Frustrated with Disneyland? Try These Alternatives

October 26, 2021, 8:49 PM · Disappointed that Disneyland is no longer selling its top-level, $1,399 "Dream Key" annual pass? Let's look at some alternatives for theme park fans in southern California.

The Disneyland Resort continues to sell the three other levels of its new Magic Key annual passes, starting at $399. But that pass is blocked out more days that it is valid. And you can hold only up to two reservations at a time with that pass, potentially making it a challenge to visit on some of the valid dates that you might prefer.

Yet Disneyland isn't the only theme park in town. Okay, it is if your definition of "town" includes only Disneyland's home of Anaheim. But Anaheim is part of the sprawling southern California megalopolis, which is the only place where you can find theme parks from all six of America's top theme park chains: Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Cedar Fair, SeaWorld, and Merlin.

Those parks offer annual and seasonal passes that get you into the parks for more days, and with more benefits, for less than even Disneyland's lowest-priced pass. In fact, you could buy a pass to all of these other theme parks - and a lot more around the country - for less than the price of Disneyland's no-longer-available Dream Key.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags is offering a 2022 Season Pass that's good for the rest of 2021, too, for just $94.88. That pass includes admission every day to Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor, as well as free parking on each visit. It's the cheapest annual pass in the SoCal market, but if you want to go all the way up to Six Flags' top-level Diamond Elite Membership, you'd still be paying less each year than you would for that bottom-tier Disneyland pass. The $18.85 a month (plus $20 deposit) for the Diamond Elite gets you admission, Priority Preferred Parking, two line-skip passes each visit, plus up to 50% off food and merchandise. Oh, and that membership is good for admission at all other Six Flags parks across the country, too. Six Flags Magic Mountain passes

Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's top-line annual pass costs $198, or $15 a month after a $33 down payment. That gets you the Cedar Fair Platinum Pass, which is good for admission every operating day of 2022 at not just Knott's Berry Farm, but all other Cedar Fair parks around the country. It also includes parking at Knott's and 20% off select food and merchandise at the park. There's up to 15% off stays at the Knott's Hotel, too. Knott's Berry Farm passes

SeaWorld San Diego

The SeaWorld Platinum Pass costs $252 (or $21 per month on a payment plan) and gets you into all SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Sesame Place theme parks and associated water parks in the United States. In addition, you will get free up-close parking and between 20-40% off select food and merchandise in the park. The pass also gets you six free guest tickets to use, plus one Quick Queue line-skip per visit, as well as one free animal experience during the year and discounts on Howl-O-Scream tickets. SeaWorld San Diego passes

Legoland California

Legoland's Elite Annual Pass costs $299.99 and includes admission every day to Legoland California as well as its water park and the adjacent Sea Life Aquarium. Free parking is included, as is a Brick-Or-Treat party entry. The pass also includes 25% off food and 10% off merchandise in the park, as well as admission to more than 30 Melin-owned attractions in North America, including Legoland Florida and the new Legoland New York. Legoland California passes

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal is the only local theme park that does not offer an annual pass for less than Disneyland's cheapest pass that also gets you into the park every day of the year. But Universal's Gold Annual Pass gets you into the park for 325 days a year, with free parking before 6pm, for $279, or $13 a month after a $144 down payment. The pass also delivers a 15% discount on food and merchandise at the park. If you want in on every day of the year at Universal, you will need to get the Platinum Annual Pass for $529, which also includes Universal Express line-skipping access after 3pm each day and a free Halloween Horror Nights ticket. Universal Studios Hollywood passes

So let's do some math. With the Diamond Elite at Six Flags, the Platinum at Knott's and SeaWorld, the Elite at Legoland and the Gold at Universal, you would spend $1,275.19 - that's $123.81 less than what Disneyland's Magic Key would have bought you. And for that, you would get 325 days of admission at Universal Studios Hollywood, plus admission every day at every Six Flags, Cedar Fair, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Legoland theme park in the United States for the 2022 season.

Okay, I can hear the complain - "But they're not Disney!" No, they are not. But these theme parks offer some pretty nice experiences of their own. I'm a Disney fan, but I love what Universal offers - from Harry Potter to the new Secret Life of Pets dark ride. When my kids were in elementary school, I thought the kid-focused attractions at Legoland often made them happier than anything at Disneyland did. Knott's Ghost Town Alive can be a delightful interactive experience. Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a beautiful park. The views of Lake Erie from the Cedar Point's Sky Ride are amazing. And I haven't mentioned the words "roller coaster" yet.

If you want to spend the money on a Disneyland Magic Key pass, great! Disneyland offers amazing entertainment and can be a good value when compared with many other forms of entertainment. (Priced Broadway shows or pro sports tickets recently?) But many other theme parks offer great value, too. If you are disappointed in any way with Disneyland's recent changes, rather than expending energy hating on Disneyland executives, may I suggest you might find much more satisfaction trying some of these alternatives for a year, instead?

You might find that you love more about theme parks than just Disney. And if you don't, you can return to Disney with added appreciation for the value that Disney delivers.

Either way, you will feel a lot better than you would riding the Complain Train 24/7 online.

Ticket Icon If you are not ready to commit to an annual pass, allow me to direct you to our authorized partner's Discount Attraction Tickets page, where you can find deals on daily tickets to theme parks and other attractions across the country, including Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's Berry Farm, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Legoland, and Universal Orlando.

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Replies (10)

October 26, 2021 at 9:25 PM

It's getting harder and harder to convince myself to get a WDW Annual Pass.
In the past years I've always swapped, Universal one year, Disney the next and so forth. But with Disney raising the prices but cutting back on everything else, I keep renewing my Universal Annual. I miss Pirates, Haunted Mansion, I miss Disney but what they're doing to the parks is just depressing.
Wish I could just visit the Disney ones in Tokyo instead.
How far these US parks have fallen...

October 26, 2021 at 11:57 PM

I maybe wrong but don’t Cedar fair still offer that platinum pass? Robert you hit the nail on the head and this has been one of my biggest battles with all the Disney Fans I know. Don’t get me wrong Disneyland is ok to visit every 3 to 4 years, but it’s not the best theme park for thrills. I’m more about speed and coasters and my most memorial trips are those to Holiday World, Dollywood, Cedar Point, King Island, Six Flags Great America, etc. I mean sure they don’t offer that “MAGIC”, but I don’t have to deal with long lines, stare at my IPhone all day, and pace myself getting on some of the best thrill rides this country has to offer. Nothing beats the feeling I had riding those awesome coasters for the first time! Back to the plantium pass. I swear I paid less flying to PA to hit up 5 parks in 8 days (Hershey, Great Adventure, Holiday world, King Island, Cedar Point) than a three day stay at Disneyland. I had the plantium pass for King Island and Cedar Point, but I remember paying like $1500 for all the hotel stay, rental car, food and the tickets. Compared to like a $2000 for a three day Disney stay.

October 27, 2021 at 12:05 AM

Ah, one temptation for me in Southern California, so many theme park options. Oh, I'm a Disney lover since a kid, no reason why I can't love another park too.

October 27, 2021 at 8:21 AM

">> Efteling is my backyard <<"
Never been unhappy with that... Tomorrow afternoon, next enjoyment. I would not even call it 'visit' anymore.

.. Seriously :
It seems that it is difficult to kick off from big corporate multinational owned entertainment ? It would do great honour to totally independent leisure venues, to visit them instead. Let them grow, let them get better ! That is only possible if you visit THOSE, instead of the multinational's parks. They are not sitting on bulking coffins of capital, they need the yearly plain visitors revenue to be able to grow and become better.
Food for thought.

October 27, 2021 at 9:38 AM

This is such a poignant analysis that shows how expensive Disney has gotten over the past 5-10 years, and particularly with their recent increases and additional upcharges piled on over the past 2 years. Yes, Disney has always been more expensive than its competitors, and there's little doubt that they have lived up to the expectations that go with those higher prices. However, as theme park prices have increased in virtual lockstep across the board (Disney and Universal have often announced price increases within days of each other), Disney has started racing away from the competition over the past 2-3 years like Usain Bolt sprinting against high schoolers. The fact that we've reached a point where someone could get a season pass for every major theme park in Southern California for the price of the sold out Dream Key is telling. What's also telling is the huge gap between the Dream Key, which is no longer available, and the next tier (Believe Key) has enough blackouts that make the nearly $1,000 price tag pretty unattractive.

There's no denying the incredible popularity and fanaticism towards Disney parks, but consumers need to WAKE UP and realize how much Disney is fleecing its customers and getting them to pay more and more while giving guests less and less in return (all while making it more difficult and annoying to visit).

The decisions and announcements Disney has made over the past few months make you wonder if they even value loyalty and repeat visitation anymore, which was a core of their business even just before the pandemic (bounce back offers, AP perks, DVC expansion, etc...). They announced a revamped annual pass program with the Magic Keys, and then less than 3 months later announce the most valuable offering is "sold out" (you know for a fact that means it will never be available again, and if it is, will be a lesser version of the Key with fewer benefits). All of the policies revolving around Genie+, LL, and ILL are geared toward helping infrequent and/or first-time visitors. It makes you wonder if Disney even wants people to come back to their parks if they've visited in the past few years. While Disney might be drawing plenty of guests to their parks right now, there has to be a recognition of some level of pent up demand because of trips cancelled because of the pandemic. Yet Disney keeps plowing ahead as if there is an infinite level of demand for their product, and that pricing tools, which alienate and practically lock out their most loyal fans with more limited financial means, are the only strategies being used to manage that demand (aside from the steps they've taken to purposely devalue their products).

There's a difference between taking advantage of economic conditions and exploiting customers, and if Disney hasn't already (I believe they have), they're getting pretty darn close to crossing that fine line.

October 27, 2021 at 10:06 AM

I've found that I enjoy going to these parks once a year or once every couple of years more than I really dig cranking out visits with an annual pass the way I used to. The membership structure is also something I generally loathe (Six Flags pushing it so heavily is a sign it's not such a great deal for the consumer).

We got season tickets to the new women's soccer team in LA for 2022 (around $550 for two tickets, which gets us 12 games) and that'll more than scratch my itch for The Thing We Do On The Weekends During The Summer. I usually make my way to Universal and Knott's around this time of year for Halloween stuff and Disneyland has rotated into an every-two-year-mini-vacation, which is great.

That cadence works for me and I've made peace with the price structure. It's not good, but I also think the system it exists in is very bad, so reaching a place of ennui was probably inevitable.

October 27, 2021 at 2:42 PM

Russell: I'll take it outside of the theme park business and look at what they are doing with their fox movies and the rumors of them moving away from the physical media business. We all know they purchase Fox to compete with Netflix because they wanted that piece of the pie and not just a piece but the whole Pie. How about them placing all the classic fox movies into the vault where small theaters can no show old class fox movies like alien. Cant wait to see the reaction the day nobody can play The Rocky Horror. They also have power over movie theaters to make sure their movies get on the most screens and stay on there long than a small studio just trying to get any screen time and hopefully not get bumped after three weeks because it was not making money. They have mastered creating the Fear of Missing Out. Buy it now before we vault it and can no longer own it! I'm afraid in the near future they will no longer be producing physical media and if you want to see any of the movies they own, you will have to subscribe to Hulu or Disney plus.

October 27, 2021 at 5:08 PM

There's a reason why going forward I plan to visit the Disneyland Resort a couple times per year on day tickets and focus my APs on other parks in SoCal. While I'm not going to deny that park for park Disneyland is at the top, the value obtained from a combination of SoCal's other offerings exceeds the value of a Disney Magic Key. If you combine what Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott's Berry Farm, and SeaWorld San Diego offer (the SoCal parks I've currently got passes to), you've got an outstanding collection of offerings that pretty much covers every aspect of the industry for less than the price of even the Enchant Key. Plus, with multiple passes, you can tailor your visits to what you're in the mood for and head to the appropriate park for that day's fun. I admit this does work a bit better if centrally located in Orange County rather than Los Angeles or San Diego, but fortunately the most complete park is the one in the middle and isn't any harder to get to than Disneyland. If you're more of a Disney fan than a theme park fan, there's nothing wrong with continuing to focus on that park, but when you venture beyond the berm there's a lot of underappreciated parks out there that succeed just as well at providing an escape (they just do it in different ways).

October 27, 2021 at 8:23 PM

Russell wrote: "The fact that we've reached a point where someone could get a season pass for every major theme park in Southern California for the price of the sold out Dream Key is telling."

Yes, it's telling us that Disney's most expensive annual pass - with its cost equal to the combined total cost of annual passes from every other major SoCal theme park - is the only annual pass among all SoCal theme park passes to sell out. Disney must be very pleased.

October 27, 2021 at 10:10 PM

Just an observation, but it strikes me that because Disney's most expensive annual pass has sold out, they may have misjudged their projections for it's demand and did not charge enough for it. I am guessing that if it is ever offered again, it will be even more expensive than what was the current price point that sold out.

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