Money MattersWalt Disney World (FL)

Is It Worth It To Visit the Parks on Arrival Day?

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So, you’ve arrived at Disney, and you’re ready to take in all that Mickey and Walt can throw at you. But what do you do first? The biggest quandary for a lot of guests is whether to make a beeline for a theme park at the earliest possible opportunity.

More specifically, one question we hear a lot is whether it is “worth it” to use a ticket to visit the parks on a day when you’re not going to be there all day. It’s ultimately a personal decision, but if your primary concern is the financial component of it, there are a few variables that you should consider:

How Much Time Is Left?

When you really break it down, Disney is one of those places where time truly and money are strongly connected. You are paying for a ticket, and that ticket permits you a certain amount of time in Disney’s parks. If your ticket costs $150, and the park hours that day are from 8 am to 11 pm, simple math will tell you that you are paying $10/hour ($150/15 hours of park time) for that time in a best-case scenario.

The less time you actually spend in the park, the higher the per-hour price goes. So, if, for example, you’re not going to pass through the turnstiles until 5 pm, you’re now paying $25/hour ($150/6) to be in the parks.

Magic Kingdom at night

So, this is the starting point, and the way to think about the value that you’re getting for your money. With that said, for an extra park day, you’re not paying the full cost of a day in the parks, you’re paying the difference between the cost of one ticket, and the cost of a ticket with one more park day. As such, the decision will also be impacted to some extent by…

How Long Is Your Stay?

The length of your stay is likely to influence the calculus in determining whether it’s financially “worth it” to visit the parks on your arrival day. This is because the cost of that extra day in the parks costs a lot less on longer trips. On shorter trips, you could be paying well in excess of $100 per extra day. Once you hit 6 or 7 days, however, the price of those extra days drops precipitously to bring it into “why not” territory, even on a tight budget.

For example, I took a look at a hypothetical trip starting on March 18, starting with a two-day base ticket for $300.51. Converting this to a 3 day ticket would change the cost to $438.13, or $137.62 more. So, that extra time in the park is going to cost you $137.62 divided by however much time you’d be spending in the park that day – not much of a discount from the $150/day cost of the 2 day ticket.

Watch what happens to the cost of an extra day as you get into longer stays, however:

  • 4th day – $112.87 for the extra day ($562.11 total price)
  • 5th day – $60.19 ($622.30)
  • 6th day – $25.47 ($647.77)
  • 7th day – $19.04 ($666.81)
  • 8th day – $27.14 ($693.95) (yeah, I know, I don’t get it, either)
  • 9th day – $19.51 ($713.46)
  • 10th day – $18.49 ($731.95)

As you can see, adding a 5th day happens at a significant discount, and once you get to day 6, the cost of adding a day is de minimus compared to the overall cost of a trip of that length. So, from a pure monetary value standpoint, it’s certainly easier to justify the added expense for an incomplete park day when you’re on a longer trip. Of course, if you’re not into commando touring and wouldn’t spend more than 6 hours in the park on any day anyway, this difference is going to feel less significant. Now your calculation might just be about how tired you are from traveling.

This is, of course, an example. For a look at what sort of difference you can expect both generally and during specific times, make sure you check out this article.

Does It Check Important Boxes on a Short Trip?

There is another way to think about this for shorter, more hectic trips. Simply put, if you’re comparing a 2-day trip with a 2.5-day trip, that extra time is going to feel a lot more meaningful than when you’re tacking a few hours onto a trip of 6 days or more. So, in that respect, it can ironically be easier to justify the higher price point for that extra time.

We know that on any given trip, there may be some things that you absolutely MUST do for it to feel complete. And if doing a partial day at a park on arrival day enables you to do these critical things you couldn’t otherwise do, you could well conclude that it is “worth it” – even if the math would suggest that you’re paying more to be in the park than you otherwise would.

For example, for a lot of visitors, the Magic Kingdom fireworks are always on the “must” list. If you’ve got a quick weekend trip where you otherwise wouldn’t be spending time in the Magic Kingdom, adding that extra day on your arrival could be the only way to see them without completely messing up your plans. And depending upon when you arrive, you can probably add a few more attractions to your trip while you’re there!

Also, beyond amorphous concepts of “feel,” there is a sunk cost component to being at Disney in the first place. This phenomenon is most likely to exist for those of us that have to hop on a plane or drive a significant distance to visit the parks. The variable cost of park tickets is one thing, but transportation is a potentially large, fixed expense that is going to be the same whether you are there for 1 day or 10. Once you’re there, you’ve incurred that cost, so why not get as much out of it as you can?

One way to think about it is to compare that extra day’s ticket to the cost of traveling back for a whole ‘nother trip to do stuff you had to miss. To use a somewhat absurd example, the most expensive way to spend 10 days in the parks would be to buy 10 individual tickets and make 10 different voyages to the parks. You’re paying full freight on every single ticket, plus any travel-related costs associated with the trip.

The point is, since you’re already there, travel and hotel costs are fixed. Tickets are the only variable that moves up when going on arrival day. With that in mind, paying a slightly inflated per-hour amount to go to the parks for a half day to do some things you otherwise wouldn’t get to do is still a better use of your money than coming back another time and incurring fresh travel costs — or missing out on core experiences that will leave your trip feeling incomplete.

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

To summarize, you are most likely to find it “worth it” to spend the money to go to the parks on arrival day if:

  • The extra day would mean you’d need a pass for 6 or more days
  • On a short trip, the extra park time would allow you to do things you care about that you would otherwise have to skip.

So, do you go to the parks on arrival day? What influences your decision, and what do you do if you don’t hit the parks? Let us know in the comments!


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Jamie Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable child, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

4 thoughts on “Is It Worth It To Visit the Parks on Arrival Day?

  • We never go to the parks on the first day. If you are staying on property, arrival day is the perfect day to enjoy that resort you are paying for! Swim in the pool, eat at a resort restaurant or go to Disney Springs, and then go to bed on time to be ready for rope drop the next morning.

    • What she said! Also we activate tickets on arrival day so we don’t have to the next day at rope drop.

  • If we are going to arrive early, we go to the parks on arrival day. Last year, we didn’t arrive until 3pm, so we had no plans to go to the parks and had skipped buying a ticket for that day.

  • Inn your example, the 8th day is a Saturday. Which might explain why it is more. Thoough in this case “more” is almost an oxymoron.


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