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Should you buy an annual pass to Disneyland?

2007-11-15

By Robert Niles: Unlike at Walt Disney World, where the vast majority of visitors hail from outside Central Florida, at Disneyland, most of the visitors on any given day are Southern California locals. For these Disneyland fans, their ticket into the Magic Kingdom is likely some form of an annual pass.

But which Disneyland annual pass should you buy? Today, I break down the math to answer that question.

Unlike at Walt Disney World, there's no way to buy a Disneyland ticket that does not expire after a certain period of time. The unused days on a Disneyland multi-day ticket expire 13 days after its first use, or within a certain number of weeks after its purchase. So there's no point to buying a multi-day passport with the idea of using one day at a time over the next several months or years, like you might do at Walt Disney World. (See my previous blog entry explaining Walt Disney World tickets.) If you want to buy a ticket that allows you to visit Disneyland multiple times over a period longer than two weeks, you need a annual pass.

Disneyland offers four annual passes (all available on the Disneyland website):

  • Premium - 365 days' admission, plus free parking, for $379. Plus 10% merchandise and 15% dining discount.
  • Deluxe - 315 days' admission, no parking, for $259. (No admission on Saturdays from March to August, Sundays on holiday weekends, Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas week.)
  • Southern California - 215 days' admission, no parking, for $169. (No admission on Saturdays, three-day holiday weekends, spring break, Christmas/New Year's weeks and weekdays in early June, all of July and early August.)
  • Southern California Select - 170 days' admission, no parking, for $129. (No admission on weekends, holidays, spring break, Christmas/New Year's weeks and most weekdays during summer.)

    Note that Disneyland does not sell children's passes, so kids have to buy at the adult price. And only the Deluxe and Premium APs are available to people who live outside the LA/Ventura/OC/Inland Empire/San Diego area.

    So which pass, if any, should you buy? To find out, first you need to figure out how many trips to Disneyland you think you'll make during the next 12 months -- and when.

    We'll compare the cost of these annual passes to buying one-day tickets for each Disneyland trip. A one-day, one-park ticket to Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure costs $66 for adults, $55 for kids ages 3-9. Disney sells a one-day park hopper for $91 ($86 for SoCal residents), but frequently offers "2fer" deals that includes a day at each park for the price of a one-day, one-park ticket.

    Using the $66 for comparison, here is how many visits you'd need to make in one year using the various annual passes to get a better deal than buying a one-day ticket each time you visited:

  • SoCal Select: Two visits for adults, three for kids
  • SoCal: Three visits for adults, four for kids
  • Deluxe: Four visits for adults, five for kids
  • Premium: Five visits for adults, seven for kids. The premium annual pass includes free parking, so I added $10 to the cost of each one-day adult ticket to cover that expense, when comparing. If you will likely share a ride with another adult Premium AP holder, you'd each need six visits to make this pass pay for itself.

    Don't forget the black-out dates, though. A SoCal Select passport is just flushing $129 down the drain if you can visit Disneyland only on weekends.

    For me, living in Pasadena, I am most likely to visit Disneyland on a weekend. Weekday traffic between Los Angeles and Orange Counties is simply too brutal for me to want to visit Monday through Friday, unless it is a holiday. That takes the Southern California and Southern California Select Annual Passes out of the equation for me. Those passes makes most sense for an Orange County resident who can make many quick trips over to Disneyland after work on a weekday and who doesn't mind staying away on the busier weekends, holidays and during the summer.

    Who should buy each type of Disneyland Annual Pass?

    SoCal Select - Buy it if you are an OC local family who will visit Disneyland at least three times on weekdays during the school year. (Or just twice if you are an adult visiting without the kids.)

    SoCal - Buy it if you are an OC family who will visit Disneyland at least four times on weekdays and/or Sundays during the school year, or other SoCal local who will visit at least four times on Sundays during the school year. (Three times for those without kids.)

    Deluxe - Buy it if you plan to visit Disneyland at least five times during the year, but not during holidays periods or on Saturdays during spring and summer. (Four times if you aren't bringing kids.)

    Premium - Buy it if you are a family who will visit Disneyland at least seven times a year, usually on Saturdays or holidays periods. (Six times for grown-ups without kids.)

    Forget the pass - Anyone else, including people whose visit to the Disneyland Resort within the year will fall within a single two-week period.

    Readers, please add your thoughts on Disneyland APs in the comments.

    Readers' Opinions

    From Matthew Baker on November 16, 2007 at 8:23 AM
    I just got a SoCal AP last month, and did a bit of research beforehand. My situation is a bit unique: I'll always be going solo, and can often go on a whim if I want to. My rationale: maybe six visits over the next year; I can live without going to DL for eight weeks next summer; I'll usually go on a Friday but probably never on a Saturday; I might want to go on a Sunday (12-2 being one); I *might* go aound Christmas or another blackout day over the next year, so maybe one blackout ticket (I didn't buy parking for this reason); I can park-hop to DCA now (I wanted to before but it was too low a priority for gate admission or wasting money on a one-day park-hopper).
    Here's a few addenda:
    You can buy blackout-day admission for $40. If you absolutely must visit on a blackout day, you might come out reasonably ahead with a non-premium AP and at most maybe one blackout ticket, assuming of course you'll go often enough to justify the initial cost of the AP.
    For the non-premium APs you can get parking as an addon for $59. Initially, the math is fairly simple: if you're going to be driving to and parking at DLR, you come out ahead on the sixth visit [$59 < ($11 x 6)]. But presumably you don't get parking on blackout dates (or maybe it is--I didn't see any mention anywhere.) This would probably work best with Deluxe if you want to visit frequently but not on the relatively few Deluxe blackout days: you'll save the $~60 over premium. But one thing in your favor: if you'll always be going as a couple or family you only need parking on one of your APs: any one person in the car with an AP w/parking will get you in.
    Most Premium discounts are 15% for food and 10% for merchandise; non-premiums are 10% for food and no merchandise.
    From rick stevens on November 16, 2007 at 1:02 PM
    Not only the single user, but getting the SoCal pass works well for an older couple. If you are purchasing tickets, you feel you have to stay all day to justify the cost. When you buy a pass you can visit many times for short periods of time. I think that is the best part of the pass. As a local (I live within 20 min of the park) I go multiple times during the year for dinner and a few rides. I know a few pass holders that go for exercise. It is far more interesting walking around Disneyland then a track in a gym or on a treadmill! You do need to decide if parking is something you should opt for as it adds around $60 to the cost.
    From Larry Zimmerman on November 16, 2007 at 2:17 PM
    Ah, to live close to the Original...sigh. If I were within an hour of the home of the Mouse, I'd opt for the premium - quit my day job - and spend each and every day cruising the pathways, taunting the Jungle Cruise skippers, and basically enjoying myself. Thanks to God I'm not that close to EITHER US location!

    Maybe I'd retire (again) and go scoop up trash just for the "discounted" admission...

    From Robert Niles on November 16, 2007 at 2:31 PM
    The math on the parking is pretty simple: Go six times or more, and you should buy the parking add-on.

    As for the block-out tickets: Those can be handy, but the math works out pretty much the same way. If you are going to buy just one block-out ticket on a day that the SoCal pass would have covered, you might as well buy the SoCal pass instead of the SoCal Select.

    From there, add two more block-out tickets are you're even with the Deluxe pass. Add one more beyond that, and that gets you to the Premium, assuming that you'll use the Premium's additional in-park discounts.

    It's all about finding that right combination of timing and frequency, as outlined above.

    From Ryan Traylor on November 17, 2007 at 4:53 PM
    My fiancee and I have SoCal passes that are set to expire on Tuesday. We are making our fifth visit to Disneyland on Sunday to experience it one more time before we have to renew. However, we decided that we would not renew. We would just buy a new one on the next trip down there.

    The main reason we bought the pass was we had family come into town last year around this time and they wanted to go to DL. We knew that Nemo would be opening in June, so we figured getting the pass would mean we can visit again for Nemo. It was also nice to see the park with different decorations throughout the year. It also allowed to spend leisure days there, knowing we could come back almost anytime. So days we would start with a movie at the AMC in downtown disney for $6 and then hit the parks.

    We battled the idea of getting parking. We decided not to for the first year, seeing how many times we went. Good choice for that one.

    And we didn't mind being restricted to just Sundays and weekdays. We always stay away during holidays and the summer. Too many people.

    From Ted Heumann on November 19, 2007 at 11:22 AM
    The pass is a MUST have if you are a local AND have small children. When your kids get tired or cranky, you can leave early with the knowledge that you can come back most any time.
    We have the SoCal pass w/parking. It's worked out great for us. I normally take my 5 year old Sundays after church and nap time about once a month. We spend between 5 and 6 hours and leave before bedtime. A few times my son wanted to see the fireworks or Fantasmic or the Electrical parade, so we went just for that event on a Friday evening. We didn't have to spend all day at the park, my son took a late nap and everyone left happy (especially dad!).

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