Our Year of Unlimited Disney!
So here's a little background about me. I am a Florida native (I know, we are a rare breed) who grew up visiting Disney World and Universal Studios to celebrate the occasional birthday, but my dad hated theme parks, so it was always a rare occasion. That said I still got to go a lot more than your average kid, being that I lived less than two hours from Orlando. It was a quick drive for the family and sometimes we stayed one night in a Kissimmee hotel. In my dad's defense, we DID have annual passes to Walt Disney World Resort when we were in elementary school, so we got to go at least four times a year for a couple of years. When I had my first daughter, I didn’t envision us as a “Disney Family.” In Florida you have so many Disney-obsessed people —some residents and some tourists — it can almost turn you off. It is like living in Gainesville, FL, where you go in loving the University of Florida Gators and leave hoping it is at least a year before you hear the name Tim Tebow again (no offense, Tim).
Caroline’s first trip to Disney was around six months old. Her cousins were in town from Oregon and they spent the week at the park, so we go the four-day Florida resident deal and joined them for some family fun. She was still too small to know what was going on, so we took her back later that year when I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon. While it was a busy weekend to visit the parks, she enjoyed the parades but that was really all she could take in at her age.
Fast-forward about a year when she was officially two and I took her to the Grand Floridian to celebrate. Her Dad had a conference there and it was a free room at one of the best hotels onsite, so why not? We went to Hollywood Studios and she loved all the Disney Junior themed stuff, and of course the Beauty and The Beast show and the classic Little Mermaid performance. Caroline loves music and singing.
It was this birthday trip that she also got to meet Minnie Mouse for the first time. I watched her turn into a fan girl for Minnie and my heart exploded. That moment something switched inside me. The excitement on her face and her response to her first encounter with Minnie legit brought tears to my eyes. I know, I know! I'm totally not that person, but kids —MAN.
Kids do something to you. The excitement, genuine joy and hysteria she experience when meeting her favorite characters was a feeling I cannot describe. I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to provide that kind of happiness to their child? We went back with my sister-in-law that same year and got a video of her saying, “mouse, mouse,” and pointing — SO adorable!
The next month I made the plunge. We had a trip planned and I went for it. I became a Florida Resident Annual Pass holder. My logic was we go three times and it pays for itself. My parents had just relocated to Orlando and what better way to get our money’s worth at Disney and have a place to stay when we didn’t want to drive back to Gainesville. The best part was Caroline was two years old and that meant she got in for free. So now I had 12 months of park visits for the price of one Florida Resident Annual pass.WIN!
Read more about why we think you should: Stop Making Excuses and Take Your Teddler to Disney!
I started out with the Silver pass, but after my first visit, I quickly upgraded to the Gold. There were fewer blackout dates but the real reason I upgraded was for the unlimited photos via the Disney Photo Pass. This meant for the entire year, every photo a Disney employee snapped of me (even at races we ran) were available for downloading and keeping. It was so worth the extra money to have those images. I didn’t have to worry about having my phone or camera with me; they just scanned my wristband and POOF! The photos showed up in my Photo Pass app and the online album.
Another huge perk of an annual pass is signing up for fast passes in advance. I believe it is two or three weeks if not sooner, you can sign up for your fast passes and ensure you get to hit all your favorite rides — or in our case, princesses. When Pandora opened at Animal Kingdom, I got a fast pass for one of the new rides right after it opened. They also have tons of other pass-holder perks like discounted food, hotel rooms, Disney gear, special events and park previews.
Being a pass holder also is awesome when staying onsite. We celebrated my birthday at the Boardwalk, a hotel right behind Epcot, and since we were pass holders we could walk in and out for lunch or dinner every day we were there and not worry about using up a ticket just to go have dinner. This was SUPER cool and convenient. We started at one park and would head back to Epcot for lunch, and then nap at the hotel before heading back to Epcot or a different park for dinner. If we didn’t have the annual pass, we would have had to buy a park hopper ticket for every day of our stay, and that can get very pricey.
In a nutshell, if you have small children, live in Florida, and plan on going to Walt Disney World more than once in 12 months, you must get an Annual Florida Resident pass. It will be well worth it, and you and your children will have lifelong memories in return.
There also are three options for nonresident passes and some options only are available to Florida Residents. Check out the Walt Disney World Resort passes website for information on all annual pass options.
It's going to be hard going back this year, not a pass holder. We recently moved to the Atlanta Area and are no longer a day trip away from Orlando. While annual passes do not make sense for us right now, we still plan on visiting the parks and checking on some of the new attractions they have in store. And who knows? The Grandparents still live in Florida, so maybe there is still an annual pass in our future!