By Jacob Passy
Walt Disney World has temporarily stopped selling most annual passes less than two months after reviving the program following a pandemic-related pause.
Of the four types of annual passes that theme-park visitors can purchase at Walt Disney World, the three most expensive options are now listed as currently unavailable but are expected to return at some point next year.
The one annual pass that is still being sold, the Pixie Dust Pass, is only available for Florida residents and comes with blackout dates during the holidays when it cannot be used to enter the parks.
When Disney /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.69% announced that it was overhauling the annual-pass program at Walt Disney World in September, it warned that it could pause sales periodically. Travel experts are now calling this the new normal, thanks to a new system put in place amid the pandemic that requires visitors to Disney theme parks to make reservations in advance of their visit — even if they have purchased tickets or annual passes already.
“Unfortunately, the end result is less people will be able to visit Walt Disney World during the holiday season, and many that were planning to give annual passes as Christmas gifts will have to come up with something else,” said Alicia Stella, owner of travel website Theme Park Stop . “Next time, a little warning from the company would be nice.”
Disney’s theme parks are still operating at a limited capacity, though the number of people admitted into the parks each day is much higher now than it was earlier in the pandemic. Earlier this year, Disney CEO Bob Chapek signaled that the company expected the Florida parks to be back to full capacity by the end of 2021, but that was before the Delta variant caused a surge in cases nationwide.
According to Walt Disney World’s website, the company has also suspended ticket sales for select dates throughout the holiday season.
Across the country in Disneyland , theme park fans have criticized the company over the implementation of the reservation system. People who had purchased “Magic Keys” — Disneyland’s new form of annual passes — have periodically raised concerns on social media about not being able to secure reservations easily, despite spending as much as $1,400 for a pass. Last month, Disney announced it had “sold out” of the most expensive tier of Disneyland’s passes, the Dream Key.
“Disney’s going to continue to cap attendance for the foreseeable future by using the park reservation system to manage access,” said Len Testa, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” and president of travel website Touring Plans .
Those reservations are divided among annual passholders, people who purchases tickets for specific dates and people who purchase tickets that are good for any date, Testa said. He said that the company will “re-allocate the amount of reservations in each ‘bucket’ to favor out-of-town guests, who spend more, over annual passholders.”
Pausing the annual pass sales also may be “Disney’s way of heading off litigation that would arise if they sold passes that couldn’t be used because of those capacity limits,” Testa suggested.
The choice to pause annual-pass sales could also be a reflection of the challenges Disney has faced in rehiring staff for its theme parks after having to lay off thousands of workers throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The company has offered $1,000 hiring bonuses for some roles, including housekeeping and line cooks.
“They just don’t have the people yet to run all the restaurants or hotels at pre-pandemic levels,” Testa said.