“When will Walt Disney World Annual Pass sales resume?” is one of our most common reader questions. Many WDW fans are itching to buy APs, postponing park visits until passes are available again. We’ll share the latest official update from Disney and try to answer based on what we know, attendance limits, California comparisons, and more (Updated August 17, 2021.)
Walt Disney World’s policy on Annual Pass purchases is mostly unchanged since reopening. Renewals are allowed, with some caveats for coast-to-coast and water park APs. There are also new pass purchases for ex-Annual Passholders who cancelled during the closure (not before or after reopening) and children who “aged into” Annual Passes.
Outside of those who qualify for renewal, the Guest Services ‘Welcome Center’ in Disney Springs (pictured above) is now allowing very limited re-purchases of cancelled or expired Annual Passes on a case by case basis. Still no new Annual Pass sales, though.Obviously, that leaves a lot of potential AP buyers still sitting on the sidelines…
Let’s start with the latest update on the Annual Pass saga, as of August 2021. While announcing the new “Magic Key” program for Disneyland, the company teased at the return of Walt Disney World APs.
“And for those wondering about Walt Disney World Annual Passes, new pass sales will become available in time for the start of the 50th anniversary celebration! Walt Disney World Resort will be sharing additional information and details later this month, so be sure to stay tuned.”
Prior to this, Walt Disney World announced that they will no longer be offering complimentary MagicBands to Annual Passholders due to the popularity of the MagicMobile service. (It’s probably actually a cost-savings, but that’s irrelevant to the topic at hand.)
More relevant is that the announcement stated this change would take effect for Annual Pass purchases and renewals made August 16 and beyond. The implication was that Annual Passes will finally be available for purchase again by August 16, or at least around that date. However, as you will note, it’s already after August 16.
It’s our understanding that the announcement of Annual Passes returning has now been delayed due to another tangentially-related release taking precedent. That is expected to be revealed the week that APs otherwise would’ve been highlighted.
We still expect Walt Disney World to announce the return of Annual Passes before the end of August 2021. However, it’s likely there will be a bit of lag between the announcement and sales resuming, so don’t be surprised if you can’t purchase a new Walt Disney World AP until early September 2021.
This timeline should make a lot of sense. As we’ve noted recently, Autumn Off-Season Has Arrived Early at Walt Disney World. For one thing, both Osceola and Orange County–two local school districts that are big drivers of attendance–now back into session the week prior, marking the end of summer.
Additionally, vacation cancellations have been on the rise in recent weeks, driven by Florida’s record case numbers and the reinstated indoor mask rule. It should go without saying, but different people are cancelling trips to Walt Disney World for different reasons.
Beyond that, Walt Disney World is now at the point where it can easily accommodate Annual Passholders, as the calendar is wide open Disney Park Pass calendars. After several weeks in the spring and early summer booking up completely, it’s mostly a sea of green for reservations (aside from October 1, 2021). This is significant, because availability is a necessary prerequisite to bringing back Annual Passes.
As we 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 made 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 what’s expected to be a busy summer.
There have been fears that Walt Disney World will overhaul or eliminate its Annual Passholder program based on what has happened with Disneyland Resort. Our view was and remains that this is very unlikely to happen at Walt Disney World.
This remains our perspective even after Disneyland’s announcement of the “Magic Key” program. The best evidence of this is the fact that Walt Disney World did not suspend or cancel APs. If Walt Disney World had imminent plans to overhaul its AP program, they wouldn’t be allowing renewals or re-purchases of cancelled Annual Passes.
However, it is almost certain that Disney Park Pass reservations will stick around, with varying simultaneous reservation limits for each tier. It’s also possible that passes will be renamed. Prices will almost certainly increase, which should be a given since that happens every year.
With that said, the degree of overhaul that has occurred at Disneyland won’t happen in Florida. This is because Annual Passholders do not cause issues for Walt Disney World like they do in California.
Orange County: West Coast Edition has roughly triple the population of its Sunshine State counterpart. Expand that to adjacent counties and the population disparity is more pronounced: Los Angeles County is home to 10 million people, plus 3 million in San Diego, and over 2 million in both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. None of Central Florida’s other counties are home to over 1 million people.
Even the high crowds during the spring break of Osceola and Orange Counties are less about Annual Passholders and more a confluence of circumstances: it’s also spring break for a lot of other school districts, the 4-day Florida resident ticket is not blocked out, and park capacity is still reduced. School recesses of those school districts alone have never caused serious issues in past years.
The reasons why Walt Disney World APs don’t present the same issues are relatively straightforward. 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 (which actually is true at Disneyland during the winter offseason–and why we think some form of AP program will return by next year there, too). They’re an asset at times, helpful in guaranteeing attendance (and revenue) during slow stretches. However, that’s not always the case.
There are some times when Annual Passholders can compound tourist-driven crowd problems beyond the aforementioned spring break example. 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 last 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.)”
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 year. 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.
The point with that tangent is that it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Walt Disney World used the phased reopening as a soft reset on Annual Passes. Cull the herd of some older Annual Passes that allow less-restricted access and introduce a more dynamic Annual Pass alongside the legacy ones when resuming AP sales.
Basically, what Disneyland did when launching the Disney Flex Pass. We’ve mentioned that a few times now; in case you’re unfamiliar with it, the Flex Pass was Disneyland’s Annual Passport that launched in the lead-up to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and offered both open admission dates (less popular days when no pre-booking was required) and reservation-only days (more popular times to visit, like weekends).
Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro has mentioned how Walt Disney World wants to leverage technology to “choreograph” the guest experience. Something akin to the Disney Flex Pass is the best way to achieve that in terms of attendance management.
Pushing at least some Annual Passholders to such a pass offers the same efficiencies and forecasting of Park Pass reservations without inconveniencing tourists and other APs who opt to purchase a higher tier for totally unlimited access. That’s the easy and proven answer.
With that said, I think the more likely scenario is that Walt Disney World announces the AP program’s return in late August 2021, mostly unchanged as compared to what’s in use right now for renewals, plus a price increase and name changes for the passes. Disney has a lot to juggle right now, and although reinventing legacy elements of the experience are a priority, this one is hardly urgent. There might be bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
While Walt Disney World might have some of Disneyland’s AP problem down the road, that’s unlikely to be the case in the near-term. In other words, Walt Disney World can hold off on a truly comprehensive overhaul, safely kicking the AP can down the road for a few more years if they so desire.
Ultimately, our prediction is that Walt Disney World announces the return of Annual Passes in late August 2021, with passes returning a couple of weeks later, most likely after Labor Day. That’ll put Walt Disney World in the “heart” of the fall off-season, at a point where crowds are at their lowest level of the year.
That’ll help fill the parks and burn off some pent-up demand for a few weeks before Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary begins on October 1, 2021. Of course, there’s always the possibility they’ll push that back, waiting until shortly before the 50th Anniversary begins on October 1, 2021 to restore Annual Passes.
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!
When do you expect Walt Disney World to resume new Annual Pass sales? Surprised it hasn’t already happened, especially with Universal Orlando offering deals to AP buyers? Do you agree or disagree that they’ll go back on sale in early September 2021? Think Walt Disney World will actually follow Disneyland’s lead and overhaul the AP program? Would you purchase a Walt Disney World AP right now? Have you had success (or failure) with the case by case purchase review at Disney Springs Guest Services? 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!