V.I.PASSHOLDER Days Coming to Disney World!
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.
To that point, it was pretty clear upon returning that Bob Iger wasn’t wild about how things had gone under Chapek and the degree to which there was disillusionment among fans. A little over a month after returning, Iger started moving on that sentiment by announcing 3 BIG Changes at Walt Disney World to Improve Guest Experience & Value. One of those was that Walt Disney World Annual Passholders would be able to visit the theme parks after 2 pm without needing a reservation, except on weekends at Magic Kingdom.
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.
However, the circumstances have also changed. Pent-up demand is finally exhausting itself and there are signs of softness on the horizon for Walt Disney World. For one thing, as we’ve mentioned repeatedly, Walt Disney World already has released 14 different discounts for 2023, which is more than were available for the entirety of last year.
Just last week on the company’s earnings call, CFO Christine McCarthy warned of a slowdown at Walt Disney World in the coming quarters to soften the blow to investors. This wasn’t news to us–it’s already happening! We’ve been discussing the higher than normal post-spring break attendance drops in Sharp Shoulder Season Slowdown at Walt Disney World and Low Pre-Summer Crowds at Walt Disney World.
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!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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!
I agree with some of the previous comments that Disney often forgets the out-of-state passholders that have to buy the Incredi-pass which they may only use 2-3 times during the entire year. We were passholders before COVID, dropped our passes during COVID, and just re-purchased them with the hope that Bob Iger will bring back some of the magic. For us, there are still some things lacking in the park experience in general….
First, the loss of Fastpass+ is awful. Genie plus is costly for regular visitors like APs, but ultimately, the ability to only book a ride once is a dealbreaker for us. I think even allowing TWO reservations for the same ride over the course of the day would be an improvement over the existing system. I also wish there were passholder discounts if G+ must be a paid service. Why not offer $5 – $10 days or something like that to APs? Ideally, I suggest giving an allowance of these value days to APs per year….that way out-of-state APs don’t get overlooked again when they aren’t able to make spur of the moment passholder exclusives.
Second, we really miss the Magical Express. I can’t underscore how convenient it was for us to drop our luggage at our local airport, get on the plane, fly into MCO, and then head right to the hotel or parks with few worries about handling luggage. When my son was younger and a stroller was necessary, it made trips with just me and him possible. I seriously doubt I would have taken a lot of last minute trips with him that we did had it not been for Magical Express. Following the loss of the Magical Express, we have not stayed on site and trips have been far fewer. Of the trips we HAVE taken to WDW, we have certainly spent far less money at the parks because we are now staying off-site.
Third, the reservation system is unnecessary MOST of the year. I think Disney would be wise to eliminate it EXCEPT for peak times (spring break and the winter holidays). Having been to Disney during Christmas time before there was a reservation system, I actually think it is good to have the ability to limit the numbers in each park. It’s always really busy at this time no matter what (multi-hour waits for rides), but I don’t recall it being shoulder-to-shoulder in Magic Kingdom at Christmas since the reservation system was implemented. If the reservation system remains for APs, the number of reservations should increase to at least 7. As an out-of-state AP, I’m usually going for more than 5 days. It’s going to be a week long trip.
We have been AP holders since buying into DVC. With all the price increases and the decline in the perks we are actually considering if renewing is worth the new costs. At this time we are leaning towards not renewing.
Everyone has a guest that simply can’t afford a ticket. I had a pass in PA to an amusement park that afforded the passholder with three guest passes. It might be nice as a resident and passholder to treat a guest to what I love most in Florida. Just a thought.
I came to the comments to see if anyone else mentioned the recent guest satisfaction survey that went out to at least some APs – I received one. As with all things like this, not sure what triggered the survey. We are long time out-of-state APs who used to go several times per year for a week or more. Our last trip was Sept 2022, and our next trip is Sept 2023. Each of those trips is less than a week. So not sure if maybe the decrease in our visits was the reason we received one or if it was just random 🙂 The survey asked about how long we had our APs in consecutive years, our experiences with and feelings about the Park Pass reservation system, whether we felt valued as APs, and whether we knew about or experienced various AP perks (e.g., merchandise discounts, free magnets, new attraction previews) and how much we valued each perk. It also asked about use of (individual) Lightning Lanes, and when I said we have not used these, it asked why not… the answer is because we refuse on principle – I dont care if I never ride Mine Train again as long as I live and I said exactly that 😉 I will not bore everyone here with my list of grievances, particularly because APs are notoroious for complaining but still buying our passes every year, but I sure hope the survey is an indicator that Disney is interested in AP guest satisfaction / retention. Fingers crossed!
Do you have any insight into IncrediPass holders from out of state that only visit parks during a resort hotel stay? Would we be subject to needing reservations or would our resort stay preclude that?
Yet again, the bread crumbs tossed to APH have the most value and accessibility for local passholders. The out of state APH, those of us limited to the highest priced pass, with no option for monthly payments, are also the ones that come and stay in the resorts, eat in the restaurants, and buy the merchandise like that family from Denver that we’re told we must give way for. We get two weeks heads up on VIPassholder days – who among us can drop everything in that time, and run down to Florida to take part? Gee, thanks again, Disney!
Any idea when in June the VIPassholder days will be? I’m actually trying to figure out a trip, and would like to schedule it to actually be able to enjoy these perks.
I think, may be wrong, but the incredi-passes that are being sold offers discounts and 1 year to visit parks, however how many times will out-of-staters actually be able to visit 3 or more times a year??
As far as DAS, I cannot stand in a line for more than a few minutes. I am afraid to apply for DAS for fear my family will be banned forever. Luckily my grandson accompanies me, and helps me transfer to wheel chair.
I know that this is off point. But, a recent experience continues to bother us and apparently is shared by many. We are DVC owners & AP holders. We recently tried to get DAS. My wife and I have medical- physical issues so that we cannot stand on lines. We were essentially grilled as to our conditions, given a hard time and warned that we would only have DAS once & no renewal. As an attorney I believe Disney’s actions were designed to discourage us from getting DAS and violated the ADA. I have read so many complaints about access to DAS that I am considering class action for restricting DAS access & violating the ADA
Have you had any similar complaints?
There have been a number of lawsuits over the years along these lines, with one decided just last fall in Disney’s favor. It’s been a while since I read that, but one of Disney’s prevailing arguments was that the DAS system needed to be tightened to prevent abuse, which the court found to be “reasonable.”
Although I understand your issue, Disney clearly states that DAS is not for mobility issues if they can be rectified by wheelchair or electric scooter.
DAS is not for mobility issues. I’m shocked she got it at all. All rides now allow a wheel chair or scooter to go almost to ride door. . It is meant for autism, crohns, severe adhd, etc. . It does not get u out of the wait. You still have to wait 80 minutes or whatever you just don’t do it in line.
Can you please retire the Chapek umbrella picture? Thank you.
Absolutely don’t! The Chapek umbrella photo is a classic! It and the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit [TM] are the markers of an era.
I actually wonder if the massive price hikes on Universal’s APs will have any effect on the WDW APs. Before Universal’s were so cheap that getting both wasn’t too much of a financial stretch. But now that both have gone up significantly, especially for families having to buy more than one, more people might be dropping one in order to continue to afford the other. I would always choose my Disney AP over Universal’s (and now because of the price hikes, every year we hesitate more than we did before to renew our UOAPs), but I definitely don’t think that’s true for everyone, and Universal’s AP perks are better and more consistent. And Florida residents/Disney Visa cardholders can usually access a less generous version of the same discounts as the passholders, unlike over at Universal, so anyone who can already get some discounts might find it easier to let the Disney AP go.
This is an interesting point, and undoubtedly true to at least some degree. In general, it’s safe to assume that as AP prices increase, people make difficult choices about which ones to keep.
Other potential factors:
-Passes purchased with one-time stimulus money or excess savings in ~2021
-Higher insurance renewal rates and/or property tax bills for Floridians
-Floridians taking a break after the 50th and ‘doing everything new’
I, too, find it noteworthy that APs are still on sale in all categories. I guess there’s no way of knowing for sure, but the cynic in me is thinking (and half hoping) Disney is getting pushback for all their anti-guest moves.
I wonder if most serious APs held onto the AP through the pandemic, and all the APs that lapsed their APs due to all the policy changes just decided not to come back. Combined with the exponential increase in AP cost, many may have just decided it wasn’t worth it anymore.
My parents were die hard disney, so much so they bought their retirement house on Apopka Vineland right outside Disney Springs not even 2 miles from the entrance there. They are so infuriated with all the changes they haven’t been to Disney in over 3 years.
We were at MK and EPCOT this past weekend and were surprised at how slow both parks were, especially for a weekend. Even the high demand rides were just not that long–SDMT was between 30-40 min all day and Remy was about 45 min at most. Soarin’ was a walk on all day. It was lovely.
Why make the advance notice on the AP without announcing all the specifics at the same time? Probably because the specifics are so minor it won’t be a big deal to any of us APs.
I think that Disney overestimated AP Demand. The prices for an AP are notable higher than the past, and many previous AP holders felt spurned the last several years. It’s been 3 years since the pandemic hit, and 3 years is a long time for people to change habits.
My parents were long time AP holders, but let it lapse during the pandemic after feeling taken advantage of. Now they have found new activities to occupy their time and don’t feel the urge to buy a AP. They used to go weekly and now they haven’t been since the pandemic started. They are not the only ones. Disney will have to continue to “woo” back the APs they spent years alienating. They did a lot of damage in a short amount of time.