Between hotel reservations, park tickets, dining reservations, and more, there have always been a lot of steps to planning a Disney World vacation. But, when the parks reopened shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, things only got more complicated.
All of a sudden, now guests had to worry about where they needed to wear face masks, how they were going to secure those hard-to-get dining reservations with a shorter reservation window, and the biggie — make Park Pass Reservations for every single day of their trip. And, while many of the initial changes made to Disney operations have returned to “normal” — or at least a “new normal” — park pass reservations have withstood time. So, will you have to plan out what feels like your every move in Disney World forever? Let’s take a look.
What Are Park Passes?
Before we dive into the details, let’s do a quick refresher on Park Pass Reservations and how they work. Back when Disney World first reopened in the summer of 2020, park capacity was limited to only 25%. So, to ensure that guests weren’t arriving at the entrance only to find that the park filled up within minutes, Disney introduced Park Pass Reservations.
Gone were the days that you could just show up to a park and head on in — now guests needed to purchase both a park ticket AND make a reservation for the park that they planned to visit on the day through Disney’s website before arriving. And…well…they’ve just never gone away — even as park capacity has increased.
The Park Pass Reservations really are just another step in the process of booking your vacation, as they’re free of charge (once you’ve purchased your park ticket) and all you need to do is log into your My Disney Experience account and plan your trip day by day. You don’t even have to worry about making extra reservations if you plan to hop to the park while you’re there — you can just sane into whatever park you want to go to after you’ve visited the first park that you do have a reservation for (and as long as it’s nach 2 PM).
Seems simple enough, right? Well, there’s a catch— Park Pass Reservation availability can (and DOES) run out for each of the parks during busier seasons. So, if you have your heart set on visiting Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day (or any other holiday for that matter), you’ll need to book your vacation MONTHS in advance.
As you might expect, spots at Magic Kingdom tend to be the first to go, but when there’s something exciting happening in any of the parks, you’re probably going to struggle to secure your reservation at the last minute. And, with several big park projects opening in 2022 (we’re looking at you Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Roundup Rodeo BBQ 👀), you’re going to want to make your decision on when you’re visiting sooner rather than later.
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Why Do They Exist?
Though it may seem like the Disney Parks are back to 100% capacity, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of The Walt Disney Company, Christine McCarthyrecently confirmed that they are in fact NOT yet back to full capacity. Though they are coming back towards it.
So, with park capacity still limited, it makes sense that Park Pass Reservations would still be in place — they need to control the number of people that visit each day. But, there are also A LOT of other benefits to the requirement.
Let’s take crowd management for example. In the same Q&A Session during the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, McCarthy noted that they “don’t want to have the parks bursting at the seams,” and added that when the parks aren’t as crowded, you’re having a better time and you’re probably inclined to spend more money. Limiting the number of reservations that there are each day in each park means that Disney can actually control your overall experience in the parks — and they’re hoping that means your purse strings will be a bit looser.
This also means that Disney can control how spread out the crowds are between parks.
In fact, Disneyland President Ken Potrock recently said that “The objective here is to spread that demand, whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday.” In other words, Disney can ensure that Magic Kingdom isn’t packed to the brim on one day and then empty the next. Instead, all four parks can maintain a fairly steady amount of crowds every single day of the week.
Some other issues created by the pandemic, like staff shortages, can also be better managed with fewer guests and the ability to track where the crowds are going to be.
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Are They Here to Stay?
The short answer to this question is that it’s not clear yet, but Disney does seem to be leaning that way based on recent comments from Disney execs. Keep in mind though that Disney has not specifically stated that the Park Pass Reservation system here permanently here to stay. At the very least, we do know that they’ll likely stick around through early 2024.
Why Passes Might Stay
So, what’s all the evidence to suggest that Park Passes are the new unwanted house guest of Disney World? Well, we’ve already covered the crowd management benefit for Disney and, if that’s not reason enough for Disney to keep them going for years to come, there’s also the fact that knowing the number of guests in each park also Allows Disney to plan for necessary merchandise stock and food supplies as well as staffing that may be required in each area.
Additionally, in an age where data is incredibly valuable, the Park Pass Reservation system gives Disney easy access to all kinds of guest statistics that they didn’t have before. For example, Disney can now see which parks are most popular at a given time, when people plan on going to one park but then switch to another one, and how often people might cancel their reservations.
This data could continue to allow Disney to learn certain trends in guest behavior and better understand why people visit a certain park on any given day.
But, it’s not just Disney that benefits from park pass reservations — Disney World guests do too! If you have a pass to a certain park, you’ll know for sure, with 100% certainty, that you will be able to get into the park that day. This means that you won’t have to get to Magic Kingdom at the crack of dawn on New Year’s Day and stick around until midnight for fear that the park might reach capacity by the time it hits 2PM — if you have a Magic Kingdom park pass then you’re guaranteed to get in no matter when you arrive.
Note that the same guarantee is not true for park hopping, since you don’t have to have a reservation for the park you are going to later in the day. If the park you’re hopping to is at capacity, you may not be permitted to enter that park. And, this DOES happen — it’s just rare!
We saw this happen on the first day of Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. Some guests tried to hop to Magic Kingdom in the afternoon and they had to wait outside for a while because the park was full to capacity as additional guests could only enter once other guests left the park.
A couple of Disney executives have commented on park passes, and their comments also indicate that park passes are sticking around for a while. When asked about whether he thought park passes would go away, Disneyland’s President said “I don’t think so.” And, when recently asked if the attendance levels were going to go back to what we saw before the global pandemic began, Disney’s CEO said no, that they are managing things differently now. Plus, we’ve also heard from Disney CEO Bob Chapek on this topic during the most recent Earnings Call.
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Why Passes Might NOT Stay
Disney has not definitely said that park passes will stay though, and there are a couple of reasons that they actually COULD go away in the future.
first of all, we continue to see Disney phase out its pandemic-era changes. Almost all of the Disney World hotels are open again, and buffets have also returned. And, since Disney is still in the process of returning things to “normal,” it’s possible that park passes will disappear just like all the other COVID-19 adjustments.
In addition, having to make reservations for the parks is another step in the already complicated process of planning a Disney World trip. If it were removed, guests might be happy with the simplified process, and it could encourage more people to return to the parks.
The fate of park pass reservations could also lie in how Disney handles park hopping moving forward. If we see the after 2PM requirement disappear, other aspects of entering the park (like park passes) may go back to normal as well. This is because keeping the mandated reservations might complicate the process if guests were allowed to visit any park first thing on a certain day. If guests can choose any park to visit with a park hopper, there wouldn’t really be a good way to manage reservations.
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So, from Disney’s statements and what we’re seeing in the parks, it looks like the park pass reservation system is here to stay for at least a while longer whether you like it or not. So, you’ll want to be sure that you’re making your vacation plans early and thinking long and hard about which parks you want to visit each day — there may not always be availability!
Of course, here at DFB we’re always keeping an eye out the Park Pass Reservation calendar and bringing you the latest updates on what parks you can (or can’t) visit on certain days. And, we’ve got more Disney World vacation planning tips and tricks too! So be sure to stay tuned!
Click here to learn all about the Park Pass Reservation system at Disney World
Are you a fan of the Park Pass Reservation system? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.