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?
* * *
For more on visiting the parks, including our updated reader attraction rankings and discounts to multi-day tickets, please visit our park listing pages:
Finally, for more theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.