Short of knowing someone who works at Disney Parks, the least expensive way to visit Disneyland is, in fact, still an annual pass, despite its many recent price hikes, that is if you plan to visit the parks at least 3 times a year.
And because Disneyland is our happy place, and we really do love being there, I decided it’s time to get those Annual Passes back. So here are all the nitty-gritty considerations for making this pricey decision, with all the details to help you make the right decision to save as much as you can and with the annual pass that’s right for YOU!
The Basic and More-Than-Basic Math To Know
The most basic math you can do is take the price of the annual pass and divide it by $100 (average price of your one-day-one-park ticket), while minding on what days you’re able to go, and see if you’re planning on visiting the park at least this many times.
There’s more complicated math to be considered, though. Consider these points:
- How much extra is parking for your planned visits? (This is the most important consideration!)
- Will you eat at the parks and how many meals?
- Will you purchase Photopass photos?
- Do you shop a lot for merchandise?
- Are you a weekend only visitor or can you make week days work?
To check out all pass options and rates, and to purchase passes online, please visit Disneyland’s page for that here. Having it open while reading along below might be very helpful to you as well.
Before I bought our 2017 Annual Passes, I did some serious calculating, down to every dollar saved and spent, and here are my best recommendations of who should get which annual pass for Disneyland.
DISNEY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SELECT PASS
At $329, this is the least expensive pass, but also the one with the most block out dates. Basically, you can only go on weekdays, excluding many Fridays. And forget summer fun. June, July, and August are blocked out. If you don’t like summer crowds, then that shouldn’t present a problem, though. Same goes for Christmas time. The second half of December is a no-go.
Important to note here is that this pass does not include parking. So every time you go, you will pay $18 at the structure. You can go up to 28 times a year before this pass will no longer be worth its value simply based on parking rates and compared to other pass pricing.
If you are a stay-at-home parent, or you have a very flexible work schedule, and your kids are not yet in school, this is a great pass option. Just know that you’ll be going during non-peak week days.
DISNEY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PASS
At $459, this is the second-least expensive option, and for only $130 more, you get a lot more days! The biggest difference here is that you get mostly all Fridays and Sundays in addition to week days, so really only Saturdays are off the table. You get to go during June, but your Christmas time here is blocked as well.
Since you do have Fridays and Sundays to go, I would recommend this pass even if you work and your kids are in school. Just miss all the crazy busy Saturdays.
When taking parking into consideration, know that you can go up to 21 times before this pass loses its value. That’s twice a month, considering June is all blocked and some months are almost-all blocked.
I would definitely recommend this pass over the California Select because it gives you a lot more flexibility and Sundays at an only marginally higher cost.
DISNEY DELUXE PASS
As pricing increases, blockout dates decrease. This pass is priced at $599 and offers most days out of the year, including all summer, and half of the year’s Saturdays. While that sounds great, there’s one big reason why I would NOT RECOMMEND this pass: It does not include parking and you cannot go more than 13 times a year for this pass to be worth it.
So unless you take public transportation to and from the parks, or are a student who gets dropped off on the curb by their parents, I don’t see the value here, especially since your shopping and dining discounts are kept at 10% versus 15-20% for the next higher one up.
Only recommended for those who need no Disney parking ever!
DISNEY SIGNATURE PASS
Now if you ask me, THIS one is the one to get. And that’s because this is the first pass that includes Disney parking. Compared to the Disney Deluxe pass, it is only $250 more, priced at $849, which gives you all the free parking you want, meaning you can go to Disney as often as you like and there are no extra costs you HAVE to consider. If you will go more than 13 times a year (and I highly recommend that at this price category), this is the pass to get.
This pass gives you almost every single day of the year, including summer and weekends. And really the only days blocked out are the last 2 weeks of December and January 1.
THIS is the pass to get for anyone who can afford it, works during the week, has kids in school, and most importantly, who needs to park more than 13 times.
DISNEY SIGNATURE PLUS PASS
This pass has it all. It is priced at $1,049, which is $200 more than the regular signature pass above. The only difference is that you can go every day of the year, which basically means you can also go over the winter break.
So if you know you absolutely must visit the park on Christmas and New Years, and you will visit the park at least twice during those 2 weeks, then this option is the right one. If you don’t care to visit the park at least twice during the crowded Christmas peak season, you’re wasting $200, because everything else is exactly the same as the regular Signature Pass.
Only recommended if you MUST go during Christmas and New Years and will otherwise die.
DISNEY PREMIER PASS
This pass sells only in the parks for $1,439 (no longer sold online) and gives you all the benefits of a Signature Plus Pass at Disneyland AND Disney World. Now it sounds awesome to have a pass for both resorts, but I did the math and it’s really very hard to break even.
The fact is that when you go on vacation to Disney World, you still pay for the flight and the hotel and the food and all that good stuff, and your park tickets are almost the least of all expenses.
Let’s say you’re going on a regular family Disney vacation for a 5-day stay and you visit one park a day, including the water park. That costs you $340 per person without discounts. Currently, you can actually purchase a 4-day Magic ticket for 1 park/day through March 5, 2017 and visit before May 26, 2017, for only $69.75/day!
So in order to justify paying an extra $400 for this pass, you have to stay in Florida for at least 10 days in a row during one visit (ticket prices decrease drastically the longer you stay!), or you know you’ll be visiting twice for at least 3 days in the parks.
So unless you know for certain you will be visiting Disney World at least twice for at least 3 days within your annual pass year, AND you absolutely have to visit Disneyland during Christmas break at least twice, this pass is not going to be worth it and you won’t even break even.
Family Considerations and Really Nitty-Gritty Math
Just because you’ve decided you’re getting annual passes for your family, doesn’t mean everyone needs to same. If your regular driver has a pass with parking, no one else needs that since the 2 passes below the Signature pass are just as valuable if you don’t need parking.
I have the signature pass because I am a working mom with a child in school, I want at least one day per weekend to go to the parks, and I am the one driving and parking. I plan on visiting the park more than 13 times a year, so the Signature Pass was my obvious choice.
My son, however, doesn’t need parking, and he also won’t be buying our food or merchandise at the park without me present (and I can use my Signature Pass for the better discounts since I’m paying anyway), so he would get the Deluxe Pass or the Southern California Pass.
The difference to the Signature Pass is that they do not include parking and come with a 10% discount on food and merchandise versus a 15-20% discount on the Signature Pass.
The only real difference between the Deluxe and SoCal Pass is the Saturdays and summer. Remember the Deluxe Pass is good on almost every day out of the year, including Saturdays. For MY family though, I’ve decided we can live without crowded Saturdays, hence save $140 and be just as good off with the Southern California Pass for the kid.
You should definitely go with the cheaper options for the kids! There’s absolutely no need for a non-driver to have a Signature Passport.
The Dining Discounts and how to calculate them into the price of a pass
Every pass comes with a discount on food and merchandise bought at the parks, hotels, and some locations at Downtown Disney. The lower priced passes up to the Deluxe Pass offer a 10% discount, the Signature Passes offer a 15% and 20% discount on food and merchandise respectively.
Now let’s say you’ll never buy a single thing except for food, and we’ll only look at dining discounts.
Remember that the imperative key phrases here are “up to” and “select.” Not all locations offer a discount, such as many street vendors, and sometimes, you have to spend a minimum amount to get the discount. But let’s say you go to one of the casual sit-down restaurants along Main Street, where you can expect to spend $15/person on a meal easily, that’s $60 for a family of 4. With a 15% discount v. a 10% discount, you will now only pay $51 instead of $54, saving $9 instead of $6 per meal.
If you go your 13 times a year to justify the Signature Pass for parking purposes, you are saving an additional $39 on dinner right there ($117 over having no annual pass), which keeps closing the gap of pass prices. And mind you, this is math for a rather inexpensive meal for 4 people. This does not include your savings yet when you take your husband on a date to Carthay Circle, or you buy a Paint the Night and Blue Bayou Dinner Package, or all the snacks and lunches you need on those full days you plan on staying at the park.
If you visit often enough with a family of 4 and eat there when you go, the higher passes are worth their price just for the savings on meals, let alone parking!
The PhotoPass Downloads
Starting at the Signature Pass, you will get all PhotoPass picture downloads taken of you by Disney’s photographer’s for free! At first I thought that’s a stupid perk. These are for tourists, I am there so often, we barely even take pictures anymore.
But then it was Christmas and the castle looked so beautiful and only a professional camera will capture the lights of the castle AND put YOU in the right light when standing in front of it. So I had the Disney photographer snap a picture, it downloaded right onto my Disney app, now I could share the most beautiful photo on Facebook AND I had an amazing picture for Christmas cards. That was SO easy and it saved me $18 I would have had to pay for a digital download.
And while that’s not a dealmaker or breaker, it turns out that’s a pretty cool deal to have unless you just hate taking pictures.
Other Annual Pass Perks
Disney entices you to buy passes with other perks such as special events for passholders, extra Magic Hours on select dates, and discounts on rooms at Disney properties.
I would look at these as extra perks, and they ARE nice perks, but I would never make a decision to get an annual pass based on these perks. Here’s how I think about this:
Extra Magic Hours
When I’m an annual passholder, I can go to the park whenever I want. I really do not need to be at the park at 7AM for extra magic hours. That’s for tourists who need no sleep.
Special Passholder Events and Ticket Discounts
Special events for passholders are nice, but they’re not special enough to justify spending between $330 and $1,049 on an annual pass just for them. And discounts on special event tickets (such as the Halloween Party) make tickets only marginally cheaper (like $5 off) and to have first dibs on them is nice, but they will all still be available when sales open up to the general public.
Dollars Off on Rooms at Disney Properties
25% off select weekday nights for Disney Resort Hotels is great, but if you have an annual pass, you most likely live within a half hour driving distance, and these hotels are still a lot more expensive than your own bed, even at a 25% discount. Now 30% off at Aulani really is great (and you will want that because Aulani is ridiculously expensive), but you can just sign up for any Disney email list and you will get 30% off discounts to your inbox all year long.
So look at Annual Pass perks as extra perks. The only things you really want to and need to consider are parking and dining discounts.