As Annual Pass Prices Increase, Theme Parks Add Perks

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Not too long ago we saw Walt Disney World drastically change their annual pass structure adding new features and a wide variety of blackout dates. Universal Orlando has followed suit. They also recently announced new annual pass features like early park admission. Universal has also rolled out a new seasonal annual pass which is the most budget friendly but also has the most blackout dates, and the least amount of perks.

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Universal Orlando loves their AP Holders – photo from Universal Orlando

It’s not all bad news, however, Besides adding features to the annual passes themselves, all of the major theme parks offer various perks and benefits throughout the year. It seems as though this year there are more perks than ever before–perhaps this is because the prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Some guests who are on vacation are purchasing an annual pass rather than a multi-day ticket, even if they’re only going to visit once in a given year. For locals like me it is often seen as a mandatory purchase in order to do Orlando living right.

Let’s take a look at some of the really fun benefits and perks that are being offered to annual pass holders at each of the major theme parks. It is important to note that for the purposes of this blog post I will not be discussing the features that are already included in your annual pass such as free parking, but rather I will focus on different, added-on perks that are offered throughout the year.

Walt Disney World

Perhaps the Walt Disney World Resort faces the greatest of expectations. Because of their four theme parks vs. two at Universal Orlando and one theme park plus water park at SeaWorld Orlando, the Walt Disney World annual passes are the most expensive. This typically raises the expectations of consumers, creating stronger desires for more bang for their buck.

©Rikki Niblett
©Rikki Niblett

  • Walt Disney World offers a few perks throughout the year. The most recent perk requires annual passholders and their friends to spend money to take advantage of it, but it is a good value considering nothing like it has really been offered before. Through September 30, 2016, friends and family of annual passholders can purchase 1-Day Park Hopper Tickets for $79 plus tax each for same-day admission to all 4 theme parks. A total of 6 Guests per Passholder can purchase tickets at this price.

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  • Earlier this year during the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, Walt Disney World handed out exclusive artwork to annual passholders. The artwork changed each month. I enjoyed picking up the piece that featured Donald Duck doing some gardening, but unfortunately I lost it during my time living in between households earlier this year (sad trombone). In the same spirit during last year’s International Food and Wine Festival, annual passholders earned a stamp for visiting multiple days during the beginning of the festival thus earning them a small port wine glass.
  • This year, during the Food and Wine Festival, annual passholders can earn another free tumbler glass, but this time without the stamp! Simply visit the festival three times this year, on your third visit stop by Innoventions East (behind Electric Umbrella) with your annual pass / MagicBand and your photo ID. Your visits are collected on your MagicBand or pass each time you enter the park. We passholders love our free swag!

Like all other theme parks, Walt Disney World offers discounts on special event, tours, and on Walt Disney World Resort hotel stays. The full line up of Annual Passholder Perks can be found here.

Universal Orlando

The past two years have felt like an annual passholder pep rally. This time last year marked a wave of annual passholder perks like extra discounts on hotel stays, free Party Pass for Universal CityWalk, and exclusive merchandise. This year those same perks are offered, plus a few more. And don’t forget the social media love that Universal Orlando expresses on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

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  • All these special perks are through September 30, 2016. This year some of the additional perks include a free digital photo.  You have the choice of either a My Universal Photos ride photo at MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™ in Universal Studios Florida or the My Universal Photos station in Jurassic Park™ at Islands of Adventure.

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  • If you have an pups or cats that you want to have closeby while you enjoy the parks, you can take advantage of the discount at the Universal Orlando kennel club. My dog spent an afternoon there and although I feel Universal has the worst of the theme park kennels, it is still a decent facility, especially for small dogs and cats. This is a nice deal for passholders, only $8 for the day!
With the discount it comes out to about $8 for the day!
With the discount it comes out to about $8 for the day! (Actual facility not pictured, I think this is someone’s home)
  • Universal kicked off their Annual Passholder Appreciation Days with an after-hours party just for passholders. Online reservations were required, and passholders had the option to attend the event either on a Friday night or a Saturday night. Naturally, the latter booked up before the former. I attended the Friday night event and had a good time, though was disappointed that more rides and sections weren’t open. One half of Islands of Adventure including Jurassic Park (and Reign of Kong), Marvel Super Hero Island (including the just re-opened Incredible Hulk Coaster),  and all of Hogsmeade Village.
Checking in for the annual passholder event
Checking in for the annual passholder event

Additionally, the Hogwarts Express was open to transfer passholders over to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. This was a cool treat, but Diagon Alley was the only part of Universal Studios that was open during the event. It seemed a little off balance.

All of the special offers for Annual Passholder month can be found here.

SeaWorld Orlando

If there’s a bright side to the attendance struggles that SeaWorld has faced recently it is the great deals on the admission prices and the added perks for Annual Passholders. Here you will find the largest collection of perks and they run throughout the year. In fact, each month features at least one new perk.

Photo by Mike Sperduto
Photo by Mike Sperduto
  • There is a year-round Annual Passholder Lounge that offers a large, quiet place to relax and refresh. This lounge features an annual passholder exclusive menu of snacks, treats, and small entrees, all at reduced prices. Oh, and there’s a free Coke Freestyle machine. I will admit that receiving service in this area can sometimes take a few minutes so if you do decide to grab a snack here be prepared to relax for a little bit.
  • Right now SeaWorld is offering the most generous of all offers to annual passholders. Through September 30, 2016 passholders can go online a reserve a complimentary one day pass for a friend. The free one day ticket is available for one friend and additional tickets can be purchased at 50% off! The half off tickets can be purchased and used through December 31, 2016.

You can view all the current perks for SeaWorld Orlando passholders here. These perks change each month.

Closing Thoughts

When considering Walt Disney World tickets, check out our discounts and price comparison tool. Many guests who visit any of the theme parks for multiple days, or who make more than one trip to Orlando in a year, should seriously consider purchasing an annual pass. Often they aren’t too much more than a regular multi-day ticket and the extra benefits, features, and perks are worth it.

Dani

Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani has always had a passion for tourism and hospitality. She is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. With work experience in six of Orlando's theme parks, she now works in the world of hotels. Follow her adventures on Twitter @thisfloridalife

4 thoughts on “As Annual Pass Prices Increase, Theme Parks Add Perks

  • September 18, 2016 at 10:20 am
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    One of the most important perk for us on our trip last month was the inclusion of memory maker. Getting over 300 photos for free was nice.

  • September 18, 2016 at 2:53 pm
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    We’re longtime Disneyland vets who are now passholders at Walt Disney World. We used to think Disney World passholder benefits weren’t that great because there are no quick service dining discounts at Walt Disney World the way that there are all over Disneyland Resort. But Disney World’s periodic resort hotel discounts for passholders are phenomenal. Because Disneyland only has essentially on-property Deluxe hotels, the passholder hotel discounts there don’t really make your trip that much more affordable. But because Disney World has resorts in all price levels, the passholder resort discounts in Orlando can make a visit a lot more affordable for far away passholders like us (from Chicago.) That easily can even out the difference in dining discounts. We also like that the table service dining discounts for passholders aren’t as meager as some people say. If you plan well, you can definitely take advantage of them, too, without needing a Tables in Wonderland card.

    • September 19, 2016 at 1:44 pm
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      “We also like that the table service dining discounts for passholders aren’t as meager as some people say. If you plan well, you can definitely take advantage of them, too, without needing a Tables in Wonderland card.”

      Of course it all depends on how many table service meals you eat in a year, but… we typically go three times per year for about 8-10 days each trip. During those trips we typically eat at a table service restaurant about 5-6 times, for a total of around 16-17 table service meals. TIW card gives you 20% off, including alcohol, while the AP discount gives you only 10% off at all but a couple of locations, and does not include alcohol. Our table service meals average about $100 total for the two of us, so after around 8 meals, we’ve made back the $150 cost of the TIW card. If we eat another 9 table service meals during the year, we’ve saved around $180. If we had just used the AP discount, we would have to first deduct the cost of alcohol before computing the discount. Let’s say it’s $20/meal (it’s probably more). Thus we would save $8 per meal with AP. That translates to a savings around $140 for the AP discount, $40 less than with TIW. Additionally, however, our choices of restaurants would have indeed been limited quite a bit compared to TIW.

      It all depends on how you dine, but for us, TIW is (barely) the better deal.

  • September 21, 2016 at 3:16 pm
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    I love my WDW AP! It was so exciting to buy my first AP earlier this year. I am also a faraway passholder, and I agree that the hotel discounts and Memory Maker are great perks, aside from park entry.

    The only thing I really wish they would add is an option to choose entrance to either Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. I understand that it is a hard-ticketed event, but being able to choose one night of entrance to one of those parties (in advance) would be amazing. The current discount isn’t a great incentive, and it doesn’t apply for all dates. It was a tough one to pay $105 to go on Halloween night when I can go into the park any day of the year for free!

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