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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, April 3, 2016

When Does An Annual Pass Become "Worth It"?



A Williams Family Blog reader asked how many times in a year would someone have to go to Walt Disney World to make an Annual Pass worth the investment.  The answer of course, is mathematical, and not necessary about the number of times in a year, but the number of days of a visit or combined visits to Walt Disney World throughout the year.

What makes an Annual Pass “worth it”?

First, let’s do the math.  Annual Passes, for folks living outside of Florida, come in two categories—Platinum and Platinum Plus.  The big difference between the two is access to the water parks and golf courses.  We haven’t yet golfed at Walt Disney World, so that wasn’t the draw for us to go for the Plus—it was the water parks.  We knew we would be visiting Walt Disney World this coming summer and wanted to go to the water parks.  So, if we had purchased the Platinum, we could have either added on the water parks pass OR purchased daily tickets to the water parks at $60 per person plus tax.  Yeah, the math made the Plus pass a better deal even if we only visited each water park once!

Now, for the number of days when it comes to the math. . .  Walt Disney World ticket prices can be difficult to understand.  There is one ticket price for children ages 3-9 and another price for everyone 10 and up.  If a guest wants to purchase a one-day ticket, the price can vary from $97 to $114 depending if the guest is going during “value”, “regular”, or “peak” season as denoted by days on the calendar on the Walt Disney World web-site.  Then, if the guest wants a one-day ticket to Magic Kingdom, the price can go up to $124 for an adult and $118 for a child (3-9).  Add “park hopper”, the option to get entry into another theme park on that same day, and the one-day ticket price goes to $164 for 10 and up and $158 for a child (3-9). 

Walt Disney World wants guests to purchase multi-day tickets and offers discounts when adding more days to park tickets.  Also, the “season” or the days the guest is going to use the park ticket, no longer applies once a park ticket becomes 2-days or longer.  Again, add “park hopper” and the price of the ticket increases, regardless of how many days of park admission are purchased.

So, how many days of Walt Disney World theme park vacation over the course of the year does it take to make an Annual Pass worth it?  Well, one vacation of 10 days would not make it worth it as a 10 day Park Hopper ticket is $469 plus tax.  But, two vacations of 5 days over the course of a year may come close (just looking at the Platinum Plus)—a 5-day park hopper ticket is $409 plus tax with another $26 plus tax for water park entry.  Add Memory Maker to one or either of those trips and the Annual Pass definitely becomes more economical. 

Also remember that Walt Disney World typically has a ticket price increase in August so purchasing an Annual Pass prior to ticket price increases also insulates guests from absorbing those increased costs.

Now, that we’ve done the math, let’s talk about the other values of having an Annual Pass.

MagicBands—Yes, I know we get a set that we can customize for every trip, so this perk isn’t as much of a big deal.  But, we did get to link our Annual Passes to our My Disney Experience account—it was easy—and customize a set of MagicBands that included the Passholder sliders.

Photopass Downloads--This is definitely a benefit for us and potential savings.  We typically add a Photopass/Memory Maker product to our vacation packages so this saves us at least $149 per trip!

Discounts—Annual Passholders are offered discounts for dining, shopping, and other events.  When we made purchases during our most recent trip to Walt Disney World, and our first as Annual Passholders, we were given 10% discounts at most retail locations including the Lego Store.  Now, I will say the Disney Visa also offers the same discount at Disney Store retail locations, but the total amount must be at least $50.

The booklet that came with our passes also included other discount perks, such as discounted miniature golf—this one I know we will use!  As well as a list of dining locations at Walt Disney World that offer a 10% discount with the Annual Pass.  There is also a special Passholder telephone number to call with questions or assistance.

Having now taken a couple of different tours, we want to take more.  Having an Annual Pass gives us a 15% discount on various tours.  There are even special offers for Annual Passholders including discounted tickets to “hard ticket” events such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. 

There’s even a special Passholder Facebook page that announces events and discounts.

Remember that I said we could link our Annual Passes to our My Disney Experience account?  Well, now when we log in and check out prices or availability for future Walt Disney World Resort stays, we have access to Passholder prices and discounts for Walt Disney World Resorts!

Was it “worth it” for us?

Short answer—“Yes!”

When we made the investment of purchasing Annual Passes, we had a 4-day park hopper ticket for each of us—all over 10 years of age—so the price of that ticket was $394 per person plus tax.

Since we hadn’t used any of the days of those tickets, we were able to “upgrade” our tickets to Annual Passes, using the $394 per person towards the total for the passes.  Basically, we had almost half of the passes paid for when we arrived to do the upgrade.

I then used our Disney Visa Reward Dollars towards our Annual Pass purchase and was able to apply the refund for Memory Maker, which we had added to our package ($149) towards the purchase as well. 

Since we made the Annual Pass purchase at Guest Services at Disney Springs, they were able to attach the Passholder accounts to our current MagicBands that we had for the trip.  We didn’t lose any of our Fastpasses or Dining Reservations—those all transferred—as did the account we had set up for charging purposes if necessary.  Even our “Pin” number needed to use our Dining Plan credits transferred. 

We used our new Annual Passes for park entry and discounts when making purchases.  But even bigger savings is coming up!

One thing I checked on before purchasing Annual Passes was whether or not we would still be able to use our Travel Agent when making Walt Disney World travel arrangements.  The answer was “yes.”  We enjoy the service our travel agent provides as well as the AAA Explore More Rewards dollars that add up when we purchase vacations.  What our travel agent would need to do was to ask for “ticketless packages” when inquiring about resort reservations.

Even before we left for our BIG Birthday trip at the end of February, we had already made resort reservations for this summer.  Anticipating the Annual Passes, we were quoted a price for a “ticketless package” for 13 nights at Coronado Springs including the Basic Dining Plan for the three of us for slightly over $5,000—not including any flights although we had already gotten a great deal from Southwest for flights TO Orlando.  I put down the $200 deposit. 

When we returned from our February trip, it was time to firm up our plans.  13 nights changed to 11, Dining Plan stayed the same and with a Passholder discount, the price dropped to $3800 for our vacation.  Wow!  That was an incredible savings!  I called the Passholder line and asked the Cast Member to run the numbers for multiple resorts just to see what the better deals were.  He was happy to help, and even discovered that there was a PIN code linked to our name for a discount.  The best deal was the one we took!  We basically paid for the costs of the Annual Passes with the savings from this one trip.

So, Annual Passes are worth it for us!

There are still issues we need to overcome: 

For example, we have yet another reservation at Walt Disney World for later in the year.  We’re looking at two different times to stay and the Passholder discounts have not yet been released for either of those times—and most likely there won’t be discounts for one of those times.  So, I wait. . .  Instead of waiting to make the reservation, I go ahead and make the reservation including the deposit, know that I can change it depending on availability or cancel if necessary.

Fastpass+ selection:  As Annual Passholders we can log into our MDE account and make Fastpass+ selections for 30 days in advance regardless of whether or not we have a resort reservation.  I could make a Fastpass+ selection for tomorrow if I wanted!  But, I won’t be in the middle of the magic tomorrow, so I refrain.  When we DO have a resort reservation and it is linked to our MDE account, we can then make Fastpass+ selections 60 days ahead just like all other Walt Disney World Resort guests.

Renewing:  Will we?  Won’t we?  Annual Passes can be renewed on-line or in person and there is time to renew up to 30 days after the pass expires.  There are even discounts for renewing Annual Passes within that time frame.  We’ll be back to Orlando within that time frame!

The husband and I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and I told him that it may be difficult for me to enjoy breaks from work where we don’t have trips planned knowing that we have access to all that magic at our fingertips; that we would just need to get ourselves there.  He understood.  Can’t say I didn’t warn him!

Oh, and I need to make sure we pack the Passholder MagicBands!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Walt Disney World--Planning a Trip: How This Has Changed For Us




Let’s turn back time to 2006 to our first trip to Walt Disney World.  I recall us taking a 5 night trip, stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with a multi-day Park Hopper ticket and the Disney Dining Plan (it included tip and appetizer then!).  The boy was four years old and we had a stroller.  I remember that we paid full price for that trip—no discounts, no sales.  The planning for that trip compared to how we plan a trip now is VERY different.  Some of the changes are due to technology like Fastpass+ and MagicBands.  Some of the changes are due to personal preference and experience. 

Transportation to Orlando:  One thing that hasn’t changed is that we fly.  How we purchase airfare has changed.  No longer do I feel like we need to purchase round trip airfare up front or even fly the same air carrier both directions.  What is important is that we start and end our trip at the same airport!  Technology has helped us get great deals on airfare—using websites such as Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com that regularly check fares and update me when there are changes via either daily or weekly emails—depending on my preference.  I find that once we have a firm arrival date either because we’ve got a great airfare date or due to work/school restrictions, we then purchase air TO Orlando.  I may wait weeks, even months before purchasing return flights.  And, while this can make some people nervous (and it would have made me nervous at one point too), waiting has made for some great fares and money savings! 

I’m pickier about flight times, too.  Knowing that Disney’s Magical Express picks up guests 3 hours before a flight, I’m less inclined to select that 6:00 am or 7:00 am return flight.  Those flight times also make it impossible to use Resort Airline Check-in, as it doesn’t open until 5:00 am, and I want Disney to handle my luggage as much as possible, rather than me toting it to the airport and schlepping it through the airline counter check-in queue.  I prefer stepping onto Disney’s Magical Express with my carry-on bag and boarding pass in hand!

Resort stays:  One thing that hasn’t changed is that we stay on Disney property at a Walt Disney World Resort.  That first trip, we stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach.  Other stays include Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, Coronado Springs, and most recently Pop Century.  Disney veterans will recognize that all of those resorts but Pop Century are considered “moderate” resorts, while Pop Century is a “value” resort.  And, while we wouldn’t rule out another stay at a value resort—click here to read moreabout our stay at Pop Century—it has become evident that moderates better fit our staying style.  So, next trip, we return to Coronado Springs. 

Park Tickets:  Over the history of thirteen different trip to Walt Disney World, we have had multi-day hopper tickets, multi-day non hopper tickets, and even a stay with a one-day one park ticket.  Note:  we wanted the Dining Plan and had to have at least a one-day ticket in order to add the Dining Plan to our package.  Disney has since changed the park ticket requirement allowing resort only stays to add on Dining Plans.  Now, we have Annual Passes that allow for park hopping.  Some trips we have added the “water parks and more” to our tickets allowing for entry into both Disney water parks, DisneyQuest, and access to miniature golf.  Now, our Annual Passes include entry into the water parks, and discounted miniature golf.  When prospective guests ask me about what type of ticket they need, it really comes down to a few questions and priorities for their trip to determine their specific park ticket and/or package needs. 

Dining Plan:  Yeah, we tried to go without it one trip, but added the plan to our package three weeks before our departure date.  Our preference is the “basic” dining plan which includes one table service, one counter service, and one snack credit per person per night of stay along with a refillable mug.  There are other Dining Plans—Deluxe and Quick Service that guests could consider.  There are even wine packages that can be added—this is Disney after all and they DO think of everything. 

What hasn’t changed is that we make Advanced Dining Reservations for table service meals.  And, yes, we typically know where and when we want to dine 180 days in advance.  I will share that on our most recent trip, I made changes to our dining plans a couple of weeks before our trip—something I had never done before.  And, since we’re less than three months from our next trip, I still needed to make a couple of ADR’s and took care of them just recently.  It may be notable that we still have a table service credit that isn’t allocated as of yet.  I’m waiting for a new restaurant to open up before our trip. . . a new adventure!

It is also not uncommon for us to now make more dining reservations than we have table service credits for and pay out of pocket for some meals.  On our last trip, we paid for two of our table service meals out of pocket.  On the trip that we are currently planning for there will be one meal we pay for out of pocket. 

Another note could be made that in addition to various park tickets and Dining Plans that are available, there are also several package plans that guests can select that not only include Dining, but tour access, show access, and even golf access. 

Park Touring:  During our early trips, our park touring style would have been described as just shy of commando.  We arrived at the parks at rope drop and stayed until late in the day and sometimes park closing without leaving for a break.  Morning Extra Magic Hours were a resort amenities we took advantage of.  We would collect our Fastpasses and spend the day using them—as this was before Disney enforced return times.  When Fastpass return times were enforced, we adjusted accordingly, still using the morning to collect our paper Fastpasses.  During longer stays, we would build in “break days” where we enjoyed resort amenities and ventured to Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs. 

When we went to Disneyland in the summer of 2015, we did take afternoon breaks from the parks.  I think it had to do with the time difference making early mornings easy but nighttime spectaculars hard along with the proximity of the resorts to the parks. 

Now, with Fastpass+ we have adjusted our park touring, still preferring to be at rope drop at certain parks and do spend entire days—open to close—also at certain parks.  Our ideal day at Walt Disney World, especially during warmer months, would be to enjoy a great breakfast either at our resort or another resort, spend the morning and early afternoon at a water park, return to our resort to clean-up, and then make our way to a theme park to enjoy the evening with Fastpass+’s already selected and dining reservations already made. 

Photo packages:  It took until trip number 2 or 3 before I got hooked on Photopass and Photopass packages.  Now, I can’t imagine a trip to Walt Disney World without some sort of photo package.  Thank goodness for Memory Maker and discounts for pre-purchasing.  I remember watching a family get their daughter’s picture taken in the Photopass studio at (then) Downtown Disney after her appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the mother agonizing over a photo purchase.  The Photopass Cast Member missed an opportunity to sell the package as this was the family’s arrival day to Walt Disney World (yes, I was eves dropping) and the mother walked away with making a purchase.  I was in pain for her!  Given the number of photos that were taken in that studio combined with what photos could be taken over the coming days, they would have come out ahead with a photo package.  I so regret not speaking up at that moment.  Alas, now that we have Annual Passes, we have unlimited downloads of photos taken on our Photopass/Memory Maker account!

Packing:  This planning category has NOT changed.  I still over pack.  I mostly pack ahead of time, although the “ahead of time” is getting closer and closer to departure dates.  And, we have a list of needed park items that stay in the suitcase from one trip to the next—park touring bag/backpack, pocket seats, umbrella, ponchos, etc.  Also, I used to pack a power strip but now I pack a multi-port USB charger along with a portable charger to take with us to use during the day.

I’m curious about what Disney vacation planning changes we will make over the coming years.  One thing I’m pretty certain about is that Disney vacations will continue to be a priority for our family.