Though the parks' gates were locked for so long, the new Magic Key program gives park-goers the means to unlock them. (Illustration by Giovanna Martin, Columbia College Chicago)

Disneyland’s ‘Magic Key’ Unlocks the Hearts of Legacy Passholders

Disney’s new annual pass program, offers fans and original passholders a flexible, safe and exciting return to the parks.

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Disney’s new annual pass program, offers fans and original passholders a flexible, safe and exciting return to the parks.

After a year’s worth of wondering about Disneyland’s follow-up program to its annual pass, park-goers now have the long-awaited chance to unlock multiple visits a year to the happiest place on Earth. Announced Aug. 3, the new Magic Key program welcomes everyone — including those who wish to make up for lost time and those who want to explore the park for a first time. 

The Magic Key will replace the Annual Passholder program, which launched in 1984. Disney canceled the original pass program in January due to the COVID-19 pandemic, months after the park’s closure in March 2020. The change gave Disney the room to rethink the program and consider how best to keep their parks in accordance with pandemic guidelines.

Similar to the Annual Passholder program, the Magic Key program offers four different key types with varying reservation requirements, parking prices and discounts on select dining and merchandise. The lowest-priced option is the Imagine Key at $399 and the highest-priced is the Dream Key at $1399. Higher-priced keys will allow guests to reserve more visits to the park at once and include greater discounts. 

Public Relations Director Michael Ramirez of the Disneyland Resort broke down the key components of the new pass program, including the theme park reservation system. To “help provide a great experience for all guests” and to keep park attendance at a safe capacity, Magic Key holders will be able to make advanced reservations to enjoy the parks on available dates. 

Charter members who purchase a key type within the first 66 days after the program launches will receive a special welcome package, which includes “unique items such as a premium branded pin, celebratory button, magnet, and more.” Disneyland will also celebrate Magic Key holders by giving them “access to a limited-time experience at Starcade in Tomorrowland.”

Disneyland enthusiastically waits for loyal and new faces to regularly unlock its gates. While many restrictions remain in order to manage the spread of COVID-19 and its delta variant, the new annual pass program is a special opportunity for park-goers to enjoy the magic of Disney and meet their nostalgic characters, ride their favorite attractions and eat some delicious treats. Through Disneyland.com and the Disneyland app, guests will be able to purchase their Magic Key pass type starting Aug. 25. 

The Perks of a Limited Crowd

The magic of Disneyland has always come with a notable price — massive crowds and long wait times. Guests have long worried about waiting two hours for an attraction when they had a show reservation to meet. They’ve also found difficulty navigating the park when walking shoulder-to-shoulder with other people slowed their progress.

However, the Magic Key program allows for a potential improvement of the park experience. Reservations pave the way for smaller, more accessible crowds. By limiting the number of guests allowed in the park, Disneyland lets keyholders enjoy each land with some personal space and room to breathe. Wait times can be shortened from two hours to 40 minutes or less. 

Smaller crowds provide greater opportunities for guests to receive the full Disneyland experience. Attractions that are usually difficult to obtain spots for, such as Rise of the Resistance at Galaxy’s Edge or Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure at the Avengers Campus, will be available for new guests to marvel at. 

A Smaller Price for Magic

The pandemic cost Disney much of its yearly revenue in 2020. The Washington Post reports that the company went from earning “$20.9 billion in 2019 to $16.3 billion in 2020, as coronavirus shutdowns and consumer caution cut attendance at movie theaters and Disney theme parks.” 

Fans might expect the entertainment franchise to attempt to gain back what they lost in revenue by increasing park pass prices. However, Magic Key offers reasonable pricing for a magical experience as fans regain the familiar advantages of the annual pass program.

Long gone are Disneyland’s $100 or less entry prices. Purchasing tickets and passes usually comes with a prepared day plan so that families can get their money’s worth from the park’s opening to closing time. However, compared to the original annual pass program, Disneyland’s Magic Key offers similar benefits at a reasonable expense. 

The Dream Key closely compares to the original Signature Plus pass, which also cost $1399. At the same price, Dream Key holders receive the same discounts, free parking and more opportunities to visit the park. Now, however, they won’t be paying for overwhelming crowds and ridiculous wait times.

The Pros of Magic Key Outweigh the Cons

Fans who wish to purchase a Magic Key pass should not only recognize its benefits, of course, but should also consider its downsides. 

Although the reservation system contributes to guests’ safety, it won’t accommodate impulse decisions to visit the park, for instance. Passholders loved walking through the gates whenever they wanted to, even just for a brief Friday night of drinking Refreshment Corner’s hot cocoa and viewing an extravagant firework show.  

The Magic Key program takes away a big advantage of the original annual pass. On the bright side, reservations allow for better planning and time management. Guests can arrange a family day trip to Disneyland and have an activity schedule so that they can see everything they wish to. 

While many of the usual park attractions remain, character meet-and-greets have been slightly adjusted to fit pandemic restrictions. Disneyland does not allow visitors to hug or high-five their favorite characters because of social distancing guidelines. Unfortunately, the full greeting experience probably won’t return for a long time.

Close interactions with characters make Disneyland a magical reality, especially for children. They can still exchange waves and smiles with Disney pals from a distance and hopefully engage in amusing conversations with face characters. 

Happiness After a Year of Letdowns

In the coming months and years, passholders can explore brand-new attractions and shows at Disneyland. A “Princess and the Frog” re-theming of Splash Mountain is in the works, as well as a new Toontown ride, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near its end, the country has made slight progress in returning to some state of normalcy. After 15 months of isolation and discouragement, Disneyland’s rejuvenated pass program is a positive opportunity for guests to get back on their feet and relieve the pandemic stress.

Keyholders can taste all of Disneyland’s fine dining, such as Plaza Inn’s fried chicken or Blue Bayou’s jambalaya. For in-between meals, snack carts offer treats like churros, pretzels, popcorn and corn dogs.

If the treats won’t suffice, the theme park’s whimsical ambiance and entertaining performances surely will. When guests unlock the gates with their Magic Key, jovial characters, nostalgic music and an aroma of fresh popcorn will be there to welcome them in. 

The new annual pass program is a remarkable and secure way to bring legacy passholders back into the park. No matter their key type, guests will enjoy all the special entertainment the park has to offer. Disneyland’s enchanting escape to a “world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy” through the Magic Key program is another dream come true. 

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Michelle Buckley

Chapman University
B.F.A. Creative Writing

Michelle Buckley is a rising sophomore at Chapman University and majors in creative writing. Driven by self-expression and motivation to build a community, Buckley hopes to make an impact with her passion for writing.

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