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Theme Park News: Now that Disneyland has ended annual passes, what happens next?

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Jan 19, 2021, 9:22 PM EST (Updated)

DISNEYLAND ENDS ITS ANNUAL PASS PROGRAM

Last week’s news drop of Disney’s Magical Express and Extra Magic Hours changes at Walt Disney World seemed like the only major event that would happen — until Thursday rolled around:

As the California parks creep closer towards being closed for an entire year, Disneyland Resort announced their annual passholder program was ending immediately. Eligible passholders will automatically receive a pro-rated refund and a new program will be announced at a future date.

It wasn’t an unexpected move for anyone paying attention. Tokyo Disney Resort refunded their annual passholders after struggling to reopen the park under pandemic-era capacity restrictions, while still honoring their passholders’ allowed visits –– a problem Disneyland would also have faced. With a wide strata of passes offering specific date-by-date access to either of Disneyland Resort’s parks, it likely would have been nothing short of a disappointment for passholders to actually get a reservation to visit Disneyland if it reopened with similar protocol as Walt Disney World and its Park Passes.

The announcement was met with a mix of disappointment and understanding, but Disneyland passholders can easily recognize it as a shift that was somewhat inevitable and necessary.

For better or worse, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have robust regional audiences that have made it somewhat of a “local’s park,” While living in Southern California offered the benefit of easy visits to the parks whenever you wished, especially if you held a pass with “grandfathered” benefits like free parking, it also made the parks busy, often extremely so. Passholders would routinely pack into Main Street, USA to watch nighttime entertainment, sit knee-to-knee around the Rivers of America for Fantasmic! viewing, or even have to walk in a counter-clockwise traffic pattern through the park just to exit on busier nights –– a standard that would be wholly unsustainable in our new mid- and post-pandemic world.   

(Credit: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On the other end, though, it sometimes shaped the park offerings for the better. A built-in regional audience that only required a new reason to drive over yielded large and brilliantly executed seasonal events like Lunar New Year; resort-wide dining promotions at nearly every restaurant for things like Pixar Fest; and even limited-time-only treats like candy canes and churros, coaxing locals to drop by simply for dessert. As helpful as it must’ve been for the park to rely on that income, the cost of regulars treating Disneyland like a park or mall came at what one can only assume was a detriment to the resort’s vacation business, as families traveling to Disneyland on vacation were often met with crushing crowds. (It makes sense looking forward, too — Disneyland’s next big opening will be Disney’s only Marvel-themed land in America, which will almost certainly draw a national crowd.)

The crowding problem was being addressed, not only by a steady increase of annual pass prices year over year and the introduction of a whip smart Flex Pass that allowed Disneyland to spread crowds out more successfully. But in the end, rethinking the program entirely is a worthwhile decision that allows their approach to be retooled going forward.

Details for Disneyland’s reinvention of the Annual Passholder program have yet to be revealed, but while many fans infer a Flex Pass-style system will be rolled out wider when things return closer to normal, the word “membership” used within Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock’s official statement seems to signal an entirely new model we’re not used to. 

Pricing will likely vary, too. The Los Angeles Times reports that “theme park experts predict Disney’s future programs will continue to rely on dynamic pricing to offer an incentive for locals to visit on slow days, thus spreading the crowds more evenly throughout the year." The clean slate can, however, be beneficial. As Theme Park Insider’s Robert Niles wrote for The Orange County Register, "Now Disneyland can start from scratch. Resort officials said that they are working on a replacement for the annual pass program, surveying former passholders and community members for advice.”

This shift won’t affect Walt Disney World annual passholders (save for holders of the Premier Passport, which, until COVID-19, offered unrestricted access to all Disney theme parks in America 365 days a year). Similarly, other regional California parks have boldly reassured regulars that their passes will remain intact.

In the meantime, guests with annual passes (as of Mar. 14, 2020) are eligible for discounts on merchandise, food, and beverages at Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street until a replacement program is announced, along with a special 30% discount on select merchandise on select dates through February. (Whatever you do, don't miss the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge shop taking over Downtown Disney's former Rainforest Cafe.)

The decision to end the Annual Passholder as it exists is completely understandable. Still, as we mentioned last week, it's another reminder that we will not be returning to the parks as we knew them prior to this absolute paradigm shift of a pandemic, and it's going to be a while until Californians visit the parks en masse — at which time, we hope, things will be safer and more under control than they are right now.   

 

TOM HOLLAND TIME

In anticipation for Avengers Campus, which is still slated to open at Disney California Adventure in 2021, Disneyland Resort released a behind-the-scenes video today of Tom Holland reprising his role as Spider-Man for the forthcoming WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure ride, and we're stoked all over again for it:

Contrary to some earlier news reports that referenced a Spider-Man audio-animatronic, Tom Holland will appear via "multi-dimensional video technology," a snippet of which we're likely seeing in this new video. Either way, we just can't wait to fling webs out of our wrists when Avengers Campus debuts!

 

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