Theme Park Insider

Are Disney's theme park annual passes a good deal?

August 28, 2016, 9:05 PM · Both the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts have been raising their annual pass prices aggressively over the past few years, especially so at Disneyland, where a no-blockout annual pass now costs more than $1,000 a year. For many fans, even the higher prices aren't too much to pay, as they continue to flock to the parks. But some are saying, "enough."

A recent Orlando Sentinel story compared declining attendance at the Walt Disney World Resort with increasing occupancy at the resort's hotels. (Yours truly is quoted.) One might think that the two figures would track together, but the increase in hotel occupancy suggests that the decline in Disney's attendance is being driven by people who do not stay on-site at the resort. Annual passholders are part of that crowd, and the Sentinel talked with some people who have dropped their APs.

In California, Disneyland stopped selling its Premium annual pass last year, forcing those passholders to decide between paying several hundred dollars more to upgrade to the no-blockout Signature Plus pass, or downgrading to a pass with blockout dates. One option was the Signature pass, which was priced only a few dollars more than the Premium and blocked out just the two weeks around the Christmas holiday. But anecdotal reports from fans suggest that many passholders opted to downgrade to the much more limited Deluxe pass, and some just dropped their APs altogether. While the crowds at Disneyland this summer didn't appear to be as down as much from last year as they were in Orlando, the parks still didn't seem as full as they were during the first summer of the Diamond Celebration last year... perhaps also due in part to fewer annual passholders holding no-blockout tickets this summer.

The opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter gave Southern Californians a new reason to consider one of Universal Studios Hollywood's new annual passes, while Knott's Berry Farm celebrated the 75th anniversary of its Ghost Town this year while continuing to offer its aggressively-priced season passes, which can be had for the year for about the price of just one monthly payment on Disneyland's Signature Plus AP.

Are those parks drawing former Disneyland passholders? Universal's attendance seemed to be up this summer compared with last year, while Knott's appeared to be about the same. Perhaps we'll get the answer when the annual industry attendance report comes out next spring.

Until then, let's pose the question to you. Are Disney's theme park annual passes a good deal for you? We're getting to the point in the year when Disney typically announces its annual pass prices for the next year. Is Disney providing enough value for you to renew (or consider) an annual pass? And if not, what do you need to see from the company to consider buying one?

And what about other theme park companies? Which parks do you think are providing the best annual pass value these days?

Replies (28)

August 28, 2016 at 9:41 PM · My Universal pass cost a fraction of what Disneyland now wants and
With more days available.
August 28, 2016 at 9:52 PM · As someone who has had an annual pass for 12 years, I can proudly proclaim

Yeah at this point Disney passes are just way to expensive. Disney seems to be getting more and more crowded, and therefore days where I used to be able to ride 10 rides are now days where I can only ride 5 rides. Every once in a while there's a day that's a diamond in a rough, but those days don't come nearly enough for me to want to renew my pass.

However, the biggest reason for me deciding to no longer renew is the fact that Knott's and Six Flags are so cheap. To put it simply, for both Knott's and Six Flags I'm paying a combined $124 a year (I got a special deal on the Six Flags pass FYI) that gives me no blockout dates for Knott's which is open 364 days a year and no blockout dates for Six Flags which is open most of the year. Meanwhile my Disney pass (a SoCal Select) is $330 a year where I'm blocked out all weekends, all of summer plus some weeks, all days around major holidays, and on minor holidays.

So yeah, Disney just ain't worth it anymore.

August 28, 2016 at 10:23 PM · If Knott's continues to up its game all around the park making Fiesta Village, the Boardwalk area, etc. up to the theming standards of Ghost Town, plus, finally, get a great Snoopy dark ride with holiday overlays, then they would really start to siphon off a lot of Disneyland annual passholders.
August 28, 2016 at 10:32 PM · I've never seen them as being worth it, and even less so as the parks have become more crowded.
August 28, 2016 at 11:10 PM · I think they still can be a good deal, but I think they are a good deal to fewer people. Let's take a look at a few scenarios where they remain valuable...

-Can you visit regularly on off-season weekdays? If so, the So Cal Select is still a pretty good deal at $329 if you plan to visit at least three times.
-Do you plan to visit frequently? If so, the passes are absolutely a good deal. Even the most expensive pass pays off after 7 visits, so if you'll be going monthly or perhaps every month and a half it is worth investing in a pass.
-Do you prefer to visit for a few hours at a time instead of visiting for a full day? If so, a pass is better because you may not feel like you have to rush around to get your money's worth and can go at a more relaxed pace. Very few people are going to be willing to pay $95+ for an evening at the parks.

Now, let's look at a few scenarios where passes used to be a good deal, but now are no longer one...

-Do you visit several times a year, but less than once every month and a half? In this case, you are likely better off buying individual tickets for your visits. The exception is if you would qualify for the So Cal Select pass.
-Do you typically visit only one park instead of park hopping? Without park hopping, it can take up to 5 additional visits before you've paid off your pass (depending on pass level and which days you visit). Therefore, if you prefer to spend your day at only one park, it is generally a better idea to buy individual tickets unless you visit at least once a month.
-Do you visit for several days at a time? Passes used to be a good deal for this, but now multi-day tickets are the much better option.
-Do you prefer to visit during the peak periods? Despite tickets being more expensive, it is better to buy individual tickets than a more expensive pass if you'll be visiting primarily on peak days.

As for me, I am currently an on-and-off passholder. If I know I'll be visiting a lot (usually because a major new attraction has opened and/or I have a lot of out-of-state friends visiting in a given season), I'll purchase the lowest level pass that fits my needs and get the value out of it. The rest of the time, I do 1-3 full day visits during the year and that satisfies my need for Disney without paying for a pass.

The rules are a lot simpler for Southern California's other parks...if you will be visiting more than once in a year, it is a good deal to buy a pass. As a result, I always get a Knott's pass and SFMM pass as those are parks I visit every month or two. I do currently hold a USH pass, but I have only gone once and will likely only do one or two additional visits. In my opinion, that park has reached "once a year" status, but it has not reached "multi-visit" status yet.

August 28, 2016 at 11:41 PM · For me it's very simple, the fact the Disney company hasn't build a ride I care about for many years at WDW. Add the decline in service and the addition of costs and money pinching made me stop buying an annual pass. In comparison Universal Studios Orlando builded a lot of rides, made updates and added experiences I do care about and I bought their annual pass.
August 29, 2016 at 1:27 AM · A few years ago, my wife and I purchased those gold Premier passes that allowed unlimited access to both Walt Disney World AND Disneyland. If I recall, they were around $799 apiece. My, how times have changed!
August 29, 2016 at 3:52 AM · As an Orlando resident I have had a WEE pad 30th no blackout dates for the last 12 years. This year I was forced to downgrade to the option worth blackout dates around during break and Christmas. The idea of the significant price hike fit less did not sit well with me at first, however using the monthly payment system helped take the sting out of it. I have enjoyed the one peel they added, the included use of photo pass.

After using the new pass for almost a year I feel that the product is overpriced, but Disney could off set that making pass members feel a little more special. SeaWorld Orlando opened a lounge exclusive to pass member, and it is terrific! In fact both SeaWorld and Universal offer their pass members more perks than Disney; the mouse could really learn a thing or two from them. My decision to renew the Disney pass will depend on this year's price increase. If they bump out too much I am afraid I will have to go without Disney visits.

August 29, 2016 at 5:12 AM · This appears to be more of a Disneyland issue than a Walt Disney World issue. Granted both are expensive, but Disneyland is unusually high!
August 29, 2016 at 6:35 AM · I'm a Six Flags passholder.


Hi.

August 29, 2016 at 6:37 AM · I was a WDW AP holder (platinum, no block outs) for the last 4 years and I enjoyed many of those moments. Living one exit away from WDW also made this a huge convenience. Even back when I wasn't making as much money, I still pennied out for that pass. And then something happened internally. I realized over the last year that I wasn't going as much as I used to (twice a week before, now once every 3-4 months). I wasn't bored with WDW, and now I had the capital to spend and buy the things I wanted without budgeting, but I just stopped going so frequently. I began discovering other great things about Orlando and the surrounding area that fulfilled the same joys. Albeit, not theme park things, but still. At the time of my renewal, Hollywood Studios was under full construction, as was DAK (Animal Kingdom) with Avatar and getting the nightime experience ready; Magic Kingdom was always far too busy to brave, even on week days; and that left me EPCOT (my favorite park, besides DisneySea).

Luckily, WDW offers a beautiful pass for EPCOT that lets you in at 4pm with no block outs and the monthly payment plan makes this pass about $14/month. And since I "downgraded" I didnt have to pay a down payment, and that gives me access to Flower & Garden, Food & Wine, etc. Let's look at the facts here though (based on my criteria): I work all week and don't get out until 5pm anyway, it's 100 degrees outside every day until it hits 90 around 7pm, if we're lucky, and I enjoy this park. I thought to myself why the other parks don't offer a similar pass? Nevertheless, I chose to maintain passholder status in case I decide to upgrade ever again, which may happen eventually, but I saw this as a way to still hold on to Disney without forking out a small fortune, because when Food & Wine comes around, I spend far more than I ever mean to, but so worth it.

August 29, 2016 at 6:39 AM · I live in Jacksonville, FL which is 2 hours away from WDW. This year we bought the WDW Platinum Pass. As a FL resident, the cost is $649/each for my wife and I. The reason we did it is mainly because our son is 2 and still counts as FREE. So we try to go roughly once a month, and in that case it is totally worth it. BUT, my biggest complaint is once our son turns 3, he costs THE SAME AS AN ADULT! That is insane! So sadly, this will probably be the only time we have an Annual Pass...until he is in Middle School or something and goes with friends too.

We LOVE going Disney World and are making great memories, but it's definitely pricey unless you go a lot. (Accommodations are free since we stay with friends...thats a nice perk).

I do also agree that Disney should do more for their Passholders. Maybe earlier access to FastPasses or something.

August 29, 2016 at 7:07 AM · As a DVC member, we used to swear by the Annual Passes. We'd plan a year, buy the passes for the family, then head to WDW three or even four times that year - spending on dining plan and souvenirs each time. Now, given the price of tickets in general - not to mention the Annual Passes - we are honestly starting to struggle to justify the DVC membership at all.
August 29, 2016 at 7:18 AM · I used to have Disneyland passes all the time. Even at the higher prices, it made a lot of sense for me, but mostly because I lived 20 minutes from the park. When you're that close, you can drop in for dinner on a weeknight.

What I find interesting is that Disney are raising their pass prices while ski pass prices are, overall, going down, especially relative to day pass prices. For instance, Vail Resorts' 2nd least restrictive pass is $579 at its lowest price (prices increase closer to the season). The walk up price for a day ticket at Vail is now $159.

August 29, 2016 at 7:44 AM · Every APer knows, you only buy an AP if you can amortize the cost, so you come out 'well above' break-even.

Everyone that complains/whines are the individuals that can no longer come out 'well above' break-even!

And all the "remember when" are struggling to balance TODAY vs yesterday.

All the "haven't built a ride" choose to ignore the ANNUAL capital spending of WDParks.

August 29, 2016 at 8:31 AM · I've been waiting for my kid to be old enough to enjoy the height restriction rides before I buy my Disneyland Annual Pass, but just recently, Universal Studios Hollywood Annual Passes went WAY DOWN in price. Unadvertised, but sold through my company's employee discount program, I can buy a USH Annual Pass for $109. I get 12 months with some weekend and July/August blockout dates. This is a much better deal than at USH's own website ($119 for 6 months - Season Pass). So I will likely delay buying a Disneyland AP for another year. They are way too expensive and I really don't see the value.
August 29, 2016 at 8:47 AM · I have the Platinum Florida resident annual pass, and it cost nowhere near $1000.00. I pay less than $60.00 a month. No blackout dates, both water parks & free golf on Oak Trail. I use it 4 or 5 times a year, for around a week at a time. So yes, it is a great deal.
August 29, 2016 at 11:14 AM · We have had passes the last few years but Seems like Disney is getting more and more greedy... used to be that. Lack out dates were there to offer better options to nonew pass holders during peak times...but this year despite the fact that my family of 3 paid a small fortune for the seasonal passes we had...werected were actually sent a letter saying goes for an additional 170.00 EACHneed would be "allowed" to come during the summer....it's really not worth it ..we pay so much and everytime we go...even with fast passes....not so enjoyable anymore ..... very sadifferent what has become of what used to be the happiest place on earth...they are turning people off
August 29, 2016 at 3:34 PM · Disney's pass system needs a major overhaul. The parks, especially at Disneyland are just too crowded too often to justify the price they charge. For Disneyland they should really switch to season passes instead of all the various annual passes. Have a Season Season pass for January through May, Summer for June through August, and Fall for September through December. Charge the same rate for all three and an additional optional single fee for parking so people who carpool or get to the park another way don't pay. This way locals will likely get the Spring and or Fall passes when the park is less busy, and wouldn't get a summer pass because it's when the park is the most crowded, and because it offers the worst value. People who get the Summer pass would be people who don't feel they can't miss going to Disneyland for a few months, and those who visit frequently during summer vacation.

The advantage for customers would be the end of blackout dates, but the disadvantage would be having to buy all three season passes for year round access, or else being blacked out for months at a time. Disney would benefit by having a simpler system that would now be more like regional parks that offer season passes, but crowds would bigger in general in the off season due to a complete lack of blackout days.

I'm no expert but one thing is certain, Disney can't keep the status quo on theme park prices. The parks can only hold so many people, and they can only charge customers so much before hurting their reputation. It doesn't matter how profitable the theme parks are. If the mass perception becomes that Disney overcharges their customers and only sees them as a source of revenue and not valued customers, those customers may decide to avoid Disney in general. That could affect the company's bottom line as a whole.

August 29, 2016 at 11:57 AM · My girlfriend and I are Orlando residents, and we like to keep a pass in our wallets. 3 months ago, when or WDW APs expired, we decided to try Universal Orlando instead. 2 weekends ago, on Friday (and Saturday), UO closed both of their parks from 9pm-11:30pm and allowed ONLY pre-registered APs into the parks to experience the "big" rides (Superhero Island, Kong/Jurassic, Hogsmeade, train, London/Diagon Alley). I can't even imagine Disney doing something like that.
August 29, 2016 at 1:44 PM · I wonder what walt himself would say if he knew the prices of disney tickets are today? And what they pay there employees? It's a rip off to charge these prices and once you get in the park people are ripped off again with the prices they charge for food and a sin for what they charged for a flipping bottle of water!!! Im a florida resident and still tickets are too expensive...but reason they keep getting away with such high priced tickets,food,water,hotel stays? Because tourist and non tourist keep paying these ridiculous prices! No thanks not for me I won't be one paying those prices so that the big wigs get fatter pay checks while paying their employees so little!! Have fun to the ones who love to get ripped off and pay such ridiculous prices !!! ??
August 29, 2016 at 4:53 PM · As a current WDW passholder, I think the parks did offer a good value last year. I basically was paying $10 a week per person for my APs. However, the frequent cutbacks (less turnstyles, shortened attraction hours, no parade at Magic Kingdom) combined with most of Hollywood Studios being a construction zone has made me decide to put off renewing for several years (if ever).

Recently, I've found sanitation at the parks to be beyond unacceptable. My wife, told me Columbia Harbor House's bathroom were filthy and they had no toilet paper in the Companion restroom at the Ticket and Transportation Center. I've often noticed tables and floors of fast-service locations going uncleaned for times in excess of 30 minutes. It's clear they're cutting hours in janitorial and food service locations. I don't think I'm nitpicking because I'm a weekly visitor. These conditions are akin to something you'd find at a state fair.

August 29, 2016 at 4:01 PM · "Is Disney providing enough value for you to renew (or consider) an annual pass?"

NO!

"And if not, what do you need to see from the company to consider buying one?"

Fire Iger. Fire Chapek. Hire a CEO who actually cares.

August 29, 2016 at 6:02 PM · We just dropped ours. We would drive down to Florida for 2 weeks in tha fall, and for a week in the winter. With the changes in pin trading, it is no longer worth it to go to the event. They also bundled the photo pass in increasing the price by about $100 per person.
August 29, 2016 at 8:11 PM · I lived in Orlando for ten years, and had a Disney World AP for the last 4-5 of them. I usually went 2-3 times each month, for lunch or dinner, and just to walk around. If I experienced an attraction, it was a positive, but I'd been so many times that the rides aren't why I go, but rather, the atmosphere.

Once I get back to the U.S, it's 50-50 that I'll be in SoCal. It'll be very interesting, and I cannot imagine at this time, what kind of pass I'll get because my familiarity with DLR is limited to having gone only once, 10 years ago.

Most likely, I'll get a two-day park hopper to get a taste. Then, depending on how I feel, I will get an AP. Which one, I can't say. I can see myself getting the BIG ONE for the first year, and then once I've had my fill, drop to a lower tier pass for future years when it's no longer a new experience.

August 30, 2016 at 6:38 AM · We live in S Florida and have had annual passes for years.. the price now is too high and we will be downsizing to the Epcot after 4 pass
August 30, 2016 at 8:29 AM · I think the rumored "DCA only" AP is to soften the blow of yet another outrageous AP price hike, yet to be announced. Back to your question: no, the Disneyland AP prices are not worth it, with so many attractions closed: the entire length of the railroad, Mark Twain, Columbia, Tom Sawyer Island/Pirates Lair, and the removal of the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ and petting zoo (a lot of families enjoyed that area, and felt they got value with the BBQ). And to echo what so many have complained about - there hasn't been a new ride in DL in over a decade-right? It's pathetic and ridiculous. Add to that my biggest gripe is the rundown and depressing Tomorrowland. It looks like an abandoned amusement park from the 1970's. What urks me even more is the cheap Star Wars-ification of TL with the meet and greet in the old Innoventions building (add some new carpet and dark paint on the walls wow), the old Space Mountain with the tile flooring from the 1970's mall, and the worst is the hanging of the SW flags and fancy strobe lights on the abandoned People Mover track. I consider it an insult as a long standing AP holder. I find myself at DCA about 90% of the time, the park looks well kept, and has new attractions. The Imagineers did an amazing job with all of the Grizzly areas and queues, Cars Land, the pier and Buena Vista street. Even their dining is a substantial cut above the dining offered in DL. DL is not worth the current AP price, or the upcoming AP price, I think I've made my case. And what's with the no name brand ketchup and mustard packets - what's next Shasta soda to replace Coke??
August 30, 2016 at 12:47 PM · We live about an hour from WDW and all the theme parks in Orlando. We were looking at doing an AP for Busch Gardens/Sea World. We're holding off for a few years on WDW because even though we enjoy the parks, we feel that the value isn't there right now. Paying around 1700$ for my family and still having blackout dates. Sorry Disney, but until a bunch of new stuff opens up or the kids are able to ride everything, I just don't think the cost is worth it.

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