Recently, Disneyland Resort sent shockwaves through the Disney fan community when they announced that their Annual Passport program would be discontinued. At first, I was surprised like most, but after taking a moment to think about it, it makes complete sense.
If you told me that I would one day live in a world where Disneyland Resort would be closed for over a year’s time, I wouldn’t have believed you. To say that this is unprecedented is an understatement. No matter how many contingency plans The Walt Disney Company had in place for temporary park closures, I don’t think this length was ever considered a possibility. So, things needed to be rethought in a major way.
I think the initial shock was related to the fact that we all know about the high number of annual passholders for Disneyland. Unlike Walt Disney World, the majority of visitors are locals (and often passholders) on any given day. So, without annual pass income, how will the resort continue to make money and fill its parks?
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that none of this is based on any insider knowledge and is simply some initial thoughts I had when I heard the news. Although some passholders were paying for their pass monthly, there were also people who had paid it off in full, or at least had some money being “held up” by The Walt Disney Company. From what I had been seeing, Disney was accommodating folks upon request, but with a lot of people still being out money and the closure coming up on a year in length, I’m sure it wasn’t sitting well with some. With Disney giving back appropriate refunds, it allows them to have a clean slate with guest satisfaction.
When the parks initially reopen, it will most likely be with limited capacity. This won’t surprise anyone, but one thing to remember is just how much smaller Disneyland park is, compared to Magic Kingdom. Twenty-five percent in Magic Kingdom looks a lot different than 25% in Disneyland. With the amount of passholders that Disneyland Resort had, the parks would have assuredly hit capacity every day when having to deal with limited capacity on top of the demand to return once the gates reopen. Many people are tired of staying at home and for those who visited Disneyland weekly (if not more often), I’m sure they will jump at the first opportunity to bring some of that magic back into their lives.
Another thing to consider is that before the pandemic, passholders were begrudgingly getting used to an annual—if not bi-annual—price increase for the Annual Passports. If Disney wanted to continue this trend, it would be a very bad look if they were to raise the cost even six months after reopening. By starting over with a new membership program like they’ve announced, they can essentially restructure the cost and avoid as many price comparisons since they won’t have equivalent perks.
It seems like Disney is truly trying to make a membership program that fits guests’ needs, but also makes sense in our “new normal.” Although details for the new program haven’t been announced, I expect to see situations where we’ll need to make online reservations to visit and an overall situation that will allow for the parks to know what level of attendance to expect each day. We saw a bit of this strategy beginning to take place before the pandemic and it makes total sense to me. By having better insight about attendance for each day, it not only helps Disney staff the parks properly, but also allows for a more pleasant experience for guests. Although we may not be able to visit on a whim anymore, I think the pros outweigh the cons in this case.
There are a couple of things about the old Passports that I hope do still stick around. First, I hope that at least some levels of the membership include parking. Nothing is more of a buzzkill than having to pay the hefty parking fee on top of paying for a top-tier pass or membership. The other thing I’m hoping returns in some capacity is the benefit of the Premier Passport that allowed guests to visit both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Although we may not know what the future holds for the new Disneyland membership program, I don’t think any of us should really be that surprised by it if you take a moment to consider the company’s current situation. It is an unfortunate circumstance that seems to be being handled in an appropriate fashion in my mind.
Were you affected by the ending of the program? What are some former Annual Passport perks that you hope are brought back with the new membership program? If you are someone who was recently affected by the “sunsetting” of the Disneyland Annual Passport program after years of enjoying it, keep in mind that you can still receive some perks, like discounts, for the time being.
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. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.