Disneyland’s revamped annual pass requires reservations. Will the park still be the happiest place on earth?

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Visitors wearing face masks walk on Main Street at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, U.S., July 24, 2021. Picture taken July 24, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Disneyland’s annual pass system has for decades been a cost-effective way to enjoy the happiest place on earth. But when Disney shut down because of COVID, it decided to make major changes to those passes. The old version was scrapped in January, and now a revamped version is here. The new pass system, deemed “Magic Key,” has lower prices but more blockout days, and it requires visitors to make reservations.

“In the past, if you had an annual pass, you could show up whenever you wanted, as many times as you wanted, as long as it wasn't on a blockout date that corresponded to your pass. Now you have to make a reservation. And if there’s no availability, then you just can’t use it. … That’s the biggest change here,” says Hugo Martin, who writes about the travel industry, airlines, and theme parks for the Los Angeles Times.  

He says many long-term passholders aren’t happy about this — they were usually locals who dropped in to ride a few attractions or watch a parade. 

So why did Disney make the change? According to Martin, crowds inside the park have worsened every year, due in part to annual passholders. That made it difficult for the park to bring in high-spending visitors.

Through reservations, Disney can now control its number of visitors. “People cannot just show up randomly at the park with a pass or with a one-day ticket. So they could determine how many people they want in the park on high-demand weekends or holidays, or the middle of summer when the park is particularly popular with those high-spending visitors from out of state or from other countries.”

The reservation system is derived from COVD-19 restrictions on capacity limits. 

Despite rising COVID cases, Martin says there is no indication that Disney (or other theme parks) will ask for guest vaccination records. 

“On the record, [Disney] really wouldn't say the reason, but it's clear that if you're going to check everybody's vaccination records, it's going to slow down the lines to get into the park. I mean, as it is, when the park’s open, there's already a huge crowd. And getting everybody in is a huge ordeal. So on top of that, asking everybody to pull out a vaccine card would slow it down even more.”  

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