Top 10 Pros And Cons Of Annual Passes

Paula K

I have to admit that I am addicted to annual passes. I’ve been obsessed with theme parks for years and I love to have the ability to come and go as I please. Since we live in Florida my daughter and I will often on the spur of the moment decide to head to Walt Disney World for an hour. Our passes allow us to do just that. She and I currently have Disney Platinum Plus Passes, but my husband has the Disney Gold Pass. The passes work well for my family, but they may not be for everyone.

There are two Annual Passes that are available no matter where you live. The Disney Platinum Pass is good for one year admission to the four theme parks. The Disney Platinum Plus Annual Pass includes the theme parks, the water parks, and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course. There are other passes available for Florida residents, and those will be discussed below. Unless I specifically mention the Florida resident passes, I will be talking here about the Disney Platinum and Platinum Plus Passes.

Annual Passes can be renewed up to 60 days before or 30 days after they expire. They can be renewed online or at a ticket window. You can also call 407-560-PASS (407-560-7277) to renew. There is a discount for renewing your pass within the time frame. If you wait past the 30 days, you’ll lose the discount. You can also change the type of pass that you want when you renew. You will still receive the discount.

I’m not going to list prices here because Disney can change those on a whim. I am also usually not going to mention percentages when it comes to discounts because those can change and vary as well. I won’t say if something is a pro or a con, that’s up to you to decide (although some are obviously one or the other). The cost, for example, may be a pro to one person but a con to another. I hope that here I will provide some good general information that will help you to determine whether or not you want to look further into purchasing an Annual Pass.

10. Florida Resident Passes

Florida residents have more options than just the two listed above. A Disney Gold Pass includes all four theme parks, but there are a few block-out dates. These are the busiest days of the year (think holidays), when most Florida residents don’t want to be at Walt Disney World anyway. There are only about 30 block-out dates for Disney Gold Passes. Disney Silver Pass also allows entry to all four parks, but there are more block-out dates. These dates include most of June, all of July, and part of August. The holidays are blocked-out as well. Disney Weekday Select Pass includes all four theme parks. The block-out dates are the same as the ones for the Silver Pass, and the pass is good only Monday-Friday. Epcot After 4 Annual Pass is exactly what it sounds like; it is good at only Epcot after 4:00. There are no block-out dates for that one. One nice thing that makes payment easier for Florida residents is the monthly payment program. Make a down payment when you sign up, and the rest of the cost of the pass will be split up over 12 months. Proof of Florida residency is required (a state issued ID is preferred), and a college ID will not do. You must be present to pick up your pass, don’t think that you can have a friend who lives in Florida buy a pass for you because it won’t work. The discount that Florida residents can receive on Annual Passes is substantial.

Florida residents can also purchase a Water Parks Annual Pass or a Water Parks After 2 Pass. Neither of those come with any of the benefits listed in this article.

9. Cost

Annual Passes are expensive. You will pay more for a pass at Walt Disney World than you will if you buy a pass for any of the other area theme parks. If you don’t live in Florida there is no monthly payment plan, you will be required to pay the entire amount at the time of purchase. How do you know if the cost is too high? You need to figure out how much you will use the pass. If you like taking weekend trips to Disney and plan to come several times a year it will be cheaper than buying tickets for each trip. If you take an annual family vacation to Central Florida, Annual Passes might be a good deal if you plan your vacations correctly and overlap them. For example, take your vacation one year in July and the next in June, that way you can use your passes for two different trips. If you’re not sure when you will return for your next vacation, you might want to stay away from the expense.

One thing that some families will do is purchase an Annual Pass for one member of the family. You’ll then be eligible for the discounts and benefits. Do the math ahead of time to see if that will make sense for your party.

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8. Special Previews

Sometimes Disney will offer special previews of upcoming attractions to Annual Passholders. This is not always a good thing. Before Enchanted Forest opened, an email was sent out to Passholders about special previews. A date was given to sign up. According to the Passholder Facebook page, many people took time off from work in order to reserve a spot, only to have the sign up date pushed back a week. When the sign ups finally did go live it took only a few minutes for the system to crash. Many people threatened to not renew their passes. Disney finally fixed the system and they added more dates, only to have soft openings before any of the preview days. It was easy to get a sneak peek at the area without being a Passholder. There was nothing “special” about the preview at all.

7. Merchandise Discounts

Disney souvenirs cost a lot of money, and Annual Passholders receive discounts on plenty of them. If a store is independently owned, it is up to the discretion of the owner if a discount will be offered, and many of them do. Have your pass and your ID ready when you checkout because you will need both. Discounts are not valid on some items, such as gift cards and outdoor vending.

6. Come and Go Without Wasting a Day

A Disney vacation is exhausting. If you buy a five day ticket chances are that you are going to want to spend every second of those five days in the theme parks because you will feel like you are wasting your ticket otherwise. If you have an Annual Pass, you won’t be wasting a day if you decide to sleep in or leave early. You can spend the morning at the pool and not head to a park until late afternoon. You won’t feel like one day on your ticket was wasted. With an Annual Pass you might feel a little more relaxed instead of rushed.

5. Hotel, Spa, and Other Discounts

Annual Passholders sometimes receive discounts on the Walt Disney World Resort hotels. The amount varies depending on the time of year. Let the operator know when you call that you are a Passholder to find out what discounts you may be eligible for. Unless you opt out, you will also receive emails from time to time that contain special offers on accommodations, just for Passholders.

Annual Passholders also receive discounts on some spa services. There are recreation discounts for things like regular and miniature golf, fishing excursions, and marine boat rentals. You’ll receive information on discounts when you buy your pass.

Theme park parking is also now included with all Annual Passes, including all of the non-water park Florida resident options. If you’re not staying on property, this can be a huge bonus.

4. No Free Disney Dining Plan

Sometimes Disney decides to offer the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan for free. Free dining is usually a fall promotion. The offer is so popular that many families plan their vacations around it. Free dining is not open to Annual Passholders currently, as part of the deal, unless you are staying on resort of course. Whether or not that will change in the future is unknown.

3. Dining Discounts

Quite honestly, discounts on food are hit or miss. Most counter service restaurants do not offer Annual Passholder discounts. The same holds true for snack carts and kiosks. Some full service restaurants do have discounts and others don’t. Dining discounts for Passholders are rare in the theme parks. The list of restaurants offering discounts also changes from time to time. The best idea is to ask when you order if there is an Annual Passholder discount. Ask even at a counter service restaurant, just in case. You will need your pass and your ID if they do give a discount.

Annual Passholders are eligible to purchase a Tables in Wonderland membership. If you use this option, you’ll receive a discount of 20% at over 100 Walt Disney World restaurants. Many of those restaurants do not offer Annual Passholder discounts. Tables in Wonderland is not cheap, but it could pay for itself if you’ll use it enough. At some restaurant or resort locations you can also get your valet for free, minus tip, so make sure to keep your receipts.

2. Park Hopper Included

Your Annual Pass makes it easy to change plans. If you show up at the Magic Kingdom and decide that it’s too crowded, hop on the monorail and head to Epcot. Head out on safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, then end your day with Fantasmic!. While Park Hopper is nice to have on a regular ticket, it is a great perk with the Annual Pass. One of the nice things about being a Passholder is that you do not have to make any set plans, it gives you the freedom to do what you want, when you want. Free Park Hopper gives you even more freedom.

1. Memory Maker

One of the best benefits to an Annual Pass is that Memory Maker is included for free. You won’t have to worry about finding a great spot for a picture, just look for a PhotoPass Photographer. All of your ride photos and videos are included as well. It can get expensive to purchase your photos separately, and Memory Maker can really come in handy. Memory Maker is not included with all Florida Resident Passes.

About PaulaK

I grew up in Western Massachusetts. When I was nine my family went to Disneyland and I was hooked. I grew up, attended New England College in Henniker, NH and eventually moved to Virginia. I worked as a disc jockey, married and became a full time mom when our daughter was born. Fast forward several years. In 2010 we moved to Central Florida and my Disney obsession grew. I now work as a freelance writer and spend my spare time in the parks. Under the name Paula Brown I penned the novels Dream Wanderers and The Coffee Cruiser. I also am a co-author of Dining at Walt Disney World: The Definitive Guide. I'm obsessed with Star Wars, so this is a good time to live in Central Florida. I've been a vegetarian for well over a decade, a choice that my daughter eventually made as well. While my husband still hasn't joined us fully he has given up most meats except for seafood. I was relieved to find that vegetarian dining is not difficult at Walt Disney World.