One of the most controversial parts of the current Disney World experience could be CHANGING in a big way.
The Park Pass reservation system was introduced after the COVID-19 park closures and has stuck around ever since, gaining lots of praise from various Disney executives but a heavy amount of criticism from Disney fans. Essentially, because of the Park Pass system, a valid ticket is no longer enough to get you into the parks. Instead, if you want to visit a Disney World park on any given day, you’ll need (1) a valid ticket, and (2) a Park Pass reservation for the first park you want to visit. But could the system soon be altered in a way that’ll make guests happier? One Disney executive thinks so.
The Park Pass Controversy
The Harmonious barges (they’re going away!), the ending of the “Happily Ever After” fireworks show (it’s coming back!), and the introduction of PhotoPass automated photo boxes — all of these are controversial changes that have been made in Disney World. But one thing has been an even MORE contentious addition — Park Passes.
Complaints about Park Passes run the gamut. Some are not pleased with the way in which they impact spontaneity and the ability to book a last-minute trip to Disney World. Others feel that they are overly restrictive or are too restrictive on certain types of ticket holders (like Annual Passholders and locals).
But perhaps the greatest evidence of the Park Pass “problem” are the 2 (not 1, 2!) lawsuits that have been filed related to Park Passes. One version addresses Park Passes and Magic Key holders at Disneyland, while another focuses on Park Passes and Annual Passholders in Disney World.
Both lawsuits make similar allegations — essentially that by keeping the Park Pass system in place, Disney has violated certain agreements with those passholders who got tickets that Disney advertised as having “unlimited access” to the parks. They also claim that Disney has used the Park Pass system to give preferential treatment to single and multi-day ticket holders as opposed to Annual Passholders to make more money.
Still, Disney executives have long sung the praises of Park Passes, insisting that they help balance things out between super fans and families that just travel to Disney once every 5 years, allow guests to have a better experience, and help manage demand. But that doesn’t mean the Park Pass system isn’t subject to changes.
Changes Have Already Been Made
We’ve already seen a number of changes made when it comes to the Park Pass system in Disney World (and Park Hopping at Disneyland too). Back in October of 2022, the system changed in Disney World so that you could book more than 1 ticket type at a time, and so that you could modify the date and park of a Park Pass without having to cancel it first.
Then, in November of 2022, more changes were announced. Disney World’s 1-day, 1-park tickets (which are currently priced differently depending on what park you want to go to) now automatically come with a Park Pass for the park you want to visit.
And in January of 2023, a MASSIVE Park Pass change was announced for Disney World. Within the coming months, Annual Passholders will be allowed to enter the parks after 2PM without a reservation. The exception, however, will be Passholders seeking to go to Magic Kingdom on Saturdays and Sundays. An official start date for this change has not yet been announced.
And at Disneyland, Park Hopping will begin at 11AM PT (instead of 1PM PT) starting February 4th, 2023. That could give folks several more hours in their second park of choice.
But these changes might only be the beginning!
More Changes Could Be On the Way
In a recent question-and-answer session with Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, D’Amaro referenced Park Hopping and Park Passes in a way that seemed to indicate that the restrictions aren’t going away any time soon, but Disney is taking steps to change them.
D’Amaro noted that while Park Passes were initially introduced due to caps on attendance after those caps were lifted Disney knew there would still be “some days where there are just too many people.” As D’Amaro put it, he would never run something like Disney’s BoardWalk Inn as an “open invite — first come first served.” There’d be so many guests people would end up sleeping on the floors, making for a less-than-great experience. D’Amaro explained that Park Passes, like hotel reservations, are there to make sure guests have a “better experience.”
But D’Amaro fully admitted one big problem guests have with the system “You lose some of the serendipity.” So, he said, Disney is “trying to create ease” while also making sure the guest experience is good.
According to D’Amaro, the changes recently announced to the Disney World Passholder requirements are “just the start of changes to Park Passes.”
D’Amaro shared that there are individuals planning right now on how to improve the process. He shared that they are working to “make that reservation process as easy and flexible” as possible. D’Amaro shared, “Are you going to see more initiatives like you saw last week? I think you will.”
So what could the future hold in terms of Park Pass changes? Perhaps there will be adjustments made to how the system works with Park Hopping, how it further impacts Annual Passholders, or certain other modifications. What modifications would you want to see made? Tell us in the comments!
In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye out for more updates and let you know what we see.
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What changes do you think should be made to the Park Pass system? Tell us in the comments!
Disney World worked just great before all these restrictions took place. It was fun and magical. You’ve taken away our freedom of choices. We are passholders and have been loyal visitors for years coming several times a year and now wanting to bring our grandchildren. It’s a logistical nightmare just trying to make park reservation , dinner reservations, etc. Get rid of all of it and bring it back to pre Covid. Universal and all other parks are doing just fine without any of this nonsense.
Ron Nelson says
It is ridiculous when Epcot has the best breakfasts, that if you go there, you can’t go anywhere else until 2 pm
As a DVC owner, annual pass holder and owner of Disney stocks I may need to start voting my proxy to see management change. Just recently when Disney ‘s Iger was challenged I supported “Bob” but now I’m rethinking that thought process. Sometimes a shakeup can lead to positive change.
It’s interesting that Disney argues that it needs the reservation system when other parks don’t have these problems. Disney needs to hire someone that actually knows how to manage crowds and give everyone a great experience. The parks are nowhere near as crowded as they were pre-COVID, yet the lines and overall experience are worse. I hate the park reservation system, and the rule that you can’t park hop until you visited your first park is ridiculous. We live only 45 minutes from Disney World, and we don’t like to make our plans weeks in advance. We solved that problem. We are still WDW passholders, but we now spend most of our money at Universal and SeaWorld. I am no longer a loyal Disney fan.
Disney needs to take a page from Universal’s book………..with this is mind, you can actually do Universal in 3 days, but why? Universal is significantly cheaper than Disney, stay is Deluxe Resort and the Express pass is added, early entry, can get tickets for park to park, Security is set up at different points and very easy to get through. Boat ride from Portofino to the park is absolutely awesome. Most importantly, not 1 ride broke down.
WHEN are we going to be able to purchase annual passes for Disney World again? I am a new DVC owner but also wanted to get an annual pass, too!
The worst part of the park reservation system is that if you decide to sleep in & relax at the pool because the kids (or adults!) are really tired, you still have to pack everyone up to trek over to your original park before the family can then head over to another park, maybe for your dinner reservations.
We like to drive, so it’s horrible at the Magic Kingdom because you have to park, take a tram, & then take a boat or a monorail to get into the park, only to then turn around, get back to the car via monorail/tram, drive to another park & go through check-in again. It’s worse if you take the bus because after you check in you still have to wait for a bus to go back to any hotel and then wait for another bus to take you to the next park.
And at Epcot & Hollywood Studios the frustration is heightened because you have to park & then walk to the Park entrance to check in only to turn around & walk back & load all the kids into the car before you can go to the next park. Then you have to drive to the next Park, unload & walk to the new Park entrance. This is not anyone’s idea of FUN!!!
Do away with the Park Reservation system altogether. And if I pay extra for a park hopper pass for everyone in the family because I like the flexibility, we should be able to go where we want at anytime. And bring back the trams at all the Parks, not just at the MK & AK, but especially at Epcot!! I’ve had 2 hip operations & can sit down on a bench inside any park when I’m tired. However it’s the parking lots with no shade or a bench that can be torture. And it’s equally as hard on the little ones that are too big/old for a carriage.
Don’t think anyone believes for an instant that Park Ressie’s & no trams exist to make visiting Disney a “better” experience for your guests. It is ONLY done so you can hire fewer people & not have to spend money on benefits for your workers.
We are DVC owners and Annual Passholders. We love Disney, but are becoming increasingly upset by all of the restrictions along with the nickel & diming.
Well said, Terri. I’m in total agreement……Mr. Iger, GET RID OF THE PARK PASS RESERVATIONS AND THE 2PM PARK HOPPER TIME!! Besides the inconvenience and the difficulty in making dining plans, it’s not always easy to explain to my autistic son why we can’t go to our next park (for which we purchased park hoppers) until 2pm. Disney World was much more enjoyable before all these new “rules”.
Comparing park entrance to the hotel reservation system is ridiculous! It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Magic Kingdom RARELY has hit the maximum capacity number and had to turn people away. The other parks, to the best of my memory, never have. The “execs” can like something all day long, but it they are trying to make guests happy, they need to rethink park passes completely. They were not needed before Covid. They WERE needed at reopen, but now capacity limits are no longer necessary, they are NOT needed. All other parks that used reservations after reopen dropped them LONG ago, and Disney needs to follow suit. I would LOVE to be part of that DW lawsuit! :/