Walt Disney World has announced new perks coming for Annual Passholders in Summer 2023 and beyond. This post shares the details that were announced in the latest AP Buzz newsletter kinda thing in the My Disney Experience app, plus our commentary about why this is happening. Let’s start with the official announcement below.
As one of our most valued guests, we are excited to introduce V.I.PASSHOLDER Days, featuring limited-time offerings just for Passholders coming to Walt Disney World Resort. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ for being a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder!
V.I.PASSHOLDER Days will begin for a limited-time in June with more details to be announced soon, but just for our Passholders, we are excited to give this first look at what is coming:
No, it’s not your imagination—a new Passholder magnet is coming! Check out the special sneak peek video and see if it sparks any guesses as to who will be featured.
Passholders will have a limited-time, exclusive space to rest and cool off with dedicated seating (subject to availability).
Passholders can enjoy increased discounts on select merchandise and dining locations across Walt Disney World Resort, including select EPCOT International Flower and Garden Outdoor Kitchens.
New Passholder exclusive treats will be available for purchase.
Passholders will also get a chance to capture memories of their latest park visit with two limited-time photo ops.
In terms of commentary, it’s worth starting by saying that we’re pleased to see Walt Disney World doing more to recognize and show its appreciation for Annual Passholders. The last few years have been a rough time to be a Walt Disney World AP, and many of us haven’t exactly felt “valued” over that time.
The issues began with how monthly payments were processed during the closure, and continued with reservation availability and renewals shortly post-reopening. Of course, many fans weren’t able to buy Annual Passes at all, as new AP sales had two lengthy pauses.
Some of this is forgivable, as pent-up demand and capacity constraints were huge issues that truly had no easy solutions that made everyone happy. It also may be tough to hear, but many Annual Passholders have a certain sense of entitlement or expected things to go exactly as they did over the course of the prior decade, even as the entire world faced similar problems.
From our perspective, some of the issues with Annual Passes were understandable; Walt Disney World had to make tough choices and there was literally no way to make everyone happy. Others were unforced errors, reflecting a certain arrogance or presumptuousness as Walt Disney World took its most loyal fans for granted. As with so many things, the devil is in the details–there were ways to make tough or unpopular decisions without looking contemptuous or disdainful towards diehard fans. That’s one of the big distinctions between the Bob Chapek versus Bob Iger regimes.
Last week, Walt Disney World indicated that it’s continuing to listen to guests, and announced ‘5 exciting updates’ coming in 2024 to improve the guest experience. Again, one of those things focuses on APs, which is the introduction of “good-to-go days” for Annual Passholders, which will be select days that Annual Passholders may visit the theme parks without needing a park reservation at all.
Introducing V.I.PASSHOLDER Days is another one of those “little things” that Walt Disney World is doing to demonstrate that it cares and wants to win back the diehard fans.
Not to be debbie downers, but it’s also probably fair to point out that Disney doesn’t do much of anything out of corporate benevolence. It’s great that we’re seeing Walt Disney World being responsive to guest feedback and fan complaints. As we’ve been pointing out for a while, guest satisfaction started dropping precipitously at Walt Disney World in Fall 2021.
There were internal concerns and a desire on-the-ground in Florida to make changes to improve that, but their hands were tied. The top-level leadership change is almost certainly what has allowed that to happen.
With a decline in tourist visitor numbers and spending, there’s now more excess capacity for Annual Passholders. It thus makes sense that Walt Disney World wants to lure them back, giving more reasons to feel valued, visit, and spend money in the parks. These new perks are designed to do all of that.
What’s most interesting to us is the aggressiveness of the V.I.PASSHOLDER Days. You know Walt Disney World is pulling out the big guns when they’re featuring Figment on a freebie (safe assumption he’s the character on the magnet) and also introducing a free lounge.
Speaking of which, I’m going to guess that the lounge ends up being a pleasant surprise. Calling it a “space to rest and cool off with dedicated seating” suggests that it’ll be indoors, which eliminates the obvious and boring locations like Tomorrowland Terrace and the River of Lights seating area.
Animal Kingdom or EPCOT would make the most sense for a lounge, as those are the parks to which Walt Disney World wants to funnel AP attendance. World Showcase has no shortages of unused or underutilized spaces that could serve as a lounge, with World ShowPlace being a great (and enormous) option if no special events are scheduled (and it’s truly going to be ‘limited time’), but my bet is that we see a revival of the Florida Blue Lounge in Morocco, but this time for all APs.
As for the discounts at the EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival, these also make sense and we’ve seen similar offers in the past few years. This is a good move given that demand is presumably dropping off among locals for this event by its third month, as Flower & Garden limps towards the finish line. (It would’ve been savvy to do a similar push for the 50th Grand Finale, pushing merchandise that way rather than sending it to the outlets.)
On a tangential note, I wonder if this is why Walt Disney World is making the unprecedented move of shortening the 2023 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival by 2 weeks. This is the first time ever that we’ve seen Walt Disney World materially reduce the duration of an event, and about the only way that makes sense is if they’re seeing diminishing returns. If so, I’d expect to also see the 2024 EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival shortened by at least a week–and up to a month. (The smart move would be significantly shortening it and introducing a new summer festival for June through August.)
One thing we’d love to see brought back is the Free V.I.Passholder Nights that were held at Walt Disney World. The biggest issue with those, just like the TRON Lightcycle Run or Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind previews, was that registration lasted less than an hour before all slots filled up. Like new attraction previews, the invite emails also only went out to a fraction of all eligible Annual Passholders. (I’ve always wondered whether the ‘satisfaction rate’ on stuff like this is a net positive–does the happiness of the APs who get in outweigh those who are shut out?)
It may seem like an eternity ago, but those Free V.I.Passholder Nights were held in 2018-2019, and were quite similar to the paid After Hours events. There were actually many AP and DVC perks offered in 2015-2019 that feel like things Walt Disney World would never do today. (The dynamic is arguably worse at Disneyland, where we went from free AP nights themed to Indiana Jones or Dixieland to paid ones that aren’t even as good.)
Finally, the one thing we haven’t really discussed at all here–that presumably is playing some role in these decisions or perhaps is a symptom of the problem–is the resumption of Annual Pass sales. The positive news here is that all tiers of APs are still available for sale, which is great for those who are still on the fence or not quite ready to purchase for whatever reason.
The interesting angle is that Walt Disney World had a multi-hour virtual queue on the first morning with so many simultaneous visitors on the website that the sales process actually crashed. That led to Disney adding a ‘warning’ that they “anticipate a pass or select passes may become unavailable for purchase later today.” That was almost a month ago!
The cynical explanation is that Walt Disney World was trying to juice sales by creating a false sense of urgency. Plenty of you probably believe that, which is fine–none of these theories are provable or disprovable. However, that was added at a time when the website could barely handle the traffic it was getting–why intentionally exacerbate that? The message could’ve been added that night if it were about adding the illusion of scarcity. Moreover, we also saw similar messages with Magic Key sales at Disneyland, and those passes did sell out shortly thereafter.
Accordingly, our best guess is that Walt Disney World misjudged demand. That there were way more fans online bright and early to purchase passes than anticipated, but also, that some (many?) of those were the same people on multiple devices. Disney also might have overestimated ongoing demand for AP sales. I know we were a bit surprised by how quickly the virtual queue went from multiple hours to totally nonexistent!
Anyway, all of that is interesting here as it relates to attendance, trying to win back alienated ex-Annual Passholders, and more. After a few years of Walt Disney World being able to ‘get away’ with pretty much anything and still see record guest spending and insatiable demand, consumers now appear to once again have more leverage. This normalization is not just a good thing for fans, it’s also healthier for Walt Disney World in the long-term.
This should be an interesting saga to follow, and it’s almost certain that we haven’t seen the end of Walt Disney World’s efforts to woo back former fans and pull “levers” to incentivize more demand and guest spending. Stay tuned–there’s surely more to come in the days, weeks, and months ahead!
Are you an Annual Passholder? Thoughts on the V.I.Passholder Days, or the latest merchandise and resort discounts? Will you be taking advantage of any of this? If you cancelled your Walt Disney World AP, have any of the recent changes made you revisit that decision? Hopeful that more perks, discounts, etc. are on the horizon as pent-up demand exhausts itself and there’s a slowdown at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!