Travel Tip: Never Do This When You Are Visiting Disney

May 30, 2022, 4:22 PM · Whether you are planning a vacation to Florida's Walt Disney World or a visit to California's Disneyland, there is one thing you absolutely must not do on your Disney trip.

So what is that? To show up at a Disney theme park without a park reservation.

Sure, long-time Theme Park Insider readers and Disney fans are probably sick of hearing this advice by now. But plenty of Disney visitors - especially in California - continue to arrive at the parks without having made a reservation that allows them to use their Disney tickets for the day.

Ever since the Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts reopened after their pandemic closures, their parks have required guests to make a reservation to visit, whether they have a ticket, an annual pass, or Disneyland's new Magic Key pass. Many other theme parks ditched their reservation requirements once they were no longer required by their local governments to limit the number of people visiting the parks. Those restrictions are gone now in Orlando and Anaheim, too, but Disney has kept its reservation requirement.

Why? As I explained in my newspaper column, Why does Disneyland seem so crowded if capacity is limited?, Disney is using its reservation system on both coasts to drive guests from visiting on traditionally over-crowded days to coming on less-busy ones. The idea is smooth out the attendance peak and valleys so that every day at a Disney theme park is equally crowded - but not too crowded.

Some annual pass and Magic Key holders have complained that Disney also is using the reservation system to limit the number of passholders allowed into the park on any given date, creating more space for "regular" ticket buyers.

Disney's theme park reservations are park-specific. You can't show up to the turnstiles at Disneyland in the morning with a Disney California Adventure reservation for that date and expect to get in. Disney's cast members will direct you across the esplanade to enter the park you reserved, instead. Even if you have a Park Hopper ticket, you will not be allowed to visit other theme parks until after 1pm at Disneyland and after 2pm at Walt Disney World. That's another change that the Disney theme parks have implemented since their reopening.

So remember this - or spread the word to anyone you know who is planning a Disney visit - be sure you make a park reservation in addition to buying a Disney theme park ticket or annual pass. Here are the links to do that:

If you are looking for tickets to Disneyland, here is a reminder that Theme Park Insider's travel partner offers those at a discount on its Disneyland tickets page.

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Update: The Disneyland Resort on Tuesday cut off sales of its Magic Key annual passes.

Replies (18)

May 30, 2022 at 6:17 PM

Disney needs to raise wages so they can hire and retain more cast members so that guests have the option to show up without a reservation. Of course Disney won’t do that. Disney used to make a profit by providing a great experience. But profit is the only thing they care about, and guests are nothing more than a source of revenue. Which will only hurt their profits in the long run as their reputation is ruined. Maybe they should become the Money Kingdom.

May 30, 2022 at 7:14 PM

This isn’t true ….

You can turn up at any WDW park without a reservation, and still get in.

How ??

As long as there are available reservations for that day at the 1st park you visit, the CM’s will quickly book you a reservation, and in you go.

And for those in know at WDW, the magic park hopping time is 1:47 :). It really does work.

May 30, 2022 at 8:29 PM

Is that true for AP holders, Mako? Isn’t the class action suit over AP holders not allowed reservations while there are still day-of reservations available for day guests and resort guests?

Disney can still make a profit by raising CM wages as long as they raise the prices of tickets, rooms, souvenirs, food, etc. Of course, with rising prices will come the expectations of rising service, and that isn’t something the current Disney upper management seems too concerned with these days.

May 31, 2022 at 8:01 AM

@Twobits ... it's true for any of the 3 reservation types: AP, resort and/or ticket holders.

I saw it first hand when my friend and I turned up at Epcot, and she'd forgotten to make the reservation. She got the dreaded blue circle of light. No problem though, the CM opened her iPad, and made the reservation in a blink of an eye. Of course my friend was lucky there were AP reservations available.

So I'm obviously not saying, turn up without a reservation and think you're going to get in. Ticket and resort guest availability is nearly always less than for AP's, but on the other hand, if you turn up at the park, and realise you didn't make a res ... don't panic. All is not lost, as Robert's article would make you think.

May 31, 2022 at 9:21 AM

While I think Disney is doing a decent job in communicating the Park Pass requirements, they have established certain freedoms and expectations from guests over the past 5+ decades that are tough to overcome. They also need to understand their guests, and that a majority have not visited in the past 2+ years (but may have been pretty routine guests prior to that), so Park Pass is completely foreign to them. However, the bottom line is that Disney is the ONLY major theme park in the world that is still forcing guests to make a reservation to visit, and that is causing a lot of frustration and anger among prospective guests, especially when the ticket purchasing process already requires guests to select a visiting date - why after nearly 2 years of Park Pass has it not been integrated into the admission purchasing process?

I come across horror stories DAILY from guests who have the impression that they can just walk up to the gate and get into a Disney park (it's bad enough that there are still some noobs, though a dwindling population, out there that wait until they get to the gate before they buy tickets). There are tons of people who post on message boards with similar refrains, "Hey guys, I just bought some tickets to go to WDW next week, and looking for ideas of what to do." The first response to the inquiry is almost universally, "Do you have a Park Pass?", to which the answer is typically "What's that?" To have so many guests be so ignorant of the systems and requirements can't be solely a function of customer stupidity, and while most of us in the know are aware and knowledgeable about Park Pass, Disney has to look at itself as the cause of these issues.

First, Disney has pretty much locked down their ticket media to the point where there are very few ways to purchase a ticket outside of the Disney ecosystem, and considering that Disney forces guests to select the days that they are visiting to determine the price of those tickets, why in the world does that selection not automatically create Park Pass reservations for guests? Also, if there are no Park Passes available for a given day, why does Disney offer tickets for sale on those "sold out" dates? It's a classic "bait and switch" from Disney, and for what purpose? Disney earned their status based on some of the best customer service on the planet, yet policies like this make you wonder how they reached such a pinnacle of respect and trust.

Second, why is Disney still using Park Pass at all? Disney claims that they are using the system to manage crowds to match staffing on a given day. However, if you read reports from guests who visited WDW yesterday (Memorial Day), you'll see photo galleries of empty pathways, relatively short lines, and crowds that look like they're from 15 years ago, not from a perfect weather day on a holiday in 2022 that supposedly had all parks "sold out" weeks ago. Was the lack of crowd a function of Disney significantly limiting capacity because no one wanted to work? Were there thousands of no-shows? Other parks around the world seem to have adjusted to new visiting patterns without much difficulty and have been able to jettison reservation systems (including Universal), so why does Disney need to maintain this barrier to entry? While Disney still has demand to spare if guests locked out gave up Disney forever, they certainly aren't making any new fans with these policies and restricting access to their products.

Speaking of no-shows, the third issue is that Disney still has yet to put any teeth into their no-show policy. While guests (particularly APs) are limited in how many reservations they can hold at a given time, the penalties for not showing up when you have a Park Pass don't seem to have materialized. If you're going to limit the number of guests that can even consider visiting on a given day, those people have to show up pretty reliably. There have to be consequences to no-showing so that guests that really want to visit have spots available.

As far as finding a way into a park when you show up without a Park Pass, I still advise guests to not count on that Pixie Dust. While I'm sure CMs can make things happen on some days, it makes absolutely no sense for a guest to pay for parking, tickets, and all of the hassle to arrive at a Disney park without a Park Pass, FULL STOP. While there can be exceptions to every rule, I think the ability of CMs to grant access based on a sob story or what they might be able to make happen with their iPad, guests need to learn the Park Passes are REQUIRED until Disney ends the program.

May 31, 2022 at 10:34 AM

@Russell ... it's not a sob story, it's a fact. You can still get into a park if you don't have reservation, but only if there are available reservations for that day. I agree, to be 100% certain of getting into the park, get a reservation.

And it never ceases to amaze me how many people are seemingly still buying tickets day-of, at the ticket offices outside the parks.

Reservations at WDW are here to stay, and I for one are OK with that. Sure I can only hold so many at a time, but it's like a revolving door, I use one, I get another one. But most times I only have 'special' days booked ahead of time. Like I had May 4th booked at DHS for months, similar to May 27th for Guardians opening. The rest of the time I get them at most a week ahead of time and never have a problem at getting the park I want.

Even if there is nothing available, just a few refreshes once in a while will 100% get me where I want to go. And that applies to day-of as well.

Yes I know I'm an AP who knows how to work the system, but it's not rocket science.

May 31, 2022 at 12:04 PM

For decades the people visiting Disney:
You sold too many tickets. You knew it was going to be over crowded. You knew it was going to be over crowded but you kept selling tickets. This is BS. etc etc

For the last couple years:
This reservation system is BS. I can't get in. I can't afford to come as often as I used to. My life is ruined. Fire Chapek (even though the park pass/genie+ thing was all planned under Iger). etc etc

People b*tched about the parks being too crowded so now Disney listened and priced them out lol. If the capacity of the park is 50,000 people they are going to do everything they can to let the 50,000 people who are going to spend the most money in, its business.

May 31, 2022 at 12:22 PM

I still don't get what making a park reservation is a separate step from buying a ticket. Tying it all together would be simpler and eliminate guests upset because they didn't know they needed a reservation. You already have to specify a date when you buy a ticket anyway so it seems like a pretty easy fix.

May 31, 2022 at 12:53 PM

I'm under no illusion that Park Pass is going away Makorider (Chapek has more or less said it's here to stay on numerous occasions). However, it says a lot when I read stories of guests planning surprise trips to WDW without Park Passes virtually every single day. To me it's like selling someone an electronic device, but not including the appropriate charging cable or batteries to make it work. Yes, the lack of cable or batteries is usually printed on the outside of the packaging, but it's still an extra step the customer has to take to make the device work. Disney is doing the same thing with their tickets - they'll sell them to guests, and while doing so requiring that they pick their dates to determine the price, but then they force customers to go through the Park Pass system to make the reservation. For electronics, not including cables or batteries is a financial decision that reduces the costs to manufacture the product, but for Disney, the cost of not linking Park Pass to the ticketing system offers no such financial advantage (other than the "free revenue" from guests who buy tickets that they can't use when they find out their dates are sold out). All it does is sow frustration and bad will among their customers who think that selecting their dates in the admission purchasing system is confirmation that they can get into the parks on those dates. What does Disney gain from making guests go through the Park Pass system AFTER buying their admissions? NONE, it's just a bolted on system that Disney didn't bother integrating into their web of disparate applications that's become a labyrinth of systems only the most experienced and savvy users understand.

I can only provide my own personal experience, but when I attempted to get Park Pass reservations back in February (President's Day Weekend), there was absolutely no availability. I refreshed numerous times over the week and a half prior to our arrival and constantly while we were in Orlando, and nothing ever opened up (and I can work the system to my benefit as much as an AP). Even WDW Media Relations could not get us Park Pass reservations over that weekend (they comped us theme park tickets, but were useless without Park Pass reservations), so while Makerider may have been able to pick up Park Passes relatively easily on "normal" days, I can atest that there are busier days when no level of coercion or skill can get you into a WDW park if you don't have a preexisting Park Pass.

Then there is the situation that happened over this weekend with parks that were "sold out" (and reports are pretty widespread that no additional reservations were available even from CMs at the gate), yet hundreds of photos would make you think it was a weekday from the last week of February 2009, with virtually empty parks. That's what create more frustration than anything else, because even the guests that know to have Park Passes before arriving see photos of empty parks on supposedly "sold out" days, and want to know why they couldn't plan a last minute trip over a Holiday Weekend. It's hypocritical for Disney to claim the parks are "sold out", and them have them barely at a "5" on a crowd scale on a day that has historically been a "10". It's getting to the point that guests are starting to feel unwelcome at WDW given the constant change, barriers to entry, increasing costs, and decreasing value. Yes, demand is still there because of what has been pent up from the pandemic and the natural draw of what people think of about WDW, but they are generating A LOT of resentment right now that is not going away, and is certainly not gaining them any fans. Disney has started to take customer loyalty for granted, and I think they're getting perilously close to a tipping point.

May 31, 2022 at 1:10 PM

It's insane that Disney continues to maintain the highly unworkable reservation system, but the ban on park-hopping before 1pm is even more egregious. Why buy a park hopper at all? By the time you get over there all of the Genie+ passes will have been snapped up. What's the reason, to avoid overcrowding? Huh?

@Russell said it best: They "have established certain freedoms and expectations from guests over the past 5+ decades that are tough to overcome."

Previously we paid big bucks to stay at the Grand California so we could get into the park early, use Maxpass to ride most everything we wanted at least once during the day, use our park hoppers to jump back and forth and still have time mid-day to go back to the pool and let the little ones rest.

Now I would have to pay even bigger bucks to stay at the Grand California, which no longer offers maid service, no longer gets me in early, and because Genie+ has screwed the lines so bad, we would have to choose between going to the pool or riding everything we want. That's especially true now that we usually have to leave the park to eat, as well, since mobile dining has screwed up in-park dining so much.

Everything costs way more and we get far, far, far less. Bad vibes.

May 31, 2022 at 1:30 PM

"Why buy a park hopper at all?"

I think that's the point, and park hoppers will be going the way of non-expiring admissions before much longer. Personally, we used park hoppers in order to get AWAY from the crowds, so it confounds me that Disney has restricted them so tightly that it essentially undermines their greatest utility.

May 31, 2022 at 1:40 PM

Russel, you are missing the point of park pass. It's supposed to make the parks less crowded and make it so APs can't get in on days that they can make more money selling regular tickets than letting AP's in. Or maybe you didn't miss the point and are just mad about it. People have this perception like Disney is less crowded therefore its less successful, but they purposely made their parks less crowded. And they are making more money.

This is the way the 21st century economics works, big data drives prices. Its how hotels, airline tickets, sports venue tickets, movie tickets etc works. Historically the theme park industry has stayed away from this because their capacity is so large they rarely ever close their parks (maybe once or twice a year for most major parks if that)...but Disney realized there is more value for them to play the algorithm game than the straight-forward-easy-to-understand way most people like. If people want it to change, large amounts of people need to stop being customers of Disney (and by large I mean large, not just the people they already figured would be priced out). Like anything else if people want to see change vote with your wallet and don't buy Disney products anymore.

May 31, 2022 at 2:19 PM

I get the point of Park Pass, but it's not working, at least from a PR perspective. Guests are frustrated, angry, and confused. They see photos of empty parks on "sold out" days, and then arrive a few days later to see them packed like they were in 2019.

I understand the theory behind what Disney is trying to do, but they're just not doing a very good job right now. First, they should not be selling tickets for days when Park Pass reservations are not available. Whether guests can use those tickets on a similarly-priced/crowded day shouldn't matter, because selecting a day in the ticketing portal creates the illusion that guests will be able to visit on that day.

Second, if Disney is worried about APs not spending as much money as guests in the park, purchasing a single or multi-day admission should virtually guarantee you a Park Pass, which is not the case. It seems that Disney sets predetermined percentages of Park Pass reservations for each type of admission, and once that threshold is exceeded, that's it. If a single-day guest wants to visit and there are AP spots available, that single day guest should be given a Park Pass (as Makorider noted, guests arriving at the gate can do it with the help of a CM, but through the Park Pass system, you can't do that yourself and are not inclined to even show up if the park appears to be "sold out" for your type of admission).

Park Pass makes perfect sense if it actually worked the way Disney claims it works, but the fact of the matter is the system does not actually do what it's supposed to do, and is proving to be a significant barrier to entry. I don't think people will need to vote with their wallets, because Disney is already doing that for them by preventing guests from even planning a WDW trip because of Park Pass.

May 31, 2022 at 3:48 PM

Gone are the days when an AP can spontaneously go to the park at night to watch Fantasmic and go on a ride then leave. Now I gotta plan out my Disney trip 2-3 weeks in advance.

I went to WDW so spontaneously that I didn't have enough time to buy a ticket before I got to the park (never done that before lol) and the lady at the ticket booth was kind enough to make a reservation for my party for that day. Honestly, Epcot isn't really a top choice park to RD but I got park hoppers so I figured it would be okay. The parks weren't that crowded but since park hopping isn't until 2, everything was already super crowded. Reservations are already bad enough but the real punch is no park hopping until 2 pm. At least at DL, park hopping is earlier in the day and the parks don't close until super late at night. DHS and EP typically close at 9 so it sucks that you don't get much out of it when the parks are already packed.

May 31, 2022 at 4:26 PM

To be fair to Russell, he is correct in assuming I’m not trying on the holiday weekends, or Christmas and Easter. But AP availability is usually better than resort and/or guest tickets anyway. My friends booked Epcot late last week for Sun/Mon of Memorial Day weekend, so they had no problem. On the Monday they even got a boarding group for the Guardians ride, at the 7am drop. So it’s never as bad as it seems.

The day I had the longest and biggest headache trying to get was October 1st. In the end, they dropped some day ticket reservations the day I was heading into the Magic Kingdom, so I bought a single day pass and used that.

May 31, 2022 at 9:31 PM

I like all the hoops Disney makes us jump through for entering their parks. Keeps out the buffoons who don't know how to behave. :O)

June 1, 2022 at 7:30 AM

Back when I used to live in socal I remember the parks being relatively nice during the summer when you would expect them to packed, but then as soon as AP's got unblocked the place would be slammed. That is I think what you are saying, this is what is happening at WDW.

But it doesn't do WDW any favors if they have capacity when they could be selling tickets. WDW has over a million annual passholders, TBH considering all these problems they are having making them happy it wouldn't surprise me at some point to see them do what DLR is doing and phase them out.

June 2, 2022 at 1:34 AM

Your travel tip is really helpful. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I hope that I will have a chance to visit Disney.

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