The Hidden Costs of an Annual Pass
by Amy Warren Stoll, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the July 26, 2005, Issue #305 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Take a moment to ask almost any passholder what they enjoy most about having an annual pass, and you'll likely hear a multitude of reasons, along with a few stories and anecdotal examples. Besides the obvious benefit of having a full year to come and go to the parks as they please, there are the much-touted discounts they'll surely mention. They may wax lyrical with tales of the money they've saved at resorts, often getting the chance to try resorts that they would have never considered if paying rack rates. They may speak fondly of the yummy table service meals they've enjoyed -- ones they might have skipped if it weren't for the dining discounts available to passholders. They might even mention how they would never have been able to make as many trips to the Mouse Mecca without the benefits and freedom one finds as a passholder. What they may not tell you, what in fact they may have suppressed from their own consciousness, are the hidden costs that come with being a passholder.
"Hidden costs?" you ask with a bit of concern and curiosity. No, I'm not speaking of any extra charges that Disney will surprise you with at the ticket window or front gate. There's no "Annual Pass Tax." The governmental bodies are still satisfied with the paltry 6.5 - 7 percent they receive from everything bought and sold in the land of the Mouse. There are no monthly dues. Disney doesn't appear to have any plans to start assessing monthly maintenance fees to cover the upkeep of the turnstiles and biometric scanners. And rest assured, the cost of the flimsy paper, er, I mean the durable Mylar paper ticket is still complimentary with the hundreds of dollars you plop down for your new pass to the World. Uh, how about we keep that last paragraph just between us. I wouldn't want to give the powers that be any ideas.
You should know that these hidden costs are of a different nature than mere cash on the barrel. They're more subtle, less obvious, and exponentially more insidious than a single charge could be. For example, once you have that annual pass in hand, you may begin to contemplate how you can get more use out of it. After all, you paid for a full year of entry to the parks, didn't you? But even if you're planning two week-long trips during the year (a seemingly excellent value and appropriate use of an annual pass), you soon realize you're only using 14 days. Just 14 days! Goodness, you think, let me do the math . . . 5 minus 4 . . . carry the 3 . . . oh, my. The tragic truth unfolds. If you take only those two trips, you'll be losing, wasting, squandering, frittering away the remaining 351 days which are rightfully yours to hop up and down in a hunny pot in Fantasyland, drop yourself silly in the Tower of Terror, or imbibe in a few drinks, delicious meals, or large quantities of chocolate (all equally intoxicating) in World Showcase. Shocked, you instinctively know it would be wrong to be that wasteful. Your Disney-sense (be it innate or learned) tells you that owning an annual pass brings with it requirements, responsibilities, and a fiscal accountability that is unavoidable. At least, that's your story and you're sticking with it.
It begins innocently enough, a few "what-if" and "maybe I could" thoughts here and there. The occasional benign glances at your work schedule as you consider if any more trips are possible. But before you know it, your "responsibility" (translation: addiction, obsession, mania) has you in its grasp. You set your Travelocity Fare Watcher for Orlando, always ready to snag a rock-bottom fare. You start checking your favorite websites every day for news of passholder resort discounts. You look for long weekends to get away from work without using your dwindling vacation time. Or, you begin to accumulate blackmail material on your co-workers so that they'll have to cover for you when you sneak away... again... to Disney.
Then, as if you needed any more assistance in escalating your habit, you receive your Mickey Monitor, a quarterly publication for passholders. Just when you thought you'd planned the perfect number of Mouse-centered excursions, you read about a passholders-only "sneak peek" of a new attraction or a passholder discount for a much-loved special event. Wow, that sounds great, you think. But then it happens. You realize those special events aren't happening while you're planning to be in the World. "Perhaps a few more trips are in order," you quietly say to yourself. Well, you certainly wouldn't say it out loud since your friends, family, co-workers, pets, mailman, and even the occasional household vermin, already think you're a few small steps away from needing an intervention. So, you take a cursory look at your checkbook and credit card statements, then make a beeline to ask your boss for the vacation calendar to see if you can arrange a few more days away. Of course, you also engineer a casual, nonchalant pass by your co-worker's cubicle to adjust the hidden camera. You know you'll be needing more incriminating evidence. A lot more.
Now there's a funny thing that may happen as you consider more and more trips. And by funny, I don't mean a laugh-out-loud or beverages-spewing-forth-through-the-nose kind of funny. I mean, odd, strange, curious, perplexing, even unsettling, if you will. To justify your new resolve to use your pass "properly" -- i.e., as often as possible -- the urge may strike you to tally up how much money you're saving by using your pass for trip after trip... after trip. Forget the expenses of your airfare, resort, food, and new found need for therapy and antidepressants when you're not at Disney. Pshaw! Those figures are irrelevant. We'll speak of them no more. Instead you'll want to calculate what you would have spent for ticket media if it weren't for the very wise and foresighted purchase of your annual pass. That figure, when it stands alone, will impress you endlessly. In fact, when you see how much money you've "saved" you'll certainly want to reward yourself. Perhaps you should channel some of that money into a shopping trip.
The hunt for special souvenirs, perfect plushes, terrific toys, and even some outstanding outfits has always been an important part of the Disney experience. But for you, the annual passholder, the experience just got sweeter. Not only do you have access to special passholder-only merchandise such as pins or T-shirts, but your annual pass also entitles you to a discount at World of Disney in Downtown Disney. Did I just hear a chorus of angels? Anyway, what could be better than getting 10 percent off a big shopping trip for all the Disney merchandise you can imagine? Well, I guess 50 percent would be better, but that would mean that all my dreams really had come true. And trust me when I tell you that this would be a high price to pay for just a discount. Well, I guess the dream about the all-you-can-eat chocolate bar, bottomless Dole Whip cup, and free soft drinks in all the parks would be fine, but the one where Eeyore's head explodes and we all have to run a three-legged lanyard race to gain entry to the park might be too steep a price. So, let's just go with the 10 percent and be grateful. And, uh, the lanyard race? We'll speak of it no more.
So, about that discount. When you make your first purchase as an annual passholder you excitedly announce to the Cast Member, with a little smile and happy-dance lurking behind your calm facade, "I'm using my passholder discount." With great anticipation you hand over your pass and identification for inspection. She looks at you, your pass, and your ID. After a seeming eternity, she smiles and starts punching keys on the register. Whew, you passed! No thumb print necessary... today. You watch your purchases make the journey from counter, to scanner, to coveted Disney bag, then finally to your waiting arms. The Cast Member tells you to have a Magical Day, and hands you your receipt. You anxiously look to see how many bucks you saved. Now here's the sticky wicket to this tale. It's only now that you can appreciate that 10 percent of, say, $100 is but a trifling $10. Just 10 dollars? Hmmph! That's just a drop in the bucket, you think. But $50? Now wouldn't that be something to write home about! Without hesitation, you head back into the store to "save" more money. More hidden costs? You bet!
Okay, so what am I really trying to tell you here? Am I suggesting that buying an annual pass is a bad idea? Absolutely not. I love having my pass and would sooner sit through an endless loop of "Stitch's Great Escape" than dissuade anyone from buying one for themselves. I just thought a little word of warning for the new or prospective buyer might be in order. Of course, there's always the possibility that my experience is an isolated one. Maybe I'm the only person in Disney history who planned more trips and parted with more of my money just because I bought an annual pass. Ha! Yeah, I couldn't type that with a straight face any more than you could read it. I'm sure, though, that there are those who buy an annual pass simply because it's the most cost-effective option to meet their vacation needs, and after the trip is over, well, it's over. That's that. If you are one of these people, please let me in on your secret before I have to start selling my blood or take out a second mortgage. If, however, you fall into my embarrassing category, don't despair; you already know you're not alone. Perhaps we could start "Passholders Anonymous" (or is that Anonymouse?). It would be a nonjudgmental gathering for all those who are addicted to Disney, always have another trip planned before their last trip is over, belong to numerous Disney sites to make sure they don't miss out on any news from the World, and who have been asked more times than they can count, "You're going to Disney... AGAIN?"
Wait. I think I may have just unwittingly described MouseFest! Does that mean we need to rename one of the meets to "Friends of Deb W?" Hmmm. Just a thought. But maybe we should speak of it no more.
Amy Warren Stoll has been to Walt Disney World more than 15 times since her first trip in 1996 and served as a peer reviewer for the upcoming guidebook Passporter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs.
Amy also authored our page on Tips for Travelers with Epilepsy:
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.