Disneyland Reservations and the AP (Magic Key) Problem

Edited: October 6, 2021, 2:12 AM

It would be an understatement to say that many people are upset with how Disney has handled the parks recently at both coasts. The tram has not come back to DLR since the reopening of the parks in April, leaving an almost-mile walk back to your car after a long day at the parks. The Magical Express will be departing its last bus in 2022, taking away a very helpful and stress-free method of transportation from MCO to their hotel. The free FastPass system at both coasts is being taken away to adopt a pay to ride system. Prices for tickets and passes continue to increase. Disney’s continual use of the reservation system.

The newly released magic keys (annual passes) for both resorts are a shell of the original APs. If you compare Disneyland's Magic Keys to the original passes the resort used to offer, you can see how they have increased in price and decreased in overall value. The new passes are structured around the reservation system. With a higher-priced pass comes more reservations and more days to choose from (less block out dates). There is almost no difference between the first three magic keys other than this factor, with the discounts all being the same and the very last magic key having free parking (which is $1,400).

A feature on the original passes was that an AP could purchase maxpass for $100. Now (at least as of writing this), magic key holders will basically have to buy maxpass (Genie+) and purchase an additional lightning lane for the huge e-tickets, but I won’t rant on about these smaller features. A bigger problem is at play that made me write this piece.

It’s funny. Even though I dislike the new system, I actually considered purchasing one. The little kid inside me was excited at the fact that I could go to Disneyland a lot for a year. I looked into it and saw that... there is almost no availability to go. Even with all of these decreases in features, with Fantasmic and World of Color not back yet, with the tram not back yet, with less characters walking around the park, with fast passes not being free, the monorail not operational, etc... the whole point of a pass is kinda gone. The spontaneous feeling of having the day off so you go to Disney for a few hours is gone. Heck, even if I got any of the first three passes right now, I couldn't go until October 25th! Wanna spend $1,400 on the best pass? Gotta wait until October 21st, and once that date is filled up, the next one is October 25th. Wanna go during Veterans day weekend or Thanksgiving week? You better start reserving fast because it's almost all out too. Not to mention every weekend in November is sold out on every pass too, with weekends in December being taken up also. At this point, why even pay the money for a pass when I can't go for almost a month. This brings me to the million-dollar question:

Why pay all this money for a pass to plan my Disneyland trip a month in advance?

I had a Disneyland pass from 2017-2018 as well as back in the mid 2010s. I loved going after school or randomly during a weekend. I loved having a few hours to kill, so I'd walk around the parks and ride an attraction or two. I loved the feeling of being able to go to Disneyland whenever I wanted (given I wasn't blocked out). That feeling is officially gone now.

Disneyland has a serious Magic Key reservation problem and it needs to be fixed.

I did figure out a tip if I ever did buy a pass that I could share with y'all. Buying a pass does not mean that you can have a reservation when you use it on the first day. (Some have gotten confused because you used to be able to use your pass, even if it was blocked out, on the first day of use.) In order to get around this, use a ticket. Tickets have, and always will, have more reservations available than passes. You can upgrade your ticket to a pass online. So, buy a ticket and get a reservation, then upgrade your ticket to a pass by the end of the day on your phone and immediately reserve the next day you want to go. Also, people cancel reservations occasionally. If you have a pass, just keep checking the reservation page and hope that something will come up. No one likes to always check a page for nothing to happen but I guess that's the only option left.

So, what do you think of the new system? Do you have a Magic Key and if so, do you feel like it has a good value?

Replies (7)

October 6, 2021, 2:19 AM

Also, going to Disneyland and WDW is even more confusing. Not only do you have to reserve a spot to go to a park, but this whole new Genie+ system is also gonna roll in soon. Even upon a new paid FastPass replacement, you have to pay even more for the really big rides and sometimes the prices will change by the day. Disney wants to know how many people will be in their parks on a specific day and control a lot of people on where to go and how to spend their money through Genie+.

Edited: October 6, 2021, 10:00 AM

The problems you note were the main criticisms identified when Disney announced the Magic Key programs. IMHO, it's the paying more for less which is the worst part of the deal. If I were a long-standing AP holder, I would understand the need to pay more to maintain the benefits of the old program, but Disney not only raised prices, but removed many of the benefits that APs appreciated and generated loyalty, renewals, and additional revenue.

The ParkPass system is the ultimate bait and switch, and if Disney doesn't find a balance between reservation availability and capacity control that keeps everyone satisfied, the Magic Key program could ultimately cost Disney millions. Guests purchasing Magic Key have an expectation to have reasonable access to the parks. I think most MK holders understand that they can't just walk into the parks on a whim like they did under the AP program, but I think there's an expectation that they would still be able to have enough flexibility to visit enough times on desirable dates to make their purchase worthwhile. If guests have to make reservations weeks in advance, and can only effectively visit 6-8 times per year, that simply won't be acceptable to most guests when shelling out hundreds of dollars for a Magic Key that has very few ancillary benefits aside from park admission. If Disney maintains the status quo with ParkPass, they will have extremely low retention rates next year when MK holders are up for renewal. Without changes to ParkPass or adding other benefits, all of the people that were on the fence, but ultimately bought into Magic Key will be done. The drawbacks of Magic Key are being widely spread through the DVC community (a massive source of AP revenue in previous years) to the point where most DVC "experts" are advising against buying into the new program and reconsidering/recalculating DVC purchases based on Magic Key restrictions and trimmed down benefits.

Disney is trying really hard to bite off the hand that feeds it with its recent changes to admissions, and it might only get worse once Genie+ and Lightning Lane come online.

October 7, 2021, 6:16 PM

FWIW, Disneyland opened a bunch of new reservations yesterday, after many people online were complaining. I don't know if the complaints had anything to do with the timing, but reservation availability will continue to be very fluid, as Disneyland gathers the data it needs to build more accurate models for Magic Key vs. day ticket visitation at the parks across the seasons.

October 8, 2021, 7:37 AM

These problems are a continual evolution of success (and failure). This is only towards WDW mind you, but 15 years ago with the old FP system, you could manage a vacation there with relative ease. It was common for my family to ride 20 or more attractions a day and still go back to the pool and nap. The customer service at the parks was amazing. I recall an incident at a restaurant with a customer in the front of the line that lost his driver’s license and credit card. The line behind him was piling up, and the guests were getting upset. When the guest in the front of the line left, and manager came over and said, “All of you are free. Go enjoy your meal and have fun today.” It was all about fun.

But the people kept coming and lines got a little longer. People starting to figure out the system. The movie division was doing great. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. There were several huge flops, such as John Carter. But the people kept coming to the parks. Universal started to get better with Harry Potter. But the people kept coming. They then switched from, “make everything about the enjoyment of the guest” to “how do we manage all these people and make more money.” FP+ and tracking came out. Many loved it. Many hated it. Now you could no longer experience 20 attractions a day. But the people kept coming. Instead of making more attractions, they made more hotel rooms, and the people kept coming. The additional attractions were great. The movie studio had an amazing comeback. Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen.

Now the virus hit and everything shut. But they adapted. Disney plus was a huge success. I think they knew FP+ had to go, but the people still want to come. They know the hotel numbers. They know the demand. Both old systems could not handle the volume. Genie comes along to be a bridge between the FP and FP+, with a little Universal Express Pass thrown in. Who knows if it will be better. I bet it will. They jacked up prices everywhere, but they hve not been making money in the parks for a while. Season pass, parking, Magic Express, and many other things are modified. The thing is, people will still show up. I am glad they are still building tons of new attractions. They could have stopped. Maybe they are looking back to a time when customer service was prime. I have no problem paying extra to get this back.

October 8, 2021, 8:18 AM

JC is mostly correct. If people keep coming, why wouldn’t they continue to increase the price to manage crowds? The current driver in all parks is not attendance, but money spent per guest. Someday Disney may go too far (they may have crossed the threshold already with too many changes too close to each other).

Why I will disagree on is the “building tons of new attractions”. Disney is finishing those that started construction prior to the pandemic starting, but no new construction has even been announced since then, and no information about new projects announced prior to the pandemic has been shared, I suspect many of them have been shelved indefinitely and may not see the light of day at all.

October 8, 2021, 12:36 PM

I have been trying to get back to DLR for over 8 years. I am right at the point where I can get two lower teir magic keys. I have no issue with the reservations system.

NOTE: Disney was blocking the availability calendar (not blackout) for potential key buyers. My friends bought a magic key and now feel like they got ripped off. Most of the dates they wanted to go had been booked out. DISNEY HAS SINCE FIXED THIS.

It's not the black out dates to me, it was the above issue combined with that fact they are too strict on the amount of reservations you can hold at a time. The top tier should be about 10 reservations and the lower tiers should be 6 to 8.

It's this key factor alone that stops me from being able to plan a trip and go. While I understand if you let a keyhold have to many reservations it can cause future dates to get booked up too quickly and degrades their ability to capacity plan, however, then you just open the reservation calendar 4 months at a time. And I am sure, that presents it's own unique challenges.

I simply know, I am boxed out from being able to get a pass because based on capacity, reservations, and factors such as the length of stay, I can't go.

Give me your money, but get out in 4 days...

October 9, 2021, 7:36 PM

Disney did fix this issue, but it's basically gone back to what it was originally. The next open time to go to Disneyland on the $1400 Magic Key is on October 19th. A Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday but that's it. For the most part (aside from a few cancelled reservations from people), every single weekend is booked on the highest pass until 2022. I know a lot of people buy the top pass because they are only available on the weekends. If you try to buy the pass now, you can't even go until January 1st, but Disneyland is entirely blocked out and DCA is the only one open.


Disney is basically artificially creating demand, whether it's intentional or not. Because barely any reservations are open, it makes Magic Keyholders be more diligent in finding reservations and knowing when more come out. Because of such a limited supply of reservations, demand can't and won't be met.

Disney has, is, and always will be a business first and foremost. I understand that and that it needs money to pay for the employees, pay back investments, and make money to produce more goods and services. I wasn't really worried about Chapek taking over and didn't understand why so many were upset when it was announced that he would be the new CEO. However, due to Disney's recent change leaning heavily into anti-consumer policies, I've changed my mind. Yes it had been leaning into this direction for a while and there are many more people other than the CEO who make these big decisions, but I can't help but feel like Chapek has allowed so much of these changes happen.


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