Did Disneyland solve its Annual Pass problem?

Although I visited Disneyland in the 70s as a kid, I did not become a “regular” visitor until 1995. I began traveling for a new job and purchased an annual pass so I could visit Disneyland every time work sent me to California. I remained an annual pass holder fairly consistently until 2010, when finances made me focus on food and shelter rather than Pirates and Mansions. (To be more accurate, I did miss visiting in 2006 due to a job layoff, but 1995 to 2009 had a number of visits.)

Back in those days, Disney still had an “off season” where crowd levels were so low you could walk right up to the boats on Pirates of the Caribbean, or hop on Indiana Jones over and over. Those times were always my favorite times to visit.

When I was able to return to the park in 2017, things had changed. Disney no longer had an off season, and the parks seemed to have crowds that previously would have only been seen around major holidays like Spring Break or Christmas.

Many claimed annual pass holders were to blame. The Internet echo chamber said that Disneyland had one million pass holders, though I do not know if Disney ever released any official count. It was clear, though, that the modern Instagram-YouTube-Social Media generation was using the park like it had never been used before. A souvenir popcorn bucket would go on sale, and social media would spread this news and the park would see an influx of people rushing to buy as many as they could — often to resell later that day on eBay. Much of the vibe of the park had changed.

And then Covid happened…

When Disneyland re-opened after the Covid closure, annual passes were gone. Eventually, the new Magic Key system would replace them, though trying to buy one was almost impossible — only a limited amount would be sold, and they would sell out almost immediately. One would think that the new $1,649 Inspire Key would be enough to curtail demand, but even this pass seemed to be unavailable the times I checked.

Until recently.

The other night, I happened to catch some random YouTube suggested video discussing that all the passes were for sale again, and had no sold out. The hosts suggested this was due to no one wanting them.

This could be the case. Or, Disney could have finally “fixed” its annual pass problem.

The fix is in…

My first Disneyland annual pass was probably around $169, and every year the price would increase. But, if you took two weeklong trips a year (one at the start of the pass, one at the end of the pass) it was still cheaper than buying tickets at the gate. I always sprung for the highest pass with parking and PhotoPass and whatever else it offered.

But Magic Keys were different. The post-Covid park reservation system meant the pass no longer let you pop in to the park randomly after work. You had to plan ahead, and reserve your visit–if you could. Some days would be unavailable. And, the Keys had limits to how many days you could reserve in advance.

This is what made me not consider a Magic Key, even if I could have bought one. My trips used to be 8-day trips (like, Tuesday through Tuesday) and at the time, the most days you could reserve on any Key level was less than that.

BUT, this and a few other changes may be allowing the park to open up Key sales without restrictions. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. The new Magic Keys have blackout dates–even the $1649 one.
  2. “A Magic Key pass does not guarantee park entry, even on dates when a pass is not blocked.”–clearly stated on the terms of the new passes.
  3. Park visits must be reserved in advance. During busy times, reservations may be unavailable. If you hear about that new popcorn bucket, you may not be able to run down and buy one unless you had already scheduled that day in advance.
  4. Only the $1649 pass includes parking. At the $1249 level, you get a 50% discount on parking, and at $849 you get 25% off parking. Now that parking has increased to $35, that means even at the $1249 Key level you are paying $17.50 each time you visit Disneyland in a case, and more for the lower passes with less discounts.

SIDE NOTE: If 15,000 pass holders showed up on the same day, each paying 50% of parking fees, Disneyland makes over a quarter of a million dollars.

As we’ve seen with all the price increases over the decades annual passes were sold, prices never kept the crowds away. Even today, with the highest prices ever, the park can still get packed.

But, maybe not due to Magic Keys. Disney can now “turn off” admission any time the park is too busy, and folks who might have gone to the parks a dozen times in a month may be unable to do so due to reservations being unavailable. And, maybe they don’t want to pay $23 to pop in to the park just to buy a new popcorn bucket.

This is the Internet, and this is just random speculation.

We’ll see if these Magic Keys are still for sale next month.

Until then…

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