Disneyland ticket advice: Which ticket or annual pass should you buy?

June 13, 2011, 12:10 PM · Earlier today, we looked at Walt Disney World tickets, and which ticket you should buy. Now, let's look at Disneyland.

Disneyland crowds

Buying tickets to the Disneyland Resort is much easier for out-of-town visitors than buying tickets to the Walt Disney World Resort. There is no "no expire" option at Disneyland, simplifying the math considerably. Also, park hopping is much easier at Disneyland than Walt Disney World. Disneyland and California Adventure stand a few yards away from each other, across an open pedestrian plaza. Adding park hopping to your ticket is much cheaper at Disneyland, too. While it costs an extra $45 on a one-day ticket, park hopping is just $15 extra on a two-day ticket, which is the minimum length I'd recommend for an out-of-town Disneyland visitors. Go ahead and get it. (Here's the list of Disneyland ticket prices.)

But what about locals, who make up the majority of visitors to the Disneyland Resort? The math gets a bit trickier for us. (I'm in Pasadena.) To determine which ticket is the best value for you, you need to think about how often you plan to visit the Disneyland Resort in a given year, and when.

For infrequent local visitors, your best value on a daily ticket is to wait for one of the seasonal tickets that the resort offers to Southern California residents. Right now, Disneyland is offering a three-day pass for $139 ($154 with park hopper). Disneyland also offers some variation on a "2fer" deal each winter and spring, after the New Year.

If you'd like to visit the Disneyland theme parks three times a year or more, though, it's time to think about an annual pass. The cheapest pass, the SoCal Select Pass, costs $199 (up from $189), so it pays for itself on the third day, assuming you didn't buy one of the seasonal discount passes. You also get in-park discounts on food (and sometimes on merchandise) with the pass. Unfortunately, the SoCal Select pass isn't valid on weekends, holidays and most of the summer (205 blockout days total), so it's really only a good option for people who visit the park on weekdays during the school year. (I call this the "homeschool annual pass.") You can find the calendar of blockout days by visiting disneyland.com/ap and clicking the "view calendar" links under "Compare Annual Passports," about halfway down the page on the right.

Just because an annual pass isn't valid on a specific day doesn't mean that you can't use it to get into the parks, though. Disney sells "blockout day" tickets to annual passholders for $59 a day. These park-hopper tickets will get you into the park on a day when your pass isn't valid.

The thing is, the price of a blockout day ticket can be applied toward upgrading your annual pass to the next level. For the SoCal Select and Southern California ($269 - 150 blockout days, up from $239) annual passes, you're better off upgrading a pass level if you visit the park on just two blockout days for your pass. You also can apply the cost of a daily or seasonal discount ticket toward buying an annual pass.

Also keep in mind that parking is not included in the SoCal Select, Southern California and Deluxe ($378 - 50 blockout days, up from $329) Disneyland annual passes, unless you pay an additional $99 for the parking upgrade. If you add parking to the Deluxe pass, you're up to $477 - which is just $22 less than getting the Premium pass ($499 - no blockout dates, up from $459). If you visit the park on just one blockout date for the Deluxe pass, you're better off upgrading to the Premium.

For the non-Premium passes, you'd need to visit the park seven times in one year for the $99 parking add-on to pay for itself, assuming Disneyland keeps the parking charge at $15 a day.

Aside: Keep in mind that if you are visiting the parks for less than three hours (or five hours if you eat at one of the Downtown Disney restaurants), you can park free in the Downtown Disney lot, though Disney officially doesn't want you parking there if you're going into the parks. (But it has no way of enforcing this.) Since the hourly charge for the Downtown Disney lot is $6, you beat the $15 daily parking fee in the park lots if you stay in the Downtown Disney lot for less than five hours a visit (seven hours with a restaurant or movie validation).

My advice?

  • If you're visiting from outside Southern California, get a two- or three-day park-hopper ticket.

  • If you only visit Disneyland once or twice a year, look for the seasonal discounts and go with those tickets.

  • If you visit Disneyland three or more times a year, get an annual pass.

  • If you visit only on weekdays during the school year, get a SoCal Select pass.

  • If you want to visit on weekends, but wish to avoid holidays and summer, get Southern California select pass.

  • If you want to visit more than six times a year, and plan to visit during the summer or a holiday, get the Premium annual pass. (Skip the Deluxe pass.)

  • If you want to visit on a day that's blocked out on your annual pass, consider buying the upgrade to the next pass level.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on Disneyland Resort theme park tickets, in the comments.

    Replies (10)

    June 13, 2011 at 1:07 PM · I think I'll stick with my military pass for DL this summer. :)
    June 13, 2011 at 1:45 PM · Wow, complicated is right! My head started swimming about halfway through. Great analysis- I hope the SoCal visitors find this post very useful! :)
    June 13, 2011 at 1:46 PM · I've always felt as a SoCal resident, it's either a special ticket deal (2fer or Summer Fun pass) or Annual Pass w/parking.
    June 13, 2011 at 2:34 PM · Gaming the system at Disneyland can be a PhD-level subject for some people.

    Ultimately, if you are a local and want to keep it simple, either you adopt visiting Disneyland as a lifestyle - in which case you get an AP and use it frequently, dropping in whenever you'd like - or you just visit when tickets go on discount sale.

    And, as I wrote, if you're not local, don't sweat any of this. Get the two- or three-day ticket. (If you haven't been in a while, or ever, I'd get the three-day.)

    June 14, 2011 at 9:06 AM · Costco also has a really good deal on park hoppers. (see link)

    We go so often that the Premium Passes are what's right for us. Plus, with this new price hike the days that all passes are blocked besides the Premium Pass might actually be less crowded than other days, and that makes it worth it as well.

    Still, that's a lot of money.

    June 13, 2011 at 3:08 PM · I gamed the system back in 2009-2010. One SoCal Pass with parking. Approx 22 scans at the turnstile. Additional purchase of one dole-whip per day. Plus the gas to get there.

    Sometimes CA Unemployment has it's benefits.

    June 13, 2011 at 3:34 PM · Our SoCal select passes have been great. Because of teacher furlough days this year we've used them a lot. Besides, you don't want to be there on weekends or in the summer -- too crowded. The best part about having a pass is the ability to relax and enjoy the park instead of trying to get all of your money's worth at once.
    June 14, 2011 at 7:51 AM · Disneyland is easier to figure out than WDW. I really hate Magic Your Way tickets. Park hopping is no longer included.

    No matter what you do, Disneyland costs significantly more than any other theme park. The only way around it is visit less. 1 to 3 trips a year should be sufficient. Visit more, annual passes are the way to go.

    I'm not sure it is worth going yet. I want to see how DCA turns out. I will wait til next year when everything is finished.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:43 AM · We had previously gone with the deluxe passes, figuring we didn't really want to be there on the blocked dates anyway, but the math doesn't lie. Premium it is next time we renew.
    June 14, 2011 at 10:39 PM · I got a one day hopper for $55 for mid-week September on lafuntickets.net I was a little skeptical at first (although they were registered with the BBB) as I had to drive to a Shell station a couple blocks away to get the tickets (but reserve online) and pay in cash. They buy 5 day hoppers and resell them as 1-4 day tickets. Your supposed to return them at the end of your day (or before the next morning) in the dropbox by their office in the Shell station. My ticket (which worked fine) was the 5th day so I didn't have to return it and got to keep a souvenir ticket card. $55 dollars for a day at two Disney parks was a great deal:)

    On another note September mid-week (we went Sept 1st, 2010) is an excellent time to visit Disneyland. It was the least crowded I've ever seen Disneyland in all my years of visiting. We didn't

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