Disneyland Annual Passes 2016: My Opinion

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So a small disclaimer to start: I’m the one my friends ask about Disney stuff and after getting asked about the new Annual Passes two times in as many days, I thought it was time to write down my opinion. And it is just that, my opinion and as the saying goes, we all have one. This just happens to be mine. I don’t have any special knowledge around these things. I’m not a travel agent, economist, marketer or cast member. All I am is a Disneyland passholder for over a decade now who has access to the Internet and a calculator 😉

The rise in prices created quite the stir (and that’s an understatement!) in the Disney fan community. The top tier pass went up $270 over the previous year and lower tiers had similar hikes. They did add some new perks, specifically parking and PhotoPass added to the top two passes, but overall, they remain the same. In fact, since it seems you can no longer purchase a ticket at a reduced rate on blockout dates, I’d say they actually got worse. I can definitely see how these changes effect and upset many past, current and future AP holders.

But to get to the real question: if you’re still considering an annual pass, which pass is right for you? I based my thoughts on a some assumptions, those being:

  1. The obvious one: You’ll go frequently enough that you’ll actually consider becoming a Passholder. When running my calculations for break even/savings numbers, I only used the difference in cost between the next lower pass (usually $250-270) and the cost of the perk. So, definitely not extensive. I didn’t want to add more complication to it so I didn’t figure in the cost of just going into the parks.
  2. You’re an adult. I used numbers from the 10+ pass.
  3. You have a bit of flexibility on when you can go. If you only have certain dates you can go, then the decision becomes a lot easier. Which pass can you use on the dates you’ll be there? Buy that one! That decision also requires a comparing of cost of just tickets vs pass and those are totally different set of numbers. 
  4. The percentage discount savings you get on food and in-park purchases are, largely, irrelevant. It adds a ton more complexity and it’s so personal to your own Disney habits. I think it’s a nice little perk but it really only adds up over several visits and more expensive items. If you’re buying a couple or more Dooney & Bourke bags over the year, it starts to add up but if you’re buying yourself a $10 quick service meal, the fifty cents you save between the Deluxe and Signature Plus pass really isn’t going to factor in unless you’re doing it on a fairly regular basis, like weekly or more. 

I think it really depends on how often you want to go but for most people, I’d say Deluxe is best. I think it strikes the right balance between cost and freedom from blockout dates. The SoCal is cheapest but it seems to block out all the weekends and school/national holiday sections. If you work a regular 9-to-5 and don’t want to be taking time off for every trip, SoCal probably just is not going to work for you. The $270 difference between the two could easily be worth it if you don’t have paid time off or if you want to save it up and use it for anything else. Oh, it also requires you to provide proof of your Southern California residency so if you’re not a resident, it’s right out step one.

Bumping up to Signature really depends on how much you care about the parking and PhotoPass perks. I did some of the math and it came out to the following:

  • Parking is, at the writing of this, $18 for an automobile, so you’ll finally start saving over your initial investment on your fourteenth visit if you just use the parking benefit.
  • When you add the PhotoPass in, that break even point comes a lot faster. PhotoPass currently costs $39 a day. You’ll start saving on your seventh visit if you’re just taking advantage of PhotoPass.
  • If you’ll use both, you’ll start saving on the fifth visit.

Personally, I wouldn’t even consider Signature Plus unless you’re a hardcore Disneyland fan. It’s only real benefit is the fact that it has no blockout dates. This perk comes at an additional $200 over the standard Signature so it’s not an insignificant amount. At this point you’re paying over a thousand dollars for a year of Disney time so be realistic about how often you’re really going to be bummed because you’re blocked out on a day you want to go.  

If you’re the Signature Plus level of Disney fan, you may also vacation at Walt Disney World and in that case, you may want to look into the Premier pass. Once you hit your fifth day at World, you’ll start saving money over the cost of Signature Plus plus the WDW Park Hopper with Water Parks and More add on. Premier gives you a no blockout days pass to both parks, including the Water Parks and More at WDW and all the top tier perks at both parks, for $1439 plus tax. One more caveat here though: You must pay for the pass at purchase. No payment plans are available for the Premier pass. Also, based on some reading, it seems like if you already have a pass on the payment plan, you have to pay off the balance in your payment plan and the difference in cost between your pass and the Premier at the time of purchase. My husband and I actually had it for a year due to a sale that was going on for Disney Vacation Club members.

As a side note now that I’ve brought up DVC, I’ll just briefly mention that you might assume that, based on the fact that you’re buying into a Disney timeshare, you’d get discounts on your tickets. This is generally untrue. There is no standing discount on passes to either parks for DVC members. I’ll let you know my personal experience but I definitely wouldn’t base any decision making on it.

We’ve been DVC members since 2014 and we’ve seen two sales. The first was the discount on the Premier passes I mentioned above which ultimately saved us about $400. This happened around the time of our joining in March 2014. The second was a recent one celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Vacation Club that, if I’m remembering correctly, gave you a free day if you purchased tickets for four or more days at Walt Disney World. It also gave you the Water Parks and More add on for free. 

So yeah! Those are my long winded thoughts about Disneyland Annual Passes in 2016. If you’ve read these thousand words, you’re a champ! Have any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you. Thanks for visiting and have a great day!

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