Disney annual pass being ripped in half
Disney's annual passes may no longer exist, but that won't stop major Disney fans from planning their trip to the parks. (Illustration by Peyton Stark, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Do Disney Park Annual Passes Have a Place in Tomorrowland?

The theme park company made bold choices during COVID-19. Could they be in the process of creating an entirely new kind of ticket?

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Disney annual pass being ripped in half

The theme park company made bold choices during COVID-19. Could they be in the process of creating an entirely new kind of ticket?

In 2020, Disney World and Disneyland halted the sale of annual passes. They permitted only existing passholders to renew. However, recent rumors suggested that the Walt Disney Company will resurrect the annual passes in August of this year. Disney sent an email to current annual passholders, stating that those with annual passes will not receive free MagicBands when entering the park, effective August 16. This statement quickened the heartbeats of Disney fans because it suggested that annual passes will return in mid-August.

In the past, park attendees could purchase a pass that granted them access to Disney World, Disneyland and/or Disney’s California Adventure at any time throughout the year, with the exception of specific blackout dates. But that won’t be the case going forward. From now on, guests must register online before arriving at the park so as to limit the number of people on the grounds at one time. Certain dates like Oct. 1 and 2 are already completely booked because of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. Annual passes were taken off the market during July 2020 and are rumored to return this August. Some individuals assumed that their elimination was permanent, but hopeful fans kept their eyes and Mickey Ears open for their return.

Why Get Rid of Annual Passes?

One reason that Disney originally stopped the sale of annual passes was a simple equation of cost versus benefit. According to the Orange County Register, those with an annual pass make up approximately 50% of the park guests on most days. Disney saw in this a lost opportunity to make more money. Annual passholders are usually locals, so they do not need to spend money on a night in a Disney hotel. They’re less likely to spend money on food and souvenirs because of their frequent visits, too.

In addition to the economic disadvantages of selling tickets to recurring guests, the Walt Disney Company also recognized a problem with overcrowding. Amid the pandemic, Disney enacted a policy that guests must register online before strolling into the park. This meant planning ahead and informing the company of which days one plans to visit. Now, because of the registration system, guests can plan ahead and ensure they won’t be turned away when approaching the gates.

Consequences of the New Policy

The discontinuation of annual passes does inconvenience some guests. Local residents in the Disney World and Disneyland areas habitually visit the parks. But they may not visit as often anymore due to the price increase. However, they will likely continue to spend money on the experience, since many of them are extremely dedicated fans. Previous annual passholders may continue emptying their pockets for Disney tickets, even without access to annual passes. The experience of buckling their fanny packs around their waists, bathing in sunscreen and waltzing into the whimsical Disney environment was a lifestyle for them. Because of this, little significant harm will befall the company.

If the rumors are true, and the annual passes do return under the context of pre-registration, California and Florida residents are expected to quickly hop back onto the carousel of annual pass purchasing.

The Buzz of the Fans

Fans of the parks are buzzing about the possibility of purchasing annual passes. But some bloggers like Mike from blogmickey.com view the news as a temporary band-aid rather than a long-term solution. Disney didn’t announce any concrete plans, but Ken Potrock, the president of Disneyland, stated that they are developing “new membership offerings that will utilize consumer insights to deliver choice, flexibility and value for our biggest fans.” According to the thoughts of blogmickey.com, this could mean a new frequent visitor program — not annual passes.

Disney fan platforms like the “Mousetalgia” podcast speculate that prices will continue to rise as annual pass sales become more limited. The current hotspot for news about Disney’s annual passes is on the Annual Pass Holders’ Facebook group. Park attendees post updates anytime new information is released. Until Disney announces its official pass policy, local residents can bask in the glow of their current discount. The company is offering three-day, one park tickets to residents for $83 per day.

Gazing Into Tomorrowland

Based on current communication from the Walt Disney Company, it appears that Disney World and Disneyland will travel in the same direction when it comes to the future of annual passes. The direction is not clear yet, but the two parks seem closely aligned thus far.

Other companies will likely not eliminate their season passes, however. Six Flags and Universal Studios are still selling season tickets. Disney is currently the only amusement park company doing away with this option. Will they lead a new wave of policy changes, or will they eventually return to their old ticket style?

Although some Disney guests say they miss the annual passes, the company’s experiment is an economically effective one thus far. Nasdaq.com praises Disney’s strategy for making money during the pandemic. By limiting visitors, raising prices and pausing annual passes, their “brilliant greed” kept the company afloat during a global crisis. It’s a small world, but Disney is aiming for a less crowded one.

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Briana Byus

Biola University
Journalism & Integrated Media

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