Theme park passes: Are they worth the money? Here’s what to consider

From California to Florida, theme parks can be found throughout the states. These parks are great for all ages and group sizes. When most plan a day at their favorite park, they usually just prepare themselves to pay a flat rate at the ticket booth.

But did you know that there are other options? Theme park passes are available for purchase at most ticket booths as well as online. Below is a little information explaining the ins and outs of a theme park pass as well as whether one would be a good fit for you.

What is a theme park pass?

There are many variations on individual passes but a theme park pass itself is considered a pass that allows a visitor to visit one or more parks within a certain area for a particular amount of days. Passes range from single-park multiple-day passes to multiple-park multiple-day passes. Visitors can even decide to get a VIP pass or annual pass if they wish.

What's not included in a park pass

Unfortunately, not everything within the park is included in a pass. Some of the exclusions are:

Food and Drink: There are many different food and drink options within a park from ice cream booths to sit down restaurants serving burgers and fires. However, none of these are included in a pass. Also, due to their high prices, it’s best to bring food in from outside the park. This way you’ll save a bit of money.

Souvenirs: You’ll find both booths and stores throughout every park that supply an endless amount of souvenirs from key chains to costumes of your favorite character. Although they aren’t included in a pass there is a way to save money when purchasing one. Souvenir shops found further into a park are generally less expensive than souvenirs found near the park entrance/exit. Parks are hoping that at the end of the day, when you’re tired and ready to head back to the hotel that you’ll remember to buy that souvenir you promised a love one. It’s an easy way for a park to gain a larger profit without you knowing.

General prices for different passes

When looking at a pass, it is important to take into account how many different parks you are interested in visiting and how much time you want to spend at each one. Passes vary in day length and amount of parks included, with prices varying just as much. Most multiple park passes state a number of times it is allowed to be used within a 14 day period.

Other passes give you more bang for your buck with unlimited visits for 14 days. These prices may change throughout the year so it’s best to keep checking before you buy.

Single park multiple day visit

Adult: $136 to $310
Child: $126 to $300

Multiple park multiple day visit:

Adult: $140 to $700
Child: $133 to $650

There is also an annual pass available that lets one explore all four of Disney World’s theme parks in Orlando, Florida. This pass starts at $634 per person and includes free parking.

Major US theme parks with passes

Florida: Disney World (a collection of different parks), Busch Gardens, Epcot, Legoland, SeaWorld, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Universal Studios.

California: Disneyland, Six Flags, SeaWorld, Legoland and Wet ‘n’ Wild.

There are many other smaller amusement parks found throughout the United States, but tend to either not have a pass selection or are so spread apart that buying a pass wouldn’t be cost efficient.

Single park or multi-park pass?

Depending on the area you are in, there may be more than one theme park to choose from. Orlando, Florida is a good example with nine parks within driving distance. Instead of just visiting one park it may make more sense to plan a long weekend and visit a few, especially if you have children. Rates are always subject to change, but here’s a general breakdown of the price difference between a single park and muti park pass.

Walt Disney

2-day single-park adult pass – $203
3-day 3-park adult pass – $274

Universal Studios

2-day single-park adult pass – $136
2-day 2-park adult pass – $176

Generally each pass expires within 14 days of first use allowing for one to spread the visit over two weekends instead of trying to do everything in one weekend.

VIP Passes: are they too expensive?

If you’re visiting during summer, you might find yourself waiting in line for an hour or so in the hot sun just to get onto your favorite ride. If you’re visiting during other times of the year, you still might find that most of your day is spent taking a little step forward one minute too long. This is where a VIP pass comes into play. Instead of spending most of your day in line, patience wearing thin, you’ll be treated like a celebrity with all the right connections.

Depending on the park, a VIP pass allows you to bypass ride and attraction lines by walking straight up to the front for a select number of rides and/or use of the FastPass line, behind the scenes tours, a guided tour of the theme park and valet parking.

But is a VIP pass really worth it? It all depends on how much going to the front of a line is worth to you. If you’re traveling with young kids who will become more and more agitated as you wait in line, then a VIP pass is certainly a worthwhile consideration. If you’re visiting solo, with another person or a group of adults, then it might make more since to save the money and brave the lines.

Generally the price range is from $90 per person to $200 per person. However some parks do charge by the group with rates starting at $300 per group. Keep in mind that some theme parks include the admission fee in their VIP rate while others don’t. It’s always best to thoroughly read the pass description before purchasing one. The last thing you want is an unexpected ticket expense.

When and where you should purchase your pass

Generally if you purchase in advance, you can find better deals on tickets. Purchasing at the gate usually means waiting in line for a long period of time. Purchasing tickets in line also doesn’t allow you the option of trying to save some money by purchasing through a ticket agency beforehand.

There is the option of purchasing your pass through the official theme park website but generally prices are the same as at the ticket booth. In fact, these online prices can be very misleading. For example, you may see a ticket online that’s advertised as a 4 day pass with 2 days free. This sounds like a great deal but in reality it’s usually the same exact price as a 6 day ticket at the gate.

More often than not, you’ll find better deals by going through a ticket agent or online agency. A ticket agent/agency will purchase passes and tickets in bulk in order to make commission. The reseller then has the option to pass some of that savings on to you, which they generally do. However, if you go this route it’s important to make sure you receive genuine passes along with a printout that includes all the ticket codes. This way all of the paperwork is the exact same as the paperwork that would be given to you from the park itself.

Passes usually state that they are non-transferable right on them. This means that if you buy from an unauthorized source and have issues with your pass, then the theme parks are not responsible. All that is needed on your end is a little research into the agency (reviews are a great way to find out more) and you should have no problem saving a nice amount of money.

Photos by Flickr users Sean MacEnteerickpilot_2000, and  Jeremy Thompson.

By Rachel Campbell

Rachel is an avid adventurer that can be found hiking or freediving and who travels the world via truck bed camping and house sits. She is also a photographer, writer and editor whose work can be found at

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