Offsite Options: Is a Disney World Annual Pass Worth It?

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I. INTRODUCTION

I have a confession to make: I stay offsite when I visit Walt Disney World. I know, I know. Go back and re-read my previous articles here on TouringPlans and wonder how you ever could have believed anything I said. While you do that, however, I’ll address Walt Disney World Annual Pass Savings, especially for those staying offsite.

Annual Passholder Box

Annual Passholder MagicBands – © John Kivus

The Disney World Annual Pass certainly seems to come at a substantially higher cost than other ticket options. If we view the passes at face value, then this is an accurate conclusion – an annual pass does cost more than any other pass, even a 10-Day Park Hopper. You may think this means you have to visit the parks at least more than 10 days to get your money’s worth out of an Annual Pass.

The problem with this reasoning is that there is so much more to everything Disney than face value, and having at least one Annual Pass for your party can be very valuable, especially for offsite guests.

Before we get into the details, I do want to warn you that there is no easy answer to the question of whether or not an Annual Pass is a good value for a particular party’s Walt Disney World trip. In fact, the analysis will require planning, and DUN DUN DUN: math.

Due to the amount of information present in this article, and to provide an easier way to navigate, I have provided a table of contents to allow for easier navigation:

II. ASSUMPTIONS

To determine whether an Annual Pass will save you money, we first need to make a few assumptions:

  • You have a car. One of the biggest benefits of an Annual Pass is that it gives you free parking. With the current parking rate of $17 per day, that is a significant amount of savings. I’m assuming that most people who stay offsite have a car to get to the parks. Consequently, I’m assuming you will pay to park that car.
  • You are not a Florida resident or DVC Member: If you have access to the Florida resident discounts or the DVC discounts, then the math would work out quite differently.

III. BASICS

If a ten-day pass is $X and an Annual Pass is >$X, you would only save money with an Annual Pass if you spent more than 10 days in the parks that year, right? Wrong. As I explained above, this analysis is faulty. One reason is that Disney’s standard tickets expire fourteen days after their first use. This means that to make a value calculation you actually need to determine the number of distinct trips you are taking AND the length of each of those trips.

Annual Passholder Discount Card

Annual Passholder Discount Card – © John Kivus

Additionally, you really need to consider the extra discounts that an annual pass provides. On top of free parking, the Annual Pass provides other discounts and benefits. Most important to a value analysis are: (1) 10% off dining at select Walt Disney World restaurants (see a full listing here) and (2) 10% off merchandise purchases at select Walt Disney World retail locations (see a full listing here) (Pro Tip: Keep the merchandise discount in mind when purchasing drinks or snacks. If you purchase those items from a merchandise location, rather than a snack cart or beverage stand, you can frequently take advantage of the Annual Pass discount.)

There are also assorted Annual Pass discounts available on certain other Walt Disney World experiences, such as golf or spa visits (see a full listing here).

John, this is a lot of information and I still don’t know if I should get an Annual Pass.
Okay, okay, let’s get down to brass tacks: how do you determine if an annual pass is right for you? First: are you taking multiple trips in one year? If yes, OPTION 1 is for you. Are you only taking one trip in the next 365 days? Scroll down to OPTION 2 for your analysis.

IV. OPTION 1: Taking multiple trips in a year

If your party is taking multiple trips in the span of one year, then determining whether or not an Annual Pass is a good value is fairly straightforward: you should purchase a single annual pass for one adult in your party if you are traveling to Walt Disney World for two or more trips of three or more days within that calendar year. Again, that is 2+ trips, of 3+ days, within the span of 365 days. Note that 2+ trips of 3+ days is NOT the equivalent of one trip of 6+ days (remember that passes have expiration dates which factor into their cost).

The math resulting in this determination is also pretty straightforward. It costs $235 for a two-day base ticket and parking for those two days. Two trips of that length would total $470, which is still considerably less than the $675 needed for an Annual Pass. On the other hand, a three-day base ticket plus three days of parking costs $341. Two 3-day trips cost $681, making it worth it to buy at least one Annual Pass for your party.

That’s the basic idea with regard to parking savings, but you can also save more with the other discounts mentioned above. If you want to get really fancy, you can use the formula in the next section.

V. OPTION 2: Taking only one trip

So what if your family is only taking one trip in the next year? To determine whether or not at least one annual pass will benefit your party for your single trip of the year, you can use the following formula to find out:

Formula:

  • Step 1: Calculate theme park tickets for one person + parking
  • Step 2: Calculate estimated savings on dining
  • Step 3: Calculate estimated savings on merchandise
  • Step 4: Calculate estimated savings on additional discounts
  • Step 5: Calculate the sum of steps 1 through 4 and compare it to the cost of the Annual Pass.

Breaking down the formula:

Step 1: Calculate theme park tickets for one person + parking

To make it easy, just pull the number off of the charts at the bottom of the post. If you want to do all of the math yourself, calculate the price of the theme park ticket and then add $17 per day for parking.

Step 2: Calculate the estimated savings on dining.

There are sub-steps to this one:

  • A. Estimate the total amount you anticipate spending at the select Walt Disney World restaurants that offer an Annual Pass discount.
  • B. Calculate 10% of the result from Step A. Keep in mind that the discount won’t be applied to alcohol, so only calculate 10% of the non-alcohol total.
  • C. Estimate the total amount you anticipate spending at the Walt Disney World Restaurants eligible for Tables in Wonderland
  • D. Calculate 20% of the result from Step C, and then subtract $100 (i.e. the cost of the Tables in Wonderland membership) from that number.
  • E. Compare the results of Step B and Step D to see which is higher. The higher number – either the Annual Pass savings, or the Tables in Wonderland savings – will be the total savings on dining for Step 2 in your overall formula.

Step 3: Calculate estimated savings on merchandise

For this step, determine any budgets or estimated spending you have for things like souvenirs, gifts, etc. Also consider your travel style: do you bring your own water and snacks to the parks, or do you purchase those items at the parks (if you purchase drinks and snacks at certain merchandise locations rather than the food carts, you can often get the Annual Pass discount). Your merchandise savings with the Annual Pass will be 10% of your estimated merchandise spending.

Step 4: Calculate estimated savings on additional discounts

These are the discounts available on things such as treatments at Senses Spa, tee times at Walt Disney World golf courses and certain backstage tours. If you anticipate participating in any of those activities, it would be helpful to calculate the cost savings you might receive with the Annual Pass.

Step 5 – Calculate the sum of steps 1 through 4.

The last step is to add your results from Steps 1 through 4 and compare the result to the $675 current price of an Annual Pass. If the cost of tickets, parking, and paying for meals, merchandise, and extras without the 10% discount is more than $675, then the Annual Pass is worth the cost.

Example Application – Family of Four

As an example, I’m analyzing a trip for the hypothetical Jones family, a family of 2 adults and 2 children. Their plans include:

  • 7 days at parks
  • Park hopping
  • Some dining at Disney restaurants like Be Our Guest, Boma, Crystal Palace, Narcoossee’s, Via Napoli, and Whispering Canyon Café.
  • Some dining offsite at their accommodations and favorite offsite restaurants.

Jones Family Step 1: $500

As explained in the chart below, a 7-day Park Hopper pass plus parking currently costs $500.

Jones Family Step 2: $120.40

Some of the Jones’ restaurant choices, such as Boma, Via Napoli, and Whispering Canyon, are eligible for an Annual Pass discount, while others, such as Be Our Guest, Crystal Palace, and Narcoossee’s are not. I estimated their meals at the various restaurants and followed the instructions in Steps 2A and 2B above, and it appears that the Jones family would save approximately $49.30 using just the Annual Pass discount for dining.

Tables in Wonderland, however, provides discounts at all of their chosen restaurants, so, based on my estimates, the family would save $120.40 using a Tables in Wonderland card (those savings are after deducting the $100 cost of the Tables in Wonderland card from the discount total). For the Jones family, it clearly makes sense to go with Tables in Wonderland.

Jones Family Step 3: $39

The members of the Jones family have already made a plan about certain things they will and will not purchase while they are in Walt Disney World:

  • They will bring their own drinks and snacks to the park to minimize purchases of those items.
  • When they do have to buy snacks or a soda (probably about 4–5 times per trip, at a total of $40), they will try to do so at a place that provides an Annual Pass discount.
  • They anticipate spending approximately $75 on souvenirs for each child.
  • They anticipate spending another $200 on overall family souvenirs.

Those expenses ($40 + $75 * 2 + 200) total $390 in anticipated spending on Walt Disney World merchandise. Ten percent of that estimate would be $39.

Jones Family Step 4: $71.75

The members of the Jones family have planned two additional items for their trip that offer Annual Pass discounts. First, Mr. Jones is going to surprise Ms. Jones with a 50-minute massage at Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian. Since Senses offers an Annual Pass discount of 15% on spa services, there will be a $21.75 savings off the $145 price. Second, Mr. and Ms. Jones are going to play golf one morning of the trip. On the day they anticipate teeing up, there is a $25 per person savings, for a total of $50 off the regularly priced tee times. (Don’t worry, they are going to use one of the babysitting services recommended in the Unofficial Guide to watch their children.)

Jones Family Step 5:

The sum of the previous steps is:

  • Step 1: $500 +
  • Step 2: $120.40 +
  • Step 3: $39 +
  • Step 4: $71.75

for a total of $730.75

This is clearly above the $675 threshold of an Annual Pass. In fact, based on the estimates for the trip, the Jones Family will save approximately $55 by purchasing an annual pass. Of course, if the Jones’ were not taking advantage of the discounts on the spa treatments or golf, then the numbers would not work in favor of the Annual Pass.

VI. OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Do you have particular, higher priced, items that you anticipate buying on your trip?
For example, I knew that I was going to be purchasing some of Disney Ray-Bans on a recent Disney trip. The 10% discount on that $175 would certainly factor into an Annual Pass calculation. Has someone in your party been eyeing the latest Disney themed bag from Dooney & Bourke?

Do you think you might want to stay on property at either the end or beginning of your trip?
Maybe you want to spend a night or two at the Contemporary Resort at the beginning or end of your trip so you can more easily complete one of the Ultimate Magic Kingdom Touring Plans. Regardless of your reasoning, Annual Passholders sometimes receive a 5% or higher discount rate on certain resorts.

Do you like to participate in runDisney races?
Frequently, runDisney races allow Annual Passholders to register for a race a week in advance of non-passholders. This head start could make the registration process much less painful.

Do you like to attend special Disney events?
Disney has recently set up priority registration for Annual Passholders who want to attend certain Disney special events (such as the recent Villains Unleashed event.)

Do you like exclusive merchandise?
Some Disney merchandise is only available to Annual Passholders. For example, new Annual Passholders receive a special passholder magnet to display on their cars, and at this year’s Star Wars Weekends there was a special name badge that was only available to Annual Passholders.

VII. FAQs

What if I am buying a Park Hopper ticket instead of a base ticket?
You would still only want to get an Annual Pass if you are taking two or more trips of three days or longer.

What if I am taking three trips in the next calendar year?
If each one of your trips is two or more days in length, then an Annual Pass works in your favor. ($235 * 3 = $705, which is more than $675.)

Should I buy Annual Passes for everyone in my party, or just for one person?
One Annual Pass is all you need to get the parking discount (assuming your party all fits in one car). However, even after parking is covered, there could still be savings by getting Annual Passes for everyone else. To calculate these savings you’ll need to look at the ticket pricing without parking. If you are not interested in the Park Hopper option, then it would take two trips of eight or more days to receive benefit from an annual pass ($340 * 2 = $680, which is more than the $675 cost of the Annual Pass.) If you will be park hopping, then you’d need two trips of four or more days to get the benefit ($348*2 = $696, which is more than the $675 cost of the Annual Pass.)

I like to stay at Disney resorts, can I still benefit from an Annual Pass?
Yes, though the math is obviously different. If you are staying on-site then the $17/day parking isn’t a factor, which makes your analysis similar to the “Annual Passes for other members of my party” analysis described above.

Where did you get this information/what is your magic sorcery?

  • The ticket prices were found using the TouringPlans Cost Calculator as of 7/11/2014.
  • The Annual Pass price of $675.21 (including tax) was pulled directly from Walt Disney World’s website.
  • For the purposes of this analysis I focused solely on the standard Annual Pass, without considering the Premium Annual Pass.
  • Finally, to make the math a little easier to understand, I rounded many calculations up to the nearest dollar. There are also quick reference charts containing the calculations and ticket/parking costs available at the bottom of the post.

VIII. QUICK REFERENCE COST CHARTS

Base ticket plus parking

  • 2 Day Regular – $201 + $34 = $235
  • 3 Day Regular – $290 + $51 = $341
  • 4 Day Regular – $308 + $68 = $376
  • 5 Day Regular – $310 + $85 = $395
  • 6 Day Regular – $318 + $102 = $420
  • 7 Day Regular – $329 + $119 = $448
  • 8 Day Regular – $340 + $136 = $476
  • 9 Day Regular – $349 + $153 = $502
  • 10 Day Regular – $359 + $170 = $529

Park Hopper plus parking

  • 2 Day Park Hopper – $253 + $34 = $287
  • 3 Day Park Hopper – $327 + $51 = $378
  • 4 Day Park Hopper – $348 + $68 = $406
  • 5 Day Park Hopper – $348 + $85 = $433
  • 6 Day Park Hopper – $371 + $102 = $473
  • 7 Day Park Hopper – $381 + $119 = $500
  • 8 Day Park Hopper – $386 + $136 = $522
  • 9 Day Park Hopper – $401 + $153 = $553
  • 10 Day Park Hopper – $411 + $170 = $581

IX. SUMMARY

For offsite guests, the Annual Pass is not a silver bullet that easily cancels out the costs associated with Walt Disney World theme parks. However, for many guests, including those that are taking multiple trips within the upcoming year or those that might receive benefits from the other Annual Pass discounts, the Annual Pass can provide some level of cost savings. Unfortunately, to be certain of whether an Annual Pass benefits you, you’ll need a little bit of planning, and a little bit of math.

Have you ever tried to determine the cost/benefit of a Walt Disney World Annual Pass? Please let us know your results in the comments.

If you are someone who usually stays offsite when you visit Walt Disney World, please let me know, either in the comments or on Twitter, if there are topics you would like covered in future editions of the offsite column.

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Posted on July 28, 2014

23 Responses to “Offsite Options: Is a Disney World Annual Pass Worth It?”

  • Since my wife and I leveled up our addiction from going once a year to at least twice a year (usually more if business takes us to Orlando)We started using annual passes. They make sense, especially since we get the DVC discount. However we did stagger the pass renewal date. I picked mine up first in May and my wife’s expires at the end of September. It gives a bit of financial space between those renewal fees which makes it easier to justify.

  • Not to be a pain, but isn’t the expression “get down to brass TACKS”? … Brass tax made me lol

    • And here I was, thinking I was so smart by having my computer read me my article out loud so I can hear if anything sounded off. Unfortunately, that strategy does not work for homophones.

      Thank you for pointing out the error. It has been corrected.

  • by Roger Sauer on July 28, 2014, at 2:57 pm EST

    I thought there would be no math on this site.

  • by Iheartepcot on July 28, 2014, at 3:37 pm EST

    Are AP prices lower for children ages 3-9? Since ticket prices are generally, that will also make a difference in the calculation.

  • by William Coady on July 28, 2014, at 4:13 pm EST

    We did this very thing for this year. We had a family emergency this past June in the greater Orlando area and wanted to visit the parks for a few days. We also had a previously booked WDW vacation for this upcoming November. Buying an annual pass was so much more cost effective that we’re going to go back a 3rd time in May before the annual pass expires. I’m also planning on a solo golf trip without the family.

    The other benefit of being an annual passholder is the ability to purchase the “Tables in Wonderland” membership. It’s a $100.00 per membership. This gives the purchaser 20% off food and alcohol at select WDW restaurants. You can accommodate up to 10 guests under the 20% off discount. If you purchase a secondary card for $50.00 you can now bring up to 20 guests to dinner and receive the 20% off.

  • Could not match the ticket prices listed above, especially the five day with hopper. Just trying to compare apples to apples.

    • The prices in the article are all the lowest prices available on TouringPlans Ticket Calculator – http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/ticket-calculator – as of July 11, 2014. Though Disney has not made any changes in ticket prices since that day, there is a chance that various online ticket selling outlets might have some minor differences from day-to-day.

      Is there a particular example you are trying to work through that is drastically different?

      • I checked on wdw and tickets for 5 day with hopper were $775. I liked your price better, thanks for the link. Sitting down tonight to determine if AP’s are for us

  • by David Ackerman on July 28, 2014, at 9:10 pm EST

    A few comments:
    1) When you renew your AP, you’ll get a discount on the renewal. So… for 2nd and later years, you will save even more.

    2) Before we retired, we used to come down 3 times per year. If you do so in the off season, you can stay off property for $30-40/night for 2 queen room (we used to stay at one of the Ramadas on Irlo Bronson or the Baymont Suites on Black Lake – all 3 are nice properties).

    3) Once you have a rental car, you have a lot more options for food (Irlo Bronson and I Drive have *lots* of very good, reasonable restaurants). You can pick up snack, lunch fixings, etc at Publix (of which there are quite a few). You can park hop and not have to figure out the bus schedule. You can keep spare stuff like bathing suits in the car.

    4) One of the “priceless” parts of being off property is that day when you just have to escape having a magical everything. (Yeah, I’ve wanted to choke Mickey once or twice).

    5) You’ll find that if you do 2 or more trips, APs for Universal and/or SeaWorld are also a good deal. You also won’t go “but I have to use up all these days before the 14 days are up!”

    6) The higher priced APs include Typhoon and Blizzard. We find them to be a good “wind down” when it is a stressful day.

  • Talk about great timing! I did this very same math today. My hubby and I decided to take a quick, child-free trip to Food & Wine this year, and we already have a trip planned for the whole family in January. The savings barely added up with just the January trip, but add in a few days this fall and the savings really start to stack up. We typically stay on property and have a disney chase visa, but even so, the ap discounts at resorts are still slightly better for our dates. Thanks for a great article.

  • This probably goes without question, but the annual pass includes park hopping, correct? They don’t refer to it as such on the product description page… I wish Disney would use the same terminology everywhere!

  • by Joshua Slack on July 31, 2014, at 7:48 am EST

    This is a very good read. But I have one question, does getting an AP help any with FP+?

    • I don’t think I would classify it as “help.” It is just a little different.

      Assuming we are talking about offsite guests, then Annual Passholders can make FP+ selections up to 30 days in advance (the same as off-site guests that have regular tickets.) What makes the Annual Pass different, is that an Annual Passholder can have 7 days of reservations booked during any 30 day window. So, if you are traveling to Walt Disney World for 5 days, but plan on only going to Walt Disney Parks for 3 days, you could make reservations for all 5 days of your trip in advance and then select the ones you want to keep once you know the weather, your other plans, etc..

      Unofficially, I have found that Disney can be hit and miss with enforcing the 30 day selection versus the 60 day selection window (which is normally offered for onsite guests only.) When I made selections for my honeymoon, I made them all 60 days out, even though I was staying offsite. I would not make a purchasing decision based on that, especially since the Walt Disney World site and My Disney Experience App seem to have gotten a little better at enforcing it recently, but it something that you might stumble into.

      Finally, Annual Passholders receive Magic Bands. They do not have to purchase them at the current $12.95 price.

  • In March there was an article posted regarding inability to make fp+ reservations with an annual pass prior to activating the pass in the parks. Is this still the case?

  • Hi Emily
    I purchased annual passes before taking my trip to Disney World in June of this year. I was able to make my FP+ reservations before turning the vouchers into actual passes at Disney World. On the back of each of the vouchers that you receive from Disney is a long number. Go into your My Disney Experience account. First, make sure you have everyone that you have a voucher for set up in your account. Next, go to the “link tickets” option. Enter the number off the back of the voucher and assign it to a person in your group. Once a number has been assigned you can’t easily change it so make sure you know which voucher goes with which person. Once you do this, you will see everyone’s linked vouchers in the tickets section of My Disney Experience and it will say Annual Pass next to them. The next 30 day FP+ will open up for you immediately. If you are staying on site, the 60 day FP+ window will automatically open 60 days prior to your hotel reservation and you will be able to make FP+ reservations for the length of your stay. This is exactly what I did in June of this year and when I converted my vouchers to actual annual passes at Downtown Disney on the first night of my trip, they checked and made sure all of the FP+ reservations were still linked. Hope this helps! :)