This post breaks down the confusing world of Disneyland Annual Passes to help you determine if an AP is for you, and if so, which one. It also covers some of the benefits of having an Annual Pass, and ways to make the most of those benefits.
Worth noting up front is that a Disneyland Annual Pass is probably not for most people who live outside Southern California. Even if you’re the type who has a Walt Disney World Annual Pass while living in Indiana, since typical visiting patterns are different for Disneyland, the percentage of out of state visitors to Disneyland who will need an Annual Pass is pretty small. Basically, it’s those people who will make a few trips to Disneyland per year, or who already have Walt Disney World Annual Passes.
With that said, a Disneyland Annual Pass is one of only three things Southern Californians need to survive (the others being In-N-Out Burger and Rainbows flip flops). Also, possibly water–but hopefully not, since there isn’t much of that stuff to go around.
Wondering if an Annual Pass is right for you? Let’s crunch the numbers and take a look at the benefits…
Which Annual Pass?
Currently, Disneyland has 4 tiers of Annual Passes available for ‘new’ purchase. The SoCal Select Annual Pass for $299, the Deluxe for $549, the Premium for $779, and the Premier for $1,099. Disney Vacation Club members can save $20 on the Deluxe and Premium Annual Passes.
Given its price, the Southern California Select Annual Pass is probably the most appealing of these passes. It has a significant number of blockout days, but is still valid for 170 days. These blockout days include every Saturday and Sunday, plus the busier times of year like summer and the weeks around holidays. If you live in Southern California (proof of residency is required), have a casual interest in visiting Disneyland more than 3-4 days spread throughout the year, and don’t mind not being able to go on weekends or other popular times, this is the pass for you. (Note that if you used to get this pass and then buy the cheap blockout day tickets, those tickets are no longer available, so that’s not a viable strategy.)
I don’t have any way of proving this, but I’d hazard a guess that this is Disneyland’s most popular Annual Pass by a wide margin. Disneyland is a Southern California institution, but most locals aren’t as passionate about it as those who read Disney blogs. It’s a ‘go a few random days per year’ or ‘drop the kids off as an alternative to the mall or movies on a Friday night’ type of thing. If Disneyland simply represents an entertainment alternative that you enjoy but don’t “need” to go all the time, this is probably the option for you. Its cost–even without parking being included–makes it alluring.
Of course, with that comes trade-offs. If the best times for you to visit Disneyland are when your kids are out of school, virtually the only time you’ll be able to go is at night on school days. For many people, that’s impractical, meaning that even though the pass costs less, it doesn’t offer actual value. After all, if you can’t use it much, what’s the point?
Next up is the Deluxe. Before jumping to the Premier Pass, the Deluxe is the Disneyland AP we had, but I think it’s going to have limited appeal. This pass is valid 315 days per year, nearly double the SoCal Select AP, but also nearly double the cost. Besides the blockout dates, the big issue with this pass is that parking isn’t included. At $17 to park per visit, it takes 14 visits in a year for parking alone to consume the difference in cost between the Deluxe and Premium APs. Who this pass will probably most appeal to is guests, like us, who were visiting Disneyland a few times a year from out of state and would be staying at a nearby hotel, hence no need for the parking.
If you’re willing to spend this much on an Annual Pass, there’s probably a decent chance that you will use it 14 times per year, effectively justifying the leap to the Premium Annual Pass (unless you carpool, in which case you could get away with one person in your group having the Premium). There’s also the difference in discounts offered between the Deluxe and Premium Annual Passes. The Deluxe and SoCal Select receive 10% off food and merchandise. The Premium and Premier receive 15% off food and 20% off merchandise. Those 5% and 10% differences can add up quickly if you visit a lot and spend money while in the parks.
This leaves the Premium Annual Pass is a practical alternative to the Deluxe, albeit at a hefty $779 price tag. This pass has no blockout dates, and includes the aforementioned parking and higher discount rates. This pass is probably only an option for those with money to spare, or who are more than casual Disneyland fans. Not necessarily just those “hardcore” fans, but the type of people who go fairly regularly, be it for a weekly Sunday date night, regular trips in the summer to break the kids away from the latest episode of SpongeBob, or what have you.
With the SoCal Select and Premium Annual Passes occupying opposite ends of the spectrum, there is a gap in the middle for those who are casual about Disneyland, not able to go only on weeknights, but also not wanting to shell out $550+ for one of the higher tiers of Annual Passes. With Disneyland retooling the Annual Pass program as of late and eliminating the standard Southern California Annual Pass (except for renewals), it seems that this is entirely by design. Disney likely wants these people “in the middle” to purchase regular tickets. If this describes you, check out our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets post for ways to save on those.
Finally, and almost mentioned here as an afterthought, the Premier Annual Pass breaks the $1,000 barrier, and is not something that many guests will need. This pass is so expensive because it combines the highest tier of Annual Passes for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Since this pass is only for the most “hardcore” Disney fans, let’s start with the assumption that you’d otherwise be getting the Disneyland or Walt Disney World Premium Annual Pass. If that’s the case, and it’s also true that you’ll be spending 3+ days per year at the other coast’s parks, it’s likely worthwhile for you to get the Premier. This is basically the calling card of the uber Disney nerd, and we still encounter Cast Members who have never seen these when we use them at the parks.
The main Annual Passholder discounts are on dining and merchandise. In terms of merchandise, the SoCal Select and Deluxe Annual Passes offer 10% discounts, while the Premium and Premier Annual Passes give 20% discounts.
Dining is another big one, especially if you eat at Disneyland Resort on a fairly regular basis. The SoCal Select Annual Pass and Deluxe Annual Pass offer 10% discounts on dining, while the Premium and Premier APs provide 15% discounts. These discounts are valid at counter and table service restaurants in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, but not at outdoor vending carts or any small spots that doesn’t quite qualify as a restaurant.
If you’re addicted to Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port like every patriotic American, you know the savings on dining can be clutch. That 15% discount is essentially $1 off every slice of pizza there, and if you consume the recommended daily allowance of pizza, that’s a savings of like $8 per day! 😉
There are other discounts available on Guided Tours (usually 20%), at Downtown Disney (usually 10%), and at hotels–both the official Disneyland hotels and a variety of off-site hotels. The hotel discounts vary widely.
These discounts are something to really consider if you’re on the fence about regular tickets versus an Annual Pass. They add up if you visit often and eat or purchase souvenirs or stay in hotels nearby. If you are on the fence and have family members who will regularly accompany you, it’s probably worth it for one person in your party to purchase the Annual Pass to take advantage of those discounts. To illustrate, let’s say you’re part of a family of 4 wanting to visit Disneyland around 5 Saturdays spread throughout the year (meaning one day tickets). When looking at ticket prices alone, it does not make sense to get the Deluxe. However, if you’ll be spending $150 on food and merchandise per visit, the discounts push you over the top and make one Annual Pass worthwhile. Your mileage may vary on this, but it’s something to consider.
There are a wide variety of special events exclusive to Annual Passholders. These range from the regularly scheduled Annual Passholder parties (usually APs are eligible for one right before their pass expires; think of it as a way for Disneyland to encourage renewal) to events celebrating attraction anniversaries to preview nights for upcoming entertainment.
Most recently, we attended a party for the 20th Anniversary of Indiana Jones Adventure, which included a presentation by Tony Baxter, Indy themed streetmosphere entertainment, and a slate of attractions operating, all after the park closed to regular day guests. With the Disneyland 60th Anniversary starting soon, it’s widely expected that there will be AP preview nights for the new parade, fireworks, and World of Color. In the past, there have been exclusive shows at the Golden Horseshoe and other offerings for Limited Time Magic and more.
As far as these special events go, there really is no set formula for what Disneyland does. Milestone attraction anniversaries and new attraction openings are the most obvious ones, but there have been other, random events. These are entirely sporadic and having an AP doesn’t guarantee admission–you have to register for the event on the Annual Passholder site, which requires hearing about it before the events fill up.
For whatever reason, Disneyland does not email Annual Passholders about this with any consistency (same goes for physical mailings…it seems like whenever they send something, 50% of APs are chosen at random to receive it), so the best way to keep up on announcements and the event schedule is to Like the Disneyland AP Facebook page or Follow @DisneylandAP on Twitter.
I wouldn’t recommend that anyone purchase an Annual Pass specifically for the special events, but if you are able to take advantage of one or more, they end up being a really nice, value-added perk.
Wednesdays with Walt
Finally, Wednesdays with Walt is a weekly screening of various television specials hosted by Walt Disney in the Main Street Opera House. You can find a full schedule here.
It might seem like this is a seemingly minor thing to devote an entire heading, especially since it properly fits into ‘Special Events’ above, but honestly, the rest of this post is simply a pretext for this section. It just seemed an entire article devoted to Wednesdays with Walt might be excessive.
I love Wednesdays with Walt not just because it provides a rare look at restored footage from the Disneyland and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color television shows, but because it exists in the first place. Annual Passholders in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World have complained about feeling marginalized or like Disney doesn’t care about them, instead wanting the big-spending once in a lifetime or infrequent visitors.
Things like Wednesdays with Walt demonstrate that there are people in the Company who care about Annual Passholders and the legacy of Walt Disney. Even with 3 showings per week, Wednesdays with Walt is reaching a small audience, but despite that, there is a passionate group of Cast Members dedicated to putting it on. With this offering, there seem to be no ulterior motives besides giving back to Annual Passholders and keeping alive the vision and history of Walt Disney. I sincerely applaud that, and it makes me feel appreciated at bit more as an AP. It’s something minor, but it’s one of those things that makes me confident Disney cares about more than just selling Olaf plushes.
I know most people who read this are not Disneyland locals, and this isn’t the sort of thing to plan a trip around, but if it alerts even a few of you to this great event who otherwise might be unaware of it, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something. The schedule for Wednesdays with Walt is pretty stacked from now until the end of July, so if you get a chance, make plans to drop in for one of the showings!