Buy or Pass on the Annual Pass? by Chuck Mirarchi

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People have always had one question for Walt Disney World’s Guest Relations over the years when it comes to buying tickets, “Is it worth getting an annual pass?”. The answer is yes… and no.

Trying to figure out if you should buy an annual pass might be best represented by a flow chart, because after the initial question there are many follow up questions that need to be asked in order to determine if (and when) the annual pass is the right choice.

We are going to try and not really answer questions about the annual pass, but look at as many possible scenarios and try to provide you with the broadest amount of information about it that should not only point you in the right direction, but also help you with your decision.

Now that we have established interest in the annual pass, the first question is are you interested in the annual pass, premium annual pass, Florida resident pass, or a Disney Vacation Club annual pass? This is probably the easiest question to answer. Although most of this article will focus on information about the annual and premium annual pass – we’ll touch on info about annual passes for Vacation Club Members and Florida Residents. Here is an easy way to determine the type of pass you should consider:

  • Annual Pass – $520.79 (10yrs+) / $460.08 (3-9yrs) 6.5% tax included. This pass includes free parking, unlimited admission / park hopping to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, and complimentary use of all Walt Disney World transportation for 12 months from date of activation.
  • Premium Annual Pass – $659.24 (10yrs+) / $581.49 (3-9yrs) 6.5% tax included. This pass includes everything the annual pass provides in addition to unlimited admission to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney Quest, and the Wide World of Sports.
  • For those who are members of Disney’s Vacation Club, Annual Passes are: $414.29 (10yrs+) / $366.36 (3-9yrs) for annual passes and $526.11 / $464.34 for premium annual passes
  • Florida Residents: $392.99 (10+yrs) / $346.13 (3-9yrs) for annual passes and $520.79 (10yrs+) / $459.02 (3-9yrs) for premium annual passes.

Of course, there are many other types of passes for Florida Residents including seasonal, Epcot after 4PM, After 2PM Water Parks, etc. Guest relations can help you determine which Florida Resident pass will work best for you.

Depending on how and where you purchase your annual pass or premium annual passes, you will receive either a voucher, to be redeemed for an activated ticket or you will automatically receive an activated actual park ticket.

The voucher will not get you access to the parks until you exchange it for the pass. You can do this at any Walt Disney World park ticket window or Guest Relations office at Downtown Disney. It is also important to note that the day you exchange your voucher for the annual pass – that is the start of your one year anniversary date (If you are not renewing your pass). You will also need to bring a valid photo ID for each person obtaining a pass.

You can purchase the annual pass voucher at:

  • www.disneyworld.com
  • 1-407-WDISNEY
  • DVC Member Services (DVC members only)
  • Select Disney Store locations throughout the USA
  • Disney’s EarPort at Orlando International Airport (2 locations)
  • Character Premiere at Belz Mall (Orlando)
  • Character Premiere at Orlando Premium Outlets Mall in Lake Buena Vista

If you purchase annual passes or premium annual passes at any Walt Disney World park ticket window, Guest Relations at any of the four parks, water parks, or at Downtown Disney you will receive an activated ticket. Which means that the day you purchase it becomes your anniversary date. (You can ask them for a voucher… but you have to ask otherwise it will be an actual ticket).

Two things that are important to note: once the pass has been activated, check the pass over carefully. Make sure that the expiration date is correct. There have been reported cases where some or all of the info – including expiration dates – have been incorrect. If you leave without checking the pass you may run into problems later on.

The second thing is that ONLY the person who is associated with the pass can use it for admission. When you first use the pass you will have to go through the biometric scanner and your fingerprint will be tied to the pass. If you allow someone else to use the annual or premium annual pass, which is a violation of the agreement, and they find out that person is not the owner of the pass, you run the risk of having the annual pass immediately revoked and out the money you paid.

Now that you know what is included in your annual pass, some of the pass benefits include dining discounts, merchandise discounts, sports and recreation discounts, tour discounts, event and entertainment ticket discounts, and additional services and resources. In order to receive many of these benefits and discounts, you will not only have to present your annual pass, but in some cases a valid ID.

Passholders also receive a quarterly newsletter, Mickey Monitor, and access to the annual passholder website (disneyworld.com/passholder). The newsletter is mailed in February, May, August, and November. However, you should know that if you bought your pass and have not yet activated it, you will not have access to the website and will not receive the Mickey Monitor newsletter until you turn your voucher in and hold a live annual pass.

We will give you an overview of each of the benefits and discounts for each category, but for a detailed description check disneyworld.com/passholder.

Going back to saving money on park tickets – annual and premium annual passholders can also receive a discount on specially ticketed events at The Magic Kingdom. There are advanced and “day of” tickets for:

· Night of Joy

· Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

· Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

If you haven’t activated your pass yet and are still holding a voucher, typically you can still get the discount on these tickets. Just let them know at the time of ticket booking. It should also be noted that these discounts are only available on selected nights, based on a limited availability, and does not apply to advance sales. Passholders can purchase up to four discount tickets. Proof of valid Passholder I.D. required at time of pickup.

Other big discounts for annual and premium pass holders include discounts at Disney’s resorts. Discounts at resorts vary throughout the year. Not all resorts have discount rates at the same time. For a listing of available room discounts you can consult the Mickey Monitor newsletter, visit the passholder website, or call Disney and ask them directly. Again, this is another case where you don’t necessarily have to have an active pass to be entitled to the resort discounts. Disney Reservations will typically extend the discount, but may ask to see the voucher or actual activated pass at check-in. In many cases the discounts can be substantial, but if your favorite resort isn’t available when you call you may want to consider making a reservation at your second choice, but keep calling back to see if your first choice opened up. Disney room inventory is always changing and some resorts that were not available when you called may become available the next day, week or month after your booking. So it’s best to check back.

Dining Benefits and Discounts: Passholders can receive a $25 discount ($100 regular value) on the Tables in Wonderland Membership. What is special about this is that the Tables in Wonderland Membership is only open to Florida Residents and Annual Passholders.

With a Tables in Wonderland membership, you will receive a 20% discount on all food and beverage (including alcohol) for up to 10 people at participating table-service Disney restaurants. The member presenting the discount card must be present at the table and the card has to be presented when ordering. Only one card can be presented and the discount applies to the member’s check only. It is also important to note that a charge of 18% gratuity will be added to all Tables in Wonderland transactions, regardless of party size and at Victoria & Albert’s, a 20% gratuity will be added to all transactions, regardless of party size. For a complete list of rules, including participating restaurants, you can all (407) 566-5858.

Dining discounts also apply to restaurants and food establishment in Downtown Disney, The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and many of the Disney Resort Hotels. For a detailed list visit: disneyworld.disney.go.com/passholder-benefits/dining-discounts.

Merchandise Discounts: Merchandise discounts, varying from 10-15%, are available at participating retailers at Downtown Disney’s Marketplace, as well as at the Rainforest Cafe Store and the Yak & Yeti Retail Village in Animal Kingdom.

  • Sports and Recreation Discounts: The following activities are offered at a reduced rate to annual and premium annual passholders:
  • Richard Petty Driving Experience : $20 discount off the regular price of a Ride-Along Experience or $35 discount on any Richard Petty Driving Experience package. Valid only at the Walt Disney World Speedway for the Passholder.
  • Spa Treatment at Disney’s Grand Floridian Spa & Health Club : 10% discount off the regular price of one spa treatment each visit for Walt Disney World Passholder at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
  • Spa Treatment at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort : 10% discount off the regular price of one spa treatment each visit for Walt Disney World Passholder at The Spa and Health Club at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort.
  • Sammy Duvall’s Water Sports Centre : 10% discount off parasailing, water-skiing, wakeboarding and personal watercraft for Walt Disney World Passholder at Sammy Duvall’s Water Sports Centre at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
  • Marina Boat Rentals : 15% discount off the regular price of boat rentals for Walt Disney World Passholder at any Walt Disney World Resort Marina.
  • Golf at Walt Disney World Resort: 30% discount off Day Visitor Rates for Walt Disney World Passholder and up to 3 Guests in the party. The discount is available on Day Visitor Rates for play any time of day.
  • Alamo Car Rental – Save up to 20% on a car rental from Alamo Rent A Car.

For more details on how to book these deals check the Walt Disney World passholder page for specifics and any other restrictions or requirements.

Tour Discounts: Another benefit of being an annual passholder is the ability to receive discounts on many of the tours and special experiences that are available at the resort. You must call Disney to book these tours. For those who hold vouchers and have not yet activated the passport, mention to the agent that you are a passport holder but have not activated it yet. They are usually very accommodating in extending the 15% discount.

Event and Entertainment Discounts: In addition to the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Disney offers passholders discounts on other activities around the resort. You can also get reduced fees and admission to the AMC Theatres Pleasure Island 24, Disney’s Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Courses, DisneyQuest, and even Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach Water Parks (already included for the Premium annual passholders).

Now that you have a basic understanding of what the benefits are of being an annual or premium passholder the question still remains… is it worth it? As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, you’ll need answer a few more questions.

How long is your visit? Will you be driving or have a rental car? How many times during the year are you planning to visit Walt Disney World? Did you book your trip in conjunction with any of Disney’s special offers? What kind of Magic Your Way tickets do you have with your package (base tickets with or without expiration, park hopper with or without expiration, water parks included, etc). As we cannot give definitive answers to these questions, but we can offer guidelines that should help you along with making a decision.

How long is your visit? As you know, the more days you stay the less you pay per day. For example – a one-day, Magic Your Way ticket with park hopper option is $131.00 and the same type of ticket for one week (the typical stay) is $286.00 or $40.86 per day. Now, just based on ticket price comparison – if you’re going only once a year – then the annual pass is probably not a good value. However, if you’re planning two visits within one year then the annual pass may be a good value – considering you can take advantage of hotel discounts, shopping, dining, and of course any special event tickets.

If you drove or have a rental car during your visit – a week’s worth of parking would cost you $98. With the annual pass parking is complimentary. Do you take advantage of table service dining?  Since only passholders (aside from Florida residents) can take purchase the Tables In Wonderland card. – it might be worth purchasing the Tables In Wonderland card. You will get 20% at almost all the sit down restaurants, but using the card automatically adds 18% gratuity. One of the upsides is that an annual pass will allow you to pop into one of the theme parks for a brief time without the guilt of wasting a ticket.

As we said, you have to do a little work to determine if the annual pass is right for you. In many cases it might be but there are some cases when it isn’t worth it. If you are not planning on returning within the year then consider the fact that for about the same as the cost of an annual pass (which expires within one year of use) you could purchase a 10 day Magic Your Way ticket with the water parks included – and if you use less than the 10 days – that ticket has no expiration date. So in this case – the annual pass is not worth it.

On the other hand, if you are thinking of going down to Disney World more than once in the year, knowing that you don’t have to pay for park admission you may go down more than you think. And if you’re up for being adventurous about staying in different types of resorts, then planning long weekends at Walt Disney World suddenly doesn’t seem that out of reach.

There are a few other rules that surround the annual and premium annual pass – some won’t make a big different, but other do. For instance, when first buy the annual pass and receive the voucher the official start date isn’t until you activate the pass, however, when it comes time to renew your pass, the start date on the renewal is the day after your old one expires. For example: your current pass expires on January 1, 2010 and the start date on the renewal would go live on January 2, 2010. You will have 30 days to decide if you want to renew your pass, but once you do – regardless of when in the 30 days you officially renewed the pass – it will be backdated to the day after the expiration of the old pass. Whether you receive the renewal letter or not, you can renew your pass by mail, phone, online, or in person at any of the Guest Relations windows or Downtown Disney Guest Relations offices.

To upgrade your Magic Your Way tickets to an Annual or Premium Annual Pass – as long as the Magic Your Way tickets have not been used at all – you can apply the price of the ticket to the pass. However, if you have already used a portion of your Magic Your Way ticket and decide that you want an annual pass you can do this as well. But there are two things you should know – they would apply the full price you paid for the Magic Your Way ticket to your Annual Pass, but the Annual Pass will be backdated to when you first used the Magic Your Way ticket. Also, the ticket must be upgraded within 14 days of first use. Now, if you have a Magic Your Way ticket with the Water Park Fun & More option and use the ticket at least once then decided to upgrade – the ONLY upgrade you can purchase is the Premium Annual Pass.

As soon as you get your annual pass or even the voucher, it’s best to make a front and back photocopy of the card for safekeeping. Even though it’s easy to get a replacement for an activated Annual or Premium Annual Pass (with a photo ID presented at any Guest Relations location) trying to get a replacement for an inactivated card is a bit more difficult without proof. In order to get the voucher replaced you need to prove that: 1) the voucher actually existed and 2) that you owned it.

Another area that might cause some issues with an annual pass is in regards to special promotions that Disney may and does offer throughout the year. For instance, if you took advantage of the recent “free dining” promotion, you could have possibly lost your free dining if you removed all your park tickets that were attached with the package in lieu of the annual pass. Many promotions, like this one, require that you keep park tickets attached to the promotion or it becomes invalid. There are ways to still keep the promotion package and have an annual pass as well. In this instance, for example, you can get a one-day Magic Your Way base ticket and regardless for how many days you are actually staying the fact that there are tickets, even for one day, attached to the package will be enough for you to be remain eligible. Now what you can do with that one-day ticket is up to you. You can use it the first day yourself then turn in the voucher the next day and start the annual pass. You can sell or give the ticket to someone else to use (since it’s unused and a fingerprint isn’t attached to it as of yet). You can apply the ticket to the renewal of your next annual pass or just hold on to the ticket and use it at a later date.

In this, and in all cases, if you are never sure about something regarding your tickets, reservations, promotions, etc, it’s always best to ask either Guest Relations or Customer Service before doing anything.

As you can see, there really isn’t a catchall answer for most Annual and Premium Pass questions because everyone’s vacations and plans are different. However, with a little work, patience, and planning, you can not only make a smart, but also cost-efficient decision for a fun-filled, worry-free Disney vacation.

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About the author

Tom Corless

Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World.
Contact Tom at [email protected]

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