When the Annual Pass was first introduced in the 1980s, Walt Disney World was changed forever. But, the changes didn’t stop there.
Over the past four decades, the Disney World Annual Pass has gone through a significant evolution, which has drawn criticism from many Disney guests. Others have praised the Annual Pass throughout its existence, renewing theirs year after year. More recently, Disney World reintroduced Annual Pass sales after pausing them due to the pandemic-related closures, but then once again halted those sales for every pass tier but one. So, just how has the Walt Disney World Annual Pass transformed through the years, and how is Disney World different because of it?
In order to dive into the Disney World Annual Pass system and how it has changed through the years, we have to go all the way back to the beginning of Disney World admission tickets. You might be thinking, “It’s a theme park ticket. What more is there to it?” Well, friends, let’s discuss.
The Original Disney World Ticket
When Disney World first opened its doors to guests in 1971, the park utilized a ticket book system just like Disneyland had always done. Guests paid a fee for admission to the park, and then bought books of tickets for the rides. Each ride was assigned a specific letter designation (A-E, with “E” being the newest, fanciest, priciest rides) that corresponded with a ticket. Only guests with the proper ticket were able to ride the attraction.
Disney World used the ticket book system until 1982, when the Passport Ticket was introduced in both Disney World and Disneyland. This ticket allowed guests to pay one up-front fee and ride unlimited attractions at no extra cost. Sound familiar? This was the birth of the Disney World base ticket we know today.
Frequent Disney World visitors and locals didn’t take too kindly to the new ticket system, as the cost to just enter the park increased and many locals didn’t purchase ticket books on their visits, choosing instead to just eat, shop, and enjoy. Disney must have been paying attention, because just shortly after introducing the Passport Ticket, Disney World introduced the Annual Passport.
The Original Annual Pass
In September 1982, Disney World began selling “Annual Passports” which provided guests access to Magic Kingdom for the whole year — all for one price. One month later, EPCOT opened its doors for the very first time, and guests with Annual Passports were admitted to that park as well.
When the Annual Passport first debuted, an adult pass cost around $100, while a child pass was right around $80. For reference, a one-day ticket to Magic Kingdom or EPCOT cost $15 in late 1982, while a child’s ticket was priced at $12. With two parks now open in Walt Disney World, the Annual Pass quickly became an enticing option for guests looking to visit frequently.
The Upgraded Annual Pass
The first chan0-ges came just one year later in 1983, when the Annual Passport got its first price increase. Not only that, but a new type of discount was introduced that encouraged current Annual Passholders to renew their tickets for another year — the renewal discount.
Then, in 1985, Disney gave us the option to add on admission to their water park, River Country, for an additional price. Shortly after, a Discovery Island add-on was introduced as well. The next major changes to the Disney World Annual Pass came when Disney/MGM Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, and Pleasure Island all opened in 1989. The price for an Annual Pass now cost anywhere between $160-$180.
Disney also introduced the Florida Resident Season 3 Pass, which allowed residents of Florida access to the parks in January, May, and September for just $70.
As more experiences have been built both in and out of the Disney parks, the price of Annual Passes has continued to increase. By the year 2000, the base price of a Disney World Annual Pass was over $300, and around the same time, we saw the introduction of the Florida Resident discounts and Annual Passes.
Disney also gave guests the option of paying for their Annual Pass in installments, and created differently priced tiers in an attempt to make the passes available to a wider number of guests. Platinum, Platinum Plus, and Gold were added to the already existing Premier tier.
These Annual Pass tiers were the way of the (Disney) world for a while until Disney was forced to suspend sales of Annual Passes due to the global pandemic.
In Recent Years
When Annual Pass sales resumed after the park closures, an entirely new Annual Pass Tier System was introduced. We now have the Pixie Dust ($399), Pirate ($699), Sorcerer ($899), and the Incredi-Pass ($1299).
While this is still the current Annual Pass System in place for Disney World, sales have been paused for all passes except for the Pixie Dust Pass. It’s also incredibly important to note that the Sorcerer, Pirate, and Pixie Dust Passes are only available to Florida Residents (the Sorcerer Pass is also available to DVC Members).
Why Has Disney Paused Annual Pass Sales?
So, why did Disney pause the sales of Annual Passes? Well, as we previously mentioned, sales were originally paused during the global pandemic when Disney World had to close its doors. Then, shortly after reopening Disney introduced the new Annual Pass Program (with the Pixie Dust, Pirate, Sorcerer, and Incredi-Pass). Just two months later, Disney once again paused sales of these passes (except for the Pixie Dust tier).
Suspending Annual Pass sales may be new to Disney World, but Disneyland regularly stops and starts sales in order to maintain the amount of local visitors (Annual Passholders) who visit the parks more frequently. Despite being repeat visitors, Annual Passholders typically spend less money than regular ticket holders as they’re not staying in Disney World Resort hotels and are less likely to pony-up for experiences that cost extra like Disney Genie+.
Not to mention that there is an overwhelming surge of “revenge travel” happening across the globe right now. After a long period of travel bans and restrictions, guests are eager to travel and experts are anticipating an international travel boom this summer. Because of this, Disney appears to be focusing on park ticket holders as opposed to Annual Passholders in order to see increased profits from the money that vacationers are more likely to spend on their visits.
During the 2022 Walt Disney Company Q2 Earnings Call, CEO Bob Chapek shared that per capita guest spending in domestic Disney parks increased by over 40% versus 2019 and 20% versus 2021. With such a jump in guest spending, it’s no wonder why Disney would pause Annual Pass sales to “even out” the mix of guests in the parks.
The Disney World Annual Pass Program has gone through a great deal of changes through the years, and Disney World has changed because of it, as well. Visitors to the parks have increased as there are guests who can come back time and time again for just one up-front price.
Annual Passholders are often able to take advantage of special events, discounts, and other perks, as well. In some cases, this has caused a shift in expectations from passholders. With the rising costs of being an Annual Passholder (and the cost of Disney World in general), many are hoping for even more perks along the way.
Though the Walt Disney World Annual Pass may have changed in recent years, there’s no denying the massive impact it’s had on Disney World. Prices continue to increase year after year, and yet Disney fans are still purchasing APs when available. There’s no denying that more change is to come, and with that will likely come an even greater impact on the parks.
If you’re heading to Disney World soon, don’t forget that guests are still required to have park pass reservations in addition to valid park tickets — you can read more here! Summer dates are filling up FAST so be sure to book your park days before your visit.
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Have you ever been a Disney World Annual Passholder? Let us know in the comments!