Park Passes — love them or hate them, they’re in use right now in Disney World and you can’t avoid them, except in very specific cases!
While a Park Pass is generally required (in addition to a valid ticket) for all Disney World theme parks, there are some situations where you can visit a Disney theme park without a Park Pass at all. But you’ll need to know ALL the rules to make sure you get it right. That’s where we come in.
Today we’re sharing a look at some specific instances when you do NOT need a Park Pass — mainly focusing on one critical change that’s coming for Annual Passholders this year. Let’s break it all down.
Park Pass 101
First, a quick primer on Park Passes. While a theme park ticket used to be enough to get you into the Disney World theme parks, that’s no longer the case. To visit any Disney World theme park, you now need a valid theme park ticket AND a Park Pass reservation.
Essentially, with the Park Pass system, once you’ve got your valid ticket you reserve your spot within the park you want to visit for each and EVERY day of your trip.
Park Pass availability can vary. Sometimes Park Passes for popular dates (or random dates!) will SELL OUT. They may later become available again or more dates may sell out as your trip approaches.
There are different availability calendars for those with theme park tickets, those staying at select resort hotels, and Annual Passholders. (Note that the number of Park Passes a Passholder can hold at any one point varies on pass type.)
Our biggest recommendations with Park Passes are: (1) make your Park Pass Reservations ASAP — they can be modified later but it’s best to have something in place than run the risk that all of the parks fill up; (2) check for changes in availability constantly — you never know when Park Passes for a previously sold-out park may reopen!
Click here to see the SECRETS to getting a Park Pass when they have sold out
NEW Annual Passholder Rules — Effective April 18, 2023
So, you always need a Park Pass to get into Disney World, right? Sort of. There are some situations when you don’t need a Park Pass in Disney World that we’ll talk about below, but the critical one we want to go over here relates to Disney World Annual Passholders.
In January of 2023, Disney announced that CHANGES are being made to the Park Pass system as it relates to Annual Passholders. Here’s what you need to know.
Starting April 18, 2023, Annual Passholders to enter the Disney World theme parks after 2PM WITHOUT a Park Pass reservation. BUT there is an important exception. This will not apply to Passholders seeking to visit Magic Kingdom on Saturdays and Sundays.
So, let’s play out a few scenarios. Let’s say you’re a Passholder and you want to visit a Disney World theme park BEFORE 2PM on any given day (weekday or weekend). In that situation, you WILL still need a Park Pass. The change only applies to those wanting to enter the parks AFTER 2PM.
What if you want to visit Magic Kingdom at any point (before or after 2PM) on a Saturday or Sunday? In those cases, Passholders will also still need a Park Pass.
Want to visit Magic Kingdom after 2PM on a random Wednesday though? If you’re an Annual Passholder, you won’t need to worry about Park Passes in that scenario! (Want to visit Magic Kingdom BEFORE 2PM on that random Wednesday? You WILL need a Park Pass!)
As mentioned above, these new changes take effect for Annual Passholders starting on April 18, 2023.
Click here to see what else D’Amaro had to say about recent changes.
The Annual Passholder change is the big one when it comes to not needing Park Passes, but we couldn’t make this post without at least mentioning other times when you don’t need a Park Pass. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Disney Springs — Park Passes are NOT required to visit Disney Springs
- Water Parks — Park Passes are NOT required to visit Disney World’s Water Parks though this is subject to change (Blizzard Beach is currently open, Typhoon Lagoon is temporarily closed)
- Hotels — You don’t need a Park Pass to visit a Disney World hotel, but to park at a hotel you will need a resort reservation or dining reservation at that resort. If you don’t have a dining reservation or resort reservation, stick to Disney transportation to explore the hotels!
- 1-day, 1-Park tickets special rule — If you’ll be buying a 1-day, 1-park ticket, you will still need a Park Pass to visit a park. BUT under Disney’s updated ticketing system, 1-day, 1-park tickets are now park-specific. When you buy these tickets, you will need to select what park you’re buying them for and they will then automatically come with a Park Pass for the park you’ve selected.
- Parties/separately ticketed events (After Hours at Magic Kingdom, After Hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party) — If you buy a ticket for a separately ticketed event (like the ones mentioned above) you generally do NOT need a Park Pass to attend the event. Just note that the events do specify when guests can start to arrive in the Park. For example, with After Hours at Magic Kingdom, guests with an event ticket can enter at 7PM or later using their event ticket and NO Park Pass is necessary. Want to enter Magic Kingdom earlier than 7PM on that event date? You’ll need a valid park ticket and Park Pass.
- Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser visits to Hollywood Studios — Planning a 2-night stay on the Starcruiser to live out your Star Wars story? Part of your itinerary includes an “excursion” to Batuu (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios), which even includes Lightning Lane access to the rides in that land. Your Starcruiser experience includes both your ticket to Hollywood Studios AND your Park Pass reservation for the day of the planned excursion.
- Your 2nd, 3rd, etc. Park when Park Hopping — We also wanted to note that while you need a Park Pass for the first park you want to visit on a given day, if you have a Park Hopper ticket, you do NOT need a Park Pass for the second, third, fourth, etc. park you want to visit on that day. For a full look at the modified Park Hopping rules, click here.
And that’s a look at the times when you don’t need a Park Pass (for now). But changes could be on the way.
The Park Pass system has already seen several changes and more adjustments could be on the way. During a conversation we had with D’Amaro in January of 2023, he spoke about Park Passes in a way that seemed to indicate that restrictions aren’t going away anytime soon. But he also admitted that Park Passes cause guests to lose some of the “serendipity” so they’re working to “create ease” while also keeping the guest experience positive.
D’Amaro indicated that the Park Pass changes recently announced for Passholders are “just the start of changes to Park Passes.” D’Amaro shared, “Are you going to see more initiatives like you saw last week? I think you will.”
He also suggested that Disney is working to make the reservation process as “easy and flexible” as possible. So we’ll definitely be on the lookout for more news on that.
For more posts related to Park Passes, check out our full Park Pass reservations page and learn about the Park Pass lawsuit filed by some Annual Passholders.
Click here to see the BIG changes in Disney World in 2023
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Are you a fan of the Park Pass system? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
What is a park pass
DFB Gigi says
Hi Mary! A park pass is basically a reservation to enter your park of choice. Without a reservation, you are not permitted to enter even if you have a ticket. You must have a ticket and a pass (reservation) to get into the park.
Mark Dunne says
Just saw This comment , D’Amaro indicated that the Park Pass changes recently announced for Passholders are “just the start of changes to Park Passes.” D’Amaro shared, “Are you going to see more initiatives like you saw last week? I think you will. my reply to this ok this is what it should be, if you book your vacation from official Disney travel, you should automatically get a park pass , guaranteed!! It should never be up to the customer to check if they have park space . I cannot believe they do this, I’ve been going since 93, and never have I been turned away as the park is to full , get real josh !!! Scrap the booking system now !