The Annual Pass: To Buy or Not To Buy?

By: Amy Kawa

Who knew a little card could hold SO much power?!  Annual Passes (AP) are your ticket to some extra Disney magic.  All Annual Passes are good for one calendar year from the date of first use – not from the date you actually purchase the pass.  So, if you buy your pass in April, but you don’t enter a Disney Park until September, your pass will be good until September of the following year.

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A photo of yours truly after joining “the club.”

 

There are different types of Annual Passes (for Walt Disney World):

  1. Ultimate Platinum Plus Pass ($869)
    • Admission into all 4 theme parks
    • Admission into the 2 water parks
    • Admission into Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course
    • No blockout dates
  2. Platinum Pass ($779)
    • Admission into all 4 theme parks
    • No blockout dates
  3. Florida residents also have different options for less expensive Annual Passes, but we won’t cover those in this post

All Annual Passes include:

  • Park Hopper option
  • Free theme park parking
  • Unlimited Photopass downloads

So, for non-Florida residents, you are essentially choosing between having unlimited access to the water parks or saving about $100 to forgo the water parks.

 

There are pros and cons to buying an Annual Pass (AP) versus saving the money one costs.  We will go over the pros and cons that come with an AP, and then you’ll hopefully see if buying one is right for you!

Pros (in no particular order):

  1. All about them discounts!
    • Dining– Passholders receive at least 10% off at most Disney Parks dining locations as well as at some third-party Disney Springs eateries. Disney ran a promotion in 2016-2017 to honor Walt Disney World’s 45th anniversary, offering 20% discounts at most quick service restaurants.
      • These savings added up BIG TIME for my family on our last trip, as we eat mostly at quick service spots.  We could have dinner for under $30 for 4 people on most nights.
      • Check out a complete list of dining discounts here.
    • Merchandise– Passholders receive 20% off their purchases at all stores in the parks and at some third-party stores at Disney Springs. Passholders also enjoy 20% merch discounts outside of the theme parks when they use the Shop Disney Parks app.
    • Resorts– At different times throughout the year, Disney offers special room-only discounts for Passholders- usually around 20-30% off the rack rate.
      • It should be noted that the number of rooms allotted for these discounts are extremely limited.
    • Sports and recreation– Passholders receive discounts (10-20%) on watercraft, bike rentals, and spa treatments at many Disney resorts.
    • Tours– Disney offers many behind the scenes tours at each of its theme parks and at some resorts. Passholders receive discounts (up to 40% off) on all of them.
    • Events and entertainment discounts– Passholders save on tickets for special events like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party as well as on other special event tickets.

**The amount of money these discounts can save (particularly for dining and for Disney shopping addicts like me) can really add up! Even in one trip, I probably saved close to $300, which is essentially the difference between a 6-day hopper ticket and an Annual Pass.  These savings would have made an AP worth the cost even after just one trip.

  1. Special Previews
    • Did you want to see Pandora early? How about have the chance to enter the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge before anyone else when it opens in a couple of years?  Annual Passholders are often afforded opportunities to preview new lands and areas of the theme parks before the general public.
  2. Taking it Slow
    • When you pay for park tickets day by day, you feel the need to go, go, go just to make the most of your money spent. With an AP, there isn’t that same sense of urgency.  You already paid for the pass, and it will be good for the entire year, so you can always hit up the theme parks the next day if you don’t get to everything.
  3. Let’s Hop a Plane!
    • An AP can be very dangerous here. There is definitely a huge temptation to just hop a plane and hit the parks.  Hey, the tickets are already taken care of!
  4. Another Magic Band
    • Annual Passholders have the opportunity to create their own Magic Band and have it shipped to them. It is just the same process as the regular Magic Bands you get when you book a room, but hey, it’s free- and that doesn’t happen too often in Disney World!
  5. Your Own Section of the Website
    • Disney has created a special section of the website for any and all things AP-related.
  6. Discounted Renewal Fee
    • When it comes time to renew your AP, Disney usually incentivizes the offer by knocking $50-100 off the price tag, making it even more of a bargain when you factor in all of those discounts.
  7. Special Merchandise
    • During certain events, Annual Passholders have the ability to purchase special clothing, pins, and other accessories to commemorate the event and denote they are in fact Passholders.
  8. Give Them a Yellow Card
    • Carrying your card somewhere visible helps you connect with other Passholders, forming an instant kinship for all things Disney!

Cons (also in no particular order):

  1. Serious upfront costs
    • The regular AP runs $779. That is quite the daunting cost!  Although I just spent the last 500+ words arguing that you NEED an AP, it does really only makes sense if you’re going to Disney more than once in a year and for more than 3 days at a time.
  2. The renewal fee
    • Although Disney does cut you a bit of a break when it comes time to renew your Annual Pass each year, it is still a daunting thing to have to pay that hefty price tag all at once, especially when your next vacation might be months down the road.
  3. Ticket price increases
    • Each year, Disney raises its ticket prices, and while it may be minimal on a per-day basis, the price increase on an AP can be significant ($40-$80). So, even if Disney tries to incentivize that AP renewal, it may not be that much cheaper that what you originally paid.
  4. You’re Going to Get Carded
    • Disney takes its Annual Passholders’ identities very seriously.  While I appreciate their stinginess, there is also a part of me that hates having to get out my ID every time I buy something.  Yes, every time you want to use your AP to get a discount, you have to show your AP card and your ID.  If you live in NY and have an enhanced license, you feel my pain even more with that stupid little sleeve you have to keep on it!  This fact also means that you cannot give your AP card to someone else to get a discount.  The actual Passholder must be present with their ID to reap any benefits.

 

All right, that’s all I’ve got on the cons front.  In my mind, I really can make it worth it to buy the Annual Pass even if you’re only taking one trip throughout the year.  For the average Disney fan, however, buy the Annual Pass only if you are sure you are going to Disney more than once in a 12-month period.

We all want more excuses to return to our “homeland,” and being an Annual Passholder allows us the freedom to return home whenever we can afford a plane ticket and a night’s stay at an All-Star.

Leave your argument for or against the Annual Pass in the comments!  Did I forget a perk of that beautiful, little yellow card?

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