The Disney Park Pass Reservation System Is a Pain In The Ass, But What’s the Alternative?

    The Disney Park Pass system is a pain in the ass. There’s no way to sugarcoat it – the theme park reservation system that was born in a pandemic out of necessity to manage attendance and keep guests safe during an ever-changing situation is now being exploited by a company that critics say is straying further from a consumer-focused position.

    Back in July 2020, Disney World reopened with an extremely limited capacity. Instead of simply shutting the gates when the daily capacity was met, Disney introduced the Disney Park Pass reservation system that required guests to make a free reservation to enter the park. This allowed guests to properly plan their visit in a time of uncertainty. The Disney Park Pass system was a necessity when it was created, but it soon became clear that Disney saw the product as key to their theme park business going forward.

    Just over a month after reopening in July 2020, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro spoke with Roger Dow about the reopening and early learnings for the company. In the interview, he talked about the Disney Park Pass reservation system and gave the first early indication of how important the system would be for the company in the future, noting that the reservation system was “here to stay”.

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    As the COVID-19 situation continued to evolve, capacity at the theme parks gradually began to increase and Disney Park Pass reservations became easier to make. Essentially, capacity was higher than demand at the time, and there was a lot of “green” on the calendar. While concerns over COVID-19 and safety measures certainly kept some amount of guests away, another factor that led to lower crowds was simply the lack of offerings. No fireworks, no parades, no special events, most hotels closed, a large number of restaurants closed – there simply wasn’t a lot to do or enjoy when the parks first reopened. That said, reopening at all was an important step and the Disney Park Pass system played a critical role in allowing that to happen.

    As more offerings returned and Disney made plans to celebrate their 50th Anniversary in October 2021, the Disney Park Pass system still played an important role. Disney struggled, like many employers, to properly staff their theme parks. As more offerings returned, it stretched staff thin. Long hours, mandatory overtime (in some cases), and asking Cast to wear multiple hats was not uncommon. Cast Members are the heart of Walt Disney World, and they kept the parks running, but it was clear that Disney needed to manage attendance to manage the strain that was put on their workforce.

    Fast-forward to 2022 and the parks are staffed and the crowds are back. There are no capacity limits put in place on Disney by external forces such as federal or local officials. Instead, Disney has opted to impose their own capacity limitations. Disney has taken the Disney Park Pass system and they’re now using it against their guests instead of for their guests. This is an important shift to acknowledge and sits at the heart of most criticisms of the system. When the parks first reopened in July 2020, many guests understood the necessity of the system, but now there is no guest-facing benefit left.

    Of course, if you listen to the words of Disney executives, it’s clear what the purpose of the Disney Park Pass system will be going forward – yield management. Yield management is a revenue-maximizing strategy that is essentially a corporate mandate from the likes of Chapek and D’Amaro. It says “we want to operate our theme parks with as much profit and as little overhead as possible”. It’s a strategy that employs variable pricing and dynamic staffing to allow for maximum revenues. In a recent webinar, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said that the Disney Park Pass system is a “key linchpin” in the technology stack that allows Disney to operate the business better. She acknowledges that the Park Pass system was initially born out of the pandemic, but that Disney saw the usefulness in the system to balance the load on their theme parks.

    Now, we needed [the Disney Park Pass system] when we were severly limited in capacity when the Government restrictions were such that you could only allow 10%, 20%, 25%, but then we saw that we could actually use this even when the restrictions were lifted.

    We know how many people are going to the parks on a given day, and if they’ve filled up a certain amount, or how many reservations would be left for people walking up last minute, but it allows us to better balance load throughout the year, throughout the week, throughout the month. So that’s something that has really given us a toggle for how we’re going to manage attendance.
    Christine McCarthy, Disney CFO

    In short, and this is the frustrating part, you can visit when it’s convenient for Disney, not when it’s convenient for you. The Disney Park Pass system isn’t for guests, it’s for Disney.

    Let’s be clear, the Disney Park Pass system itself isn’t difficult to navigate. You select a date, select a park, and confirm your reservation. It’s relatively simple, and while we think that making a date-based ticket should guarantee your reservation, the system by itself is easy to use. Of course, we say that as guests who have used the system countless times, so maybe there is a blind spot there. What is really a pain in the ass about the Disney Park Pass system is how it doesn’t seem to work as advertised and the fallout from the system.

    We’ll start with the fact that it doesn’t seem to be working as advertised. Disney execs will praise the system as a tool to manage capacity. However, the parks feel busy and wait times are higher than what would be expected this time of year. In that vein, it seems like the Disney Park Pass system isn’t working. Of course, there are a host of changes that play into the wait times – the biggest offenders being the Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane offerings. We won’t dive into that now, but suffice it to say that when the top executives of The Walt Disney Company praise the Park Pass system as a way to manage attendance and provide a great experience to guests in the park, the argument breaks down quite a bit when wait times for attractions are the same or even higher than what guests are used to experiencing without the Disney Park Pass system.

    Another impact that the Disney Park Pass has on the Walt Disney World experience is Park Hopping. If you’ve visited the Disney World theme parks since Park Hopping returned in January 2021, you may have run into the issue of having to tap into a theme park with “availability” in order to visit the theme park of your choice. For example, if we wanted to visit Magic Kingdom but it was “full”, one way of getting into the park would be to make a Disney Park Pass for EPCOT, tap in at EPCOT, and then visit Magic Kingdom with our Park Hopping entitlement. Of course, don’t try to do this before 2pm, because Disney World has an arbitrary rule of not allowing Park Hopping before 2pm.

    When Disney announced the return of park hopping, they said that they were implementing modifications as part of their ongoing efforts to focus on health and safety. That is, the 2pm restriction was put in place as a COVID-19 modification. In the initial announcement, Disney said that the park hopping rules were “designed to help us continue managing attendance in a way that fosters physical distancing.” Physical distancing is not monitored or enforced at Disney World and hasn’t been for quite some time. By and large, Disney has abandoned most health and safety measures that were implemented following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Now, the only valid reason to not allow the free movement of guests between Disney World parks is so that the Disney Park Pass system isn’t undermined. Using our example above of trying to visit Magic Kingdom, we could undermine the Disney Park Pass system by tapping into EPCOT at 8am and jumping over to Magic Kingdom to rope drop Seven Dwarfs Mine Train by 9am. It would seem that as long as the Disney Park Pass system is in place, so too will restrictions on Park Hopping. It is all completely unnecessary when only considering the guest experience.

    Should Disney want to remove the Disney Park Pass system, we have to consider how else they might manage attendance. The biggest lever we can think of is even less popular than the Disney Park Pass system – raising prices. Simply put, if Disney charged more for tickets, they would see lower attendance – that’s basic supply and demand. If Disney is going to put a limit on supply by saying that they will only put 40,000 guests in Magic Kingdom instead of 75,000, they can raise prices until demand matches supply. Every time that Magic Kingdom runs out of Park Passes, Disney is leaving money on the table.

    If recent comments are to be believed, Disney seems adverse to raising base ticket prices. In a March 7th webinar, McCarthy noted hasn’t risen from the $109 price point in years. She called the entry-level price steady, stable, and affordable. She said that not raising the entry-level price is a philosophy that Disney has to ensure that their products are accessible. As we’ve documented, that doesn’t mean that Disney isn’t raising the average cost of tickets across multiple dates though.

    In this article, we’re not going to argue in favor of an entry-level ticket price of $150, but we’re also not willing to accept the terrible guest experience that the Disney Park Pass system leads to. So, we turn to you, our readers, and ask the following question: what’s the alternative to the Disney Park Pas system?

    As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!

    40 COMMENTS

    1. Although the reservation system was not a problem for us this past January when I had to change a reservation by one day on the day before, I am unhappy with the fact that I cannot spur-of-the-moment decide to go to EPCOT for dinner on any given day. Or to just go at the end of the day to see the evening show.
      We are not yet passholders but had planned to be within the year since we are moving to that area. Part of the reason to become passholders is so we can just randomly drop by a park some afternoons/evenings for a couple hours. If that option is off the table, and it becomes more difficult to actually get into a park on any random day, then what is the point of being a passholder?

      • I am a pass holder and I completely agree. We like to drop in for food and a walk. We always spend money when we go. But you know what, having to have a reservation before you go can be a big pain. Further if I book for one park but show up after 2pm why donInstill have to check in at the first park. And FINALLY and most annoying canceling a reservation can not be done from their app. It literally takes me 15 minutes to figure it out each time. I am guilty of not canceling because of this nuisance. But I hear they are going to penalize you for repeat no shows. Disney is taking all the spontaneity out of a visit for this retired local. But I tell you what, I’ve discovered Seaworld ain’t that much further away than Disney and they have good food and a nice park with entertainment. Pay attention Disney….

      • Donna, I complety agree with you. We are not current passholders. We did start our 1st year of passholders right before the pandemic. We do not live local but really enjoyed the idea of spur of the moment trips, hoping on a plane and just doing some weekend trips. Now with the reservation system even with the no blackout date passes, you are still not guarenteed to get in. With us not being locals, it is no longer wprth oyr time or mobey to buy passes to ” chance ” getting into the parks

    2. It won’t be long before it will be an additional charge for the reservation. Disney has stopped all the perks of staying on property and now park hopping delayed until 2 pm is just not fair. Paying for lighting lanes is ridiculous. You’ve already paid to ride, why should you have to pay more? No free magic bands, no free magic express. It’s just not Magic at Disney anymore. I’m going next week but I think I may just go to Universal next time.

      • We just came home from Disney and Universal yesterday. The wait lines were ridiculous at both. Islands of Adventure had wait lines for Harry Potter rides of 2 hours. Of course it was college spring break which may have attributed but there was also lots of families.

      • Well, actually you do have one perk as an on-site guest that people like us who stay off site do not: You get to vie for ILL rides at 7am. We can’t even try until a park opens, which means we can basically forget about getting a slot on a really popular ride like RotR. And trust me, we don’t like that perk for you folks. At all. After 4 or 5 visits stretching from before to after the pandemic hit, we still have never been able to ride RotR.

    3. We were passholders for years, loving the ability to get up in the morning and think about having lunch at a park. We did not renew our passes this time around and at first I was devastated. But we found a lot more out there that isn’t Disney and actually save money by utilizing the other activities Florida has to offer.

    4. Maybe make it so reservations are only required before 1PM, and after 1PM anyone can attend any park as long as they have a ticket and the park is not at full capacity. I don’t know…it’s just an idea.

    5. Unforturnately, you cherry-picked what both Bobs have said on quarterly calls in the past, namely, that when park crowding goes up, guest satisfaction goes down. That is bad for Disney (it hurts the brand) and it is bad for guests who are in over-crowded parks waiting two hours in line for each of the E-Tickets (those of us who were experts at using FP+ may not have noticed…).

      You understand that WDW has tried to control overcrowding with raising prices at peak times and giving discounts during the off-peak (and the pandemic times have thrown that tactic out the window).

      Well, the Park Reservation system is another tool. While the new park capacity limit is pretty high which makes things feel crowded, it would have been worse without it. For the holiday weekends and Spring Break, there were ‘red days’ in which parks reached Reservation capacity. Imagine what the parks would have been like without that limit?

      Beside raising prices to discourage attendance, the only other way to stop overcrowding is to close the gate once the park is “full.” That used to happen on a few days, like Christmas. But, with the desire to not ever get that insanely crowded (which makes everyone in the parks miserable), they’re lowering capacity. And they can lower capacity simply by instigating “phased closing” at a lower maximum.

      But “phased closing” is basically just shutting the gate to the guests who have day tickets or APs. Imagine *that* inconvenience of booking a trip, getting to the park, and being turned away!

      Park Reservations means you’re not turned away… you have a reservation. You get in. And it’s not insanely overcrowded with a half hour wait to use a restroom.

      Yes, other people who couldn’t get a reservation are in essence ‘turned away,’ but they are turned away from the comfort of their living room as they plan their vacation and not at a gate they took a plane to get to.

      WDW (and let’s be honest, we’re basically talking the MK) is a victim of its own success. More people want to go than the park can handle. If you were in charge, how would you handle that?

      • I agree with you, Mike. Showing up to only be turned away would be a huge disappointment, especially if you traveled a long way to get there and had to pay for a hotel. It also allows Disney to limit how many pass holders get in at a time. As demonstrated by some of the comments above, many pass holders think of the park as an extension of their own backyard, and they show up just for parades, fireworks, etc, often last minute. Many of them get the value out of their passes many times over. Disney needs to limit them from taking over the park, not only so Disney can make money on other guests, but also so those other than pass holders can enjoy it.

    6. Disney Parks have operated just fine over the last 50 plus years and park guests have been happy. The park pass system is a management ploy. It limits the park guest’s ability to plan their day with complete freedom dependent on their plan for each day. Disney management has taken away the ability to plan and adjust a person’s day by restricting what the park guest can do. If you go to a restaurant and do not like the food, you never go back to the restaurant. People need to just stop going to thr Disney Parks to give management the message.

    7. I’m with Bob: “stop going to Disney” We’re simply done with Disney and are going other places on vacation. We loved Disney, always stayed at a deluxe resort and adored Park Hopping — we’d do one day where we would pick our two favorite things at each park and do all four parks. We’d stay at the Yacht Club so we could do a favorite or two at EPCOT and hop the monorail to Magic Kingdom. We’d just walk to the Studio for Fantasmic.
      The Disney we loved is dead and buried. We’re likely never going back to the over-priced, under-staffed mess it is now.

    8. I just returned from a 4 night stay at POFQ for PHM weekend. This was my 2nd trip in 4 months. I had fun because of my friends and the race. After that, everything else was disappointing. Besides everything mentioned, I felt robotic. No relaxing with a 7am wake up for Genie+ and then got locked out of all major favorite attractions. 2+hrs. wait times, making lunch plans before breakfast to best the crowds, and constantly on my phone hoping for a break really took its toll. The lack of spontaneity, freedom within the park’s, (including park hopping), and limited menu options made for an unmagical, expensive, and time wasting visit. I am returning in May for a 3 night visit for an 8 year old birthday surprise. She LOVES roller coasters. I’m hoping she is not disappointed. No Genie+ this go around. It hasn’t been worth the xtra cost. I will not return for WND weekend in November. I’m going to step away for awhile and see how things shake out. For me “the magical bubble” has burst. Anticipation, excitement, people watching has all turned into 1 gigantic peacock dance. So grateful for my “those were the days” memories.

    9. The alternative: go to any other product/parks than Disney. Seems the other brands are seeing great benefit (from what I’ve read) from the Disney decline in guest satisfaction.

    10. I’m really disappointed with the new system. They limit your decisions on when and how to have fun, and never before had I perceived so badly Disney’s passion for money. It’s as if the Magic is over. Biggest mistake in my opinion, taking fastpass off from annual pass holders. It’s unfair and abusive, especially since they increased the price so much. 2022 will be my last year in the Parks, I don’t enjoy them anymore the way I used to. It’s a rip off and poorly managed. Every new decision seems to worsen the experience. Hopping at 2pm, replacing Happily Ever After 3 years only after its premiere by a dreadful cheap copy, huge lines to ride even if you have the Incredipass…no perks whatsoever.

    11. Part of the magic of Disney and vacationing, is being able to be spontaneous. That is all gone. We just came back a week ago and saw people turned away because they didn’t understand/know about the reservation system. And try to get an individual lightning lane pass! They are all gone by 7:01 AM. We normally go 1-2 times a year. We’ll be waiting awhile before we go again.

    12. If you see these pictures with the abundance of guests each day, it’s obvious that Disney is in command of any and all systems. A few people saying they are going to “boycott” is not going to change anything. My hope is that Disney will expand the park hopping to maybe noon or 1 pm. I know some people are saying they are going to switch to Universal which is certainly their prerogative but their system of operation is not “user friendly” either and their program similar to Genie + is super expansive compared to Disney’s. My thought is with gas costs and rising inflation, eventually less people will be able to afford Disney and the guest will again be in command.

    13. We’ve been pass holders for about 6 years, we used to love dropping by a park in the evening for a ride, a meal or a night time show. I think the crowds are worse, I don’t love the park pass system. Wished they would of kept the fast past lanes. Definitely considering this being our last year as pass holders.

    14. Went in Nov. and January. Both times overcrowded long lines. In January when I got home and looked at my bill I was charged $23.47 a day for parking at the hotel. We didn’t have a car. 2 months latter still no response from Disney. We’ve been there around 30 times throughout the years. I am done going to Disney, we tried Universal in November and found it to be more fun. No reservations for dining wait time not bad at all. Reminds me of how Disney used to be. Maybe Universal stole the magic from Disney.

    15. What’s the alternative? Stop giving Bob chapek your paycheck.. Disney isn’t fun anymore.. we cant take our random daycations anymore.. not to mention it seems like imagineering has forgot how to be creative, innovative and efficient. Their construction crew is slow as balls. How can Universal build a bad ass high speed roller coaster with pretty awesome animatronic dinosaurs and a decent looking cue line SEEMLESSLY into their park in less than a year, and Disney is struggling with the Tron coaster ( which, by the way is something they have already built at other parks)? And don’t get me started about the overpriced Star Wars hotel. Disney used to be our go to place to escape and have fun on a spur of the moment for my wife and me. They have definitely lost us as passholders and customers.

    16. I usually do all the planning for our trips and we never know what park we are going to until I am able to book at least 1 dining experience per day. Since some dining is hard to get I usually plan what park and day around the dining and that can’t be booked until 90 days so how do I book a trip if I do t know what park we will be dining at?

    17. FYI
      The day ticket to the Magic Kingdom is
      $139 per adult.
      Apparently no one noticed that it was increased from $109.
      Also, the additional fee of $15 per person per day for the Genie sounds good, but there are fewer times available to use it.
      Way too many issues with lightening lanes at various attractions.
      Not a good system at all.

      • A day ticket still starts at $109, even for Magic Kingdom, but there are few days when that price applies. One date that is $109 is August 29, 2022.

    18. For the average park goer, it’s not a problem. We visit once a year, and last June went 9 days to parks with reservations, and there was no problem. We’re going this June as well, reservations no problem. We don’t park hop. Instead of a problem with the reservation system, it seems you have a problem with change. Someone who has never been and shows up on the scene today, won’t know the difference and who cares? The only people I think it affects the most negatively are probably passholders and Disney bloggers. I doubt Disney is allowing more in than they were before the reservation system. So, maybe more people are in the parks at times when you think they shouldn’t be, based on past trends. Maybe Genie+ does make lines longer, but again, for the casual visitors like myself, not a problem.

      • We went last September with no problem. Went in February with MAJOR problems. That’s a 4000 mile round trip drive for us to find that we couldn’t ride the rides or do the things we wanted to do because the crowds were horrendous and wait times were two to three hours. We have been going for 40 years. February was not fun. Weve been at all times of the year including Christmas and have never seen crowds like that.
        You might reserve judgment until that next trip. Good luck.

    19. So disappointing to see Disney executives solely focus on stock prices and single, childless 20 somethings. Whose to say the stock price would not double if they lifted the restrictions. There’s no more spontaneity for local passholders and the executives are just fine with that. The goal is to wring each and every hotel guest of every penny they have saved for that special trip. Universal/IOA just sitting there with their arms wide open.

    20. The alternative is to just take it away and operate in the same manner they have operated for almost 50 years. If current management doesn’t have the intellectual ability to figure out how to maximize profits AND the guest experience then it’s time for a change. Our family absolutely despises the reservation system. In addition the shift Disney has made in regard to guest perks is deeply troubling. Great blog post….so sad to see Disney now officially in the camp where money matters more than the people they serve. No one visiting Disney begrudges the fact that they are in business to make money but at what point does the consumer become nothing more than a meal ticket rather than a true guest?

    21. Visited the parks this past January and stayed at a resort. One positive that stuck out to me was that the bus shuttle service to and from the parks was much improved compared to prior visits. We stayed for a week and never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus to arrive. In the past I remember easily waiting 20-30 min for a bus. The biggest improvement was in the morning when most people were getting out to take advantage of the early entry perk of staying at a resort. As soon as a bus filled up, another was shortly behind it. I can only think that this is due to the reservation system. They know who is staying at which resort and what everyone’s plans are for the day. Then they know which park buses to increase the frequency. This is one positive when compared to my visits between 2017-2020.

    22. Visited the parks in September 2021. We were lucky to hit the “sweet spot” when crowds were low and the pandemic was less threatening. It was a good visit but still frustrating from previous visits. We have been Disney fans since the late 90’s and have made many visits with our kids and friends from Alabama. We do have incredible magic memories. I am horrified as I read reviews from the past few months. Seems like the dollar has taken precedence over the “magic”. We will miss our magical visits but we will definitely be taking a break until all of this gets sorted out.

    23. Can you change the title of this article The Disney Park Pass System is a Pain in the Tuckus of Fanny to help preserve the Disney Magic. Please and Thank You.

      Concerned in Carolina

    24. Prior Disney management never had all these problems,or several daily issues. FYI Bob, go away and let someone bring all things Disney back to its founder’s philosophy!

    25. Quick fix, I think, is to allow wait lists. If I try to book a day and it’s not available, give me a spot in the queue and then let me know via text or email to secure that reservation if someone cancels and I’m next in line

    26. The alternativeS are Universal, SeaWorld, and Bush Gardens. It’s so sad to see the park I’ve visited my whole life turn into naked greed. They don’t even try to hide it anymore.

    27. We had planned to take our grandson to Disney for the 50th, but we’re told that the waiting lines are super long and that your limited to where you can go park wise by the reservation booking system.

      I’m truly concerned. Should, I even go now as we have been saving for years to take this trip. Our grandson is 8 now and old enough to enjoy the thrill of Disney and Universal, but for the cost of the trip from the United Kingdom to Orlando is it still worth going?. If your limited to a park per day due to reservation and then the waiting time for the rides.

      It’s a shame as my wife and I have spent our wedding anniversary at Disney back in 2014 and found it to be the dream holiday that everyone expects. With all the new changes and limits it breaks my heart to see that the quality has dropped so low that we are thinking of breaking our promise and disappointing our grandson by not going on this trip.

      Of course, We could wait for Disney to finish planning and building in London, but let’s be real it’s not the same. Going to Disney in Paris is cheaper travel wise but again it’s just not the same as being in Orlando. I can only hope that things get better fast at Disney raising the prices will only hurt those of us living overseas.

      In total we have calculated that our 2 week holiday would cost us around 14,000.00 pounds for the 3 of us. Of course that includes all the extras.

    28. To answer your final question: There isn’t one that will make everybody happy. Disney will eventually crash under the amount of its greed. Until then, our family isn’t going back. The introduction of alcohol and “drinking around the world” showcase have ruined Epcot. Genie+ and LL have made it very unpleasant for the average families. Standby times were ridiculous when we were there in February 2022 (I saw times as long as 240 minutes for Remy’s). The magic isn’t totally gone, but it sure has taken a beating.

    29. Everyone is right about the magic being lost.
      We just came back from a trip, another new thing is that they are trying to make it very difficult for you to eat unless you use the app and preorder.

      I don’t want to use the app!

    30. I am in Florida right now. Everyone told me it would be easy to get reservations last minute if I check back at night. Nothing. Our spring break plans changed last minute, and I foolishly left hoping that I would be able to get last minute reservations. Nope. So mad I might never come back. There is absolutely no way to be spontaneous….you have to buy the tickets at least a month in advance. We went to Typhoon Lagoon, which was very relaxing (and NOT busy). But now we’re just sitting in our hotel and going to the pool. It’s ridiculous.

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