Romantic Disney: Annual Passes and Justifying Your Disney Commitment

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Is an Annual Passport really worth the money?

Disney AP DecalsFact: Loving Disney is an expensive hobby. When we tell people we’re off to spend the night at the Disneyland Resort or, say, 10 days at the Walt Disney World Resort, the very first reaction we get isn’t a shared excitement over the fun we’re going to have, but an exclamation of how costly Disney has become. Spoiler alert: that’s how we can always tell we’re talking to adults. Yet, despite the buzzkill of a response, it’s not at all far from the truth. In fact, it is the truth. Disney’s strategy of persistently raising prices on everything has taken a toll, whether it’s settling for a lower tiered Annual Pass, reducing the number of annual visits, staying at a lesser-priced Disney property—or an offsite location—or cutting down on churros and Dole Whips <gasp!>, many Disney addicts have had to make compromises and allowances rather than go cold turkey. Disney isn’t a habit one can just kick, after all. It’s ingrained in the psyche, a way of life, the source code for smiles that last a lifetime, oxygen for the soul…! Once you’ve made Disney a regular part of your life, the thought of cutting the cord is terrifyingly unimaginable.

For those who’ve merely dangled their toes in the water (while keeping their hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the vehicle at all times), jumping into the chilling cost factor is concerning. Depending on which coast you’re on (for the sake of this article, we’re talking U.S. Disney parks only), passport prices range from $400/yr. all the way to a whopping $2100 for the bi-coastal Premier Passport.

DISCLAIMER: We’re not Disney missionaries.

It’s never our goal to convince someone to invest in an annual passport. Frankly, the fewer at the park, the better. Still, we’re all about Disney love, so when we’re asked whether a passport is worth the expense, we always encourage people to consider the advantages from a realistic point of view, to better assess the numbers based on tangible gains: How many times are they likely to visit the park in a year? Do they want to stay more than a day at a time? Do they tend to be big on Disney merch? Are they into signature dining? All good, basic questions to ask yourself—or others—before embarking down the slippery slope of cost analysis.

For the spreadsheet-making, budget-conscious person, it pays—figuratively speaking—to look at what you’re going to gain in the way of savings for the amount you’re going to spend out of pocket, and balance the difference against your budget. Here’s a case where number-crunching is preferable to waiting for the pixie dust to settle and then going into sticker-shock apoplexy.

But hey—it’s a passport to savings!

Galaxy's Edge Merch

If you know you can afford the pricey commitment for an annual pass, and you’re pretty confident in knowing you’ll be able to visit the parks enough times over the year to offset the cost, then only one question remains: Is it worth it? 

When we talk to parents of young kids, it’s clear how much more complicated a question this is than just the basics presented above. Understandable, but beyond our couplehood scope. As a happy duo who struggled for years just to visit our Disneyland Resort once each year, we were thrilled when we could finally justify an Annual Pass by virtue of having proven we were good for enough visits to make it financially feasible. “The parking alone…! my beloved, spreadsheet-number-crunching husband was positively drunk with justification.

And that wasn’t all he was touting: the discounts on dining, lodging, merchandise—and yes, the parking—all added up to a substantial savings. No, not enough to pay for the passport, but enough to make many of the expenses feel a little less… expensive. That “resort” pricing for goods and fine dining, for instance, ends up being competitively priced after the passport discount is applied [Note: results may vary depending on passport tier and applicable restrictions]. This makes a surprisingly big difference in your purchasing power and dining enjoyment, as it’s hard to decide what’s worse: a constant state of longing or buyer’s remorse. If not for our AP discount, I’d still be on the fence over my Dooney & Bourke Haunted Mansion tote. I loved it, but would I use it enough to warrant the pricey tag? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe ye—… “Just buy it!” the love of my life finally commanded. Had I known how much savings the discount would apply, I would have wasted a lot less time being annoying in Disney gift shops!

Crunch the numbers, but consider the intangibles…

The Brown Derby menu and cocktails

While your passport perks can be itemized, guesstimated and weighed against your annual dining and entertainment budget, otherwise known as “disposable income,” what’s not disposable is all the wonder, delight, love and inspiration that feeds your heart, mind, and soul well beyond the length of your Disney visit.

Where cynics and the like are quick to dismiss Disney as an artificially induced merchandise machine, those who thrive in the presence of creative and technical mastery will find their senses infinitely rewarded. After all, Disney imagineers, artists, and technicians are at the top of their craft, and lighting, landscaping, sound design, signage, crowd control, choreography, costume design, and color theory are all in play at all times in the Disney-sphere to be studied, appreciated, and potentially applied to wherever your passion may lie. So, when it comes to justifying your Disney expense, you could just as easily apply it to Continuing Education as Dining and Entertainment. [Note: Be sure to consult your financial advisor before entering Disney as a deductible expense under any category.]

And if that’s not enough justification, there’s the very human element that exceeds even the magic of Tinkerbell’s dust and a fairy godmother’s wand. To frequent a place that exudes compassion to all who visit, regardless of who they are, where they come from, and what they look like, is the real-life effect of Disney magic: the father of two young girls who got out of the Splash Mountain log he’d just boarded in order to join two other cast members in helping a severely disabled person disembark; the foursome in the Star Tours queue who welcomed a mentally impaired man into their group and treated him as a friend; Snow White recognizing a young boy’s autism and giving him special quality time, one on one; are just a few of the beautiful and poignant reminders of what a small world like ours can be when we see all people as we all are: people. 

Still not ready?

Premier Pass Gift MagnetFew visitors—if any—can claim they’ve never shed a tear at a Disney park. Whether it’s a fireworks display, a parade, or a show; or a memory sparked by music, the smell of the air, or the color of the sky, it’s bound to happen that you get choked up by something at some point and it stays with you forever. It’s this powerful, evocative nature of Disney that paints the happiest of memories indelibly in the heart, ever-vibrant and sparkling, and deepened by those who have shared it with you.

Yes, Disney is expensive. As are a lot of the pleasures and luxuries life affords—even if we can’t. But for our “luxury” expense, we’ve chosen Disney over a lot of other “adult” indulgences, because we know that whatever we spend on Disney we get back in being a stronger, happier duo with a wealth of shared and treasured memories of a place that is part of our collective history and a future that is always in the making.

There will always be challenges with Disney—particularly the cost. Yet when you take on those challenges, you rise even higher to make your experiences the very best and most special they can be. How ’bout it?

Here are a few links to get you started:

About the author

Amy Stone

A Southern California native and goddaughter of legendary Disney music maker, Richard M. Sherman, Amy's love of Disney began shortly after birth. It grew into a "healthy" addiction when she and her husband returned from their first WDW vacation and immediately started planning the next. For Amy, it's about love, and the fantasy, adventure, and hope of a great big beautiful tomorrow that inspire her every day to be part of the magic.