Experts estimate that more than one million Disney fans had Disneyland annual passes, although Disney doesn’t confirm that number. Last week, after nearly 40 years, Disney announced the end of their annual passes for the California property. This latest move is one of many the company has made in recent months including the end of extra magic hours and Magical Express transportation services at the Disney World property.
For folks who frequent Disneyland, losing the annual pass is a pretty big blow. It was economical and provided lots of beloved perks like shopping or hotel discounts for both the resort as well as Aulani, Disney’s Hawaiian destination. Though Disney has said they’ll have some kind of pass in the future, the details of that have not been released.
Fans speculate the new passes will be a similar tiered system as the old ones with added options to cater to more groups of people. Or, perhaps, an a la carte system that allows guests to choose what options they want or need with their pass. But that’s all rumor at this point.
Evidently, pandemic aside, Disney’s main issue with the annual passes was park overcrowding. In addition to that, pass holders allegedly don’t spend as much as the average tourist. And Disney execs know all too well that, the moment the pandemic lightens up, people will likely be traveling at rates unheard of before. So if the choice is between catering to the big spenders versus the loyal pass holders, money wins every time.
I might be a cynic, but every time Disney cuts something folks rely on to enjoy the magic, I get flustered. Understandably the company is having a hard time financially because of the pandemic and so are most of the people I know. Myself included, millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the last year. We get it, times are tough even for our main mouse.
If the plan all along was to reconfigure the passes to make the park more enjoyable, as they did in 2019 with the Flex Passport, why not just make the changes and announce it instead of canning the whole thing? Disneyland isn’t open right now anyway, so a pass switchover right now would be totally understandable and easier to maneuver. Pulling the rug out from under pass holders altogether wasn’t a necessary move.
Losing the annual pass at Disneyland is not as big of a loss (or as controversial) as nixing the Magical Express in Florida. That’s just a fact. However, it feels like a bad call if Disney wants to remain a priority for folks in a time when budget tightening is more important than ever. It’s hard to feel bad for a company with such a media monopoly losing money when so many of us couldn’t pay our rent or mortgages once or more last year.
Trips to Disney are extremely expensive. Even if you catch a sale, you’ll probably be spending thousands of dollars regardless of which park you visit. Annual passes make the trips a little less financially painful. (I say this as someone who has never owned an annual pass, but was raised to spend money wisely.)
I really hope Disney rolls out some kind of pass plan before the pandemic sputters out because, even if people are traveling more once they can, the company is going to need those loyal SoCal pass holders. They may not spend as much as tourists coming in from across the country, but a lot of visitors is better than none.