Walt Disney World is set to resume selling annual passes, but the new slate of offerings will come without some key perks that used to sweeten the deal for many travelers.
Although Walt Disney World
reopened last summer, the House of Mouse has not been selling annual passes since then, owing to the operational challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As promised by executives, the annual pass program is returning in time for the resort’s 50th anniversary celebration that kicks off on Oct. 1.
The four tiers of passes, which vary based on price and eligibility, will be sold beginning Sept. 8. Here’s how the new passes break down based on price and who can purchase them:
|Pass||Price||Who can purchase?|
|Disney Pixie Dust Pass||$399 plus tax||Florida residents|
|Disney Pirate Pass||$699 plus tax||Florida residents|
|Disney Sorcerer Pass||$899 plus tax||Florida residents and Disney Vacation Club members|
|Disney Incredi-Pass||$1,299 plus tax||Anyone|
Depending on when people last purchased annual passholders, they may now experience sticker shock.
“The price is roughly the same as it was just before they ended the annual pass program,” said Don Munsil, co-owner of travel website MouseSavers.com. “However, those prices had only been in effect for a few months before they ended the program.”
People who already have annual passes will be able to get a discount on the new slate of passes if they renew their membership. Florida residents can pay for their annual passes in monthly installments after making a $205 down payment.
Key perks are missing — or cost extra
One of the appeals of the annual passes — besides the obvious cost savings of being able to enter the theme parks as many times as one wants over the course of a year — is that they historically have come with a range of perks.
Many of these benefits remain intact, including free parking and discounts on merchandise and dining. But two key perks that were free in the past with some or all of the annual passes will now cost people extra.
One of these perks is unlimited PhotoPass downloads. With PhotoPass, guests to the four theme parks at Walt Disney World can get pictures taken by Disney photographers throughout the park and photos taken on rides, which they can then download at home. This used to be included, for free, with all annual passes, but will now cost $99 before tax per person. However, one person’s PhotoPass covers everyone they’re traveling with, so it won’t be strictly necessary for every family member to purchase the add-on.
Unlimited photo downloads from theme park photographers will now cost $99 a year, plus tax, for annual passholders.
Separately, the top tier of annual passes at Walt Disney World used to include admission to the resort’s two water parks — Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon — plus other locations including golf courses and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Admission to these locations is no longer included with any pass, but visitors can purchase another $99 add-on to any pass to get admission to each of these locations without any blackout dates.
The latter add-on might actually be a benefit to people who bought cheaper passes in the past. “Lots of lower-tier passholders wanted water park access before, and weren’t going to buy a $1,300 pass to get it,” Munsil said.
Another consideration for visitors to Walt Disney World thinking of buying an annual pass is that one perk that used to be available to any theme park guest now costs money. Disney recently announced that it was retiring the FastPass+ system with Walt Disney World, and replacing it with a paid service called Genie+.
Both versions of the perk allow visitors to essentially cut the lines at popular attractions — but doing so now comes at a cost of $15 per day per person. A Disney spokesperson confirmed that as of now annual passholders won’t receive discounts for Genie+.
“We should absolutely expect that Disney will continue to make moves to raise the average cost of a day at Walt Disney World,” Munsil said. “All of these annual pass changes fit into that model.”
Here’s who is affected the most by the annual pass changes
A key discount offered to families who bought into Disney’s timeshare program, the Disney Vacation Club, isn’t present with the new slate of annual passes. Previously, DVC members could purchase the top-tier annual pass and receive a 20% discount.
Consequently, the higher prices for top-tier passes, combined with the loss of that discount, means the most expensive passes have essentially risen in price by 45% for DVC members, said Len Testa, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” and president of travel website Touring Plans.
The change “really shows Disney putting the squeeze on DVC members who want to visit during the holidays,” Testa said, since other passes — including one reserved for DVC members and Florida residents — have blackout dates that preclude using the passes during the busiest times of the year.
Disney Vacation Club members won’t enjoy a discount on the top-tier annual passes as they did in the past.
“This is a way of Disney forcing them to pay a lot more to use their timeshares over holidays,” Testa added. “If they don’t then Disney thinks they can sell those unused hotel rooms to cash-paying guests, and make even more money.”
Additionally, three of the four passes are now reserved for Florida residents (or DVC members, in the case of the Sorcerer Pass.) That’s unfortunate for many families who are within driving distance of the “Most Magical Place on Earth” and bought cheaper passes in the past.
“The single-day drive-time distance to Disney World includes Georgia, South and North Carolina,” Munsil said. “Locking all those people out of the cheaper passes is an aggressive move, and one that is already causing much consternation on the Disney discussion groups.”
Reservations are still required — and blackout days apply
As was the case previously with the annual pass program, blackout days apply when passholders cannot use their passes to gain admission. The least expensive passes carry more restrictions on when visitors can travel to the theme parks — though Disney said it will roll out special blackout-free days from time to time.
But as with the new annual passes that recently rolled out at Disneyland in California, reservations are still required for everyone who visits Disney’s Florida theme parks — even if they are an annual passholder.
Different passes have different reservation limits, between three reservations and five reservations at any time. The good news for passholders: If they stay at a Walt Disney World hotel or timeshare, they can book reservations for the duration of their stay.
“It’s abundantly clear that they have separate reservation ‘buckets’ for tickets versus annual passes,” Munsil said. “I expect that they will shrink the annual pass bucket to as small as they think they can get away with on peak days like Christmas vacation week and Spring Break.”