Why Does Disney Really Use Park Reservations?
Company leaders have spoken extensively about the benefits of park reservations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, making big claims about the upside for guest experience, managing crowds, balancing demand and attendance throughout the year. (Updated December 17, 2022.)
Let’s start with an update, as a lot has changed in the month-plus. There are several signs that the Disney Park Pass reservation system is on the way out, or will become more of a formality. The dominos started with the firing of CEO Bob Chapek, who had been a champion of park reservations and praised the system on countless occasions. He was replaced by returning CEO Bob Iger, who immediately started calling Chapek’s theme park strategies into question. Iger also said he was “alarmed” by price increases, layoffs, and more at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Then came a company-wide Cast Member Town Hall, during which Iger was asked about the future of the Disney Park Pass reservation system. Iger said that he has read about it, and that “not all of it positive.” He added that he needs to discuss the system with Josh D’Amaro who runs the parks business and can provide Iger with better perspective about its purpose. Following that, a previously-announced decision to eliminate reservations for 1-day tickets was implemented.
Now, we’re seeing Walt Disney World starting to open up even more reservation availability for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Due to the timing of both holidays, this will almost certainly be the busiest week of the entire year. (Normally, the lead-up to Christmas would also be busy, but with that falling on a Sunday, it’s likely the following week will see the bulk of the crowds.)
In fact, thanks to a reservation refill, every single park is available December 23-30, 2022. The only unavailable park on New Year’s Eve is EPCOT, and prior to that, it’s mostly just Magic Kingdom and occasionally DHS that are booked up.
The added availability is not an indication that attendance will be low that week. It absolutely will not! Rather, it should be construed as a signal that Walt Disney World is pivoting from its approach to redistribute crowds and normalize attendance among all 4 parks. This is something we’ve explained in the past, but here’s a quick refresher…
Walt Disney World is using park reservations to redistribute attendance by limiting availability at Magic Kingdom–and thus pushing people towards Animal Kingdom and EPCOT to increase the utilization of those parks and normalize numbers across all four parks. This is an instance of the infamous “yield management” being discussed by executives on earnings calls and in interviews. There actually are benefits to this approach, including making for a more pleasant guest experience and easing staffing shortages.
As we’ve previously noted, there are major downsides to this approach for Disney. If someone is traveling to Florida and wants their kids to experience Walt Disney World, they probably will not going to be satisfied if only EPCOT or Animal Kingdom are available. Rather than make reservations to those two parks, some guests will choose not to buy tickets at all and simply not visit Disney if they cannot do Magic Kingdom. For many causal visitors, Magic Kingdom is synonymous with Disney; EPCOT and the rest are not a comparable substitute.
All in all, several signs that the downsides are starting to exceed the upsides of the Disney Park Pass system, coupled with its biggest champion being gone. It’s likely the system will be minimized or dismantled in the coming weeks and months. For now, here’s the supposed reason v. reality of Disney Park Pass and why some at the company support the system…
Prior to all of this (and before he was unceremoniously fired), Chapek was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal tech conference and claimed that park reservations “protect the guest experience so that when you get into the park, you can have confidence it’s not going to be overcrowded.” He contended that Walt Disney World and Disneyland want to “guarantee a great guest experience no matter when people come.”
“In a world where we don’t control demand, we’re left with one of two situations. You either let way too many people into the park, where they don’t have a great experience, or you manage it by turning people away at the gate.” He explained that the reservation system was developed to make things predictable for “families from Seattle” that might have previously visited Disneyland on Thanksgiving at 10 am and been turned away without reservations.
He likened park reservations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland to what other hospitality businesses like hotels and airlines do. (For a company that once touted the “Disney Difference,” comparisons to Delta or Marriott miss the mark for us–even though we like both of those businesses.)
He said although the reservation system is “heresy” to some Disney fans, it’s more important to ensure everyone who is able to enter the park has a magical experience and makes memories that last a lifetime. Chapek also said Disney’s demand-based approach is good for investors and for guests. He steadfastly stuck to the script that would sound familiar to anyone who read our recent post, Disney Doesn’t Want Lower Crowds.
There’s a lot to unpack here. One of the salient points of that post about Disney not wanting lower crowds is: you shouldn’t believe everything Disney tells you. We illustrated that by offering a timeline of quotes from company leadership as contrasted to what was actually happening in the parks. We will spare you a rehashing of all that here.
Instead, we’ll simply say that Disney leadership has repeatedly contended the reservation system is ensuring the parks aren’t too crowded and guaranteeing a great guest experience. Anyone who claims the parks aren’t too crowded right now clearly hasn’t seen how things are going this month. Anyone who thinks the guest experience is going great hasn’t visited in the last year. (If Disney wanted to be transparent about this, they’d release guest satisfaction scores from this summer as compared to last summer!)
Although the claim is facially invalid, it likely holds psychological appeal for many in Disney’s core demographic who are most likely to hear the message. The idea of spending thousands of dollars and traveling from across country to Walt Disney World or Disneyland only to be denied at the gate is terrifying. It’s an effective way of preying on emotions, especially the FUD factor.
And at least to some extent, Chapek is right. There were previously a handful of days per year when Magic Kingdom and Disneyland have had capacity closures. This happens in phases, with certain categories of guests blocked from entering the park for periods of time. To the best of my recollection, neither coast has been subject to a capacity closure for on-site guests since 2015. (If one did occur, it lasted less than a few hours.)
By contrast, I have personally overheard multiple guests (presumably of the hotel, although I didn’t butt in to inquire!) at the front desks of the Grand Californian, Contemporary, and Coronado Springs all pleading their case for reservations when the parks have been fully booked. In multiple instances (including the Grand Californian at a time when rack rates were over $1,000/night), there was nothing the Cast Members could do.
If anecdotal reports on social media are indicative of anything, this occurs on a regular basis. Now, the unsympathetic among you might claim that this is their own fault for not doing the research or ignoring the many warnings about theme park reservations being required. That’s neither here nor there.
My point is that–if the concern is families traveling long distances being shut out of the parks–that’s still happening. The park reservation system doesn’t solve this, it just shifts the risk to different parties. Even when it comes to an appeal to emotion, the park reservation system still causes problems for those out-of-state families Disney claims to care about. In short, that’s not the real reason for reservations. So let’s discuss some of the alternative explanations for park reservations…
Some fans have contended that Disney uses park reservations in order to reduce staffing levels. In theory, this would allow Walt Disney World or Disneyland to schedule shifts, hire fewer Cast Members, or cut hours for existing employees.
There’s even some “evidence” in support of this perspective, which comes via parents of College Program participants and Cast Members who have been scheduled for fewer hours per week. That is difficult to rebut or explain away, except by saying that Walt Disney World scheduling has always been scattershot and inexplicable. For everyone saying they can’t get enough shifts, there are a half-dozen other Cast Members who will tell you their departments are short-staffed and they’re being scheduled for 6 days per week.
As a general matter, I do not believe Walt Disney World is using the park reservations system to reduce staffing. I do believe that there are some Cast Members who aren’t getting as many shifts as they want, and I also believe that such a system could be used for the purpose of “right-sizing” staffing levels at some point. It would not surprise me if exactly that happens in 2023 or beyond.
I just don’t think that’s what is happening here, today, in 2022. For a number of positions, Walt Disney World and Disneyland are both facing acute staffing shortages and have been for over a year. (In some cases–like bus drivers and housekeepers–those actually predate March 2020.)
Disney has had terrible issues with employee turnover and morale. A big part of that problem is caused by the staffing shortages putting a strain on other employees. In that sense, it has become something of a vicious cycle. (We’ve heard several readers complain about employee and guest ‘attitudes’ recently; while beyond the scope of this post, we’ll simply say…you don’t even know the half of it.)
If anything, the case could be made that the reservations system is being used to prevent staffing shortages and turnover from worsening. Higher attendance and congestion leads to greater guest frustration, causing more confrontations between consumers and Cast Members, which results in more morale and turnover troubles. Again, vicious cycle.
The theory that Disney is using the reservations system to slash staffing also doesn’t pass the smell test because, quite simply, it’s not something a rational business would do at this moment in time. Although labor costs have unquestionably increased in the last several years, the expense of employees is far lower than the revenue generated from increasing capacity and accommodating more guests.
That’s almost certainly true even when the mix becomes less favorable thanks to more Annual Passholders. Although APs don’t generate additional ticket revenue with each visit, they do spend money on merchandise and food & beverage. This is especially true at EPCOT, which is essentially the local’s park at Walt Disney World. Purposefully reducing staffing would be a good example of stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Think what you will of Disney’s current leadership, but they know better than to do that.
This does not mean every single position is understaffed–that’s definitely not the case–but Disney simply is not currently in a position to be cutting Cast Members in order to reduce costs. In fact, it’s the opposite. There are some positions Disney cannot fill, from characters (do you really think the company wants only one meal at Akershus per day?!) to behind-the-scenes roles.
Walt Disney World not having enough Cast Members for certain key roles is one of the reasons why the company continues to lean on the park reservations systems and limit attendance below pre-closure levels. This is actually something Disney executives have conceded in the past.
During the Walt Disney Company’s first two earnings calls of the year, executives indicated that this is exactly what’s happening. During the first quarter call, when asked about attendance caps, he stated that hospitality staffing has been “difficult” with hotels and restaurants having staffing shortages. Specifically, they said that capacity constraints are self-imposed as a form of “mitigation…because people spend a long time in our parks and resorts.”
In other words, the parks and resorts have limited attendance at least in part due to dining capacity. This isn’t the type of thing executives would proactively bring up on an earnings call–leaving money on the table doesn’t exactly make Disney look good–unless it was a significant headwind. There’s thus every reason to take this statement at face value. (Or just look at woes with Advance Dining Reservation availability, which tell pretty much the same story.)
However, I also do not think this is the primary impetus for the park reservation system at this point.
That statement was made earlier in the year, and it was probably true then when pent-up demand was peaking and there were a lot of ‘grey days’ on the Disney Park Pass calendar. For long periods between Presidents’ Day and Easter, every single park ran out of reservations on a near-daily basis. While that has happened from time to time since then, it’s not occuring with the same consistency.
In the last few months, the only parks that are running out of reservations with regularity are Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. This has been occurring on many days regardless of wait times, with both parks going unavailable on occasion with 5/10 or lower crowd levels.
This suggests to us that Walt Disney World is now using reservations not out of necessity, but to manipulate attendance dynamics on many days. They’re doing this by capping reservations at Magic Kingdom and pushing people towards Animal Kingdom and EPCOT to increase the utilization of those parks and normalize numbers across all four parks. There are a number of benefits to this approach, including making for a more pleasant guest experience, easing burdens on Cast Members, and allocating resources within and across the resort.
Of course, there are downsides and potentially ulterior motives, as well. For example, if EPCOT has higher food & beverage spending–which it almost certainly does–management might have an incentive to funnel guests there. The counter to that is it could backfire–if only EPCOT is available for regular ticket reservations, some guests might choose not to buy tickets at all. It’s a delicate needle to thread. (Consumer behavior is also the ultimate ‘check & balance’ on corporate behavior like this and could prevent this whole approach from being viable once pent-up demand has exhausted itself.)
Multiple executives, including Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro, have implicitly indicated that this is more or less occurring. When discussing the park reservations systems, they routinely mention yield management–or maximizing revenue by anticipating and influencing consumer behavior. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy has also indicated that the company pivoted with the Disney Park Pass system from limiting capacity due to local mandates to using it to “better balance load” attendance. This is something we’ve seen with Disney attempting to manage Lightning Lane inventory, and load balancing is also occurring with park reservations.
Another comment we’ve been hearing from readers is that the parks are busier than ever, which supposedly proves that the Disney Park Pass system is not working. These fans have a point—Walt Disney World posted wait times are high by historical standards. (The “busier than ever” assertion is technically untrue—this year has yet to surpass 2019, but it’s getting closer.)
However, these comments presuppose that the parks would not be even busier without reservations. Frankly, that is a bold—and probably inaccurate—assumption. The fact is that we don’t know what crowds would be like in the current environment if organic demand were allowed to play out unfettered because that’s not the world we inhabit. (Perhaps there’s still a Sacred Timeline out there with free FastPass, Magical Express, EMH, DDP, ETC!)
For one thing, crowds were on pace for a record-setting year through early March 2020. Had the parks not closed and attendance continued on the trajectory it was on, it would’ve absolutely blown 2019 out of the water. (Annual Passholders likely would’ve been subject to reservations at some point prior to this year, regardless—they had already debuted at Disneyland.)
As we’ve pointed out elsewhere, Walt Disney World’s annual attendance has consistently grown since the Great Recession. Anyone comparing today’s crowds to 2018 or earlier is making a fundamental mistake and ignoring the clear trend lines. (There are a number of reasons why the 2020s were likely to be busier than the 2010s–from demographics to expansion to the 50th to social media–all of which are beyond the scope of this post.)
For another thing, pent-up demand has very much been “a thing” the last year-plus. You don’t need us to rehash this, as it’s been discussed ad nauseam. It’s also been evident at tourist hotspots all around the country. A multitude of vacation destinations have introduced reservations, time entry, or lotto—ones that had no such issue with crowding pre-pandemic.
We also don’t need to fixate how capacity is impacted by the aforementioned staffing shortages, missing entertainment, shorter park hours, increased attraction downtime, and more. Suffice to say, all of this has increased congestion and perceived crowds. That means that a given daily attendance number has a much higher “feels like” crowd level than the exact same attendance total would’ve in 2019.
The easy and “popular” conclusion here would be that dealing with Disney Park Pass reservations sucks (it does!), exacerbating crowds while providing no upside for guests and only being beneficial to the beancounters. That the real reason is corporate greed and nothing more. There would be no way to definitively debunk such an assertion—and it’d clearly be a “crowd pleaser” with fans who want to feel vindicated in their anger and outrage.
Unfortunately (?), that is not our conclusion. We strongly dislike dealing with reservations and think it’s another point of friction in an already over-complicated process. We also think current management has gotten greedy and we worry that they’re doing irreparable brand damage. But the reservation system likely does have upside for guests. If left unchecked, crowds would likely be significantly worse much of the year, strain on Cast Members would be worse, and overall tensions would be higher.
Just because crowds feel unprecedentedly bad now does not mean they couldn’t be worse. (If you’ve learned anything from Disney’s dubious decisions over the last two years, it should be that things can always get worse!) It’s also likely that Disney leadership does have ulterior motives for reservations down the road, with yield management and load balancing being ways to maximize revenue while minimizing resources. Two things can be true at the same time: the reservations system can have ‘invisible’ upside for guests and visible downsides, both near and long-term.
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!
What do you think about the purported purpose of park reservations to “protect the guest experience” from overcrowding and “guarantee a great guest experience no matter when people come”? Do you think Disney is being dishonest about the true motivations for reservations? Think he’s oblivious to how things are on-the-ground for average guests at Walt Disney World and Disneyland? Agree or disagree with our take that crowds could be worse without Park Pass? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed? 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!
“Chapek also said Disney’s demand-based approach is good for investors and for guests”
This is a little winded, so please bare with me……..
That line right there says it all?… I work for Ford Motor Company. Years ago we had Jac Nasser as CEO. He made a similar comment in an article once about the state of our company. In it he stated that his and the companies main goal was the shareholders, customers, and employees, in that order. To someone working on the production line, it showed how out of touch he was with the business and the real world. I learned in a business class I took that if you take care of your employees then you will have taken care of your customers. If you have taken care of your customers then you will have taken care of your shareholders. What this all meant is, happy employees will do a better job and quality of work. This will then make customers happy with the quality of product they get. Then if you have happy customers they will buy or spend more for your product and that will produce a very happy shareholder.
Why Chapek was retained will never be known to us the consumer. But we all can agree it was a mistake. But it does not fall all on him. There are other members of the upper management team that has tarnish the idea of a man whose name is on the company they work for and represent. The old saying of a person “rolling over in their grave” is true here. No disrespect intended, but Poor ol’ Walt is spinning so fast he could power the park if he was hooked up to a generator.
But as with any business that gouges their customers and don’t care about them nothing
will change. As long as people keep spending money with them they will keep taking it and give you very little in return. It shows in the automotive, appliance, lumber, etc. We as a country need to put our foot down. Unfortunately, a lot of these things weneed and have to give the corporate greed monsters our money…….
If the reservation system is supposed to help with Crowd Management, how does that work considering that you don’t have to make a reservation to Hop after 2:00 PM? Also … if you don’t go to ANY park until after 2:00 PM, why do you have to Check-In at your reserved park first?
Clarification: I mean that you can Hop to ANY park you want after 2:00 – so they have no idea how many people might be in each park after 2:00 PM.
The reservation system serves two purposes: to balance out crowd levels among the parks, and to allow the operations team to plan to have enough staff available on each day to actually operate the park.
Park hopper tickets are popular, and if you purchase 5+ day tickets, not that more expensive. If a guest with a park hopper ticket could bypass the reservation system it would make the reservation system much less accurate. With no limits on usage anyone could see that Magic Kingdom had run out of reservations and then just buy a park hooper with a reservation for Animal Kingdom and just show up at the Magic Kingdom anyway. That would falsely lead Disney management to overstaff Animal Kingdom and understaff the Magic Kingdom, and with thousands of guests doing the same thing, cause the Magic Kingdom to be inordinately crowded.
The 2PM starting limit and check-in requirements at the reservation park insure that people can still use their park hoppers, but at the same time not induce a lot of volatility into the individual park attendance numbers. I’m sure Disney knows, for example, what percentage of guests on any given day purchase park hopper tickets, and thus can factor in a likely migration pattern.
I’ve felt for a while – since the implementation of fast pass plus, that planning for WDW requires a degree in applied mathematics. You’ve got to plan everything down to the minute.
The reservation system, I’m sure, has multiple reasons behind it. Disney maximizing profit and guest satisfaction will sometimes be complimentary objectives and other times maybe not so much. But as an AP holder I know I can’t just pop down on an evening to enjoy a meal or the ambience. So Disney is losing money on me for sure. And because of the reservation system we dropped down levels of passes. So then double loss.
Epcot needs double the rides
My conclusion is that Disney, like many organisations, exploited the pandemic to do things they always wanted to do, but which would have been extremely unpopular if done all at once without an excuse.
I simply do not believe WDW would have introduced park reservations, or ‘Paid FP’, overnight without an external impetus giving a good excuse to suspend the former systems — no matter how unfavourably the guest attendance mix changed. Doing so would have got them Headlines! National coverage!
If it were purely due to changing demographics, I would expect Disneyland to be impacted first in both respects, since they were further along the road in terms of trying to even out attendance (eg Flex Pass). But it wasn’t; the changes happened in a coordinated way.
I suspect their pre-pandemic strategy was inching toward the goals to avoid negative publicity (something Disney is incredibly adept at; eg alcohol in Magic Kingdom, year-round Epcot dining booths), and by now we would be in a half way phase; probably with MaxPass in both resorts and further preferential treatment compared to the legacy free system, and also reservations needed for the lowest ticket types and all A/P tiers.
Ironically, I preferred Disneyland’s Max Pass system. You had to be in the park to start which meant you could alter your plans. FP+ combined with dining reservations made it impossible to deviate significantly from your plans without giving up your decent FPS.
“So don’t screw this up!” Appreciate the Spiderman ride reference.
We hate the park reservation system. If anyone believes that this enhances the guest experience, I have a bridge I would love to sell them. LOL! We bought the highest tier pass so that we wouldn’t have blockout days. If the park we want isn’t available, we now just go to Universal and SeaWorld. Due to my husband’s physical limitations, park hopping is not an option for us. SeaWorld and Universal are more than happy to have our business, and frequently thank us for being passholders at their parks. We no longer take friends and family to Disney when they visit from out of town. It’s too much of a hassle. We were willing to cut Disney some slack for a while because of COVID, but we are running out of patience.
I’m with you here. What is the point of buying the highest tier pass if you’re de facto blocked out by the reservation system.
Great article! I always enjoy reading your take on the Disney parks and leadership. We just returned from a 6 night stay at WDW. I’m ok with the park pass reservation system even if the reasoning is not always clear to us. I think Chapek is telling a half truth. I did notice on our MK day, the “feel like” crowd was lower than pre Covid to me. My biggest complaint is the 2pm park hopping restriction. We are paying extra $ to hop but have to wait until 2pm. Sometimes I only want to hit 1-2 attractions in a park and then hop somewhere else. I don’t like paying extra for a service with unnecessary restrictions. Maybe this will change eventually. I just hope Disney makes the right decisions to uphold its reputation instead of going down a path of corporate greed.
(If Disney wanted to be transparent about this, they’d release guest satisfaction scores from this summer as compared to last summer!) I do think if there were a guest satisfaction survey being circulated now, it would be sky high in Negatives. I just recently visited MK & Epcot & for me, MK did seem overcrowded to the point where it was hard to move around but that’s the beauty of hopping to another Park, it’s honestly that simple. I too agree with BR16, this is the new Disney folks, you have to plan, prepare and read the fine print posted everywhere on a variety of websites. Theme Park reservations have been here for over a year, almost 2 now.
You want an enjoyable experience? You want to visit X amount of days to MK, HS, AK, Epcot or whatever the case may be?We’ll friends, Disney is just not the same and as unfortunate as it may sound, you have to “Roll” with it. Tom has posted time and time again a menagerie of tested strategies, favored tips & tricks to help you and your family enjoy your visit to Disney. The Disney you knew is no more. You can gripe about it or adapt to the changes and come prepared. If you’re spending thousands of dollars to visit then for goodness sake Plan & Prepare. The tools are on this website! Tom did all the work. All you need to do is read it!
Tom also said that Disney will not pay attention until they feel it in the wallet. We complain to be heard not by Disney but by Disney fans. Until we start going to other parks instead of Disney, stop buying Genie or Lightning Lanes and spending less money on Disney in general, Chapek is not listening.
Disney all about your pocket and chapel salary the more people spend at Disney his pocket getting bigger Walt would be all upset if he was still around. Disney is no lo get magical.
Having park reservations also forces some people to buy a park hopper. We were on the monorail once with a solo guy who told us he was in town for a business trip and was planning on meeting a friend for a day at MK. We were hopping to MK from Epcot. His friend was unable to join him, but he already had his ticket purchased and didn’t realize about the reservation system. This was around Christmas so MK was “full”. He was told to add on park hopper and start at Epcot then hop to MK which he did. His story made me wonder how many other causal visitors have been in the same situation and how much extra money has been made from this scheme.
You CAN have a good time at WDW if you follow Tom’s advice.
So many negative Nancy’s here.
We just got back from a 9 day dream vacation. I planned for 5 years! I was what I’d consider a raving fan. The magic is gone. I have no plans to return. I didn’t have any bad experiences with CMs, I couldn’t find one. The park was dirty and packed to the max. Unless you wanted to spend an additional $100 a day for Genie+ and Lightening Lanes, you waited on endless lines. I spent $100s on Uber and Lyft. I felt like a rube at a carnival. And then we all got very sick. Nope. All done. Thanks for listening, I’m heart broken.
I’m so sorry you had a disappointing trip that should have been magical.
We had to scramble to reschedule days after Hurricane Ian and the park reservation system added a lot of stress as at different points of time DHS and MK were unavailable on the days we wanted. Persistently checking the reservations paid off and we got the days we wanted
I go on vacation to have a relaxed, fun experience. Not to spend the whole time being stressed and trying to elbow other vacationers out of my way. Its like walking through a crowded NYC event and hoping you reach your destination. Not interested in spending time on my phone all day, nor paying extra for what should be a fair and even opportunity to get on a ride. ( I guess their target client guests now are the super wealthy). .If this is what they intend to do permanently I wont be back. I used to stay in their top tier Disney hotels, buy the park hopper passes, have paid big bucks for some of the insider tours. Stayed on average 10-14 days each trip. Dropped thousands on each trip. I guess they no longer want my business. I can think of many less stressful vacations in which to spend my money. If some people wish to PAY to be treated like lemmings ( thank you sir ,can I have another??) I guess they are free to do so.
LJ you are so right. I hate that they force you to use your phone for mobile ordering, checking show times and how long the lines are.
“Two things can be true at the same time: the reservations system can have ‘invisible’ upside for guests and visible downsides, both near and long-term.“
Tom, I love your article and conclusion. I’ve been a reader since you started the blog and always appreciate the thought and detail that goes into your work. I like how many of your varied articles address the logistics and psychology of the big machine that any Disney Park essentially is. I find it fascinating! We’ve been WDW regulars since 2009 and while there have been changes, that could be seen as both good or bad depending on one’s perspective, one thing that hasn’t changed is that our family still has quality time together and lots of fun.
A little bit off topic…or maybe not
We are also struggling with Park Reservations here at Disneyland Paris. But, in this case, we only have 2 parks (or, to be honest 1.5 parks).And, in any case, you book for both of them, so there is no point in sharing people between parks. In my view, here it is just a question of making things more difficult to pass holders, as you can reserve only 3 days in a row, so they can get more ticket paid visitors and reduce length of AP visits. As a consequence, I did not renew my AP that we had from 2015
The park reservation system exists to allow AP to enter the park when attendance is slow and to keep them out when they have enough hotel guests. The proof is that hotel guests are guaranteed a reservation while AP’s are not. That is why Cheapek referred to an unfavorable mix of guest. They want to have guest who have a $1000 hotel room and buy food and merchandise instead of locals who show up every day and spend very little.
False. Hotel guests are not guaranteed a rez.
Bottom line is that Disney is overcrowded because they sell too many tickets for the capacity. They do not care about customer experience. Its too expensive and complicated. I do NOT want to “research his to attend an amusement lark, plan my meals a year in advance , or e told when i can see any particular part of the park which i have PAID to visit. Used to be my favorite place in the world. . I have no plans to return. Brokenhearted.
I haven’t read all of the comments, but I will give my two cents… The parks generally are very crowded all the time. I’m against the reservation system. I say if you are the early bird – you get the worm! I’ve been when parks reached capacity. Got there early so I’d ensure my family and I would get in. Recently went to Disneyland with a group of 22. Called to see about Group Tickets – wasn’t an option for us. So they said – just order online 10 at a time. I expressed my worry with a park filling up before I purchased all. “Oh don’t worry, it won’t be a problem” Well it was! Couldn’t get the last 2 as park hoppers! So I call back and explain… their response was sorry, nothing we can do UNLESS we were staying at a DL hotel. They can get you one there. Well of course a group of 22 isn’t staying at DL! I said – so there is a way, but you can’t do it for us. Sorry, you could if you were staying at the hotel. And I said even if we were, it would be the day before we would be going into the park… So I’m sure I’d definitely not get it anyway. “Oh, no you for sure would.” Well, I went to a ticket window the night before and got it changed even when you couldn’t get that reservation online. So I think it just depends on who you get helping you. It’s dumb! If they can get more money – they are gonna take it!!
Another interesting article, lots of insightful posts this week.
The park reservations don’t impact me now that we are once-a-year vacationers. We buy/link the tickets and pick the parks ASAP. With a 2-3 day trip, it’s not very high stakes. I imagine the reservation system is more annoying for AP holders, since there would otherwise be zero friction in heading to the parks.
Park reservations only interest me insofar as they set up the restrictive 2pm park hopper rules. But, channeling a post from earlier this week, these restrictions are a feature to Disney, not a temporary bug.
Really appreciate the mix of analysis and park hacks this week, thank you.
I agree with your point about the short trips. We didn’t have any issues with park reservations when visiting for a couple days, but on our 7 day trip, we found not being able to hop for lunch (hello EPCOT) or change our plans if we missed something was definitely a negative dynamic.
Disney travel has always been complicated but it’s through the roof now. Messing with park passes, dining reservations, genie (7 am rule, 120 minute rule, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, you have to remember to check or you’re hosed…). Honestly it’s just not fun anymore. Dealing with the crowds and everything else. Not to mention the cost being through the roof. Our last trip was in September, dealing with all the reservation systems, cost, etc it just wasn’t worth it. I think we’re done for a few years until something changes…
I suspect limiting reservations at MK and HS may also push a higher proportion of guests to purchase park hopper tickets so that they can head to those parks at 2pm or later instead of being blocked altogether.
“Now, the unsympathetic among you might claim that this is their own fault for not doing the research or ignoring the many warnings about theme park reservations being required. That’s neither here nor there.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t muster up much if any sympathy for people like this. If you are planning a major family trip and can’t be bothered to do the most basic of research or ignore the ten trillion places on the website that tell you to make a Park Pass reservation when purchasing park tickets, that is on you.
I don’t love park pass, and I don’t love having to pay for lightening lanes. That said, I really think some of the guest complaints can be ameliorated by better planning on the guest’s part! I spent a few minutes reading about how genie + and lightening lane worked before my last trip, so I wasn’t flustered by it at 7 am and could grab the lightening lanes I wanted. It’s made perfectly clear on the website that Park Pass reservations are required. If you are spending thousands of dollars for a trip, the least you can do is pay attention to the website and do a little planning.
See the last sentence of the quoted paragraph for my response. 😉
Well said Br16! It gets old reading the near-childish tantrum responses from many on this site.
Get over yourselves and get up at 7AM — it makes a difference! Park reservations are required — just do it! Spend a few minutes with the many strategies Tom and his readers identify, because it makes a WDW trip manageable and pleasant! At this point in time, just “winging it” at WDW is not going to be a good experience — so don’t expect otherwise!
Sorry to appear negative, but the right approach at this point in time is to PLAN your trip with research and understanding like Br16 noted. It does not matter that you went to WDW over the past X years and the experience today is so different — it is what it is. Magical experiences don’t exist, so please stop expecting them!
Understand the new WDW realities and crowd trends/times. Understand that YOU need to plan a trip and map out a strategy that works for you/your family/group. Don’t expect the experience to match the past X times you went to WDW because it won’t. Do what Tom and Br16 have identified, and you too can have a manageable and enjoyable experience! Really!
I agree to some extent but I disagree for other reasons. If you’re planning a huge family trip and could possibly be a once in a lifetime event, then yes I think anyone in their right mind would look into it. And maybe you wouldn’t go searching through this blog or another blog to learn about the 120 minute rule or what entrance to use at Epcot. But, you would definitely go to the official Disney website where there are so many disclaimers that you’d have to be illiterate to not read even one of them and figure out you need a park reservation and you need to decided if you’d like Genie plus. They specifically ask you when you’re checking out if you’d like to add Genie plus to your reservation. I think anyone would ask the question of what is Genie plus. Although that’s all going to change if they no longer offer Genie plus as a service you purchase when you purchase your tickets and you have to purchase the day of. I think more people are going to miss out because they won’t have the time to really check when Genie is.
What I don’t agree with is the idea that non-disney fanatics are going to know that they need to wake up at 7am to get the best bang for their buck. I certainly wouldn’t think of that and they don’t tell you that kind of information on the official website. Also, as a parent of a small child, getting up and out before 9am is incredibly difficult to do and I only have one child. I cannot imagine the amount of stress a caregiver would have if they had a group of many. So that doesn’t flow for me. You have to give people a bit of grace and Disney doesn’t. The expectation put on parents in what’s supposed to be a easy all expenses paid trip is astronomical and would leave even the most prepared parent feel like they need a week long vacation after their disney vacation.