“When will Walt Disney World Annual Pass sales resume?” is a common reader questions as of Summer 2022…yet again. Many WDW fans are itching to buy passes, especially new Floridians or those who planned on waiting to buy. We’ll share the company’s official position and speculate as to when APs might return. (Updated May 25, 2022.)
As you likely recall, Walt Disney World suspended sales of all Annual Passes during its closure. However, the Annual Pass program at Walt Disney World did not end when the parks reopened nor were outstanding APs terminated. Many APs proactively cancelled their passes and requested refunds. That happened after significant backlash from APs over Walt Disney World continuing to charge Passholders monthly payments despite the parks being closed.
Upon reopening, sales of new Annual Passes were “paused” while renewals were allowed. New purchases for ex-Annual Passholders who cancelled during the closure and children who “aged into” Annual Passes were also allowed. Much of this was done on a case-by-case basis, with the Guest Services ‘Welcome Center’ in Disney Springs having a ton of discretion over sales.
More recently, Walt Disney World resumed Annual Pass sales last fall with new names, higher prices, restrictions, and other details. In so doing, the company dropped the straightforward precious-metal tier names in favor of a nonsensical hierarchy of fictional characters and concepts. Unfortunately, we should not expect the new names to be “undone” when APs return.
Back when the new Annual Passes were announced, Walt Disney World stated: “Please note as we continue to manage attendance to provide a great experience for everyone, at any time, Annual Passes may be unavailable for purchase.”
Right now, sales of Walt Disney World’s three most expensive Annual Passes are all currently paused. This means that the Disney Pirate Pass, Sorcerer Pass, and Incredi-Pass are all unavailable for purchase and have been since shortly before last Thanksgiving.
Only the lowest-level Disney Pixie Dust Pass, which is available exclusively to Florida residents and valid only on weekdays, remains available for new sales as of Summer 2022.
Per Walt Disney World’s Know Before You Go page: “We are pausing new sales of select Annual Passes. All current Passholders can renew into any of our four pass types – at their renewal rate – and continue to visit using their pass. We will continue to evaluate the return of new sales for these passes. Please check back for the latest updates.”
A Walt Disney World spokesperson stated that the decision to suspend Annual Pass sales was made while the company monitors attendance at the theme parks, and AP sales are expected to resume “sometime in 2022.” Of course, the entire year is a rather open-ended “timeframe,” so let’s try to narrow that down a little bit…
By Disney’s own admission, the decision to suspend new AP sales occurred due to anticipated crowds at Walt Disney World during the holiday season. For its part, Walt Disney World was correct in projecting heavy crowds. We won’t rehash all of that, but our crowd reports showed peak season crowds throughout the holiday season. If organic demand were allowed to play out, attendance would’ve been even higher.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gotten much better during the first half of 2022. Wait times from January through April were all up significantly as compared to last year, with Presidents’ Day weekend through Easter seeing peak season crowds. Consequently, February, March, and April ended up being the 3 busiest months in the last 2 years.
Also notable is that May 2022 has not been nearly as crowded and wait times have dropped. Despite this, Disney Park Pass reservations have still been partially or fully booked for the entire month.
It’s already shaping up to be a similar story for June 2022, as you can see from all the yellow in the Disney Park Pass reservation calendar above. That’ll only get worse as those dates draw nearer, and usually June is less busy than July.
Diminished reservation availability has been exacerbated by the fact that Walt Disney World still isn’t operating at 100%. As you’re also undoubtedly aware, a number of stage shows are still dark, atmospheric entertainment still isn’t back, and not every venue in the park (dining, in particular) is fully efficient due to staffing shortages.
During a recent earnings call, the company acknowledged that Walt Disney World is still operating with undisclosed capacity caps in place, not for the sake of safety but due to a lack of staffing and other resources. Suffice to say, the self-imposed limitations on attendance impact Annual Passes, too.
That Genie+ Lightning Lane change lasts all the way until August 7, 2022. This change was made back in February, and encompassed the entirety of spring break and summer from the outset. As soon as that announcement was made, it became our expectation that a lot of the temporary limitations and pauses (like the sale of Annual Passes) weren’t going to change anytime soon.
As we’ve noted before, Annual Passholders are advantageous to Walt Disney World, but not in a constrained capacity environment at the expense of tourists. Statistically speaking, per visit spending is significantly higher among resort guests and day ticket holders than APs.
It thus makes sense that Walt Disney World would want to prioritize those demographics and not fill the parks with Annual Passholders at the expense of more lucrative vacationers during busier seasons.
Walt Disney World leaving the money of Individual Lightning Lanes on the table through August 7, 2022 suggests that they’re expecting big crowds until then, as pent-up demand continues to play out with more domestic and international tourists visiting the parks over the next several months.
In our view, this presents two possible scenarios. The first is that crowds continue to run hot and Annual Pass sales do not resume until mid-August 2022, which typically marks the start of the off-season. We view this as what’s more likely to happen, all things considered.
The second is that Walt Disney World resolves all of its staffing shortcomings or pent-up demand fizzles out sometime this summer, before the off-season. Either one of these scenarios could result in more available bandwidth in park capacity, for lack of a better term.
This isn’t necessarily unlikely, but after a year of writing about staffing shortages and pent-up demand, it’s starting to feel like this is interminable. To be sure, both will end–it’s just a fool’s errand to predict when since I never would’ve expected either to last this long.
For Walt Disney World, the downside of delaying the resumption of Annual Pass sales would be reduced revenue if or when the parks have surplus capacity. The potential upside would be not having to suspend regular ticket sales again during summer when vacation travel heats up.
Again, per visit spending is significantly higher among tourists, so there’s a tremendous opportunity cost in allocating reservations to APs in a fully booked environment.
On the plus side, Walt Disney World continues bringing back entertainment while also filling positions where the parks are short-staffed. Festival of Fantasy Parade and character meet & greets recently returned. Fantasmic and Finding Nemo: the Musical should both come back sometime this summer. All of these things either absorb crowds, or in the case of Fantasmic, redistribute attendance to a time of day (night) when the parks are currently less busy.
Beyond that, as economic conditions continue to normalize–the labor market, household savings, and staffing shortages–there could be less of an issue with reservations being unavailable. Then again, we wrote the same thing last fall, foolishly believing that the Disney Park Pass system would be a formality for all but a handful of peak dates per year.
One wildcard that some Disney fans have speculated is influencing the pause on Annual Pass sales is a Magic Key Passholder lawsuit in the Central District of California. This alleges that Disney misled and deceived pass purchasers by artificially limiting capacity and restricting reservations. The suit contends that Disney has effectively created a second tier of blockout dates by virtue of allocating reservations differently for passholders and regular ticket holders, in order to maximize the number of tickets that Disney can sell.
Disney filed a motion to dismiss on all claims, and was successful on some of them. However, the federal judge found that the “plaintiff has adequately pled facts supporting how a reasonable consumer may be deceived by the advertisement, which states ‘no blockout dates.'”
While that lawsuit pertains specifically to the Disneyland Magic Key Annual Passholder program and California consumer protection laws, the same principles–both legal and policies with regard to blockouts–are relevant to Walt Disney World Annual Passes. In other words, it’s possible that the same fundamental flaws exist in both AP programs and are legally actionable on both coasts. It’s thus possible that Disney has paused Annual Pass sales on both coasts while waiting the resolution of this case.
We highly doubt that. First, Disney has not totally paused AP sales on both coasts–the lowest tiers of passes are still being sold both at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. If the company truly feared a massive class action lawsuit, no passes would be sold at all. Second, Disney could easily avoid future litigation by clearly defining blockout dates and how those function in relation to reservations. Since the passes originally went on sale last fall, additional verbiage has been added to its marketing doing exactly that.
In short, it’s theoretically possible that the Magic Key lawsuit is having some impact on the suspension of AP sales. However, that doesn’t quite pass the smell test given that some passes are still being sold and that Disney has other recourse for avoiding (or at least prevailing upon) future litigation. Unless there’s something we’re missing, it appears that the lawsuit and paused AP sales are unconnected.
The much more straightforward and obvious explanation is that AP sales are suspended due to elevated attendance levels and Disney’s inability to meet demand for regular tickets and the accompanying reservations. As long as the parks aren’t operating at full capacity and there’s unsatisfied demand among higher-spending tourists, this is the simplest and clearest explanation for the lack of Annual Passes.
Given how well passes sold before the pause, Disney might reach the conclusion that APs were underpriced and bring them back with higher price points whenever they do return. Interestingly, the page with AP options still lists prices for the temporarily unavailable ones–if those prices mysteriously disappear, it’s probably because they’re going to be quietly adjusted upwards.
One unfortunate reality reinforced by this is that demand for Walt Disney World is fairly insatiable right now. Attendance, hotel occupancy, and guest spending have not been impeded in the slightest by the range of unpopular decisions, cutbacks, or price increases.
Many fans–us included–keep waiting for some of Walt Disney World’s decisions to come around and “bite them” with consumers. At least in the short term, there are no signs of that happening. Long term is a potentially different story, but with all of this success and strong sales in spite of everything, we may be waiting a while. Then again, things can change in a hurry, and last year was a time of unprecedented consumer spending across the board that seems unsustainable.
In any case, it’s safe to say that Annual Passes will return at some point in 2022, and will not be retired entirely. Walt Disney World APs have never presented the same issues as at Disneyland, for relatively straightforward reasons. Beyond double the parks, there are significantly fewer Annual Passholders at Walt Disney World. And many of them aren’t local, anyway. Disney Vacation Club members and New Yorkers who come down three times per year and book hotels every time are much more valuable to the company than Disneyland locals who drop-in for a few hours and don’t even eat dinner in the park.
With that said, I’d stop short of saying that Walt Disney World “needs” Annual Passholders. They’re an asset at times, helpful in guaranteeing attendance (and revenue) during slow stretches. However, that’s not always the case.
There are times when Annual Passholders can compound tourist-driven crowd problems, like during the popular Christmas season. In the past several years, we’ve seen Walt Disney World introduce more blockouts and raise prices on most Annual Passes–sometimes by hundreds of dollars at a time. There’s a reason for that.
There have been a lot of headlines recently about homebuyers “fleeing to Florida,” but this phenomenon is nothing new. Back when Annual Pass prices increased two years ago in February and the June before that, we mentioned the ongoing population explosion in Central Florida. Even then, several cities in the Orlando metro area were among the fastest growing in the United States. Many of these new Florida residents are (and were) people leaving the Northeast and Midwest.
Our commentary at the time was this: “If new home prices and construction around Walt Disney World are any indication, these transplants are also on the more affluent end of the spectrum. (Behind Magic Kingdom, there’s been a proliferation of subdivisions with no end in sight—most of these have homes starting at over $300,000 and ranging up to $800,000.)”
Those price points now seem quaint (add another couple hundred thousand dollars on), but the sentiment still rings true. And this was long before “Zoom Towns” had entered our collective vernacular. If you’ve seen any of those ‘fleeing to Florida’ stories in the news, you’re undoubtedly aware that this trend has only accelerated in the last two years. In fact, many of you who have been asking when Walt Disney World will resume AP sales are fresh transplants from the Midwest or Northeast.
Ultimately, our prediction is that Walt Disney World quietly resumes at least some Annual Pass sales in mid-August 2022. I realize that’s a pessimistic prediction, but I’ve been burned too many times by overly optimistic ones. It’s possible that Walt Disney World will bring back APs before then, but I wouldn’t bet on it. (To the contrary, if forced to bet on “before August” or “sometime in 2023” for the resumption of AP sales, I’d choose the latter.)
With that said, at some point, things will normalize. All entertainment will return, staffing shortages will be fully resolved, pent-up demand will fizzle out, and consumer spending will fall back to normal levels. All of that could happen abruptly over the summer, leaving Walt Disney World in a pinch, or it could last until 2023. Either way, it does not seem like capacity woes will persist for that long, meaning there shouldn’t be as much of an opportunity cost to Annual Passes by this fall.
Of course, that’s just our guess from the outside looking in. I never would have predicted this happening back when Annual Pass sales resumed last fall, as it seemed the worst of the reservation availability problems were already in the rearview mirror at that point. Then again, it would seem that Walt Disney World also did not predict those problems, as if they did, they wouldn’t have resumed AP sales in the first place!
When do you expect Walt Disney World to resume new Annual Pass sales? Think sometime after August 7, 2022 is a safe bet, or will Walt Disney World be more cautious this time, waiting all the way until January 2023 to ensure there’s ample holiday season capacity for more lucrative tourists? Would you purchase a Walt Disney World AP right now? 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!