Disney announced it will be ending the current Annual Passholder program for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, cancelling all outstanding APs and issuing refunds. In this post, we’ll share details about the termination, commentary on why it’s happening, and more. (Updated January 27, 2021.)
Here’s the statement issued by Ken Potrock, President of Disneyland Resort:
“For nearly four decades, our Annual Passport program has been an important part of connecting with some of our most valued Guests. We are incredibly honored and grateful for that legacy, and the memories and magical moments you have helped us create over the years.
It’s because you’ve played such an important part in the history of the Disneyland Resort that I personally wanted to share this news with you. In the next several days, we will begin the process of issuing appropriate refunds for eligible Disneyland Resort Annual Passports and sunsetting the current Annual Passport program due to the continued uncertainty of the pandemic and limitations and expected restrictions around the reopening of our theme parks.
I know that sunsetting the Annual Passport program will be disappointing to many of our Passholders who are just as anxious as we are to reopen our gates and welcome Guests back when the time is right. But we are also very excited about what’s ahead.
We plan to use this time while we remain closed to develop new membership offerings that will utilize consumer insights to deliver choice, flexibility and value for our biggest fans. Once we have more information to share about future membership offerings, our Passholders will be the first to hear from us as we embark on this next chapter.”
January 27, 2021 Update: While Disneyland has not yet revealed what the “new membership offerings” will entail, they have revealed a new title for those who held active APs when the parks closed: Disneyland Resort Legacy Passholders.
Disneyland Legacy Passholders can purchase exclusive merchandise, special food and beverage offerings, and save 30% on select merchandise at select Downtown Disney District and Buena Vista Street locations through February 25, 2021 on Mondays through Thursdays. Disney is also teasing that this is just the start for Disneyland Legacy Passholders, and they are “working on adding more magic during this limited time!”
This is pretty much just a rebranding, but it’s a smart one. For many Disney fans, status is everything, and being a “Legacy Passholder” instead of an “ex-AP” will make them feel better. It would be incredibly savvy for Disneyland to continue this approach with the new membership programs, allowing anyone who maintains continuity between the programs to have some honorary distinction.
It sounds silly, but we know some fans who keep renewing D23 specifically to maintain their “Charter Member” status and others who are proud to be part of the Disney+ “Founders Circle.” Having a status that essentially amounts to being an OG member helps many people “prove” their fandom bona fides. It’s like street cred, but for us Disney dorks.
Additionally, Disneyland encourages fans stay connected with their Annual Passholders Facebook page for future communications and digital content about special opportunities to come, until new membership offerings are announced. That’s also an advisable move if you don’t always receive emails from Disneyland. (Our batting average with that is about .500!)
Disneyland has also announced that pro rata refunds will be issued for those with valid Annual Passports, who are entitled to one. Disney indicates that refunds will be processed as diligently and as quickly as possible, but that has not been the case for Walt Disney World APs despite a similar process.
Confirmation emails will be sent to the email address associated with the Annual Passport once any applicable pro rata refund for such AP has been processed. If the applicable pro rata refund is unable to be returned to the purchasing credit card, a check will be mailed to the billing address provided at the time of sale/renewal of the Passport.
This is undoubtedly going to be disappointing and upsetting news for many Disneyland fans and Californians who have become accustomed to visiting the parks at their leisure. It’s also totally unsurprising and, frankly, necessary. That’s going to be an unpopular opinion amongst a sea of what we predict will be irate reactions, but it’s true.
Before we delve into our analysis as to why this had to happen (something we predicted and touched upon months ago), we’ll offer another, perhaps reassuring prediction: Disneyland Annual Passes are not gone forever–they will return.
Our guess is that Disneyland will bring APs back at some point in 2022. That’s purely speculative and depends upon a ton of unknowns right now. Basically, our expectation is that Annual Passes will be back in some form as soon as Disneyland and DCA can operate at full capacity.
In normal times, Disneyland is dependent upon locals during the off-season–the SoCal resident ticket deal is insufficient on its own. Although Disney has tried to make Disneyland Resort a standalone vacation destination (and moved it in that direction since the debut of Cars Land), it is still reliant upon Californians and not tourists for most of the year. While those same locals cause attendance problems, Disneyland cannot subsist on travelers like Walt Disney World.
For those keeping score at home, we predicted The End of Disneyland as a “Local’s Park” years before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened. Admittedly, that got as much wrong as it did right. While Disney would love for that to be true–and it feels that way during peak travel seasons–it’s still not the case for the vast majority of the calendar, which is why some sort of Annual Passholder program is necessary when back to full capacity.
With that said, for all of the reasons identified in the aforementioned post, it’s likely that significant “reforms” will be instituted with the relaunch of Disneyland’s Annual Passholder program. Having the chance to reboot the entire program in the image of the Disney Flex Pass (which is essentially the framework for the Park Pass reservation system at Walt Disney World) should help address the crowd woes that have arisen at Disneyland in the last several years.
Most of you understandably don’t follow Tokyo Disney Resort Annual Pass news, but what Disneyland is doing now is very similar to what happened in Japan when those parks reopened.
The only difference is that Tokyo Disney Resort did not end its AP program before reopening, instead doing an AP lottery process first that regularly crashed their website and shut out the vast majority of Annual Passholders we know there. That was an unmitigated disaster, so OLC moved to across-the-board cancellations. (We’re still in the process of getting refunds on those APs, but obviously that’s a bit different.)
The AP program had to be temporarily cancelled in Japan because there’s a huge fanbase of Annual Passholders in nearby Tokyo, the most populous city in the world, and only two theme parks to absorb those crowds. In the current era of physical distancing and limited attendance, retaining the AP program was simply not feasible.
That description of Tokyo Disney Resort should sound familiar to Disneyland fans. California’s and Tokyo’s parks have much more in common with one another than Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Like Tokyo, Disneyland has a fervent fanbase of local Annual Passholders in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and only two parks to absorb those guests.
The main difference here is that Disneyland Resort is skipping the “unmitigated disaster” step, learning from Tokyo’s mistakes, and skipping straight to the program cancellation and refunds. It may not be the popular approach, but it’s the correct one.
Suffice to say, maintaining the current Annual Passholder program at Disneyland would not be feasible with physical distancing and limited attendance. Fans are undoubtedly going to be upset about this, but those same people would likewise be mad when they couldn’t book a reservation more than once every other month. It’s literally either a matter of being furious and/or disappointed now or later. There was never a third option.
We know that because Walt Disney World Annual Passholders were livid when they no longer had unlimited access to the parks. People lost it when the Disney Park Pass system debuted and they could only (at first) make 3 reservations over the course of a month (roughly). Things are much better now in Florida, but they’d be much worse in California because there’s a larger and more local AP base. Those problems would exist for as long as physical distancing and attendance caps are in place, leading to many disgruntled fans.
Ultimately, this is obviously not a change we would want to see happen in a perfect world, but nothing about right now screams “ideal circumstances.” We’re glad Disney has realized it’s necessary and unavoidable, and is making the move. It’s better to rip the Band-Aid off now, rather than waiting for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure to reopen, giving fans false hope before seeing it doesn’t work, and trying to process refunds and cancellations then plus a deluge of disgruntled customer complaints, while also dealing with new bookings and actual operations.
Ending the Annual Passholder program now should give Disneyland a few months to deal with cancellations, complaints, refunds, and so forth, and a fresh slate once the parks are ready for operations again. So the silver lining, at least, is that this inevitable bad news at least has good timing. As covered in the last update to our When Will Disneyland Reopen? predictions, we’re still optimistic the parks will reopen before Summer 2021.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with our assessment that Disneyland’s Annual Pass program is not viable in an era of physical distancing and reduced attendance? Or, do you disagree and think Disneyland could’ve found a way to make it work? 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