“Our Annual Passes are very popular with guests. We continuously seek the appropriate balance that helps manage demand for our product and allows us to deliver a world-class experience for all guests," a Disneyland spokesperson emailed us.
The reason for dropping the pass this time is the same as it was last time — the park is just too crowded on those non-summer Sundays when SoCal AP-holders cram the park. By not adding new passholders to this tier, Disneyland is hoping to limit the crowd growth on one of its busiest days of the week.
Disney has been employing a variety of techniques to balance its crowd levels, enticing people to visit on previously less-popular days and thus lightening the burden on more-crowded days. In 2015, Disneyland removed the no-blockout Premium AP tier while introducing two new passes: the Signature Plus, which offered no blockouts at a much higher price than the Premium AP, and a Signature pass that was priced about the same as the Premium but that was blocked out for two weeks around Christmas and New Year's.
That switch dramatically reduced crowd sizes during what had been the busiest week of the year at Disneyland. The daily main gate closures between Christmas and New Year's have become a thing of the past... although last year the gates ended up closing on days after New Year's, when the annual pass blockouts lifted.
Disney also has introduced three tiers of seasonal pricing on one-day tickets to the parks — again, in an effort to move crowds away from the more-crowded days. As a result of all these changes truly empty days at the Disneyland Resort have pretty much disappeared (unless it's raining — we Californians refuse to deal with rain).
Expect continued changes to the annual pass and ticket structure at the Disneyland Resort, as Disney prepares for the opening of the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land sometime in 2019. Balancing crowds so that the park does not become human gridlock when Star Wars land debuts is a top priority for Disney's ticketing and operations teams, and you'd better believe that price increases and more blockout dates will be attractive tools as Disney looks for a way to keep people moving through the park.
Rival Universal Studios Hollywood faced a similar issue when it opened its Wizarding World of Harry Potter last year. That led Universal to suspend all annual pass sales for a period before Potter's debut, then following that with a dizzying and seemingly ever-changing line-up of annual pass products. Eventually, Universal settled on a collection of APs and even ended up introducing the same monthly payment plan option that Disneyland and other are park have been making available in order to boost sales of annual passes.
Will Disney end up throwing as many darts against the wall as Universal did in trying to find the market? Probably not, but no one knows yet what Disneyland's annual pass options will look like one year from now — perhaps not even Disney.
Here are the annual pass options at the Disneyland Resort, as of last night:
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