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…

Over 44,000 Universal Studios/SeaWorld Orlando photos…

As of today, March 6th 2024, my Universal Studios-SeaWorld photo gallery now has over 44,000 photos. The most recent ones include SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival and Universal Studios Florida’s Mardi Gras.

http://us-sw.disneyfans.com

New to the gallery are photos from Universal’s Endless Summer Surfside hotel – one of the two “value” hotels over there. The gallery now includes photos from many of the resorts – Dockside, Surfside, Cabana Bay, Aventura, Sapphire Falls, Hard Rock Hotel.

I did visit Jake’s at Royal Pacific (the first time I ever explored the Water Taxi’s) but I do not know where I would have sorted those photos. I also remember having a drink on a rainy day at some outside bar at Hard Rock Hotel, and walking around Portofino Bay one morning, but I cannot find any photos to back that up.

Needless to say, sorting and organizing these galleries is an ongoing project here.

More to come…

Not knowing is more fun.

In the early days of the public Internet, even before the World Wide Web, I felt very plugged in to what was going on with Disney theme parks. I followed usenet newsgroups like alt.disney.disneyland and rec.arts.disneyparks. I was on the GEnie online service hanging out in the Destination Florida RoundTable (which also featured a Disneyland area for some reason). Folks routinely posted about their recent visit to the parks. It was because of discussions there about the building of the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland that I made a goal to return to Disneyland once that ride opened. I had not been there since Space Mountain/Big Thunder were new.

Over the 1990s, fan sites, web message forums and all kinds of new resources replaced the old newsgroups and pay services. If something was known, it was shared. I felt completely plugged in, and on top of every tidbit happening—from the change of a cup size or altering of paper napkins, to more major things like ride refurbishments.

It was a great time. But now I have regrets.

I became disconnected, though not because I wanted to be. I had financial struggles for nearly a decade. If I couldn’t go, I didn’t need to follow a dozen websites daily to see the latest news about Disneyland of Walt Disney World.

In those years, money was so tight I took no vacations. I had no home phone, no cell phone and no home internet. The only contact I had with cybespace was through an iPad or taking my laptop down to a place with free WiFi.

I was only able to return to Disneyland thanks to a friend offering me free lodging in his vacation home, and after getting a different job that had slightly higher pay.

That trip, my friends, was probably the best Disney trip I’ve ever had since my first ones as a kid in the 1970s. I was aware that Cars Land had been added but did not know any details. One of my local SoCal friends, Steve (R.I.P.), escorted me through Disney California Adventure park where I saw the new entrance area and many other changes since my last visit in 2009. He walked me past the main Cars Land entrance, distracting me with details on the other side. He wanted me to walk through the backside arch in to the land and see the “mountain range.”

We did.

Cars Land (2017)

And it was epic.

Riding Radiator Springs Racers spoiler-free was also an absolute pleasure. I had read no reviews, seen no ride through videos, or even read comments about it.

Best. Ride. Ever.

Because of that, I continued to try to avoid spoilers. This made the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout a fantastic new experience when that ride opened.

The magic was back.

I have not had a Disney annual pass since the pre-Covid era. I did, however, taken advantage of a low cost (“three months free”) passes to Universal Studios Orlando, which turned out to be a gateway back in to regular theme park trips — just not to Disney.

And since I had not been following Universal at all, ever, I did not even know there was a new mega King Kong ride there. I remember walking from Jurassic Park and seeing this “mountain” looming in the distance. “What is that!?” I thought.

Reign of Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Approaching it that first time was thrilling.

Between the time I started writing this article, many months ago, and the time I finish it today, I have become a bit more plugged in with Universal Orlando — watching YouTube video “news” about the park from time to time. But, no where near the level of plugged-in-ness I was in the 1990s-2000s with Disney.

And I think I prefer it like this.

If you ever feel burnt out or jaded, try unplugging for awhile. It might just give your next visit a boost!

Until then…

More SeaWorld and Universal Orlando photos/videos coming.

About 2500 photos taken at the SeaWorld Orlando Seven Seas Food Festival and the Universal Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval are waiting for me to sort them and get them uploaded to the Universal/SeaWorld photo gallery.

This year, Universal had 18 food/drink booths, and SeaWorld had 28. It was quite the challenge to visit each one and take photos. Hopefully, I didn’t miss any this year… I hope to share some articles comparing the two different food events. We enjoyed both of them far better than we did the last time we went to EPCOT Food & Wine. As someone who grew up a Disneyland/Disney World kid since the 1970s, I never thought I’d say that!

We also got to visit the re-opened Mel’s Drive In on its first day open to the public (Tuesday, February 27, 2024). I had never eaten there, so it was a good excuse to try it out and get some new photos.

I also captured some more raw footage with my VR360 camera which I will share to my YouTube channel at some point.

Another upcoming project is to create a detailed page about the annual pass and how much it can save, even if you are an out-of-state visitor like I am. If you stay on site at a Universal hotel, you can save even more with pass discounts on rooms (sometimes; only a few trips have ever had them available–usually it’s just “Seasonal Rate”). For example, after several three-night hotel stays over the course of the year with the pass, the savings are more than what two Premium (most expensive) Universal APs cost! I have spreadsheets going back several years documenting the savings…

More to come…

Top 10 articles from 2023

I don’t like to brag, but literally dozens of folks visit this site every year. They tend to come here mostly via web searches for specific topics. For 2023, here were the most-viewed articles on this site:

Here is what those articles are about, in case you wanted to check them out in 2024…

1. Disneyland’s third theme park in 2000

“It seems like only yesterday” that Disneyland had announced plans to open a third theme park — all during the time when Disney’s California Adventure was still under construction. They set up a teaser website which gave us a look at what the re-development of the area around Disneyland could look like. It also mentioned some of the types of attractions that could be added to the third park.

With recent talk of “Disneyland Forward,” this probably explains the interest in this post about something from over 20 years ago.

2. Universal Orlando Garden Walk Maps

I grew up in the 1970s visiting Disneyland and Walt Disney World with my family. Although I had visited Universal Studios Florida as a teenage (during its first year or so of being open), most of our time was spent at Disney. I only visited Universal a few times until I got my first Universal annual pass a few years ago. I also had never stayed at an on-site resort hotel anywhere (well, I did stay at the Hersheypark Lodge once) until Universal.

My lack of experience with the park had me completely unaware that there was a beautiful walking path that connected all the hotels except Surfside/Dockside to Citywalk. I recall seeing them and trying to find information about them after a trip. Since I did not know the name “Garden Walk,” I could find nothing. After learning the game, I could find tons of videos and references to them…but no maps.

So I made a map. The map has layers that can be turned on showing locations of the water taxi docks, the walking paths, security checkpoints and such. It’s surprising how walking from a resort to the front of a theme park via Garden Walk can be LESS WALKING that walking to the bus stop and taking the bus where it drops you off at the far end of CityWalk.

I hope folks find these maps useful.

3. So that casino in Walt Disney World is finally happening?

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, this one goes back to things my father was told during visits to Walt Disney World in the 1970s — back when the only theme park there was Magic Kingdom. He had heard they build the Contemporary Resort to have a casino… A casino associated with Disney was quite a shocking idea back then, but in recent years, the topic actually has come up about Disney having casinos.

Well, I never thought we’d see alcohol at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom, or beer kegs at ice cream carts, so who knows. Modern Disney is very different.

4. Universal’s Islands of Adventure preview center in 1999

I bought my first digital camera in 1996, and began taking pictures at theme and amusement parks. I visited Universal Studios Florida the year before Islands of Adventure opened, and then the first year the new park opened. I have a few photos taken at the preview center that was were the New York tribute store and Mummy lockers are today.

I suspect interest in the upcoming (hopefully) Epic Universe tribute store is why this article has been getting views.

5. Space Mountain 1999 FastPass

There was a time when FastPass was new. There is alot of conflicting information on when and where it started, but this was the first time I got to use it.

6. Universal Studios Florida in 1998

I just wanted to share some of the photos I took during my first Universal trip with a digital camera.

7. The time(s) Disney changed the lyrics to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song

I was practicing click-bait. Discussions come up from time to time about how folks swear the original song had the word “rape” in it. Until the modern internet, where lyrics and downloadable songs became a thing, I too had memories of that word being in the song and how out-of-place it seemed.

But history shows this was never the case.

But there have been times when the song was presented in edited form 😉 Click the bait to find out more.

8. Before Disney’s California Adventure, part 1

Although I had visited Disneyland in the 1970s — I remember being there before Space Mountain and before Big Thunder Mountain — I did not start going as an adult until 1995. By 1996, I was visiting with a digital camera. I put together some of the photos of what the park was like before Disney’s California Adventure was announced and construction began.

9. Visiting Disneyland in 1996

Just another one showing the earliest digital photos I have of Disneyland.

Happy 2024!

Victoria Frankenstein at Universal Epic Universe

I remember when “Interview with the Vampire” came out and folks familiar with the source books were upset that the vampire Lestat was cast by an actor that did not at all resemble the description of the character from the books. Folks like me who had never read the books did not notice or care.

But Universal Epic Universe information was released the other day and I found it interesting that the Monster of Frankenstein’s creator has been gender flipped in the new park version – Victoria Frankenstein. I doubt that many have actually read the original Mary Shelley book (I certainly haven’t), but the story is so iconic that I think the name “Victor Frankenstein” is pretty well-known. I wonder if their story will be a sequel of some sort with Victoria being his daughter or a relative.

Victoria Frankenstein is not new – she has appeared before in remakes:

The 2007 film Frankenstein introduces Victoria Frankenstein. Instead of making the creature out of corpses, she uses stem cells, intending to use her experiment to save her dying son. The experiment goes wrong, however, and the creature escapes. When Frankenstein catches up with the monster, she comes to love it because it is her only remaining link to her son who has since died.

A 2014 ongoing web series Frankenstein, MD, created by PBS Digital Studios and Pemberley Digital, focuses on Victoria Frankenstein, a medical student determined to prove herself in her field. This series gender-swaps several characters – Elizabeth becomes Eli Lavenza and Henry becomes Rory Clerval.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Frankenstein

…though the Frankenstein movie from 2007 does not appear to be a Universal Studios release and I do not know if PBS has any connection to Universal for their web series. At least they aren’t the first to do it.

Press release mentioning Victoria may be found here:

https://www.nbcuniversal.com/article/introducing-universal-epic-universe-companys-most-ambitious-theme-park-date

More DisneyFans photos on YouTube…

Today, Poseidon Entertainment posted a new YouTube video called “Even More Weird Things in Disneyland.” It’s a fun watch — but be sure to watch the first installment as well.

It’s always a surprise to see one of my photos pop up in videos like this (along with some from Yesterland), though it is a bit annoying they do not ask for permission. They even crop off the watermarks! At least Poseidon Entertainment does add it’s own credit (“Source: Allen Huffman”) when they “borrow” other folks images 😉

Check it out…

I think the image may have been taken from this Yesterland article:

https://yesterland.com/sbwalkthru.html

Request: If you run in to one of my photos in a video, please send me the link and I’ll post it here, too.

I’ve been taking and sharing digital photos since 1996, and do not recall ever turning someone down who wanted to use one of my photos. I can provide the original, full-size version without the watermark, as well, and can even enhance my old photos so they look much better.

SeaWorld and Howl-O-Scream photos coming…

I have now sorted the latest SeaWord Orlandos enough that they are ready to share. This batch includes a daytime visit to the park when family Halloween festivities were going on, and an evening/night visit to Howl-O-Scream. This will bring the total Universal-SeaWorld photo gallery to over 38,000 images.

It will take a few days to get everything processed and uploaded, but when complete, they will appear here:

http://us-sw.disneyfans.com

More to come…