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Mouse Musings: Is the Disney annual pass worth it?

Joe: From time to time, we thought we’d try a variation of Robert’s Shop Talk from his other site – a chance to have a discussion between the three of us regarding saving money at Disney World called Mouse Musings. For our inaugural discussion, I thought we’d chat about whether Rachel and Robert found their Disney World annual passes worth it this year. I know I’ve been jealous of their annual passes – but was it worth it financially and more importantly, in terms of improving your overall Disney experience this year, friends? I’m very curious to find out what some of the hidden costs of having an annual pass might have created. And obviously the question of whether an annual pass is “right” for you depends on your situation, so we just hope to give you some food for thought as you make your decision.

So let’s start here – who in your family did you buy annual passes for and how much did you use them?

 

Robert: Great topic, Joe. There is a lot of information out there on this topic, and as many “unknowns” and a bit of emotion that comes into buying a WDW Annual Pass. Kind of like an all-inclusive resort stay vs a la carte: Sometimes we just like the idea of unlimited trips to Disney World for a year even if that doesn’t actually happen.

I asked for an AP for myself for Christmas, telling my wife that at least one of us in the group should have one because we’d save 20% on dining (an offer that was running in late 2017). She got me the cheapest non-resident Annual Pass: The Platinum Pass that now sells for $894.

Then I got our boys (13 and 11) Florida Resident APs through their grandmother. We bought them online ahead of time with her credit card (tied to her Florida address) and paid for the majority of them with discounted Disney Gift Cards. Then their grandmother accompanied us on our first visit to activate their APs. We got them the Weekday Select Pass that now sells for $319.

I didn’t get my wife an annual pass. She had a couple of non-expiring tickets from way back when and I figure we’d fund her visits as we went.

How about you, Rachel?

 

Rachel: My four year old daughter and I are just wrapping up our Disney annual pass year. We each had Platinum annual passes that I purchased using price bridging, a travel statement credit, and discounted Disney gift cards. While the passes sold for $830 when we got them, my out of pocket expense per person was $600. Using only the price bridging savings (since the travel statement credit and discounted gift cards could have been used for park tickets), we paid $760 each.

When I initially purchased them, I had planned on three trips: one just the two of us, one with us plus Grandma, and a family of four trip. They were going to be long weekend visits with either three or four day tickets. All three trips were booked through Magical Vacation Travel’s agency exclusive offers, which meant we could get park tickets at their discounted prices (they sell convention tickets). Before the APs, we never bothered with park hopping so I compared the price to one park per day tickets. Those three trips would have cost us $890 for my ticket and $835 for my daughter’s ticket.

Since we had the passes, we added on a fourth trip to meet up with my stepmother-in-law and nephew while my father-in-law spoke at a conference at the Marriott Orlando World Center. This is really where we maximized our APs for ticket savings since adding one park per day tickets for this trip would have brought us to $1,225 for my tickets and $1,150 for my daughter’s ticket.

Is the Disney annual pass worth it?

Joe: So I’m curious, do you two feel like you actually saved money getting the annual pass? Have you calculated how much you’ve saved?

 

Rachel: We would have purchased Memory Maker–Disney’s service that allows you to download photos that their photographers take as well as on-ride photos and videos–only for the family trip, which would have been $169 out of pocket. It’s included in the AP so we were able to download photos from all of our trips, which was great.

With the food and merchandise discounts, we saved a little under $100 for the year. I also ended up using the Annual Passholder discount for hotel rooms twice, which was an extra $95 savings. Strategically using the Disney Dining Plan and booking agency exclusive resort rates were much higher savings for us!

All of the above savings we could have gotten with just me being the AP holder. The “extra” savings were about $360.

As I mentioned before, we generally save on tickets by not getting the park hopper option. However, with the July trip we stayed at the Boardwalk Inn and ended up park hopping to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios since they were walkable from our resort.

Of course this “savings” is all relative because my having the APs we went to Disney rather than another vacation destination that likely would have been more affordable. Did you find you took more trips to Disney, Robert, and how do you feel about your overall cost maximization over the past year?

 

Robert: I really should have been more sure of our plans before getting the AP for myself because it hasn’t been a great savings for me.

I activated the pass in February thinking that since we usually go in late August (right before back to school) that I’d easily have at least 2 trips in one year and that would justify the cost of the AP for at least one of us in the group. But a bunch of things conspired against me getting great value out of it:

  • Disney reduced the AP dining discount from 20% to 10% (I was kind of hoping they’d continue it at 20%)
  • We ended up going to Disneyland (Anaheim) in April so that knocked out another time we could use the WDW passes
  • We’re going back to Anaheim in February 2019 since flights were cheaper from Boston to Los Angeles than Orlando for February break
  • We didn’t visit in August due to other plans falling into place

We’re going to visit WDW for a couple of nights after Thanksgiving so that will be our second and perhaps final use of the passes.

We’re not big into souvenirs, Memory Maker isn’t of great value to me, and even complimentary parking at the parks isn’t that compelling to me (we don’t usually rent a car).

I was hoping there would be more compelling AP discounts for hotel rooms. Maybe I’m just missing them but they don’t seem to pro-actively alert me about AP room discounts. And when I’ve checked the hotels I want to stay at aren’t eligible AP discount rates.

We had a great time at Disneyland and in hindsight I’d have ironically been better off with a Disneyland AP since I would have used it for two solid visits. Yet, even though we’ll have effectively gone to Orlando twice and Anaheim twice in a year I don’t think a Premier Passport makes sense.

I thought more opportunities would “pop up” to sneak down there for a long weekend, but with kids activities and the blackout dates on their Weekday Select passes, nothing materialized. Maybe we’ll get one more visit in before February when my pass expires, but I’d really have to push for it and with other trips in place I just don’t see it happening.

So no, I haven’t gotten good value out of my pass. But if possible I’ll continue my kids’ Florida Resident Weekday Select APs. Those are a great deal even if we go just once a year with them. And I can use their passes for dining discounts.

What do you think, Joe? You sure go a lot for a guy that doesn’t have an AP. At what point will you get one?

 

Joe: Talk to my wife? She’s the limiting factor, haha! I definitely would work an annual pass to maximum capacity, but I would fear that I’m not as disciplined as you, Robert. And that plays right into my wife’s argument.

Let’s examine my wife’s reasoning behind not letting me get an annual pass even if I’d save money given my number of trips. If I were in your situation and flights from Boston (where I also live) to Orlando cost more than Los Angeles, I’d still pressure the family into going to Disney World over Disneyland if I had the annual pass.

That’s because even though in theory I understand the concept of the sunk cost fallacy, in practice I don’t do a good job making sound decisions in light of it. In my mind, since I paid for the annual pass, I’d want to use it as much as possible even if it increased my overall vacation budget. Which is exactly what my wife says: “If you get the annual pass you will go more and you’ll pressure the family to go more, so even though you technically save money on your tickets with an annual pass you’re going to cost us more as a family overall.” Luckily, I know she’ll never read this so I can admit she’s absolutely right.

So I think the only time I’d get an annual pass is if I already had two official trips on the books in a given 12 month period. Otherwise, I’d be too tempted to gin up random trips down to Disney World. If your mother in law will adopt my kids for a day, though, I wouldn’t be against that since I know we’ll probably go once a year. 🙂

I know you feel like you spent more than you expected Rachel, any regrets?

 

Rachel: We had some really great trips, but it’s hard now for my daughter to want to go somewhere else besides Disney World for our vacations. Generally I lean towards seeing a new part of the world rather than returning to a place we enjoyed visiting in the past. While Disney has been an exception to this, I do feel like it limited the scope of our travels this year. That said it’s a great place to take a preschooler!

 

Robert: If I can renew the kids’ Florida Resident APs online without friction I’ll keep doing that until they’re 18. I don’t think I’ll get one again myself – but you never know. Maybe a couple of Miles to the Magic meet-ups in Orlando could change my mind.

 

What do you think? Have you gotten an Annual Pass and regretted it? Have you not gotten an Annual Pass and wished you had? Let us know in the comments!

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