You may have once heard the adage that Disneyland is a “local’s park,” whereas Disney World is more of a tourist destination. While Disney never releases the exact breakdown of their attendance, it’s not difficult to tell after just a few visits to the Happiest Place on Earth that there are a lot of Annual Passholders. Like, A LOT.
In fact, analysts suggest that Disneyland had upwards of one million Annual Passholders when the park closures began in March of 2020 and accounted for an average of 50% of the parks’ daily attendance numbers. Even if that’s just an educated guess, the fact that one million is a feasible approximation is bonkers! How in the world did Disney get to this point, and what could it tell us about the future of Disneyland’s most loyal attendees?
How did Disneyland accumulate so many Passholders?
First, we need to try to crack the code to exactly how and why Disneyland could have accumulated so many Passholders in the first place. While there could be a number of reasons, there are two prominent factors at play.
First, there is simply a larger pool of locals to purchase Annual Passes. Since Orange County (CA) and its neighboring Los Angeles County are so densely populated, there are plenty of folks that want their Disney fix within arm’s reach of the parks. Rather than plan an elaborate week-long vacation months in advance like most of us do for trips to Disney World, there are countless individuals within a 20 to 30 minute drive to the Disneyland gates.
Disney World may certainly attract more tourists on an annual basis, but it is also more likely to welcome families that visit only once a year, or less. Meanwhile, Disneyland attracts locals that could easily visit several times per month.
For added context, Orange County (FL) and its neighboring Osceola County have a combined population of approximately 1.8 million residents, according to the most recent Census data. Meanwhile, Orange County (CA) & Los Angeles County have a combined population of approximately 13.6 million residents. That’s more than seven times the amount of locals!
The second reason Disneyland amassed a million Annual Passholders can be boiled down to their monthly payment options. Since the option was introduced, an Annual Pass that would cost $1,000 a year could be broken down into much more manageable payments of less than $100 per month.
Suddenly that MASSIVE upfront fee can slide into your budget as just one of your monthly expenses. When a system that allows millions of people have access to Disneyland for less than $5 per day goes unchecked for decades, it’s easier to wrap your head around why it was nearly impossible for Disney to make any drastic changes to the system. Sure, Disney World offers monthly payment options for Florida residents with an Annual Pass, but again the sheer number of locals around Disneyland comes into play here.
Click here to read more about just how many Annual Passholders Disneyland had prior to the closures.
Why one million Passholders creates a logistical nightmare for Disney.
So now that we have a basis for understanding exactly where all these Passholders came from, let’s chat about the challenges this presents Disneyland as they aim to reopen from their prolonged closure in 2021.
Disneyland is, in a word, tiny. It’s approximately 500 acres according to visitanaheim.org, compared to Disney World, which is closer to 27,000 acres, or 40 square miles. You’re virtually comparing apples to grapes, or a few city blocks to an entire city the size of San Francisco, or Manhattan Island. The entirety of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure could fit comfortably in EPCOT. It’s itty bitty in comparison, guys.
While not every Passholder visits at the same rate of frequency as others, the pent-up demand of not being able to visit creates a logistical nightmare when determining how they would even fit. According to Orange County Register, “it would take Disneyland nearly 20 days just to let each passholder into the park once. 😳 DCA (California Adventure) would take nearly twice as long. And that’s without allowing a single daily ticket-buyer or Disney hotel guest into the parks.”
California’s theme park reopening guidance mandates that the parks can operate at 25% capacity in the initial reopening phase. That “stretches the length of time it would take to get each passholder into the parks just once from days to months: Nearly three months for Disneyland and approximately five months for DCA.”
If Disneyland sold these Annual Passes on the premise that it gave the customer frequent if not constant access to the parks (which they did, depending on which level Pass was purchased), there would understandably be a good deal of frustration with these capacity restrictions. Disneyland will likely adopt a similar Park Pass Reservation System that currently exists at Disney World, further restricting the number of times a guest can visit.
So what does Disneyland do with one million ex-Passholders?
When you look at the sheer volume of Disneyland Passholders along with the strict capacity restrictions that will be in place, it starts to make more sense why Disneyland had to make such drastic measures like “sunsetting” the previous program. Disney CEO Bob Chapek offered an additional perspective that the company was presented with an opportunity to improve the guest experience through major operational changes like overhauling the program.
At this time it’s still unclear what the full details of the replacement program will look like. We know that one is in the works, and that it will likely be very different from the Annual Passholder program locals were accustomed to.
The Los Angeles Times worded it perfectly: “It’s a huge shift in Disneyland culture — many Southern Californians grew up with daily, weekly or monthly visits to the park during the nearly four decades the passes have been in existence.” No doubt we’ve all had to make major adjustments in the last year due to the pandemic, and shifting the Disneyland Passholder program is another sign of the times.
Driving around Southern California, it’s hard to drive down any street without passing several cars with Disneyland AP bumper stickers. We can only cross our fingers that the replacement Membership Program offers, as Ken Potrock stated, “choice, flexibility, and value for our biggest fans.”
Are you a Disneyland Legacy Passholder? Let us know in the comments!