While occupancy and hotel rates decline, gate prices at the big Orlando theme parks go up and up. Naturally, such a buoyant commodity is a tempting target for crooks, who prey on eager tourists who come to town, kids in tow, looking for a score.
Last week, after the mega water slide park Wet 'n Wild noticed that many tickets were being sold to credit cards registered as stolen, police arrested three people.
They're accused of pretending to be debt consolidation counselors, collecting credit card information, and then using those details to buy theme park tickets for resale on Craigslist. (They say their boss did it, and they're being taken for a ride.)
A few days later, the police swooped in on more suspected theme park tricksters. Four people, ranging in age from 22 to 47, were hauled in for running scam ticket-selling operations at four offices on or near U.S. 192 in Kissimmee, east of Walt Disney World.
Cops seized some $131,000 in park tickets to Walt Disney World, Universal, and SeaWorld, plus another $6,000 in cash. The tickets were real, but unfortunately, their provenance wasn't.
In decades past, when Disney World tickets were validated with not much more than an ink stamp, people could sell their unused tickets to other guests, and often, that's what all those rinky-dink ticket peddlers outside the parks would sell.
Nowadays, particularly after 9/11, the big parks require guests to offer a finger scan when they enter for the first time, and that print is paired to their ticket. Once you use a ticket, it cannot be legally used by anyone else.
Some tourists don't know that, and they fall for buying tickets with unused days on them. When some were turned away at the gates, they pointed the finger at the four ticket offices where the alleged scammers were working.
I'm an author of a guide book to Walt Disney World and Orlando, and my advice never changes: No third party will offer legitimate major ticket discounts for the three major theme park resorts.
A very few, such as AAA, may offer deals that knock off $7 or $10 from a multi-day pass, but when you're talking about something with a sticker price of more than $200, you're not talking about much of a discount, and sometimes, just having the passes mailed to you can wipe out what you've saved. The reliable Disney discounts clearinghouse site MouseSavers.com links to a few respectable sellers of these middling deals.
Those roadside tourist traps, which cluster around the big parks like rats to a radiator, are usually either passing off illegal tickets with unused days, or they are trying to rope visitors into enduring hours of time-share pitches before the tickets are handed over. Either way, tourists waste money, time, or both. I wouldn't trust any of them.
When it comes to the major theme parks, you're better off focusing your savings energy on lodging and food, where you're more likely to score a true value.
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Last week, after the mega water slide park Wet 'n Wild noticed that many tickets were being sold to credit cards registered as stolen, police arrested three people. For more stories about the wonderful world of Disney, click through this gallery.