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My thoughts on Disneyland’s Magic Key program – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

This week brought us some much-anticipated news from the Disneyland Resort. When it was announced that Disneyland would be getting rid of its annual pass program, it was a bit shocking and disappointing to some Southern California residents. As you probably know, Disneyland Resort is much more of a “locals’ park” compared to Walt Disney World, so some sort of frequency program is necessary to keep folks coming back. But there had been a problem with Disneyland’s annual pass program for quite some time, as the parks were becoming regularly overcrowded. Something major needed to be done to fix this issue, and with the parks closed for over a year due to the pandemic, it was the perfect excuse to “sunset” the annual pass program we knew and introduce something new… Enter Disneyland’s Magic Key program.

magic key

Upon first glance, the new program does look like a good value, with numerous options depending on your visiting frequency and budget. I was honestly surprised that the prices weren’t higher. The new Magic Key program is essentially the old annual pass program, with the biggest difference being that reservations are now required. The only reason to change the name of the program that I can tell is so that there will be less comparing and contrasting with what used to be offered — but that won’t stop us from comparing still! With the highest-priced Magic Key (called the Dream Key) costing $1,399, I feel Disney could have charged a lot more. I’m certainly not unhappy that the price is lower than I expected, but I am surprised.

The fact is that a lot of people who want this top-level pass with no blackout days often go to the parks every weekend, if not more. Disney could charge a lot more (I was expecting around $2,500) and these guests would still be getting a great value. Sure, some would opt-out of this level if it were that costly, but I believe the majority of locals would still get it, especially considering it is the only pass that offers free parking.

In the past, the top two passes included free parking, but now the second level only gets you 50% off. With the second level Believe Key costing $949, that’s $450 less than the Dream Key. With parking priced at $25, that’s only $12.50 with the 50% discount. That means you would need to visit the resort 36 times to make up the cost you’d be saving on parking if you purchased the top tier. Sure, you have some blocked out days and other benefits to consider with the Believe Key that you don’t need to worry about with the Dream Key, but for me, the biggest concern has always been the cost of parking when visiting frequently. There is still plenty of access available with minimal blocked-out days in the second tier.

The biggest difference with this program is the necessity to make reservations instead of just showing up at the gate. I am personally a fan of this requirement as it helps create a better guest experience once inside the parks, but with a big “if” — that’s if booking a reservation isn’t a nightmare. Disney fans have had major difficulties in the past trying to purchase tickets for Disneyland Resort events and make reservations at places like the D23 Expo. In most cases, everybody won’t be trying to make reservations at the same date and time, so hopefully this won’t be a regular issue. But this will depend a lot on how many reservations are held each day for Magic Key holders versus regular day guests. Those numbers haven’t been revealed and probably won’t be, but that’s what I’ll be keeping my eye on most when the program begins.

Walt Disney World annual passholders have been dealing with this reservation system due to the pandemic for a while now. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about passholders not being able to easily make reservations, but to be fair, that wasn’t part of the deal when they bought into the program. I can totally understand why they feel they’re not getting their money’s worth. At Disneyland, this new rule will be known from the start, and I also expect the majority of reservations to be held for Magic Key holders on the west coast. Only time will tell how this works out and I assume there will be lots of adjusting along the way.

With additional bonuses, including discounts for purchases and more, the new program does seem to be pretty reasonable overall if you’re a frequent visitor of the Disneyland Resort. There are numerous options depending on your budget, and if you’re a fan of the monthly payment program, you can thank the reservation system for that. At a time when Disney seems to cater more and more to the upper middle-class and wealthy, it was nice (and a bit surprising) to see the payment plan return.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this program unfolds. I don’t plan on buying into it immediately as I want to see how the reservation availability works out, but if I were to select a level at this moment, it would most likely be the second level Believe Key. Most days are available to visit and the 50% parking discount does make a big difference. If they wanted to get me to buy the top-level Dream Key, they would have needed to include boarding groups for the rides that require them… but I’m sure we’ll hear more about how they’ll be dealing with that later.

If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.


Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles, California. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” a Disney fan podcast. He is offering the free gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.

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3 comments

Damon August 18, 2021 - 5:21 pm

I’m not sure if you fully understand the offering. You must plan your next 6 visits at least 90 days in advance. You can only plan the 7th visit after the 1st has expired. If you do the math this means that for the first 90 days of your Dream Key you cannot visit the park at all. Example: you plan your first 6 days in January for April dates (90 days out). Then you can’t plan your next 6 until those 6 have expired, which then puts you at July for the next 6, then October for the next 6… and that’s it! There isn’t 90 days left to plan anymore visits after October. Which means you can only visit a MAX of 18 times if you plan as tight as possible… well short of 36 visits. And, reservations are not guaranteed. Walt would be rolling in his grave if he knew this was how his park turned out. Profit over user experience was never his vision.

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Matt Roseboom August 19, 2021 - 6:48 pm

You don’t need to plan your visits 90 days out. You can even make same day reservations if they still have availability.

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Laura September 30, 2021 - 12:33 am

Disneyland’s new pass program is awful! If you have the dream key pass, there is not a single weekend available in October. I paid 6000 for my family of 4 and can only go during the week. (So basically an imagine key). Interestingly enough, if you DONT have a pass at all, you can book most weekend days in October. Total scam! It’s an imagine pass at Dream pass prices! This lifelong Disney fan is no longer a fan. This will be the last year I purchase any pass.

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