Disneyland’s new Magic Key annual pass program makes clear that advance reservations won’t be going away anytime soon at the Disneyland Resort.
Other local theme parks have been dropping their advance reservation requirements now that the state is no longer limiting capacities due to the pandemic. But Disneyland’s capacity challenge wasn’t just the result of state restrictions. Strong demand filled Disneyland to overflowing before the pandemic, and fans continue to crowd the parks since they have reopened.
The ongoing demand led Disneyland to “sunset” its annual pass program earlier this year, before the parks reopened. Now the resort is reviving its pass program and adding an advance reservation requirement for all pass tiers.
That makes Disneyland’s new Magic Key essentially a four-tier version of the Disney Flex pass that the resort had introduced in 2019. Of all the options that Disneyland reportedly considered for its new annual pass program, Magic Key is perhaps the simplest concept. No convoluted Disney Vacation Club-style points system. No rewards program that makes people buy a lot of high-priced daily tickets to get any benefits. No open-ended membership program that raises fears of impossible-to-break gym contracts.
But can Magic Key avoid the problems that the old annual pass program created? Only if Disneyland holds fast to advance reservations.
Disneyland is actually charging less for some Magic Key passes than it did for its old annual passes before the parks closed in March 2020. So the resort is not using pricing as its strategy to keep fans from overwhelming the parks. Instead, Disneyland is using what is essentially an old-fashioned, first-come, first-serve system. Want to visit? Make a reservation. Want a reservation? Better log online and get yours before everyone else does.
With a 90-day booking window and a limit on the number of reservations any “Magic Key holder” can have at once, there should be plenty of opportunity to get a reservation, even though procrastinators might have to settle for less popular dates. But that’s the point.
All of Disneyland’s various ticket schemes over the past several years have been designed to even the load on the parks by encouraging people to come on traditionally less crowded dates. But there’s only so much Disney can do to influence crowd levels using soft tactics such as pricing and blockout dates. To manage its crowds, Disney needed the hard cap that an advance reservation system provides.
Now it is up to Disneyland’s managers not to undercut that system by allowing the number of guests allowed to make reservations on any given date to rise past to the point where the parks become uncomfortable again. Say what you will about pandemic restrictions, but I enjoyed walking through Disneyland without people pushed up against both my shoulders and a stroller bumping my heels.
If Magic Key can allow Disneyland fans to return to the parks for a reasonable price without having to endure miserable crowd levels, then it really will be a Disney fan’s wish come true.