have gone back to the same park. But, if you’re taking the bus from one park to another you are spending less time on transportation.
Verdict: While it doesn’t hurt to do Park hoppers for families with small children, or those who will be headed back to the hotel often, it’s definitely more of a bonus for those who spend all day in the parks. You can rope drop one park, take one bus (or monorail, or boat) to another and be close your day fireworks at a completely different park. You lose a lot less time (and bus trips) but not heading back to the hotel.
(More Park Hoppers in their natural habitat: the bus.)
Expand Your Dining Options
This was a huge one for us. Literally the day we left for vacation we managed to score a dining reservation for Be Our Guest…on the day we were going to be at Epcot. No sweat! We hit Epcot hard, left around 3pm, went back to the hotel, rested, changed, and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Be Our Guest at 6:30pm. We then took advantage of the less crowded evening to ride a few of our favorites before heading back to the hotel. If you know you are doing Park Hoppers, your 180 Advance Dining Reservation will be less stressful, since you will have the freedom to eat wherever you want on any park day.
Verdict: If you are a foodie or your family is crazy about character meals and experiences, Park Hopper may be for you. My husband and I were talking about how cool it would be to do a day of Princesses. Start your morning at Magic Kingdom and Cinderella’s Royal Table, hit up EPCOT and Akershus for lunch or dinner. That’s a lot of royalty. Epcot has some of the best dining on Disney property, so Park Hopper would allow you to spend your day an one of the other parks but still have access to some amazing restaurants.
Do Your Favorites til You Drop
One day at the Bus Stop, I overheard a family with two teens talking about their plans for the day. They were going to hit all four parks and everyone got to pick one ride at each park. The teens had FastPassed their picks for the first park of the morning and everyone was very excited to do their favorites at each park. Using Park Hopper makes it possible for you to spend time on only the creme de la creme for your family, making it an extra magical vacation.
Verdict: This feature of Park Hopper will be best for families who have experienced Walt Disney world many times and are looking for ways to spice things up, or families who are only interested in a certain type of ride (thrill rides, shows, etc). Again, for first timers this might be biting off a little more than you can chew. It is impossible to see everything in one Disney trip, and especially on your first Disney trip, it might be crazy (and stressful) to attempt.
(Bus hair, don’t care.)
Final Verdict: We really enjoyed having Park Hopper on this trip. With my being pregnant, and our kiddos on finicky schedules, the flexibility and freedom Park Hopper afforded us made a nice change.
But would we do it our next trip? I don’t know. The almost $300 extra for Park Hopper tickets is no small amount. It’s an extra night at our resort or a special experience, like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. It’s more than our souvenir budget! It worked out well for us on this trip, but if our dates had been different, or resort availability was different, base tickets might have been the better option.
But is it worth it for your family? I don’t know. It really boils down to your particular circumstances and the type of vacation you want to have. Are you first timers who aren’t big eaters? Park Hopper might not be for you. Is this your fifth trip and you want to do something special you haven’t done before? Maybe Park Hoppers ARE for you. Trying to save as much as you can? Disney vacations are expensive and Park Hoppers are usually the first thing we recommend nixing if you’re trying to save money. But maybe you want to be in the parks all day and don’t really care about the resort. In that case, go with one of the value resorts and add on Park Hoppers to get an extra bang for your buck. Do you spend a ton of time at the pools and exploring your resort? You may not have enough time to really use the Park Hopper to its best advantage.
The bottom line is that, like with any aspect of your vacation, your mileage will vary based on what is important for you. Before purchasing your tickets, ask yourself what you want your vacation to look like, what you need and what would be nice to have but you could live without. Those answers will help you decide what what aspects of your vacation will add the most value. The great news is, it’s a Disney vacation, so no matter what you decide, you’re bound to have an amazing time.
Are you a park hopper fan or base tickets all the way? Gimme all your thoughts in the comments!
Kristen B. is wife to the best Prince around, mama to the spunkiest little princesses, and lover of all things Disney. She started her savings journey three years ago and is now dedicated to making her family’s wishes come true one coupon at a time. She is so excited to take her love of saving to the next level and share her journey with you! Click here to catch up on Kristen’s Savings and join in on your own savings adventure!