Theme Park Insider

Paper or Plastic? Universal Orlando Passholders Know What They Want

September 2, 2015, 3:25 PM · Universal Orlando Resort this week set up a Facebook group for its annual passholders. Universal pitched the group as an opportunity to connect with other passholders and get news from the resort.

Universal Studios Florida

Well, one day in and Universal's passholders are connecting, all right. And they're rallying around one message: "We want plastic annual pass cards!" — not the current paper ones. Here are a few of the comments:

You pay several hundred dollars for a year long pass that you're expected to present for purchases and express pass, and they give you the cheapest piece of paper ever. Step it up UO! Even a laminated pass would be better.

My $60 six flags season pass came on a plastic card...but my $480 universal season pass comes on a pice of paper?

What do we want? PLASTIC PASSES. When do we want it? Anytime it's convenient, really.

I haven't been a Universal Orlando passholder since Universal Studios Florida's first year, but my pass back then was plastic. Here in California, Universal Studios Hollywood also distributes paper APs (at least to the "buy-a-day, get-the-year" passholders), which simply don't hold up as well in the wallet as Disneyland's plastic AP cards.

Of course, there's a third alternative — an annual pass that doesn't require a card. Whether it's on a MagicBand or a smartphone app, electronic annual passes provide another way for loyal visitors to get into the parks. Now, if only Disneyland's smartphone app allowed AP holders to get their discounts and Fastpasses without having to bring their card into the park, too.

Perhaps Universal could take this up a step and program interactive Wizarding World of Harry Potter wands to function as an annual pass, inspired by the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where a Gringotts goblin accepts Bellatrix's wand as a form of identification. Now that would be cool!

What's the most convenient form of an annual pass for you?

Replies (35)

September 2, 2015 at 3:34 PM · I have had a plastic preferred annual pass card since 2003 when I first got it AND it also has my photo on it. Even Sam's Club has the person's photo on their annual membership card. This card still works but the new kiosks have a harder time reading it and it takes a few swipes to register.
September 2, 2015 at 3:50 PM · My husband and I have the same passes as Tony -- had 'em since 2004. So far we haven't had any trouble with our passes being read by the machines, but we've definitely noticed an increase in the number of staff members commenting on our passes :-). Saying they've never seen THAT before or "geez, that's old!" Makes us feel like part of a special club!
September 2, 2015 at 3:56 PM · plastic is way better. Me and my son went to Disney spring break and magic bands are the way to go,wish universal resorts had bands as much as u pay for rooms then u do not have to carry around money.
September 2, 2015 at 4:01 PM · Proud owner of plastic passes here too! Won't give 'em up :)
September 2, 2015 at 4:07 PM · I much prefer the plastic pass. I had a UO AP from August 2014 and didn't understand why it was paper, especially since you use it for admission and discounts... Last I remember, the 2014 "dining plan" cards were plastic!
September 2, 2015 at 4:38 PM · A MagicBand, or some similar alternative would be most ideal for me. I wouldn't have to worry about it slipping out of a pocket and would hold up better than the current paper pass.
September 2, 2015 at 4:45 PM · I love my plastic pass, I've had it since 1998 I think. And I haven't aged a day since that picture was taken :) I am not a magic band fan and don't use one for Disney. It's too clunky and sweaty to wear.
September 2, 2015 at 4:55 PM · Plastic!

I have no problem also having a MagicBand, as I do with the Disney Parks Premier Passport, but the trouble with MagicBand pass is that you still need the actual AP to get the passholder discounts. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the passholder status cannot automatically attach to the transaction charged to the MagicBand, but it doesn't. So if I am carrying a card, let me have a durable card.

For that matter, every time I use the card for discount or parking, they ask me for photo ID. I do not keep my park passes (used seasonally, usually) in the same wallet as my DL, passport, so this always involves frisking myself looking for where the photo ID is. I would prefer either like Disneyland turnstiles and have the photo appear on a display (and spread that to point of sale also), or (lower tech) put a photo on the card.

September 2, 2015 at 5:23 PM · I used to have a plastic one, but they switched it to paper ones years ago.

I still have my Busch Gardens plastic pass with my photo on it so I don't have to use the fingerprint scanner.

September 2, 2015 at 6:27 PM · I don't even know when I got my annual pass but I still have the plastic one don't want that paper s***
September 2, 2015 at 6:32 PM · While I think the electronic one is a dream... plastic at least. It's not too much to ask.
September 2, 2015 at 8:32 PM · Plastic for sure. I hate the paper tickets USH uses as passes. They feel more like one-day tickets and I'm always worried it is somehow going to get damaged. Every other park I've purchased a pass from uses a plastic card and Universal makes plenty of money so they really should as well.
September 3, 2015 at 3:36 AM · My wife and I just ordered and received our USO AP's for our trip next week and when they arrived she called me and asked if I knew that they were paper tickets, thinking this was just a temporary ticket I called USO and they confirmed they were indeed our permanent AP's; I was floored after all the money we spent on them we are now expected to keep them in good shape for a year? So we went out and spent around $35 to buy some decent HP Lanyards with badge pouches, hopefully they hold up...
September 3, 2015 at 5:19 AM · I've had the same UO paper pass for the last five years. I'm really surprised it can still be scanned because the ink on the paper has faded considerably on it. I've thought about going into Guest Relations to get it reprinted when I visit, but I really don't want to hassle with the time to do it when I can be riding rides.

I wonder if having paper passes is a bit of a conspiracy to entice people to buy the lanyards at the park. Universal tends to have several lanyard kiosks at the front of both Florida parks with different themed ones as well.

September 3, 2015 at 6:06 AM · My families solution cold laminate packs. Whenever we did it everyone at the park tells us everyone should do it. Maybe they should have listened to their employees before they set up the website
September 3, 2015 at 7:54 AM · I've had Sea World / Aquatica annual passes for 5 years and they are those soft paper tickets. It amazes me that they are still able to be read at the gate and I have had to have them replaced a couple of times already.

If I was spending the type of money that a UO AP costs, I would definitely want a hard plastic ticket.

September 3, 2015 at 9:58 AM · I want a plastic card that looks like a Hogwart's Express ticket!!!
September 3, 2015 at 10:00 AM · Disney has several patents that make any type of magic-band-like pass nearly impossible for Universal to provide.
September 3, 2015 at 12:28 PM · Interesting. In SoCA I have had both Universal hollywood and Sea world APs. The Universal one included a plastic lanyard when I picked it up and the Sea World one came with a protective sleeve. I'm surprised Universal Orlando doesn't do that.
September 3, 2015 at 12:42 PM · Related: Universal is surveying guests asking "Would resort guests be willing to pay a dollar a day more to park in exchange for the plastic passes?"
September 3, 2015 at 5:51 PM · you know what? Why stop at APs? Why not make the Express passes plastic as well? Trust me when I say you do not wanna take wanna take one of things onto Dudley Do–Right without some sort of protective covering. I also find TH's post very intriguing. Obviously Universal's main objective is to build a larger fanbase than Disney. The results of this survey could show how much people are dedicated to the parks. The negative side to this means that Universal is probably considering raising prices. :/
September 3, 2015 at 6:45 PM · Alternative... Have some app/image with a barcode you can pull up on your phone and use THAT as your admission. Many people can easily forget to bring their passes but are less likely to forget their phones. (I lived near Busch Gardens before and many times out of the blue my sisters and I just felt like going into the park... We'd have to first run home and get our passes)

Of course things like the fingerprint scan should still be in effect. And a physical pass of some sort should still given out for the phone-less... Just my two coins

September 3, 2015 at 8:54 PM · The longer this goes, the more I buy into my idea for wand passes. (And, no, Disney's patents on MagicBands would not preclude the use of a wand for a park ticket. Plus, Universal has some advanced ticket media patents of its own, by the way....)
September 3, 2015 at 9:27 PM · At SeaWorld in San Diego all season/annual passes are printed on paper. But they also offer your pass to be reprinted in a plastic card for $5; with that money going entirely to the SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. This seems to make everyone happy. But I think the current plastic cards are not as cool as the cards they used to print all passes on back in the day. In 2004ish the passes had your photo and barcode on one side and a cartoon whale or dolphin or some other animal on the other side.
September 4, 2015 at 9:52 AM · Mr. Niles......what is this speculation that you speak of?! Did you write an article discussing rumors of ticket media patents before?!

September 4, 2015 at 10:30 AM · I'm all for plastic. Busch Gardens Williamsburg also uses paper APs, and it drives me bananas, especially since passholders on the EZPay system can keep the same pass year over year. I have to get a new one printed every year because the barcode on the thermal paper begins to fade after a few months living in my wallet. They keep telling me to put it on a lanyard, and I can confirm that my wife's pass which lives on a lanyard lasts longer than the one I keep in my wallet. However, if I didn't have my pass in my wallet, I wouldn't do as many spur of the moment visits. The fact that I have all of my annual passes on me at all times means that I never have to remember to back them when I'm out of time or just happen to pass by a park during my travels.

I don't know the exact costs, but I believe the water resistant thermal paper used for most APs is probably just as expensive, if not more so, than plastic cards. However, there would be a cost to switch out all of the printers to switch from paper to plastic. Also, I know Busch Gardens/Sea World use the same cards/printers to print day passes, food vouchers, and quick queue, so changing to plastic passes would be an added cost.

September 4, 2015 at 1:19 PM · 66.192.104.10, please see http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201401/3864/. Link is in that post.
September 4, 2015 at 1:57 PM · Plastic are the best. I've had a plastic pass since back in the day when you got a new plastic pass every year. Don't like the idea of an electronic pass since I don't have a cell phone.
September 4, 2015 at 6:21 PM · A plastic card, an Universal AP keychain or do it big and install MIB style hand or eye scanners. I also would be fine with it on my iPhone but I could see that causing issues when the batteries dead and encouraging people to use their phones more then they already do.

I think having to carry a bulky magic band and carry a plastic card for discounts like Disney Anuual pass holders who stay in Disney hotels would be worse then only having to worry about one paper card and a plastic room key. I don't want to be banded like a cow

September 5, 2015 at 11:39 AM · I had a plastic pass back around 2005 or so. I can't seem to find it right now... But I much preferred it! I haven't held an annual pass since then until this last year and when they handed me my paper one I said "Okay so when do I get my plastic one? Do I have to go to guest services?" Ha I was very concerned to how I was supposed to keep up with that for a year... That day it happened to be raining. Thank goodness for the plastic covers on the lanyards!
September 8, 2015 at 7:23 AM · I have a plastic one... but, my son, who upgraded the week after I did, has a paper one that we've had to replace too many times to count because it gets illegible and the machines stop reading it. I love my plastic one with my picture. He has to show his card AND his picture ID. Please, Universal, go back to plastic passes!
September 8, 2015 at 7:45 AM · My Busch Gardens Annual Pass is linked with my Apple Wallet... And that is really handy when you want to go with no plans!
September 8, 2015 at 9:50 AM · I love Robert's idea of the wands. If that can't happen, plastic with a picture would be fantastic! Both of my parents have issues with the finger readers. My mom has had many rounds of chemo and has no finger prints left; my dad has begun to experience the same issue. As we age our fingerprints begin to fade making it very difficult for many senior citizens.
September 9, 2015 at 11:00 AM · I had a paper pass from 2013-14 and I managed to get my wallet wet at some point. Even though it was between two plastic cards, the paper still tore pretty much in half (the front came off the back) so I brought both pieces in and the lady behind the guest services desk was very sweet but she said it happens pretty often.
September 9, 2015 at 12:25 PM · I don't care about my image in the picture, but my plastic Disneyland pass feels so much better than a paper card with a transformer on it. I'm glad I have my lanyard for my USH pass.

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