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Oct. 24, 2021

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Disney World sells annual passes again Sept. 8; park reservations stay

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Walt Disney World will resume selling annual passes for its theme parks Sept. 8. Expect new names for the passes — which have increased in price — as well as strengthened ties to park reservations, which are staying around, the company announced Monday.

The number of reservations that a passholder can have at a time will vary with the level of the annual pass. Three of the four annual passes have block-out dates.

New annual passes have not been sold at Disney World since early last year, although passholders have been allowed to renew. Date-specific, park-specific reservations — in addition to valid admission — were introduced when the parks opened in July 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

Folks who buy the new Disney Pixie Dust Pass will be limited to three reservations at a time, mirroring the current restrictions for current passholders. Its price is $399 and allows entrance on “most weekdays” with block-out dates in peak and holiday periods, Disney says.

The Disney Pirate Pass comes with the power to have four reservations at a time, costs $699 and includes park access on most days, with block-out dates during peak and holiday periods. According to a chart on disneyworld.com, there are block-out days in the next year during every month except June and August 2022 for the Pirate Pass.

The Disney Sorcerer Pass comes with the ability to hold five reservations at a time, costs $899 and has block-out dates on “select days during select holiday periods,” Disney says. A chart on the website indicates the block-out dates are immediately around Thanksgiving and the last two weeks of 2021 for Sorcerer passholders.

Only Florida residents can purchase the Pixie Dust and Pirate passes. The Sorcerer Pass is available to Florida residents and Disney Vacation Club members only.

For annual passholders wanting to go to a Disney World theme park any day (or every day), the option is the Disney Incredi-Pass, which costs $1,299 and holds up to five park reservations at a time.

Florida residents can still buy passes using a monthly payment plan, which requires a $205 down payment.

The four new annual passes will include standard parking at the parks and some discounts on dining and merchandise. There will be add-ons sold for each kind of pass, including Disney PhotoPass downloads and a water park and sports option. Each add-on will sell for $99.

Parkhopping will be allowed, and it will follow the current procedure where passholders move to a second park after 2 p.m., unless capacity has been reached. The first park of the day still requires a reservation, and that park must be visited before hopping to another one.

Walt Disney World had increased the prices for its annual passes in February 2020, just before its pandemic closures. Their costs ranged from $369 to $999 for Florida residents. The Platinum Plus annual pass sold for $1,295 and was available to residents and nonresidents. It included the four theme parks, two water parks and one golf course.

The new pass system has comparable counterparts to the previous tiers in pricing scales and benefits, albeit at increased price points for each tier. The Pixie Dust Pass is like the Weekday Select Pass and the rest of the passes scale similarly, with the Pirate Pass mirroring the Silver, the Sorcerer Pass comparable to the Gold and the Incredi-Pass akin to the Platinum.

This rework of the pass system does not signal a major change from the previous one, and its price increases are in line with others across the theme park industry, said Dennis Speigel, founder and CEO of International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati. Speigel said he thinks parkgoers have demonstrated they are willing to pay the difference, even during the revised park offerings of the pandemic.

“People are not reacting negatively to the price increases at the admissions, and we’re seeing anywhere from 11% to 30%, increases internally on their per cap[ita] spends,” he said. “People are just, right now, spending more.”

Although the highest-level Platinum Plus passholders could previously access Disney’s water parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex with their pass and had PhotoPass downloads included within their tier, the new system makes these options only available as an add-on.

This is a good decision from the company standpoint, Speigel said, but depending on how visitors respond to this change, Disney could revise the Incredi-Pass to include these incentives again.

Current passholders will keep their plans until their expiration dates then switch to the new lineup. During this period, their number of park reservations will now go up to four reservations at a time with Silver passes and five reservations with Gold, Platinum and Platinum Plus passholders. Folks with Theme Park Select passes, Weekday Select passes and the Epcot After 4 pass will be allowed three reservations at a time. These changes kick in Sept. 8.

Tampa resident Michael Muldoon let his Disney World annual pass expire in August 2019 and planned to pick it up again the following March. But Disney had suspended sales. He remains eager to purchase a pass and get back into the parks, he said.

“I have not been on so many rides in a really long time,” Muldoon said.

He said he was not surprised by the pricing and thought having fewer tiers of tickets was less confusing. But the PhotoPass option should be built into the highest level passes, he said, and he objected to Disney’s characterization of water parks being available when only one of the two attractions currently is open. Blizzard Beach reopened in March after a one-year closure, but Typhoon Lagoon remains shuttered.

Muldoon said he appreciated the increase in park reservation levels.

Speigel said Disney maintains control over park capacity through reservations with the new annual pass system. Industry experts anticipated Disney would keep its reservation system for the foreseeable future, and Disney executives said capacity caps would remain but continue to increase with demand and staffing, in a recent earnings call.

“I think this is designed to continue to fill the park at the appropriate times,” Speigel said. “This allows, in my opinion, for Disney to keep the jug full when they need it and be able to manage it themselves.”

In early August, Disney said it would sell annual passes again in time for the resort’s 50th-anniversary celebration, which kicks off Oct. 1. That date coincides with the introduction of two nighttime shows — “Disney Enchantment” at Magic Kingdom and “Harmonious” at Epcot — and the grand opening to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a dark ride at Epcot’s France pavilion.

Other passholder-related developments announced by Disney World include:

  • Changes to the reservations system will allow passholders to see available dates, check block-out dates and make/cancel/change reservations in one online place.
  • Bonus reservations that won’t count against limits will be announced from time to time.
  • Passholders staying at Disney Resort hotels and other select hotels will be able to make theme park reservations for each day of their stay. Those won’t count against their total.
  • Annual passes may be unavailable for purchase “as we continue to manage attendance to provide a great experience for everyone,” the official Disney Parks Blog says.

More details can be found at Disneyworld.com/annualpass.

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