A Walt Disney World Annual Pass is a wonderful thing to have—it can save you money but it can also cost you money because if you have one you are constantly thinking of ways to get back down to see the Mouse. With an Annual Pass you have several perks that you can take advantage of during your vacation, and knowing these pro tips will help you make the most of it.
First, a primer on the Annual Pass. Recent changes created various levels and options for the annual pass. Most people qualify to purchase the Platinum or Platinum Plus options on the pass. These two passes each allow you entry into all 4 theme parks and park hopping privileges. If you go with the Platinum Plus pass you also get entry into the Water Parks, Oak Trail Golf Course and ESPN Wide World of Sports. The other options include a Gold Pass that is available only to Florida Residents or Disney Vacation Club Members, and a more limited Silver Pass for Florida Residents only. For our purposes here we are going to discuss the tips associated with the Platinum and Platinum Plus Annual Passes.
8. Events & Previews
Annual Passholders are sometimes invited to exclusive events and previews of new attractions before the general public is allowed to enjoy them. These are sporadic and if you are not a local you would really have to luck into one of them occurring during your vacation. When New Fantasyland opened, for instance, Annual Passholders had the opportunity to preview the area and attractions before it opened to all guests. Once when my family was down for a summer trip they were having a special event for Annual Passholders that involved the pyrotechnics team. We went to ESPN Wide World of Sports to see a demonstration of the different types of fireworks that are used in the nighttime spectaculars and learn why they would choose certain effects over others. If you are able to attend one of these events they offer a really unique experience (and sometimes bragging rights if you are among the first to experience something new).
7. Recreational Discounts
If you are an Annual Passholder chances are you are visiting Walt Disney World frequently—just a hunch. So you may want to spend time doing activities that are not part of the average Disney theme park vacation. As an Annual Passholder you receive discounts on many things you may want to try: marina rentals, Sammy Duvall Watersports, horseback riding, archery, and guided tours to name a few. These discounts can vary from season to season and may change over time, but always ask when making special arrangements for something if there is a discount available for Annual Passholders. Party events like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party also sometimes offer an Annual Pass discount on select dates. I highly recommend taking advantage of this perk—some of my favorite memories have come from taking a pontoon boat out on Bay Lake as a family, or going on a guided tour that takes me into the Magic Kingdom’s Utilidors. This pro tip is to take advantage not only of the discount offered to you as a passholder, but also the extra time you get to spend at Walt Disney World.
6. Room Discounts
Okay, so you have that Annual Pass and you are up in Minnesota, and it is February, and it is COLD. And that pass is burning a hole in your pocket almost begging you to break out your Magic Band and take it to Florida. If you can actually hear it talking to you it is time for some Disney therapy. And you are in luck—if you NEED to get back down to Walt Disney World, Annual Passholders often get some of the better room discounts. The nice thing about the Annual Pass discounts is that they are usually available for booking closer to your travel dates so you can plan that last minute trip. Be sure to ask about any discounts that might be available to you as a passholder, they do often save you a little more over any public discounts that might be out there. Make sure your travel planner knows if you have an annual pass as well so they can watch for those particular discounts to be released for you.
As an Annual Passholder you are entitled to free parking at the theme parks. If you followed the #6 Pro Tip and are staying on property you would get free parking anyway, but if you are making a day trip, a stopover, or if you are staying somewhere offsite you can show your Annual Pass card to the parking attendants at the entrance booths and get free parking at each theme park. With the price of parking going up that can be a nice savings.
Let’s talk about some merch. Did you know that as an Annual Passholder you get 10% off at most merchandise locations, you are able to purchase Annual Passholder exclusive merchandise, AND at certain times of year you can get FREE exclusive merchandise? Yes, all three are true. This is really 2 pro tips wrapped up into 1. Be sure to bring your Annual Pass card with you when you visit Walt Disney World (tip 1) because you can’t get the discount on merchandise without it. And always ask if they honor the discount before paying for your purchases—you will be surprised how many places where you can save that 10%. If you are a Disney shopper like me that 10% can add up (sometimes they even increase the percentage of savings, but 10% is the norm). The second part of the tip is to be on the lookout and ask about exclusive merchandise. There is usually an Annual Passholder pin for the year or season, a pin for each festival and party that is exclusive, sometimes there is an exclusive T-shirt, poster, artwork, you name it. They are not always displayed but you can always ask where they are selling merchandise if they know of any Annual Pass exclusive merch. Typically this merchandise is something you purchase (with your 10% discount), but sometimes they are offering freebies. Examples in the past have been posters given away at Star Wars Weekends, special effect glasses at Osborne Lights, and posters/artwork at the Flower and Garden Festival. Your Mickey Monitor (the Annual Passholder quarterly publication) will usually alert you to any giveaways.
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3. PhotoPass Downloads
When the Annual Passes were reworked in the Fall of 2015 the Platinum and Platinum Plus passes got a new perk—PhotoPass downloads of the images in your account from yourself and your properly linked friends & family. To me this is a big perk because we always got Memory Maker. There is always one photo that made Memory Maker worth the purchase price and now I can get that free as a passholder! So my pro tip here is to take advantage of this bonus perk and take lots of photos in the parks, with the characters, ask for “magic” shots, etc. And then when you get home don’t forget to edit them and download them!
2. Food Discounts & Tables in Wonderland
This is another twofer. First of all, your Annual Pass by itself allows you discounts at some table service restaurants. I always ask. Ordinarily it is only at lunch at only select places, but it never hurts to ask. The Annual Pass webpage and the booklet you receive with your pass does list the current locations where you can get the discount. Most of the time this is a 10% discount off. Second, as an Annual Passholder you can purchase the Tables in Wonderland card. This card is valid at almost every table service location at the Walt Disney World resort for 20% savings on food AND alcohol. That alcohol part can be a big perk for some folks. There are some restrictions on times to use the card at things like the dinner shows and some holiday times of year are black out periods. Tables in Wonderland is also valid at a few counter service locations—at Animal Kingdom and at resorts that do not have a table service option. Sometimes Tables in Wonderland offers its members exclusive dining events for an additional fee. Just remember, you have to purchase Tables in Wonderland on top of your Annual Pass so you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if it works for you.
1. Return Trips
My number 1 pro tip: if you have it, use it! I love the “freedom” that my Annual Pass gives me. It is an investment for sure, and being able to travel back down to Walt Disney World is an additional investment. But knowing that I have the pass for a year, and if I want to return I just have to find a good (discounted) deal on a hotel room makes me feel like I don’t have to rush through the parks. If I can come back then I can take time to lounge at the pool, or go horseback riding, or take a 3 hour tour—I will be able to ride Soarin’ on my next trip, or eat at Le Cellier if I can’t get in this time. I’ve found that having an Annual Pass makes my trips more relaxing. So, if you are able to get an Annual Pass enjoy it!
What are your pro tips for Annual Passes?