Theme Park Insider

Should I buy an annual pass to Disney, Universal, Six Flags, etc.?

September 2, 2016, 2:21 PM · At what point does it make more sense too buy an annual pass to a theme park, instead of just buying daily tickets?

That's the question that many smart fans ask when they're pricing their trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Universal, or other theme parks. So let's take a look at the current ticket and pass prices for these and other popular parks around the country. We will consider the current one-day prices for each park, plus the parking fee, then compare that with the various annual pass options. For each park and resort we'll tell you the number of visits you'd need to make for each annual pass to become a potential better deal than buying one-day tickets.

Keep in mind that this is the minimum number of times you must visit for a pass to be a better deal than one-day tickets, not counting any in-park discounts. With two exceptions, all annual passes at the Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Orlando resorts allow access to all parks on each day of your visit, so we've compared the price of those to the one day Park Hopper or Park-to-Park ticket in calculating the minimum visits. The more times you visit on an annual pass, the better deal it becomes, but if you're not going to visit the minimum number of times, it's probably not worth it to upgrade (unless you're really planning on buying a lot of food and souvenirs).

And just because you will visit more times doesn't mean you should buy a more expensive version of the pass. An annual pass is no good to you if you can't use it. There's no sense in considering a pass that's valid only on days you can't visit. For Disney and Universal, which have blockout dates on some of their annual passes, look for the lowest-priced pass that is valid for all the days you'll likely visit the park.

For example, the price difference between Disneyland's Signature and Signature Plus annual passes is $200, but the Signature is blocked out only for the two weeks around Christmas and New Year's. If you aren't going to visit during that period - the busiest time of the year at Disney theme parks - then there's no reason to pay more to get the Signature Plus, no matter how often you plan to visit during the rest of the year. We've linked the current blockout calendars for each Disney and Universal resort below, so you can check those against your travel plans. And if you're visiting Disney or Universal for multiple days, but all within the same two weeks in a 12-month period, you might be better off buying multi-day tickets than messing around with annual passes and blockout dates.

Annual passes for the Six Flags parks, and some annual passes for the Cedar Fair and SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks allow you to get into all the other parks in their chain, too. That's potentially useful if you are planning to travel around the country, so consider the number of visits you might make to those parks total when counting your minimum visit numbers.

Also, all parks but one offer monthly payment options on their annual passes, so you don't have to pay for the entire amount up front. We will note below which passes include free parking and which ones have no blockout dates. Here are the numbers, as of today:

Walt Disney World

One-day: $97-124 (varies by park and date of visit)
One-day park hopper: $155-164
Parking: $20 (all parking prices are per vehicle, not person)
3 visits — Epcot After 4pm: $249 - includes parking. No blockout dates. Available to Florida residents only.
2 visits — Disney Weekday Select: $259 - includes parking. Florida residents only.
3 visits — Disney Silver Pass: $389 - includes parking. Florida residents only.
4 visits — Disney Gold: $549 - includes parking. Florida residents only.
5 visits — Platinum: $749 - includes parking. No blockout dates.
9 visits — Premier: $1439 - includes parking. No blockout dates. Includes admission to all Disneyland/Walt Disney World parks.
Blockout calendar: disneyworld.disney.go.com/passes/compare (Fine print at the bottom)

Disneyland

One-day: $95-119 (varies by date of visit)
One-day park hopper: $155-169
Parking: $18
2 visits — SoCal Select: $329 - area residents only.
3 visits — Disney California Adventure only: $330 - available at Costco.
3 visits — Deluxe: $599
6 visits — Signature: $849 - includes parking.
7 visits — Signature Plus: $1049 - includes parking. No blockout dates.
9 visits — Premier: $1439 - includes parking. No blockout dates. Includes admission to all Disneyland/Walt Disney World parks.
Blockout calendar: disneyland.disney.go.com/passes/blockout-dates

Universal Orlando

One-day: $105
One-day park-to-park: $155
Parking: $20
2 visits — Seasonal: $284.99, $259.99 Florida residents (2 visits)
2 visits for Florida residents, 3 for everyone else — Power: $344.99, $319.99 Florida residents - 50% off parking.
2 visits for Florida residents, 3 for everyone else — Preferred: $384.99, $349.99 Florida residents - includes parking. No blockout dates
3 visits for Florida residents, 4 for everyone else — Premium: $539.99, $489.99 Florida residents - includes valet parking. No blockout dates. Includes front-of-line access after 4pm.
Blockout calendar: www.universalorlando.com/Theme-Park-Tickets/Annual-Passes/Blockout-Dates.aspx

Universal Studios Hollywood

One-day: $99-110 online (varies by date of visit), $115 at gate
Parking: $18 before 5pm, $10 after 5pm.
2 visits — Season: $119
3 visits — Gold: $289 - includes parking before 5pm.
4 visits — Platinum: $589 - includes parking before 5pm. No blackout dates. Includes front-of-line access - normally $194-244/day Blackout calendars: Gold Pass, Season Pass
No monthly payment option available on annual passes

SeaWorld Orlando

One-day: $74.99 online, $99.99 at the gate
Parking: $20
2 visits — Fun Card: $99.99 online - No blockout dates for rest of the calendar year.
2 visits — Annual Pass: $168 - includes parking. No blockout dates.
4 visits — Platinum Pass: $336 - includes parking. No blockout dates. Includes admission to all SeaWorld/Busch Gardens/Sesame Place parks.

Knott's Berry Farm

One-day: $50 online, $72 at the gate
Parking: $18
2 visits — Regular: $90 - No blockout dates
3 visits — Platinum: $189 - includes parking. No blockout dates. Includes admission to all Cedar Fair parks.

Six Flags Magic Mountain (Flash Sale)

One-day: $54.99 online, $79.99 at the gate
Parking: $20
1 visit — Gold Pass: $74.99 - includes parking. No blockout dates. Includes admission to all Six Flags parks.

Six Flags' annual Flash Sale runs through Sept. 5, and, yes, if you are planning on visiting any Six Flags park between now and the end of 2017, you're best off just going ahead and buying a pass right now, while the sale is still on. The prices vary by Six Flags park, and you have to activate the pass at the park from which you bought it.

In addition to the great deal on season passes, Six Flags is selling heavily-discounted Season Dining Passes right now — for $79.99 at Magic Mountain. Those are good for lunch, dinner, and a snack on each day of your visit between now and the end of next year. Here's the list of included meals and snacks at Magic Mountain — that's most of the options in the park. Again, that price is good only through Sept. 5, so get it now if you're thinking about Six Flags visits.

Read more of our theme park vacation planning FAQ:

Replies (14)

September 2, 2016 at 3:00 PM · The only problem I see is comparing 1 day passes. Disney and Universal discount passes after the first day (for example, if you're going 4 days its almost half per day) A 4-day park hopper at Disney is $394, which would make it a cheaper option if you were only going 4 days ... unless you include parking.
September 2, 2016 at 3:42 PM · For Universal I got my mom the one with the free regular parking. We are always together because I need her to help me lift my EV out of the car.
We where there during christmas but we stayed a total of 9 weeks.
I can go for about 3 hours each visit and twice a week (if I'm lucky).
We used the passes during 6 of our 9 weeks.
Next later we went back and used the same passes again for a 10 week stay.
In the end our entertainment costs for our vacations was quite cheap and we had a wonderful time.
September 2, 2016 at 5:46 PM · Just bought my Six Flags pass, and there's an $8.99 "processing fee" that kicks the total price up to $83.98. So, based on the processing fee for the one-day ticket (haven't checked), maybe you could make the argument that this is a two-trip ticket, but... c'mon, it's still a helluva deal.

I didn't bite (sorry) on the Dining Pass, though - I just don't eat that much in the parks unless I'm reviewing a restaurant... and I don't see huge demand from all of you for Six Flags dining reviews. If that's wrong, tell me before the 5th, please! ;^)

September 2, 2016 at 8:43 PM · I would buy buy buy a food deal for SFMM. Not sure how often you go, but you added you dont eat unless your reviewing the location. With all items at Chop Six and JB BBQ, and Popcorn Shrimp basket at Food Etc or sandwiches at Twisted Wiches. JB BBQ might be under construction for some time with the changes for that area. Not counting the snacks offered. Most peeps just hit up Plaza Cafe (Cyber Cafe) on the way out and get a brownie or a huge muffin to go. I would say if you go more than 10 times I would buy it (for me its a buy) than do just do informal review on a couple of bits and move on. The tricky part of the deal is the dinners when the park closes at 6pm and most restaurants close about a hour prior so not much of a window to grab something. I think its a great deal and just another gimmick and all SF has done is created a food line at most places with waits of 30 minutes plus for food.
September 2, 2016 at 9:37 PM · I got my magic mountain pass just need to go process it but I didn't get the dining pass I would if I lived close to a park but I live 4hrs from magic mountain and 2hrs from discovery kingdom so I only get to go 3 times a year plus to me the food isn't that expensive so i don't mind paying full price for a meal but if your a local of a six flags pass definitely get the dining pass
September 3, 2016 at 3:04 AM · Disney changed up the way they send passholder material they don't give you your discount card anymore.... But they don't tell you it doesn't come with the magic bands anymore so i called, no one knew what to tell me so i got transferred 5 times and hung up on, then i complained on web site, cast mwmber called me back and said oh yeah we aren't sending them anymore but you still need them and only way to get is at customer relations, so after an hour wait at Disney springs i finally have my card bad system.
September 3, 2016 at 12:19 PM · I've currently got passes to most of So Cal's major parks: the top tier passes at Knott's and Six Flags, and the lowest tier passes for Disneyland and USH. Knott's and Six Flags are definitely passes I'll be renewing, as I visit each park several times per year. Disneyland is one I've gotten plenty of use out of, but I will not be renewing that pass right now because I don't know that I'll be able to benefit from the SoCal Select much longer and don't know that I visit enough to justify a Deluxe (especially since I usually don't park hop on one day tickets). USH definitely will not be renewed...I've only gone once so far and really see this as more of a "once a year" park (even with Harry Potter).

The general rule for regional parks is this: If you will visit more than once in a year, you should definitely buy some type of season pass. For destination parks it can be a bit more complicated, but if you'll be visiting 3-4 times at separate points during the year it is often worth considering a pass (for a single trip with visits on consecutive days, multi-day tickets are the better option).

September 3, 2016 at 1:40 PM · I've always felt that my USF Preferred Pass has been well worth the money. Usually I get to use it 2 to 3 times a year, so as a Florida resident, I'm definitely hitting the target.

But even in the rare years when my husband and I have only visited once, it's always been for multi-day trips during Horror Nights. The discounts we receive then -- HHN tickets (even better than the Florida resident discounts), hotel, food and souvenir purchases -- add up quickly and make keeping the pass a no-brainer.

September 3, 2016 at 8:00 PM · We got proferred pass and we got 30% off at universal resort 10% in some restaurants and gift shops.
September 3, 2016 at 10:27 PM · We bought seasonal passes for our local Six Flags park, La Ronde (in Montreal, Canada). It was a steal at $50 each (when you buy two or more of them at the same time). La Ronde might be the smallest Six Flags park, and we've only gone for six or seven half days, but it does sport a nice collection of quality thrill rides. Well worth the money, and we will renew next year. Besides, we also get the Halloween scares included in the pass.

P.S.: As a bonus, I'm visiting California this year, so my entry to Magic Mountain will also be covered by the pass.

September 4, 2016 at 11:53 AM · It's 63 at Six Flags Great America...still, point taken. Buy now!
September 6, 2016 at 6:49 AM · Our family of four has season passes at Six Flags Great Adventure. We but 2 season food passes and share the food, it works out great.

Sometimes, we just head to the park first thing in the morning, go on a few rides, have lunch and leave.

Plus we were in San Antonio last week and visited Six Flags Fiesta Texas. It cost us nothing for Entry, Parking, Lunch or Dinner.

September 6, 2016 at 11:40 AM · I keep putting off Disneyland. The prices get worse every year. There's no incentive to buy. They don't throw in "free" stuff anymore. You're nickel and dimed for everything.

I might just get USH annual passes. My employee discount pass sounds like a good deal. USH learned a good lesson about gouging their customers. Now is the time to buy.

Knott's isn't quite the deal and I live only 15 minutes away. Their parking policy is horrendous. The park still needs much work.

September 8, 2016 at 5:57 PM · Don't forget that you can get a 5% discount on a Six Flags season pass if you purchase with a Diacover card.

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