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Annual Passholder Perks
Friday, April 12, 2002
Historically annual passholders at Walt Disney World were rewarded with a reduced average daily admission cost to the parks, possible discounts on their Disney resort rate, free parking, and some limited dining and shopping discounts. In 2002 Disney has added a number of additional benefits, while beefing up some of the existing perks. Is this in response to the soft economy and the aftermath of the 9/11/01 tragedy? Disney is not saying so, but the new Epcot vice president Brad Rex does acknowledge they are wanting to make passholders feel like VIPs and has stated they (passholders) are some of Disney's most loyal fans.
Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer a variety of annual passes, but the similarity ends with unlimited park admission. Beyond that, the perks are different, and may vary from year to year. This article will focus solely on the annual passes at Walt Disney World, and will include the Annual Pass, Premium Annual Pass, the Florida residents' version of each of those 2 passes, and the Florida Resident Seasonal Pass. The seasonal pass does not include free parking, and has some blackout dates, but otherwise the perks are the same. The perks mentioned are valid through January 1, 2003 unless Disney exercises their right to change something without notice!
Plain and simple, buying an annual pass of any sort entitles the owner to admission to the theme parks during that 365 day period. Beyond that, anything else is a perk. Sometimes the perks can be enough to justify the purchase of an annual pass even though a family will not be spending that many days in the parks. Generally, an annual pass is equal to about 9 or 10 days in the parks, while the premium version costs about the same as 12 or more days. Many people are able to plan a Disney vacation in the subsequent year to fall within their annual pass "year", making the annual pass an obvious value.
What are the perks? The biggest perk, dollar-wise, is resort discounts.
Historically these discounts would be released fairly last minute, and might go as high as 30% off the regular rate. However, since 2001 it has become common for the rates to be announced far in advance, and between April 21 and September 30 of this year the discount is 30% off at most resorts. Earlier in the year the discount was as high as 40% during the slower season. Anyone can call to book a room using a passholder discount, but they will need a valid annual pass to present when checking in. Some cast members do not check every time, but they are supposed to. Discounts are also offered when rooms are available at the 2 DVC resorts in Vero Beach and Hilton Head. Currently Vero has rates starting at $139 during most of April and May.
Epcot is leading the way with new perks for passholders. The nicest surprise to me was the Passholder Lounge. This is an air conditioned room above the Living With The Land ride in the Land pavilion. Passholders must show their pass to be admitted, and a cast member will tour them through the area. First up is a children's' play area, complete with toys and a TV/DVD player showing Disney movies.
Next is a large comfortable sitting area - great for conversations with friends, watching a movie, or reading a magazine while escaping the heat and crowds of the park.
The last room is a business center, where passholders can make free local phone calls and send/receive faxes. A guest relations host is on duty to make priority seating arrangements. The lounge has a beverage station with complimentary soda, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water.
Unfortunately the lounge is only slated to be open through April, but hopefully Disney will decide to continue this service if it proves popular with passholders. By the way - they set up a passholders' lounge in Animal Kingdom temporarily last year, and this one is MUCH better than that one. This one is worth a stop; the other one was a disappointment in my opinion.
Also in Epcot, this year passholders have a private VIP Illuminations Viewing area near Italy. Passholders must show their passes to be admitted, and it is strictly first come, first served. With the pin craze, passholders also have exclusive pins they can buy. The second in the series - the Epcot Tapestry of Dreams Parade Passholder Pin was available for purchase beginning mid-February.
Only 7,500 of these pins are being issued, and there is a limit of 2 per passholder. Both the new pin and more of the first pin will be for sale to people presenting a valid annual pass in one location at each of the 4 theme parks.
Hungry? Passholders get a 10% lunch discount Monday through Friday at any Epcot table service restaurant this year - and the discount extends to up to 3 of their guests. The same 10% discount also applies during certain hours to most of the non-Disney restaurants located in Downtown Disney
There are a variety of merchandise discounts as well. Passholders get 10% off purchases of $25 or more at many of the larger shops in Downtown Disney, and 10% off the Leave a Legacy Tile. Most Walt Disney World behind the scenes tours are also discounted 15%, with advance reservations required.
People without the Premium Annual Passes can save 20% on admission to DisneyQuest, Pleasure Island, and the water parks.
This discount is valid for the passholder and up to 3 guests (Premium passholders would get the discount for their 3 guests but their own admission is included in their pass).
Sports, recreation & spa guests also receive discounts if they are passholders. There is a limited 30% discount on greens fees, and 50% off on miniature golf for the passholder. Their guests can join them at mini golf for 15% (up to 3 guests). The Grand Floridian Spa gives a 10% discount to passholders. The Richard Petty Driving Experience, parasailing, water skiing, & wakeboarding (at the Contemporary) are also discounted 10%. Renting boats from any marina is 15% off the regular rate. In addition, passholders get complimentary admission to any O-Ray games played at the Wide World of Sports, and a 10% discount with National Car Rental.
Realizing that is a lot to remember, the perks are all listed in the sleeve the pass is stored in, and Disney sends out a passholder newsletter called the Mickey Monitor approximately 4-5 times per year. Passholders also have a special phone number that they can call to get current information on any perks or other information. From time to time there are special offers or events exclusive to passholders, such as a preview of the Osbourne Lights each year.
Is an annual pass the best choice for you? Obviously, that is a personal and individual decision, but one that should be made weighing all of the information on both cost and benefits/perks. Disney does seem to be trying to cater to the passholders, and while there is no guarantee that all of these perks will continue into 2003 and beyond, buying an annual pass in 2002 does not obligate you to continue with it beyond that first year, so if it makes sense - go for it!
Contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
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