Pick Your Pass

Living in Florida, we are all well aware of the plethora of theme parks in our backyard. People travel from all over the world, sometimes spending their life savings, to visit these places on vacation. It baffles me when I come across another Floridian that has never stepped foot in one of our “native” theme parks. 

family meeting characters at Disney world Orlando florida

Most, if not all, of the state’s theme parks show Floridians some love just for living in the same state. The good news is, we don’t have to fly across the country to get there, just spend an hour or so on the highway. So, why not make the most of your close proximity? 

A Guide to Choosing an Annual Pass and Maximizing your Florida Residency 

My husband and I recently made the decision to purchase an annual pass after spending some time in a few of the parks and seeing our 17-month-old daughter Avery’s extreme delight. Everything was new and thrilling in her eyes, and she’s a real trooper when it comes to adventures, having traveled all over Florida with us each month since she was just a few weeks old. 

family meeting characters at Disney world Orlando florida

I never step into anything lightly, especially when it comes to spending some cash, so I dove head first into the research pool to pick the best option for our family. If you think you might be in the market to purchase an annual pass, here’s how to pick your pass! 

I will compare three major theme parks – Disney, Universal Studios and SeaWorld, but these tips will work on most of the other parks as well. 

smiling family at seaworld Orlando Florida

TRY IT OUT 

If you want to purchase a pass, but haven’t visited any of your options before (or in quite a while – things change!), take the time to go before you make a commitment. Here’s where being a Florida resident will save you some dough. All three parks offer discounts on admission to residents throughout the year. They also offer special deals and sales throughout the year for even deeper discounts. SeaWorld just wrapped up a summer sale, including additional free months tacked onto annual passes, and has other sales during peak times throughout the year. Disney is known for their annual specials. Sometimes free admission on your birthday, or heavily discounted tickets for active military and veterans. Universal Studios offers special FL resident deals on two and three-day passes. 

toddler looks at dolphins at seaworld Orlando Florida

If you have time to decide, say you’re considering annual passes as a family Christmas gift, visit your top contenders to see what you really love. We snagged a great deal on a three-day pass to Disney, that we spread over three months and three of their parks. We also took advantage of SeaWorld’s 4th of July sale before making our decision (since Avery is very young and too small for the majority of the rides at Universal Studios, we cut that one off our list). If you’re lucky and have some really great friends or family with annual passes, they might have free or very discounted tickets to share with you and help make your decision! There’s no one better to experience a park with than a seasoned visitor that knows the ins and outs already. 

baby and father walking through Disney world Orlando florida

DECIDE WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU

Think of why you’re planning on getting a pass. Is it for the rides? Shows and parades? Meeting characters? Prioritize what you want to get out of it then see which park fits. Depending on if you are buying a single pass or ones for your whole family, this list could be wildly different for everyone. Avery absolutely adores animals and high energy shows with music and dancing. This put Disney’s Animal Kingdom and SeaWorld at the top of our list. 

baby in front of castle at Disney world Orlando florida

Next, take a look at your limitations. All three parks offer a listing of all of their rides and attractions online along with their thrill level and height restrictions. Take a look and see what your family can do the most of, typically the youngest and smallest member will be able to do the least when it comes to rides. 

Don’t pick a pass if there’s not enough for everyone to do (your little one will NOT be happy if they keep getting left out, and that means a parent is left out, too!). Disney’s Magic Kingdom is a kid’s paradise. SeaWorld recently opened Sesame Street with its own parade, splash park and plenty of rides and activities for little nuggets. Universal Studios has Dr. Seuss’s wild world on lock with rides and characters. 

toddler and father look at sharks at seaworld Orlando Florida

After doing this, we opted for a SeaWorld pass. With our little lady’s obsession with the water and animals, a good amount of rides her size and tons of interactive exhibits and shows, it fit our family best. 

BEAT THE CROWDS

If you simply can’t handle crowds, long lines and being surrounded by thousands of sweaty bodies, then a pass probably isn’t for you. But, if you can tough it out during the peak summer months, there are some wonderful times when the lines ARE actually short and the parks aren’t as crowded. Use websites like UndercoverTourist.com to plan your visit. The site offers a calendar with the top parks and compares the crowd sizes, giving a green light when it’s a good day to go or a red light for peak (read, sweaty) crowds. 

Each of the parks also offers their own apps with maps, wait times for rides and show times, plus ways to manage your fast passes, passholder accounts, restaurant reservations and even food purchases to cut down on time in lines. 

family meeting characters at Disney world Orlando florida

SPEND WISELY AND KNOW THE PERKS

Set either a monthly or full, one-time purchase budget for your pass before you buy and stick to it. It’s easy to be swayed by the denoted “best value” pass (usually the most expensive) but if you can’t afford it in a few months, you won’t be having any fun at all! Each park offers different tiers of passes, each with different offerings and perks. If you don’t know if you’ll be able to visit enough to make it worth the pass, check your calendar (this is where you can compare against Undercover Tourist, too!) and realistically see how many times you’ll visit. If the cost of the regular admission – don’t forget to add in parking, too – doesn’t add up to at least the annual cost, skip the pass and just wait for those aforementioned sales and deals. 

Know what you want to get out of your pass as well. If you plan on going often, make sure your pass includes parking or you’ll be paying a lot more than you thought. Disney offers passes with all photos from stops included, which you’ll be hitting a lot with little ones if they love to meet characters! SeaWorld has a few character meet and greets, but the photos are mostly from rides so we choose not to upgrade. SeaWorld’s special events like holiday celebrations and Halloween trick-or-treating are included in our level of pass. Disney requires an extra admission for special events regardless of level, although they do offer discounts to passholders. If you really don’t want to visit during crowded times, a pass with block out dates might be for you. Skip when the parks are at capacity, like summer weekends and holidays or events. If you have your heart set on summer with Shamu, Halloween with Harry Potter or Christmas with Mickey, you’ll need to step up to the next level. 

toddler looks at sea lions at seaworld Orlando Florida

The best move to make before swiping your card for an annual pass is to simply ask another passholder. Do they plan to sign up for another year? Why, or why not? This is how I learned of secret perks like monthly freebies and special deals not listed on the park’s website. 

Also (pro tip!), as long as your dates available for admission match up, there’s no reason for everyone to pay a premium for a photo pass or parking! Family’s can have different levels of passes, which can seriously cut down on your monthly budget. Whatever, you choose, have a blast and make the most of being a Floridian! 

Disney World

DisneyWorld.com

Pass starts at $19.40/mo. after $139 down payment 

SeaWorld

SeaWorld.com

Pass starts at $6.99/mo. after $56.99 down payment

Universal Studios

UniversalOrlando.com

Pass starts at $17.87/mo. after $196.49 down payment

*These prices may reflect FL resident discounts. All passes are available as monthly payments or paid in full options. Prices are subject to change. 

Kelsey Walters biography

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