Here’s why Disneyland needed to cancel its annual pass program
As a now-former Disneyland annual passholder, is it OK to say that I am … relieved?
More than a million Southern California were estimated to have Disneyland annual passes — a figure that resort officials would not confirm, nor deny. So when the resort announced this month that it would “sunset” its annual pass program, that decision became the talk of the town.
You might think that the public would be outraged by the end of such as popular program. But almost everyone I’ve heard from has expressed some form of relief at the news.
Disneyland’s annual pass program wasn’t working well even before the pandemic. And Disneyland knew it. That’s why the resort introduced the Disney Flex Pass, a new annual pass level that required guests to make reservations in advance of visiting.
A program designed to encourage more fans to come to the park during the “slow” season had worked far too well, packing Disneyland like the 405 even on weekdays during the school year. Disney needed more control over the flood of annual passholders that was inundating the parks and washing away too much of the magic.
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.
With theme parks, movies, publishing, television channels and now streaming services, Disney wants to be a lifestyle brand that is accessible to everyone. While there is no limit on the number of Disney+ subscriptions the company can sell, there is a hard limit to the number of people it can welcome into Disneyland at any one time.
And the pandemic cuts that number substantially, should Disneyland be allowed to reopen before it ends. That means a Disneyland admission program must perform the magical balancing act of making the parks accessible without overloading them.
Requiring advance reservations for all guests can help, and I hope that Disneyland makes that a feature of any new system it introduces. But how do you make those reservations accessible? No one wants a plus-sized version of the lottery that fans endured trying to get Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding passes before the parks closed.
So unless Disneyland wants to price its new passes high enough to limit demand, it needs to settle on some way to limit the number of advance reservations its fans can claim at one time.
A dark voice in my mind whispers that Disneyland made a mistake in getting rid of the A-E ticket books. Requiring tickets for each attraction did provide one way to manage crowds in the park. I have no idea if modern crowds would go for ticket books’ return, but Disney needs a creative solution here.
At some point, it becomes reckless to offer unlimited access to a limited resource. And that’s a lesson for far more people than just those who run or visit Disneyland.