As a travel agent, one question that I am asked over and over concerns park hopping. Should I? Shouldn't I? Is it worth it? The simple truth is there is no one size fits all answer. The current price of the park hopping option is $54 per ticket, regardless of the number of days. For the average family of 4, that adds over $200 to the vacation budget. That is enough money in my book that it is worth taking a few minutes to figure out if it is a good decision for your family. When the inevitable question comes up, I try to lay out some pros and cons and give some general advice based on my clients specific situation, and then leave it in their hands. So...here goes...
Reasons to Hop...
Length of Stay - For me, this is the most compelling reason to hop (or not). If I am not going to have at least 4-4.5 days in the parks, I want to hop! I must have 1.5-2 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Epcot, and at least a half day taste of Animal Kingdom and the Studios. If I only have a few days to hit the highlights, then park hop I must!
Dining Flexibility - If you are a family that enjoys dining in the World Showcase, then a Hopper is also a good choice for you. Enjoy your morning and afternoon in one park and head over to Epcot in the evenings for dinner!
Crowd Avoidance - I love touringplans.com...their advice on the best and worst parks is like the gospel to me. Have you ever noticed that they always list Studios as a park to avoid on Fantasmic nights? That is because the park is generally more crowded on Fantasmic nights (see, they really do know what they are doing)! If you have a Park Hopper option, you can go to the recommended park during the day and slip in just for Fantasmic. Perfect!
Night Owls - If you like to prowl the parks at night, using your Park Hopper to take advantage of the Evening Extra Magic Hours is a great plan. It is also nice to hop after a day spent at Animal Kingdom. The park usually closes between 5-6 pm, leaving plenty of time for dinner and Illuminations at Epcot.
Weather and other reasons to "call an audible" - If the day you planned to wander through the trails at Animal Kingdom ends up being rained out, you can always cruise over to a more rain friendly park. Also, if you are simply ready to move on, you can.
Reasons not to hop...
Cost - It is expensive. If you have the vacation time, consider taking that extra $200 (for the average family of 4) and extending your stay by a day or two. If I need to keep my trip on a tight budget, the hopper is the first to go.
Increased Travel Time - Park hopping costs more than money. It costs time as well. Be sure to budget in additional travel time, should you choose to hop.
Time to Explore - Yes, you can hit the highlights of a park and move on, but if you have the time...take it! Take the time to explore all of the wonderful details the Imagineers have left for you. "All commando, all the time" gets the job done, but you will certainly miss all of the magical little touches that make Disney World so special.
Time to Rest - So what if Animal Kingdom closes before you are drop dead tired? Why not take the rest of the afternoon and hang out by the pool? Or check out another resort at dinner?
Non-Factors (for me!)
Children - Conventional wisdom is to save your money on the hopper if you have young children. I am a firm believer on an afternoon break from the parks, so for us it is just as easy to go to a new park as opposed to going back from whence we came. Now if you are staying off property and are going to "push through" until you have to go...then I would recommend you just stay put and enjoy.
Cost per day - Many make the argument that a Park Hopper is much more affordable on a per day basis for a longer stay. And that it absolutely true! However, if I have a longer stay, I am much less likely to hop as I am happy to move at a more leisurely pace and explore it all. I also tend to build in more rest breaks, pool days and resort dining.
Early Extra Magic Hours - There are plenty of folks who like to hit the Extra Magic Hours every morning and then leave as the park opens to the masses. Once you consider the extra travel time, at peak hours, I wonder if it is worth it? Of course, my attitude could be because I am SO not a morning person. I am still a big believer in arriving before the park opens, but I time things out so that I can stay in bed until the last possible moment, and still manage to get coffee, dressed, and to the park before rope drop (in that order!)
I hope this helps you figure out if the Park Hopper option is right for your family. While the hopper does provide the maximum in flexibility, it is not with out cost - monetary and otherwise! As a travel agent, I am more than happy to boost my commission check from Disney by selling a Park Hopper to every client. As a good travel agent, I am much more concerned about making sure that my clients get the best value from their vacation dollars - whether that means Park Hopping or not. Finally, when in doubt...wait. You can always add the Park Hopping option to your ticket once you are there.