Walt Disney World has once again reallocated Park Pass theme park reservations for the months of September and October 2020. The result is once again more good news for Annual Passholder, as most dates in both months are now available. We’ll take a look at the changes and offer some additional commentary about all of that and other AP areas of interest.
We’ve been monitoring Disney Park Pass availability since the reservation system went live in June. It’s now been live for over two months, and the system is a tale of two timeframes here. The first is prior to the Annual Pass cancellation deadline a couple of weeks ago. During the course of that month-plus, there were only 2 inventory reallocations to Annual Passholders, resulting in slim pickings aside from random cancellations for most of July through mid-August.
Then there has been the couple of weeks since the Annual Pass cancellation deadline, during which there have been 4 inventory reallocations. Two of those times, availability has been fully replenished. If this trend continues, Annual Passholders with good timing will likely be able to visit pretty much whenever in the next couple of months. A sharp contrast to the prospect of not being able to go without booking several weeks (or nearly twomonths, in the case of weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in advance, faced prior to the cancellation deadline…
We’re not suggesting that this feet-dragging on Park Pass inventory reallocations was a deliberate move by Walt Disney World to actively encourage more Annual Pass cancellations. More likely, it was coincidental–but very unfortunate–timing. As we’ve noted, Disney has been scrambling to make adjustments on the fly as circumstances change or they learn about the harsh realities of operating amidst this temporary abnormal.
Despite the significantly reduced park capacity, it does not behoove Walt Disney World to further cull the herd of Annual Passholders. For one, that’s happening on its own due to a variety of other factors unrelated to Park Pass availability. The economy, reduced offerings, new rules, and more all resulted in a flurry of AP cancellations.
For another thing, there’s no opportunity cost to Annual Passholders attending the parks right now. While it’s undeniable that average per guest spending is higher among tourists than APs (this isn’t up for debate–Disney has stated as much), Annual Passholders are still better than nothing. That’s the real alternative most dates right now.
We suspect the miscalculation Walt Disney World made early-on was that tourists would continue traveling to Florida, and Disney would want to prioritize filling the limited capacity parks with these (on average) more lucrative guests. As such, there was no immediate harm in AP cancellations. The weeks since have been a slow pivot as the realities of current visitation trends and guest demographics have set in for Disney.
Of course, our perspective here is colored by our own biases. We’ve been expressing fears for months now that Walt Disney World leaders might be blinded by their own past successes, resulting in unrealistic expectations about their recovery. There was about a decade run during which Disney enjoyed unmitigated prosperity, often in spite of blunders. No matter what decisions they made or high much prices increased, so too did attendance. That era ended in March.
There’s no reason to believe Walt Disney World will be any less reliant upon locals and Annual Passholders in the coming months (pretty much any time now through next Easter/Spring Break aside from holiday vacations). One thing Disney had done an undeniably superlative job at was filling the off-season with crowds thanks to conventions, special events, youth sport tournaments, and more.
Additionally, Disney had done well at marketing to and attracting international guests during their own peak travel seasons. All of those events and types of guests are gone for the foreseeable future.
It’ll be interesting to see how quickly Walt Disney World adapts to this, and finds ways to adjust to the new climate. Thus far, changes have been slow-going. But I digress–the Disney Park Pass availability updates…
Availability was replenished for the entirety of September and October, including Labor Day weekend. This is noteworthy because it is not simply an inventory reallocation for some of these dates–there was no inventory in the resort guest or theme park ticket guest buckets from which to pull for these dates.
If you have flexibility in your plans, we’d highly recommend avoiding the parks over Labor Day weekend. It’s going to be the first real test of the reduced capacity parks, and will be significantly more crowded than any other date since reopening thus far. This is not theoretical–those dates will be crowded. Our expectation is that crowds from September 5-7 will be around double the levels of crowds from September 8-10.
The good news is that pretty much the rest of September and October shouldn’t be too bad. That’s even with more Annual Passholders being in the parks than in July and August. We would expect a spike on weekends and a slight spike overall due to Walt Disney World’s Announcement of Halloween at Magic Kingdom, but not much else.
That announcement came so late that it’s not going to result in a significant number of tourists booking trips–it’s only going to move the needle among locals. Even if more Floridians visit, there’s still no shortage of “available space” in Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot on weekdays and most weekends. Filling unused capacity with slightly more locals shouldn’t be much of an issue–especially if they’re spending disproportionate time on Main Street, shopping, and snacking.
Aside from Labor Day weekend, the next couple of months should be pretty slow at Walt Disney World. Again, there will be an increase in Annual Passholders who were, in some cases, arbitrarily shut out in July and August even when crowds were otherwise low.
However, this is naturally Florida’s off-season, something that has long been evident in September at Walt Disney World (not even the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge could change that last year). Of late, October has been busier, but it’s also been buoyed by special events and school breaks, almost all of which are not happening as normal this year.
In other words, there will be more locals (disproportionately on weekends) but fewer tourists as compared to the summer months. Expect most of the same trends to continue, with only Disney’s Hollywood Studios coming close to hitting its reduced capacity cap.
The other parks are still ghost towns, with some weekends being2/10 in terms of crowds. That might bump up to 3/10 in the next two months. Most weekdays are around 1/10. That should stay the same, if not trend downwards. The last two hours of the day will still be particularly light. The biggest change is likely to be the ‘feels like’ crowds at Magic Kingdom increasing on weekends.
We would strongly recommend booking Disney Park Pass reservations ASAP if you’re an Annual Passholder. It’s unclear how much inventory Walt Disney World has released into the AP “bucket” of Park Pass reservations, and for some of these dates, it’s probably not much. We are monitoring closely for Park Pass availability—if you want notification when the next inventory dump happens, sign up to receive our FREE Walt Disney World Email Newsletter.
It’s also worth noting that this is another one-off redistribution (or replenishment, in the case of Labor Day), not the introduction of a dynamic system. Eventually, we still hope/think that Walt Disney World will figure things out and start reallocating surplus Disney Park Pass availability to the Annual Passholder bucket around 24-48 hours before the date in question on a rolling basis.
What do you think crowds will be like Labor Day weekend? The rest of September and October? Have any luck scoring Disney Park Pass reservations with this new inventory dump? Are you still an Annual Passholder? What’s your take on the Park Pass fiasco? If you didn’t cancel your Annual Pass due to the lack of Park Pass availability, are you glad you stuck it out now? 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!