- I grew up with an annual pass for Disney World, and my family of four has had them for 11 years.
- Recently, the park has disappointed me with fewer perks, bigger crowds, and higher prices.
- We’re not spending over $2,000 on seasonal annual passes anymore just to be disappointed.
My family and I have reached our breaking point with Disney World.
As Florida residents, we’ve had seasonal silver annual passes for the past 11 years but, this time, we will not be renewing them. This was a tough decision for us even though the passes cost us a whopping $2,100 in 2021.
Over the past three years, though, the way I feel about Disney World has changed and our experiences in the parks have, in my opinion, gotten worse.
Here’s why I’m not renewing our annual passes.
The crowds have become difficult for us to deal with
The number of people at the parks these days feels overwhelming.
Maybe it’s because this year is Disney World’s 50th anniversary. Or, maybe, everyone’s catching up on their travel plans that were derailed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Either way, on recent trips, we felt like we were constantly surrounded by people, even on “low crowd” days.
The days of hopping on a ride with little to no wait are over. Now, it feels like a race to get in line before wait times get out of hand each morning.
On our final visit to Disney World, we woke up every morning at 6:30 a.m. to arrive at the parks early enough to try to take advantage of shorter lines. Waking up at sunrise to navigate all sorts of logistics is not my idea of a vacation.
The days of impromptu Disney trips are long gone due to the park-reservation system
As of mid-2020, you must reserve your park dates ahead of time, usually weeks or months in advance. You also have to determine which park you’d like to visit on specific days.
These requirements mean every person in your traveling party must have a reservation for the same park on the same day. How am I supposed to know what day I’d like to visit Animal Kingdom or Epcot two months in advance?
Even annual passholders are limited on the number of park reservations we can have at one time. The more expensive the annual pass you buy, the more reservations you’re allowed to hold at once.
Although annual passholders get some bonus reservations, there have been numerous occasions when we couldn’t go to Disney World solely because we couldn’t get a reservation.
Sure, there are usually some days available. But what’s the point of owning an annual pass if I can’t visit when I want? It takes away the spontaneous fun of a quick weekend trip.
Park reservations are supposed to help limit and control the number of guests in a park. But, even if that is the case, it didn’t feel that way while wading through crowds during my past few visits.
When asked for comment on my experience, a representative for Disney World told Insider reservations help them maintain capacity in the parks and that many reservations are still available throughout this year and next.
They also provided a quote that Disney CEO Bob Chapek said during a February 2022 call with investors: “While demand was strong throughout the quarter at both domestic sites, our reservation system enabled us to strategically manage attendance. In fact, their stellar performance was achieved at lower attendance levels than in 2019.”
The confusing, expensive Lightning Lane service only makes the wait times for rides worse
I’m a longtime visitor and the Lighting Lane system still confuses me. In fact, it may have been my final straw.
Since October 2021, the Lightning Lane system has been offered through Disney’s paid Genie+ service.
It costs approximately $15 a day, per person. In order to get the attractions you want to ride, your best bet is to sign on to Genie+ via the My Disney Experience app at 7 a.m. and hope for the best as you scroll through attractions.
I cannot imagine visiting the parks as a first-time guest and trying to navigate this system.
On our last visit, it would’ve cost my family $60 a day to use Lightning Lane. Plus, depending on the day, you may only get access to two or three rides.
For select rides, you can purchase Lightning Lane skip-the-line passes à la carte, but prepare to spend up to $15 for one person to skip one line.
Lighting Lane replaced FastPass+, which was available for everyone for free and could be used to skip the line on a few rides each day.
Technology is taking over the parks
For those who aren’t tech-savvy, going to Disney World must be a nightmare.
I find myself on my phone more and more during park visits to check Lightning Lane options, digital wait times, park reservations, and show times.
It’s also impossible to eat at some places without using mobile order unless you want to wait in more long lines. Plus mobile check-in is used for many resorts and restaurants.
I love that some of these technological advancements are big time-savers. But I hate that it comes at the expense of constantly juggling logistics with my face buried in my phone.
I feel like there are even fewer interactions with employees
I understand that Disney may have experienced staffing issues during the past two years, but I really miss having tons of interactions with cast members, what Disney World calls its employees.
They truly make magic happen at the parks. In my experience, most of my interactions with cast members have been replaced by technological advances, which has faded a piece of the magic for me.
For example, I miss seeing cast members’ excited faces and hearing “Welcome home!” when I checked in at a Disney resort. Now, I check in on my phone and go straight to my room.
When asked for comment, a representative for Disney World said the property employs over 75,000 cast members, and that they still receive a lot of positive feedback about interactions with cast members.
I feel like I’m spending more money for fewer perks
The prices of annual passes keep going up and, in my opinion, the benefits keep slipping away.
The cost of annual passes has increased almost every year since we purchased them, which isn’t surprising but is still tough to stomach.
Previously, we had the silver annual pass that’s only for Florida residents. In 2015, when they first became available, they cost just under $400 each. This specific pass is no longer available but the most comparable one, the Disney pirate pass, costs $699.
Annual passholders also no longer get access to Extra Magic Hours, where you can arrive at the park an hour early or leave two hours late. The perk is now only for resort guests. And those with annual passes can now only park hop — go from park to park for free — if there’s availability and it’s after 2 p.m.
The price increase would be OK if the benefits were increased too, but I don’t feel that they have. As much as I love my annual-passholder discount on merchandise and dining, I feel more limited than ever.
These limitations may not be deterring others — a representative for Disney World said annual passholders still visit parks just as often as they did prior to the coronavirus pandemic and that annual passes are still in demand — but it’s a major part of my decision.
The price increases have also extended to the resorts
In my opinion, the term “value resort” is no longer relevant at Disney World.
In 2012, my family and I stayed at one of Disney’s cheapest resorts, the All-Star Sports Resort, for less than $70 a night. Now, those rates are closer to $180 or more a night with no housekeeping — and that price does not include the recently instated resort-parking fee.
Introduced in March 2018, standard resort-parking fees range from $15 to $25 per night depending on the type of resort.
Although resorts come with some nice added benefits, like extra time in the parks, it’s tougher than ever for us to find dates where rates dip enough to be affordable.
I understand Disney has renovated a lot of rooms in its value resorts and prices for just about everything can go up over time, but it’s disappointing that even the most affordable accommodations at Disney are becoming out of reach for my family.
Farewell, for now, Disney World
I’m a native Floridian who grew up just 2 1/2 hours from Disney World, so my family and I had annual passes and regularly visited the parks. I always wanted my children to experience the parks like I did as a kid.
I’m incredibly thankful we were able to make that dream a reality for my girls for a while, but after 11 years, I’ve reached my limit.
I am heartbroken to say goodbye to Disney World, my happy place, and I cried over the decision not to renew our annual passes. But it’s time for my family to move on.
I’m sure we’ll be back one day, but now it’s time for us to find a new place to make memories.