How Being a WDW Annual Passholder Changed Our Vacations

How Being a WDW Annual Passholder Changed Our Vacations

For a couple years now we’ve heard that being a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder would save us money, so this past year, we finally took the leap. Mind you, we hear this sentiment about the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) as well and have yet to figure out the math. An annual pass though is a little easier to break down and understand, but one of the most surprising things from having this extra tool in our arsenal of Disney tricks was how much it changed our vacation style, and not in a way we would have guessed. 

When thinking about a Disney Annual Pass realize that you are just paying to get into a theme park for one year. Since it may be out of state for most of you, you would have to factor in things like transportation and number of family members to see if financially an AP would work for you. We’ll be sharing a post on the cost breakdown and whether or not its a good deal later.

What we learned most from this year from being an annual passholder was that it ended up not really being about the money or making it “worth it” at all, and we are speaking from a place of strict budgeting here. Instead, it became about how different our Disney Vacations are when we have this pass. Mind you we won’t have one every year so it was great to see the differences between the AP life and the regular Disney Vacationer life.

annual pass at disney world

Disney Annual Passholder Cost

This year we had the Disney Platinum Pass, which costs about 780 dollars for one year. This was as much as my new iPhone and pretty hard to stomach. Being non-Florida residents this meant we had no blackout dates, could get a 10-20% discount at most shops and restaurants, discounts on resort rooms and “free” admission into all four parks all year. This doesn’t include admission into the water parks or the ESPN events, both of which have their own passes. I love the water parks so this was sad news for me, but as the water parks annual pass would have been another 150, I had to draw the line somewhere. And again we would have had to factor in things like flights and transportation every time we’d decide to visit WDW.

disney annual passholder perks

The Mindset of a Disney Annual Passholder

The mindset of an annual pass holder goes like this. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll do it next time”, “Gosh, I hope I remember to ask if they take the AP discount( cause not all places do)”, “lets sleep in”, “why don’t we do a resort day?”, “geez it’s crowded”, “why don’t these people know how to use the magic band reader?”

Yes, it sometimes gets that bad. Key takeaways here are as follows.

1. Since you can now go to any park you like, whenever you like throughout the year the urgency, importance and frantic feelings go away.

2. Not everywhere takes the AP discount, so if you’re factoring that savings into your plan, be sure to check for the list of places it’s accepted. Saving that 20% on dinner or at the gift shop however is always amazing to see in print though, so its always worth asking.

3. Your days may start later than normal because everything will still be there whenever you decide to wake up. This is not necessarily a great part of the mindset to have. Mainly because right around 10-11am is when everyone else is trying to get to the parks. So the busses will be crowded, the lines longer and you will have missed that lovely time of the morning in the parks between 8-10am when fewer people are there.

4. Resort days are an attempt to vary up the routine of just going to the four parks for the length of your vacation. That said, they’re also free to go to regardless, so you don’t actually need an annual pass to hang out at your own or visit another. The pass however gives you the freedom to “waste” a day if you want.

5. Evenings and weekends are always crowded, and the holidays are crowded always. As an annual passholder you’ve seen the parks throughout the entire year, so you’re hyper aware of the crowds, and which level of crowds you like best.

6. And yes, there will be times when you can’t figure out whats holding up the line, wonder why you have to wait, and people may annoy you. But again, this is primarily because your level of Disney expertise has skyrocketed since becoming a pass holder. Be patient.

Our Disney Vacation Planning Changed

One of the completely unexpected parts of handing over 780 dollars to the House of Mouse was that our Vacation planning also changed. Why? Well, because if we were gearing up to visit Disney several times a year we no longer needed to wake up at 4 am when the fast pass for Flight of Passage went live for our vacation dates. ( Yes, we do this.) We no longer needed to take off a day of work to sit home and make Advanced Dining Reservations for our top choice restaurants on the first day we were allowed to do so. (We do this also.) Essentially we had just figured if we miss something this time around, we’ll get it next time around. We still made fast pass reservations and dining reservations but now it was just about picking the things we already we knew we liked. The stuff not on our bucket lists wouldn’t really have lines anyway or need a reservation so if we missed a key dinner, we could find an alternative.

Our Daily Disney Experience Changed

This annual pass also allowed us a little more freedom to try things we may not try, as in things we weren’t sure we’d actually like. While this sounds strange, we are great proponents of research and bucket lists with only the must do, must see and must eat things. We want it practically perfect every time. But this often leaves us only doing the best things and not really wanting to “waste” time on the potentially sub-par ( but also enjoyable) things. It also leaves us fairly harried, adamant on making our Disney vacation perfect. With an annual pass in tow, we were able to waste as much time as we wanted exploring and trying out new things, definitely something we would have not done if we only had one annual trip a year.

dumbo at walt disney world

We Park Hopped More than We Thought

Prior to this year we had made an annual trip every year to Disney for the last couple years. We looked forward to this sabbatical and would think about it all year long; which restaurants we wanted to try, which rides to book, which resorts to visit. One thing, however, never changed from year to year; we’d only visit one park each day. The park hopper option was always an extra cost and one we didn’t feel necessary. Truthfully we thought, why bother? If we’re at Magic Kingdom we don’t want to leave and get on a bus and go to another park.

This impacted our planning immensely. Everyone knows NOT go to Magic Kingdom or Epcot on the weekends, so we’d shove those parks into the weekdays, and then of course we’d have to factor in when the fireworks were, the parades, the extra magic hours, etc. Multiple excel sheets were needed during the planning process and while I do love the planning, the AP completely took away this need. With the park hopper built in to the pass we could go to Magic Kingdom on a Saturday and then if it got to crowded, go to Hollywood Studios instead. We often had days split between two parks with a small break in between at a resort for lunch. This too felt weird. For what previously felt like a big waste of time suddenly felt a little like freedom. When Magic Kingdom closed early we could go to Hollywood Studios or Epcot to finish out the evening and vice versa. While I don’t think we’d purchase the park hopper on a regular vacation, in years where we have the Annual Pass, we will surely take advantage of this perk.

walt disney world hub grass

We Built in More Down Time at Disney

We are huge fans of the hub grass at Magic Kingdom. It’s close proximity to the castle, bathrooms, Starbucks and the gift shops makes it the perfect place to sit and relax for a minute. As a bonus you get to see the castle show, glimpse the parades and even hear the dapper dans from the hub. Apart from totally looking like an insider when you’re just sitting hanging out while everyone else is rushing around trying to do all the things, the hub grass also offers the best spots for cute castle photos- which we can never get enough of.

Not being tied to a very tight schedule and o.k. about missing a fast pass here and there we chose to sit and make crafts at Animal Kingdom Lodge, take the boat to Wilderness Lodge to browse the gift shop there, hang out on the beach with a dole whip at The Polynesian, watch the street show at Hollywood Studios. It was suddenly ok to just be hanging out. This was a completely new feeling for us this year. Being on a very tight budget, we are sometimes preoccupied with getting our money’s worth and less preoccupied with just having a nice time, aka…being on a vacation where you actually relax.

disney down time disney relax

Everything Was Less Stressful

Surely you know what i’m talking about here. You’re at Disney. You paid god knows how much for this super magical vacation for your family, and you’ve been waiting 40 minutes for the bus to bring you to the parks. No one likes waiting in lines. It’s even harder to handle when you’re secretly calculating how much money was wasted to stand around at the bus stop. And while we didn’t love waiting for the bus or standing in long lines at security or not being able to move in the crowded gift shops, we also knew that it really didn’t matter. We didn’t need to be upset about it. We can’t control the buses or the crowds and there would be other days or trips where there would be shorter lines, less people and busses arriving on time.

We were no longer buying the Magic Your Way package

The Magic Your Way Package is required for certain promotions, like resort offers, and free dining. Since we like taking advantage of the free dining when it comes around this meant that in order to get the offer we needed a magic your way package for a few nights at the resort, and then the rest of the nights were AP discounted nights. Definitely call if you ‘re an AP and hoping to get the special promotions.

We Got to Experience AP Perks and Special Previews

A favorite perk of the AP lifestyle was that you get your own special line to swipe in magic bands at the front gates. These lines were most of the time shorter than the regular lines ( but not on weekends). We also got Passholder Previews which meant we were invited to see anything new that opened in the parks, before the public was allowed. This is by far the biggest perk especially with all the new things Disney is doing over the next couple years in preparation  for the 2021 anniversary.

pandora disney passholder preview

Being able to roam Pandora before it opened with only 100 other people at a time was fairly magical, especially seeing that now wait times are almost 3 hours for Fight of Passage and there are still shoulder to shoulder crowds.

For us, we visited Walt Disney World seven times this past year, so it was totally worth it, but we also knew that was the plan going into the investment. Whatever your reasons for considering an Annual Pass at Walt Disney World just remember that its less about the money and more about how you plan to use it during the year.

being a walt disney passholder what to know