What's the Next Step for Reservations at Disneyland?

January 19, 2023, 10:05 PM · Josh D’Amaro has promised that more changes will be coming to the Park Pass reservation systems at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. But what might those changes be? As with many things at Disney, to predict the future you should look at the past.

For park reservations, you do not need to look too far into the past - just to 2019 and the introduction of the Flex Pass at Disneyland. Disney’s first major use of park reservations provided a blueprint for the Park Pass system that Disney implemented when its theme parks reopened after the pandemic lockdowns. Flex Pass continues to provide an example of how that reservation system might change, too.

D’Amaro announced earlier this month that Walt Disney World annual passholders no longer would need to make reservations to visit the WDW parks after 2pm, with the exception of Magic Kingdom on weekends, which will continue to need reservations on those days. [Exclusive Interview With Josh D'Amaro on Today's Disney Changes]

No immediate changes are coming at Disneyland, where the number of Magic Key pass members far outnumbers Walt Disney World annual passholders. Don’t expect Disneyland to offer a blanket exemption to reservations for Magic Key holders. But Disney’s California resort could make a Flex Pass-type change.

The Flex Pass required holders to make reservations to visit Disneyland or Disney California Adventure on most dates. But it also offered more than 100 “Good to Go” dates when reservations were not required. [See Disneyland introduces a new type of Annual Pass.]

Disneyland introduced the Flex Pass because it needed to end the free-for-all where annual passholders slammed the park on many evenings, creating wall-to-wall crowds that made walking through the parks nearly impossible in certain places. The Flex Pass gave Disneyland another tool to go with blockout dates to help limit and distribute the use of annual passes throughout the year.

It was clear to me before the pandemic that Disney saw the Flex Pass as the future for its annual pass program. The pandemic then made reservations the future for all Disney theme park ticketing. Yet, two years after Disneyland ended its annual pass program, it appears to be time to put some of the "Flex" of the Flex Pass into Disney's theme park ticketing.

Disneyland could choose to allow all or certain Magic Key holders into its parks on certain dates, creating the new version of "Good to Go" days. If Disneyland wanted to put a time restriction on those dates, much like Disney World has with its after-2pm entry limit, I would not be surprised to see Disneyland go in the opposite direction - requiring Magic Key holders to enter the park before a certain time on Good to Go days.

One of the benefits (to Disneyland) from the current reservation requirement is that it encourages passholders to spend all day at the parks - buying multiple meals and more merchandise - rather than just dropping in after school or work, when they might buy just one meal and skip the souvenirs. The thinking is, if you’ve got to go through the hassle of making a reservation, you might as well make the most of it.

The earlier arrivals under the reservation system help spread the load of passholders throughout the day, instead of having them all roll in and crush the park in the late afternoon or early evening, as they did under the old system, before the pandemic. As D'Amaro mentioned in his interview with me, Orlando and Southern California are vastly different markets, with different guest behavior, in large part due to the much higher percentage of local passholder guests in Anaheim. A Disney World-style free-for-all after 2pm would be the last thing that Disneyland needs.

But some relaxation of the reservation requirement in Anaheim would create some goodwill among the Magic Key holder fanbase. The Flex Pass provides one established way that might happen.

Another way that Disneyland could create some goodwill among local fans is to start selling a parking annual pass. Other than the top-priced, $1,599 Believe Key, none of Disneyland's Magic Key passes offer free parking, though others offer parking discounts. Disneyland uses to sell free parking as an add-on to lower-priced annual passes, and I believe that Disneyland would find many takers if it offered such an option again.

But why limit that to Magic Key holders? Disneyland could generate goodwill with DVC members, vacationers and dedicated local fans - including frequent customers of Downtown Disney - by offering a parking annual pass to everyone. Price it at, say, five times the current daily rate for parking (starting at $30 per car), and Disneyland could offer a deal that would make many of its fans happy.

Disneyland also could create some goodwill in the market by offering an alternative to the sometimes hard-to-get Magic Key passes - by bringing back multi-day tickets that do not expire within 13 days of first use. Disneyland already does this with seasonal resident ticket deals, such as the current three-day ticket deal, which is available here starting at $204 per ticket. But a less restrictive, 10- or 15-day Disneyland ticket that expires within 365 days of first use could provide a superior alternative to the Magic Key for some Disneyland fans - and might be a more manageable way for the resort to accommodate loyal fans than the Magic Key annual pass program anyway.

Disneyland has learned a lot about ticketing in its nearly 70 years as a wildly popular travel destination. So it has a deep base of data-driven knowledge to draw from as managers consider the next step in its ever-evolving approach toward managing its attendance.

What would you like to see Disneyland do next?

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Replies (6)

January 20, 2023 at 9:46 AM

I just think reservations offer too much advantage for Disney to ever completely eliminate. It's a drug that Disney got hooked on during the pandemic out of necessity, but the benefits of being able to plan and optimize staffing are too powerful for Disney to quit.

Now, I could see Disney eventually loosening reservation requirements to where Magic Key guests don't have to select a specific date/park, but they'll still need to declare they're visiting sometime during a given week (with weekend and holiday blackouts in place for the bottom tier). I can also see Disney dropping the formality of Park Pass by integrating the reservation service into the backend of the ticketing process, essentially requiring a reservation when guests purchase single/multi-day tickets and forcing guest to use those tickets on the date(s) designated at the time of purchase.

While Disney has plenty of data to be able to accurately predict crowds from day to day, there's still far too much advantage for Disney to know exactly how many people are going to show up to the park and be able to appropriately manage and staff for those crowds. I just can't see Disney ever giving up the efficiencies that a reservation system provides, just as I can't see movie theaters ever going away from seat reservations.

January 20, 2023 at 8:25 PM

A reservation means a reserved spot in the park which would control the flow and attendance so the parks are more manageable and gives the person who reserves a spot to enjoy the park with a certain amount of attendees. Right?
I see the parks crammed with guests more so now than pre covid. Like its impossible to navigate some walkways. Some attractions you will not get on. So whats the point of a reserved spot?
I would assumed that Disney would have a cap of park guests since they have a reservation. But that's not the case from my experience.

January 20, 2023 at 10:03 PM

the parks are absolutely not as crowded as they were pre-covid (at least on the west coast).

January 20, 2023 at 11:15 PM

If I were invited to pitch a solution to this problem, here's what I'd propose...

Firstly, remove the park specific reservations for the Disneyland Resort. As the majority of guests purchase hopper tickets and will be moving back and forth between the parks throughout the day, it seems unnecessary to declare a starting park (especially since hopping is allowed at 11 A.M. now). Instead, guests would be free to enter either park upon arrival, and would have to remain at the chosen park for three hours before hopping to the other park. A wait time board would be erected outside the parks displaying current queue times for the headliners in each park to help guests choose where they wish to start their day.

Second, to supplement Magic Keys, start selling five and ten day tickets that are valid for 12 months from first visit. These would be considered multi-day tickets and subject to the same reservation pool, but they would not have any blackout dates. Along with these tickets, the Imagine key would be discontinued as it would be considered an inferior value. Pricing on these tickets would be approximately $400 for the five day and approximately $700 for the ten day.

Third, no reservation days would be added to the Magic Keys based on the Key level and ticket tier for that day. On days marked tiers 0, 1, or 2, all Magic Keys are valid for admission without reservation. Tier 3 days require reservations for Enchant, but not Inspire or Believe. On Tier 4 days, only Inspire can enter without a reservation. Tier 5 and 6 days require reservations for all eligible Keyholders. This would allow Keyholders to visit on a whim on less busy days where the parks are unlikely to be overwhelmed, yet prevent them from flooding the park on days that will see a healthy crowd.

Lastly, to encourage Keyholders to visit for a full day, Believe would include free parking before 2 P.M., and the Enchant discount would be doubled to 50% and valid at all lots before 2 P.M. After 2 P.M., the existing policy would go into place. This is similar to USH, where those arriving in the evening are not eligible for free parking.

I feel all of the above are fair and realistic compromises that make things easier on guests without completely eliminating systems that Disney finds beneficial for crowd management.

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January 23, 2023 at 1:15 PM

I agree that reservations have ruined the parks, and that Disneyland is far, far more crowded and unmanageable now than it ever was before the quarantine. Maybe that's the result of Genie+ artificially inflating wait times, but if that's the case then they need to reduce the number of reservations.

Either way, because of reservations and Genie+, the parks are abysmal now, and we ride probably half (or less than half) the number of rides in a day that we did before the quarantine. Now, after 2pm, you might as well leave because every line is obnoxious and the Genie+ passes are gone.

I can't remember a time that I made it through the end of January without booking my annual visits, but there's no point in booking now, it will just be upsetting. I'll wait until Iger announces some positive developments or just not go at all this year.

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