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If you go to Disney more than once a year, or if you go for very long trips, you might consider buying an annual pass (AP). There are really only two problems with buying an AP. One, they’re expensive. And two, it requires you to predict your travel plans a full year in advance, so you won’t know what you actually save until the year is up. When I buy a yearly pass to my local zoo, it’s pretty clear even for someone as math phobic as me that in just two trips, I’ll break even. It doesn’t take much effort to make it to the zoo twice in one year. But Disney? Well, that’s a bit more difficult. Factor in the savings offered to AP holders in the form of discounts and you have a fairly complicated problem.
There are two types of APs for non-Florida residents. The first sells for $499 plus tax and gives you admission to all four parks plus park hopping, free parking, and special AP discounts. The premium pass, which sells for $629 and gives you all of the above plus admission to the water parks, Disney Quest, and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course. Passes for kids, Disney Vacation Club owners, and Florida residents are slightly lower.
Consider these discounts when determining if an AP fits your needs:
Free parking, which saves non-resort guests $14 a day.
Discounted tickets to Night of Joy, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on select nights.
10% off lunch discounts at certain resort restaurants, such as The Wave and Grand Floridian Café as well as most sit-down restaurants in Epcot’s World Showcase (excluding Le Cellier). Valid Monday thru Friday only.
10 to 20% off lunch at most Downtown Disney sit-down restaurants.
Merchandise discounts in Downtown Disney between 10-15 %.
15% off most tours, such as the Epcot Segway tour.
Up 30% off sports and recreation, including golf.
AP holders may buy a Tables in Wonderland card for an additional $75, allowing them to receive 20% off at participating restaurants.
Invitations to passholder-only events and promotions. A few years ago, for example, passholders were invited to soft openings for Toy Story Midway Mania before the general public.
One thing that makes estimating the value of an AP difficult is the variability of the AP room discount. When factoring in the total cost of an AP, most passholders include these savings, as high as 45% off certain rooms. Lately however, these discounts have lost some of their exclusivity as discounts offered to the general public are nearly as good as those offered to passholders. This spring, for example, the difference between an AP rate on a Disney deluxe villa and the general public rate was only 5%. And the head start that passholders got on these rooms before discounted rates were released to the general public was only a matter of days. Worse still, this year’s summer discounts for the general public were actually released weeks before AP discounts for those same dates, causing a lot of grumbling among passholders.
It’s for the above reason that I wouldn’t buy an AP for the room discount. Sure, you may get a great deal, but that’s a pretty big gamble to take. If you’re borderline on the number of days you’ll need the pass versus buying a regular park admission, this could push you over the edge. But if you’re unsure about whether you’ll be able to at least get close to breaking even on park admission, it’s probably not worth the cost.
Conventional wisdom says you’ll break even on an Annual Pass if you’ll be in the parks for more than ten days in a given year. Disney allows you to buy up to a ten-day pass. After that you’ll need to start over again. This can be pretty costly since the cost of your pass is highest the first four days and those days start over again if you’ve used up your ten days. Of course, most people don’t spend more than ten days in the parks during their vacation. What usually happens is that people go for five or six days and then come back for a shorter trip. In this case, the savings are pretty clear.
Say you take a six day trip to WDW and then, later in the year you head back for a long weekend and need a three day pass. That first trip’s park admission without park hoppers would cost you $231; the second would cost $219. At $450, that’s slightly less than the cost of an AP, but add a park hopper option to even one of those tickets and you’ve paid $502. So even taking a short trip plus, a slightly longer trip, shows a slight savings. And that’s not adding in AP discounts, which you may or may not use. Some people swear by them.
If you aren’t the type of person who goes to Disney World more than once a year, you can still benefit from buying AP. Many passholders schedule two trips, one when they activate their pass and one just before it expires. Keep in mind too that you’ll save about $40 when you renew your annual pass.
Buying an annual pass requires you to predict how you’ll vacation in the upcoming year. It can be a huge savings. It can also, as a couple of passholder friends of mine pointed out, “burn a hole in your pocket,” making you want to go to Disney World more than usual or perhaps even more than you should. Personally, I could have saved around $180 by buying a pass last year, but I tend to plan one long trip with the family and take shorter trips on the spur of the moment. This year, I’m going to get a pass and hope for the best. Even if means it burns a hole in my pocket.