Disneyland or Universal Studios Annual Pass: Which Is Right for You?

Price and park preference will be the deciding factors if you're choosing one pass or the other.
Apr 20, 2022

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Southern California is home to two popular theme parks: Disneyland Resorts and Universal Studios Hollywood.

According to the New York University 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey, 51 percent of respondents said they were planning a family trip to a theme park or water park in the next 12 months. If you’re an avid theme park visitor who wants increased park access, paying for an annual pass might offer more value with each additional visit.

Here’s what to know about a Universal Studios versus Disneyland annual pass, and how to narrow your choice to one park.

Universal Studios vs. Disneyland annual pass overview

Most people know that theme parks aren’t the most frugal means of entertainment.

A one-day general admission ticket at Universal Studios Hollywood costs $109 to $134. At Disneyland Resort, a one-day standard ticket starts at $104 and goes up to $164. if you want to access both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, prices start at $164 for a one-day Park Hopper ticket.

Although an annual pass can help you reduce your per-visit admission cost the more you visit, spending hundreds of dollars on two different annual pass programs isn’t always possible. This cost can quickly skyrocket if you’re purchasing passes for your family.

Universal Studios Hollywood Annual Passes

Universal Studios Hollywood offers four pass tiers within its annual pass program. These passes include the:

  • California Neighbor Pass.

  • Silver Annual Pass.

  • Gold Annual Pass.

  • Platinum Annual Pass.

These passes are only valid at the park’s Los Angeles location and are not valid in Universal Studios Orlando. Guests can choose to pay the full pass price in one payment or opt into a 0% APR payment plan through FlexPay.

Each pass type offers similar benefits and discounts, but the major difference is the days you can use the pass and the pricing. Currently, Universal Studios is offering a discount on annual passes purchased online.

Pass type

Price (front gate/online)

Payment plan option*

Pass validity

In-park discounts

California Neighbor

$159/$149.

None.

9 months.

None.

Silver

$199/$184.

Yes; $119 down, then $6/month.

12 months.

None.

Gold

$279/$259.

Yes; $144 down, then $11/month.

12 months.

15% off in-park food/beverage and merchandise.

Platinum

$529/$479.

Yes; $249 down, then  $21/month.

12 months.

12% off in-park food/beverage and merchandise.

*Monthly amount as of writing; amount might change upon your purchase date.

The higher the Universal Studios annual pass tier, the more perks pass holders will receive, like fewer blackout dates with more weekend access. Gold and Platinum passes include free general parking with entry until 6 p.m. Platinum pass holders enjoy Universal Express access to skip lines at the park after 3 p.m., as well as a free Halloween Horror Nights ticket.

Disneyland Magic Key Passes

Disneyland Resorts in Anaheim, California, offers four annual pass tiers in its Magic Key program. Like Universal Studios, a Disneyland Magic Key is only valid in the California location.

The Magic Keys, starting from the lowest-cost pass, are:

  • Imagine Key.

  • Enchant Key.

  • Believe Key.

  • Dream Key.

The most affordable pass, the Imagine Magic Key, is exclusively for Southern California residents who live in ZIP codes 90000 to 93599. As of writing, Disneyland Resorts has sold out of the two highest-cost pass options: the Believe Key and the Dream Key.

Disneyland Magic Key type

Price

Payment Plan Option (California residents only)

Pass validity

In-park discounts

Imagine

$399.

Yes; $179 down, then $18.34/month.*

1 year from date of first use.

10% off on select dining and store merchandise.

Enchant

$649.

Yes; $179 down, then $39.17/month.*

1 year from date of first use.

10% off on select dining and store merchandise.

Believe**

$949

Yes; $179 down, then $65/month.

1 year from date of first use.

  • 10% off on select dining and store merchandise.

  • 50% off standard parking.

Dream**

$1,399.

Yes; $179 down, then $102/month.

1 year from date of first use.

  • 15% off on select dining.

  • 20% off on store merchandise.

  • Standard parking included.

*Monthly amount as of writing; amount might change upon your purchase date.

**Sold out as of writing; prices based on cost of Magic Key Pass at launch date.

Magic Key monthly payment options are available to California residents residing in 90000 to 96199 ZIP codes only. Out-of-state guests who want to purchase a Disneyland Magic Key must purchase an annual pass in one lump payment.

Currently, Disneyland Resorts is still enforcing advanced reservations for all guests, including Magic Key holders. Each Magic Key has a maximum reservation limit for the next 90 days. For example, Imagine Key holders can reserve up to two park visits at a time, while Dream Key holders can secure up to six reservations, simultaneously.

Magic Key holders who have a park reservation for both Disney California Adventure Park and Disneyland Resort may cross over and switch between parks on the same day beginning at 1 p.m. — much like a hopper pass.

How to decide which theme park pass to purchase

It can be hard to compare the Disney or Universal annual passes against each other. After all, both theme parks offer different experiences in California. To better understand which pass might be best for you, try answering the following questions.

1. What’s your budget?

Looking at the tables above, it’s clear that the price difference between each park’s annual pass program is notable. Remember, this cost is for admission, with some premium-level passes offering some kind of free parking incentive.

However, this doesn’t include all of your food, beverage or souvenir expenses during your visit. If you’re from out of state, consider the additional travel costs per visit, too. Aside from Universal’s Platinum Hollywood Horror Nights benefit, many of these annual passes don’t include special events at the parks.

Estimate how much you typically spend per pass holder during a typical park visit. Then, calculate which pass is manageable for your budget without overspending.

2. How often will you visit the park?

When choosing an annual pass, always consider how many visits you’ll realistically have while using the pass. For example, if you see yourself visiting Universal Studios Hollywood at least two times in a 12-month period, you’ll likely make up for the cost of two visits at the general admission price.

For Disneyland parks, the number of visits needed to break even on a Magic Key will likely be higher than Universal Studios. However, keep in mind that a Magic Key grants you access to two parks, instead of one park through Universal.

If you don’t see yourself trekking to the Disneyland parks regularly throughout the year, a multi-day pass might offer you more time to explore the parks without committing to a Magic Key.

3. Which sounds like more fun?

In addition to the dollar-per-dollar breakdown, deciding on a theme park annual pass that’s right for you also depends on your personal preferences. Guests with young children might appreciate the family-friendly atmosphere of Disneyland Resort’s Fantasyland, while Potterheads might relish a jaunt through Hogsmeade at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The bottom line

If after answering the questions above, you’re still on the fence about a Universal Studios versus Disneyland annual pass, consider which rides and attractions you or your family would find most memorable.

Photo courtesy of Disneyland.


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