Park of the Week: Disney's Hollywood Studios

When Should You Buy a Disney Annual Pass?

October 16, 2014, 2:16 PM · When does it makes sense for a theme park fan to stop buying individual or multi-day tickets, and instead invest in an annual pass?

If you are thinking about buying an annual pass to a theme park, you will want to make sure that you will be visiting the park enough times that the price-per-day you end up paying for the annual pass is less than the price-per-day you would end up paying with some other type of ticket. But how many days do you need to visit to "break even" or come out ahead by buying an annual pass?

Obviously, that depends upon the price of the annual pass and the other tickets available, and varies from park to park across the country. Today, we will look at the Disney theme parks to determine the "break even" point for annual passes at the Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resorts.

Note that the prices listed below do not include local taxes. Nor are we including 10%-20% discounts on food and merchandise that annual pass holders get in the parks. In-park spending varies wildly, so let's consider what we have here as the "worst case" scenario for buying an annual pass. If you spend a lot inside the parks, you could make an annual pass a better deal for you on fewer visits.

Disney World

For Walt Disney World

One-day tickets at Walt Disney World cost $99 for the Magic Kingdom and $94 for the other three parks (Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.) But you can get the per-day cost of visiting Walt Disney World down to $41.40 per day if you buy a 10-day ticket. (We are adding the cost of the Park Hopper option to all multi-day tickets for this analysis, as park-hopping is included on all Disney annual passes. You should also know that all days on a multi-day ticket must be used within 14 days of the ticket's first use, otherwise they expire.)

An annual passport to the Walt Disney World Resort costs $634, which is $220 more than $414 cost of the 10-day ticket, the longest sold on the website. So if you're visit Disney World just once during a 12-month period, you're probably better off sticking with a multi-day ticket for that visit instead of buying an annual pass. An annual pass provides you with free parking, but that doesn't save you anything if you are staying at a Disney hotel and using Disney transportation instead of parking in the theme park lots. Even if you do pay the $17 a day for parking, that's an extra $170 for the whole family over 10 days, still less than the cost of upgrading to the annual pass, even if you go by yourself.

But what if you are planning to visit the resort more than once during a 12-month period?

You would need to make seven separate one-day visits to Disney World in a year (one day at least 14 days apart) to make the annual pass a better deal for you. (Six times if you are visiting by yourself and paying for parking each time.) And that's assuming that you don't park-hop on one-day visits. If you do want to park-hop on one day visits, please just go ahead and visit often enough to justify buying some form of annual pass, because paying $134 for a one-day park-hopper (plus another $17 for parking) is just insane.

What if you visit the parks more often than once in a 14-day period each time you come down to Florida? If you visit the parks for just two days within a 14-day period when visiting Disney World, and park hop those days, buy the annual pass if you'll be visiting three or more times per year. The WDW annual pass becomes a better deal than multi-day tickets of you visit the resort just twice a year and visit the parks three days within 14 days each time you come down to Florida.

You don't need to visit as often to make the annual pass a good deal if you are a resident of Florida, which is nice, considering the parks likely will be more convenient for you then, anyway. Florida residents can buy a Disney World annual pass for $517. That means you'd need to make at least six separate one-day visits to the resort to be ahead with the annual pass. Florida residents can get discounted three-day tickets for $179, and four-day tickets for $199. So if you live in Florida and are thinking about Disney World just as a long weekend getaway once or twice a year, those discounted multi-day tickets would be better deals for you than an annual pass. Three times or more? Get the annual pass.

Let us throw a couple more options at you — ones that apply for people who have the flexibility to visit outside the traditional "high seasons" around summer, spring break and the Christmas holiday. Disney offers a Seasonal Pass to Floridians for $340 and a Weekday Select Pass for $233. The seasonal pass is blocked out for the spring break, summer and Christmas holiday seasons, while the weekday pass basically is valid only on weekdays during the school year. But if you are flexible about when you visit, those annual passes can be a better deal than one-day tickets after just four one-day visits on the seasonal pass and just three one-day visits with the weekday pass.

It's not listed on the website anymore, but Walt Disney World does offer the ability to add a "no expiration" option to multi-day tickets, which removes the 14-day limit on using all the days on your multi-day ticket. This option raises the prices of a 10-day park-hopper ticket from $414 to $776, so it's not cheap. At a cost of $77.60 per day, the 10-day no-expiration pass doesn't provide much of a hedge against future price increases anymore. This option only really makes sense for people who visit the parks fewer than three days at a time, and who aren't going to visit enough in one year to make the annual pass worth the cost, and who will visit often enough eventually to use all 10 of those days.


For Disneyland

At the Disneyland Resort, a one-day/one-park ticket costs $96, while an unrestricted annual pass goes for $699. That's right, an annual pass at Disneyland (with two parks) costs $65 more than an annual pass for Walt Disney World (with four parks). And there's no discount for locals on the Disneyland annual pass, as there is for Floridians buying an annual pass to Walt Disney World. (Disneyland does offer its own version of the weekdays-only pass to locals, which we will get to in a bit.)

You would have to visit Disneyland eight times in a year to make the annual pass a better deal than buying one-day tickets. (Seven times if you visit by yourself and pay for parking.) But what if you wanted to spend more than one day at Disneyland or California Adventure during any given 14-day period? The Disneyland annual pass is a better deal than buying four $217 two-day park-hopper tickets, or buying three park-hoppers of three-, four-, or five-days.

What about that weekdays-only pass, the SoCal Select Pass? That's just $289, which makes the price just about even with buying three one-day passes. This pass does not include parking, but Disney sells a "free parking" add-on to the pass for $159, so you'd need to visit the park at least 10 times over the year to make that option a better deal than paying $17 per day to park.

Finally, what if you want to visit both Walt Disney World and Disneyland within a year? Disney sells a Premier Passport that's good at both resorts. The Premier Passport cost $1,029 dollars and gives you all the benefits of the $699 Disneyland annual pass and the $754 Premium annual passport at Walt Disney World, which includes the water parks, DisneyQuest, and the Oak Trail golf course. The $330 price difference between the Premier Passport and the Disneyland AP makes moving up to the Premier a good deal for a Disneyland annual passholder who is planning to visit Walt Disney World once during the year and staying for three days or more at Disney World.

For Disney World passholders, moving up to the Premier costs $275 more than the full-price WDW Premium passport, $395 more than the full-price regular AP, and $512 more than the WDW AP with a Florida resident discount. Upgrading to the Premier from the Premium WDW pass is a better deal than buying a $289 Disneyland four-day park-hopper or the $305 park-hopper on top of the WDW Premium pass. Otherwise, a WDW passholder would need to visit Disneyland at least twice during the year to make the Premier upgrade a better deal than just buying a multi-day Disneyland ticket in addition to a WDW annual pass.

To summarize: (The TL;DR)

Stick with multi-day tickets at Walt Disney World if you're visiting only once in a 12-month period.

If you are visiting Florida more than once in a year, buy a Walt Disney World annual pass if you will make:

in a year.

Buy a Disneyland annual pass if you will make:

in a year.

If you can visit on weekdays during the school year and live in Florida or Southern California, consider buying a Weekday Select Pass or a SoCal Select Pass instead if you are planning to visit three or more weekdays a year and don't plan to visit on weekends or during busy vacation periods.

You might be able to justify buying an annual pass with fewer visits if you spend enough money in the parks to get significant additional savings from the passes' 10-20% food and merchandise discounts.

Upgrade to a Premier Pass if you are a Disneyland AP holder who will visit WDW once during the year for at least three days. If you are a Disney World passholder, upgrade to Premier only if you are visiting Disneyland twice or more during the year.

That's it! What kind of theme park ticket do you buy when you visit Disney? Tell us your ticket-buying stories, in the comments.

Replies (13)

October 16, 2014 at 2:24 PM · Why do I keep imagining all of that ticket vs. Annual pass info set to music and performed as a wacky song by Weird Al?
October 16, 2014 at 2:39 PM · Uni Florida resident AP is the best deal in the history of deals. I paid 180 for my preferred (free parking)
October 16, 2014 at 2:42 PM · I would argue that if you are a Disneyland SoCal annual pass holder (the 2nd tier that's no longer available for new purchase) and you are going on a trip to WDW, it's not worth the upgrade to the Premier AP.

My wife and I spent 12 days (with 10day ticket) at WDW in September. We have the SoCal AP @ $369/person. Our 10 Day Park-Hopping Ticket cost $414/person. A total of $783/person spent on Disney Resort Admission this year. To upgrade to the Premier Pass would add $246/person. Now, what does that additional upgrade give us?

Well, we get a full 365 days a year at both resorts. Currently we have 215 days of admission to Disneyland. Considering we don't need Disneyland available to us every day of the year, we actually came to the conclusion that we should only get the Premier Pass if we plan to vacation to WDW twice in one year. Or if work takes me to Orlando for more than 6 weeks.

October 16, 2014 at 3:17 PM · I left out the Disneyland SoCal AP (note: different than the SoCal Select Pass), since that's no longer available for purchase. But, yeah, the math's different if you have that specific pass.

Also, there will be future posts on Universal, SeaWorld/Busch Gardens, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags annual passes. But, as you might guess, the math is waaaaay easier on those.

October 16, 2014 at 3:58 PM · The Annual Pass cost makes it hard to justify IF you have a family. It is just too costly. In the other hand, I did buy it when I was single and it turned out to be a great value since I obviously had the time and money. Now with a wife and kid, it isn't so easy.

I have considered buying it again when my kid at least turns 7 or older where the height requirement is gone and I no longer need a stroller. Believe it or not, I still use the stroller for my 5 year old who just entered kindergarten. She begs to be carried. A 50 lb kid is much too heavy for that. Luckily, she is on the boarder line of the stroller weight capacity so I'm putting on a few more miles on it.

As a Disneyland veteran, I went there a lot. The more you go, they less you need to go. I don't miss it now, but I'll be there in two weeks for Mickey's Halloween Party. Parking is included. It's a great deal. I highly recommend the spring admission discounts.

October 16, 2014 at 5:35 PM · We justify the cost of the DL premium pass by the in park food & merchandise discount. When we visit from Northern CA we save about $40-100+ a day from food and merch alone. We go about 1-3 times per year but even on the years we can only go one time it still feels worth it for that 20% discount.
October 17, 2014 at 12:35 AM · We gave up on going to Disney at all because of the price gouging. Instead, we get annual passes for Knott's, Universal, AND Magic Mountain for much less than what we were paying for Disney passes. It isn't the way Walt intended any more at all. There used to be reasonable rates at Disney hotels back in the day, too, the way he wanted. We also notice many more families at Knott's than there used to be.
October 17, 2014 at 6:48 AM · Very useful information. Thanks. Years ago, realizing that ticket prices were climbing regularly, my wife and I decided to purchase a couple of ten (10) day, Park Hopper, non-expiry tickets. They are safely stored [we had heard that less than ten-percent (10&) all all WDW non-expiry tickets were completely used by the guests - the rest are forgotten or lost] and we've been using them on our various trips. The frequency and length of our FL visits vary greatly, so if we choose to spend just a day or two at WDW, these tickets are incredibly inexpensive compared to current purchase prices. Once these tickets have been completely used up, we would most likely use your "multi-day ticket" option.
October 17, 2014 at 9:58 AM · It often used to make sense to get an annual pass for longer trips if you were staying on property at WDW. The room only annual pass rates were more generous than they are now and there were more rooms available with annual pass rates. I used to save a lot of money this way, but these days it seems these deals are rarely as good as the other deals that Disney offers.
October 17, 2014 at 10:43 AM · Im a Florida resident and have had a seasonal pass for 15 years. I am 32 years old. The best part about the pass is the monthly payment. I pay $38 a month for 2 tickets and its awesome. If you renew before your date then you don't have to pay the money down for a new pass. Being a Florida resident my whole life I know not to go there during the summer because it is to hot and to crowded. I only live 2 hours away so I can go frequently which I know is not a possibility for many of you. But if you are a Florida resident and aren't to far away I highly recommend purchasing one if you like going to the parks. I never have to worry about finding the money to put out for such a big purchase.
October 17, 2014 at 11:59 AM · Oh man, that other math will be so easy.
Cedar Fair and Six Flags are no brainers if you live in a city that has a park and decide to travel to visit one of their other parks.

I'm still waiting for the complete worldwide Disney Resort annual passport. I would get that one, travel to all the resorts in a 12 month period. If the price was reasonable, I wouldn't worry about the math, because it would just mean not having to think about the math.

October 18, 2014 at 6:30 AM · With maybe exception to DAK what TPI member is paying for parking at Disney World
October 20, 2014 at 5:12 AM · As a former intern under Imagineering and a Disney enthusiast, I have had an annual pass for as long as I can remember. I even had one during my internship!I even have one now despite working for Universal Orlando, but if you live within the area (at least 1-2 hrs away, or like me, live 20 min from WDW), the annual pass is very much worth it! I'm at the parks at least once a week.

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