Looking Back: A Brief History Of Walt Disney World Ticket Media

Today we will explore the evolution of Walt Disney World admission media over the past four and a half decades. To help us better understand how ticket media had changed; let's experiment with our own little "Carousel" of ticket "Progress". We'll follow a family of four (mom, dad, sister aged 14, brother aged 7) on their quest to go to the Magic Kingdom for one day to visit some of their favorite attractions at various points in Disney history.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, a general admission ticket cost $3.50 for an adult, $2.50 for a child aged 12-17, and $1.00 for a child aged 3-11. Guests could purchase ride tickets in 7 or 11-ticket books or individually based on the classification for the attraction (A-E, where an A-ticket attraction cost $.10 and an E-ticket cost $.90 for adults). On each ticket, the attractions for which that ticket may be used were printed on the face. Under this original ticketing system, our family would have paid $30-35 for admission and rides for the day depending on what options they selected.

Early Magic Kingdom Ticket BookEarly Magic Kingdom Ticket Book

In 1973, 2-day ticket books with admission included began to appear on the roster of ticket options. These multi-day books would give way the multi-day "passport" concept in 1977. This was the first time that a guest could purchase a true all-inclusive pass that granted the bearer 2-days admission, all rides, and unlimited use of Disney transportation. The price of general admission tickets and ticket books continued to rise throughout the 1970's, while the price per additional attraction ticket remained the same for all attraction categories. By the end of the 1970's our family of four would now pay $60-65 for approximately the same single day at the Magic Kingdom.

1981 Wearable Passport1981 Wearable Passport

In 1981, in preparation for the opening of EPCOT, the per-attraction pricing, along with the corresponding ticket books, ceased entirely and guests could now purchase an all-inclusive pass that had to be worn by the guest at all times in lieu of handing a ticket to a cast member at each ride. This practice was short lived because in 1982, the park hopper was born and the old ticket books became obsolete. For the first time, a guest could purchase a ticket for up to 6 days of unlimited park touring with hopping included. These tickets were advertised heavily as having no expiration. If you have one of these tickets with unused days, Disney will still honor the ticket, provided that it is used by the original bearer of said ticket. By 1983, the ticket books had been phased out entirely and the "World Passport" reigned as king for the remainder of the decade and included pricing incentives for onsite guests. By the end of the decade, our family of four was now paying $112 for one day at the Magic Kingdom.

1988 One Day Epcot Ticket1988 One Day Epcot Ticket

In the 1990's Disney rolled out the "super pass", the "super pass plus" and the "super duper pass" which allowed guests to bundle peripheral options like Typhoon Lagoon and Discovery Island onto their park tickets. "Length of Stay" pass debuted in 1994 and was the precursor to the current Magic Your Way ticket.

Disney tickets have always been "non-transferable" so that the same person must use all of the day on the ticket. In 1994, Disney began a two-year experiment with printing each ticket holder's photo on his ticket. This was a time consuming process and still relied on a person on the front line to make a judgment call regarding whether or not the guest in front of him was the guest pictured on the ticket. 1996 brought the first scan-able tickets and saw the phase out of the "date stamp" style of keeping track of how many days a guest had used in their ticket. Instead of the photo verification, Disney now had a magnetic strip available on each ticket that could store a biometric finger scan for each guest to verify his identity when using the ticket for admission. By the time we entered the new millennium, our family of four was now paying $167 to spend the day at the Magic Kingdom.

Magnetic Strip TicketsMagnetic Strip Tickets

Until 2005, all multi-day tickets were automatically park hopper tickets with no expiration date. With the advent of the redesigned "Magic Your Way" ticketing system, the options became fewer and simpler, but for the first time, guests were forced to pay a premium to park hop or to use their remaining days on a future trip. In 2005, our family of four was now spending $227 to play together for a day at Magic Kingdom. Aside from price changes, the structure of the ticketing system and status of biometric scan technology remained unchanged through the end of the decade. By 2009, the cost for our family to spend a day in the Magic Kingdom had crested just over the $300 mark, a 10-fold increase over the cost for the same family to spend the day at Magic Kingdom on opening day.

2012 Key To The World Card2012 Key To The World Card

2013 marked the first time that Disney charged a premium for a single day ticket to one park over another park, adding $5 to the cost of a single day Magic Kingdom ticket. Remember our original family of four? They currently pay $374 for their one-day tickets to Magic Kingdom.

The most recent departure in ticketing has come not in the pricing structure, but in the technology within the ticket and the capability that RFID technology will bring with it to revolutionize the theme park industry. In January of 2013, the first RFID enabled tickets rolled out. Throughout the year, Disney unveiled application after application of this technology. Originally, the new technology was advertised as allowing you to link your admission media to a special "Magic Band". As the new ticketing system continues to evolve, Disney has released more and more "carrots" for guests like the ability to select your fast passes prior to park arrival, quick & easy room charges, linked dining reservations, and room access. All of these powers can now be held in the palm of your hand! (Or more appropriately, wrapped around your wrist.) While this technology is really about helping Disney to make it fun and easy for guests to spend more money, it is refreshing to see that unlike other ticketing programs that Disney has implemented for security purposes or additional monetary gain, guests are benefitting from this system, too. The bands are reasonably comfortable, very convenient (assuming they work properly for you), and thus far seem to be reasonably secure. Regardless of whether guests choose to use the Magic Band or the RFID enabled Key to the World card, customizing your vacation has never been easier!

2013 Wearable MagicBand2013 Wearable MagicBand

If Disney's history is any indication of its future, one thing is for certain. The admission media and its options and capabilities will continue to evolve. Some options will remain and others will fall by the wayside as they lose their effectiveness or fall out of favor with guests. Technology will improve and new and more efficient systems will eventually replace RFID enabled technology altogether.

No one knows right now what the next step will be. All we can say for certain is that with Disney, they will keep moving forward. What was the first type a Disney ticket media you remember using? Leave a comment and let us know!

Thanks so much to Guest Blogger Holly L. for this bit of Walt Disney World history with us. If you'd like to read more from Holly you can find her sharing her adventures over on our member forum.And more gratitude to Joel, Neal, and Jim for use of their images through Creative Commons. For more information on historical Disney tickets visit this source link for historical ticket names and prices.

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David A in DC wrote on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 14:21:

David A in DC's picture

Thanks for the walk down memory lane. We lived about an hour from Orlando when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, and our family went twice within that first year. I remember well the ticket book system, particularly that we would burn through the E and D tickets and always leave the park A tickets unused. We've returned numerous times over the years and have experienced all of the different ticketing structures you mentioned here. Our next trip is in April, which will be our first experience with the new wrist bands. I love the idea of pre-arranging fast passes, so I'm looking forward to this latest innovation.

Lori Lynn wrote on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 16:20:

Lori Lynn's picture

Oh my love my tickets...I didn't want to give them up even to go on the attractions back in 1972! I still have on book...yup a E ticket memory!

Carolyn Barlow wrote on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 18:10:

Carolyn Barlow's picture

Ticket Books.

walter wrote on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 19:17:

walter's picture

Oh God , I remember using all this line of tickets since 1972 , and I'm preparing to return at the end of this year to test the MAGIC BAND by the first time .
One important thing, all these tickets represents for me DREAM and FUN

Jacque Webb wrote on Fri, 01/24/2014 - 01:07:

Jacque Webb's picture

What a treasure Disneyworld is and has been in my family and my life! From 1971 through 2005 we have greatly enjoyed the treasured times, and appreciated the ticket technology that has always seemed so cutting edge! We even bought a Vistana timeshare condo for every other year to be more economically able to come back. Now though, the exhorbatant ticket prices have us very frustrated. We plan to come from Kansas to Orlando Feb 13-18, 2014 but have just agreed we can't afford to go to Disneyworld :(. Sitting in the sun will be ok I guess, but I think Walt would have preferred family memories to be more feasible :(

Brian Martsolf wrote on Fri, 01/24/2014 - 01:18:

Brian Martsolf's picture

For anyone looking to dig into this subject anymore there are several pages of the history of tickets at all ears.net , my personal favorites are the magnetic stripe tickets they are nice little pieces of art and I wish that I had more of them in my collection of old tickets. One of the features of the ticket history pages on all ears are scans of many of the tickets over the years I've even contributed a few of the scans myself, both in the 1990's section http://allears.net/tix/tixpix90.htm and in the aughts http://allears.net/tix/tixpix00.htm

Carol McGuire wrote on Fri, 01/24/2014 - 15:14:

Carol McGuire's picture

Are these older tickets from 1970 able to be returned for money or credit for future use toward new tickets?

Tresea Adkins wrote on Sun, 01/26/2014 - 03:53:

Tresea Adkins's picture

Still have some of the old tickets

Joan Carollo wrote on Mon, 01/23/2017 - 13:33:

Joan Carollo's picture

Started going to WDW in 1972 & have visited 30 plus times

Joan Carollo wrote on Mon, 01/23/2017 - 13:33:

Joan Carollo's picture

Started going to WDW in 1972 & have visited 30 plus times

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