“When will Walt Disney World Annual Pass sales resume?” is a common reader question. Many WDW fans are itching to purchase 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 April 2, 2023.)
As a quick recap, 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. Upon reopening, sales of new Annual Passes were “paused” while renewals were allowed.
Walt Disney World then resumed Annual Pass sales in September 2021 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. APs were available for about 3 months before sales started being suspended in late November 2021.
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.” It’s now been almost 18 months, and APs are still “temporarily unavailable,” at least for the most part.
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 for well over a year. 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 right now.
Per Walt Disney World: “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.”
By Disney’s own admission, the decision to suspend new AP sales occurred due to anticipated crowds at Walt Disney World during busier times of the year. For its part, Walt Disney World was correct in projecting heavy crowds and suspending AP sales to avoid running out of reservations on more dates. If organic demand were allowed to play out, attendance would’ve been even higher.
Crowds were incredibly heavy during the heart of last year’s holiday season, but have been more mixed since. The first three months of 2023 had highs and lows, with Spring Break arriving in full force a few weeks ago. To that point, the peak dates of Spring Break 2023 Crowds at Walt Disney World are right around the corner this month.
With that in mind, most dates have been green thus far in 2023 on the Disney Park Pass calendar as of right now. The only dates that are partially booked are the weeks bookending Easter. The only other two times that has happened this year were during Presidents’ Day/Mardi Gras week and Orange County’s Spring Break. Most dates are not booking up, which is significant.
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.
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 when travel heats up again. With per visit spending being significantly higher among tourists, there’s a tremendous opportunity cost in allocating reservations to APs in a fully booked environment.
However, Walt Disney World continues to restore capacity by bringing back entertainment, dining options, and also filling positions in the parks that were previously short-staffed. All of this helps increase park capacity, which puts less stress on the reservation system by increasing the supply of Disney Park Passes. All of this plus normalizing demand and less ‘revenge travel’ means there is less of an opportunity cost in Annual Passholders taking up space in the parks.
Allocating capacity and balancing tourists versus locals or frequent visitors is really the whole ballgame. It’s not about lawsuits over the reservations system (Disneyland has resumed AP sales despite that and Walt Disney World still has one Annual Pass available) and it’s not about the perception of scarcity or artificial demand.
On a tangentially related note, the resumption of Magic Key Annual Pass sales at Disneyland could be a potential sneak peek of what Walt Disney World fans will have to endure when AP sales for the Florida parks resume. Back in November when Magic Keys were briefly sold, virtual queue wait times were 10-12 hours.
This January, wait times were shorter–but still measured in the hours on the first day they resumed. Within about a week, some tiers of Magic Keys had already sold out again. The resumption of APs at Disneyland occurred right on the timeline that we previously expected both coasts to resume Annual Pass sales. Frankly, we’re a bit surprised that Walt Disney World didn’t follow suit–but that suggests AP sales aren’t too far away for Walt Disney World.
As intimated above, the straightforward explanation remains that AP sales are suspended due to internal concerns about Disney’s ability to meet demand for regular tickets once Annual Passes are available again. As long as the parks aren’t operating at full capacity and there’s the potential for unsatisfied demand among higher-spending tourists, this is the simplest and clearest explanation for the lack of Annual Passes.
With all of that said, we think there are two possible timeframes for the return of Annual Passes at Walt Disney World. The first is that Annual Pass sales resume on or after April 17, 2023. This is not necessarily the precise date that APs will return to Walt Disney World, it’s simply the earliest date we expect them at this point.
Previously, Walt Disney World resumed AP sales during the off-season, which gave the company a window to test and adjust the program and reservation availability during a window when crowds were low. When AP sales resume again in 2023, it will almost certainly occur during another such off-season window.
As for the significance of April 17, that’s after the height of spring break season and Easter 2023. And…just in time for Tax Day!
This is the next window of lower crowds, which will last following the conclusion of spring break until the start of summer season in mid-June 2023. Not every day or week within that timeframe will be slow–it’s more like ‘shoulder’ season–but it won’t be as bad as Presidents’ Day/Mardi Gras, Easter, Summer, etc.
This is also after the opening of TRON Lightcycle Run and start of EPCOT’s Flower & Garden Festival. In short, the end of April or beginning of May 2023 is the perfect window of opportunity for Walt Disney World to resume AP sales.
Walt Disney World crowds do not increase after April 27. To the contrary, the entire month of May 2023 will be shoulder season; it’s a slower time between the peaks of spring break and summer at Walt Disney World. Selling Annual Passes at the tail end of this discounted ticket deal, or shortly after it concludes would be a smart move–and a way to spike demand during what would otherwise be a relatively laid back month in the parks.
With that said, there are so many other variables at play that could cause Walt Disney World to continue waiting to bring back Annual Passes. Ongoing attendance, guest spending, forward-looking projections, and even the Florida Resident tickets selling well could impact the return date of APs.
If business continues booming even without Annual Passes, the company may decide that it’s advantageous to continue waiting to resume sales. In such a scenario, we view it as unlikely that APs would return in June or July 2023. Instead, Walt Disney World is more likely to wait for the busy summer tourist season to end, restarting sales in mid-August or September 2023. This is simply to say that anyone anxiously awaiting the return of Annual Passes might want to temper their expectations.
One unfortunate reality reinforced in the last 2 years 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, 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 resumes Annual Pass sales at higher price points around late April or early May 2023. Failing that, the next most logical time for resuming AP sales is not until mid-August 2023, but we do not think Walt Disney World will wait that long. These are two prime windows of opportunity in the off-season that are the most likely, as it’s improbable that Walt Disney World will begin Annual Pass sales right before any prime tourist season.
At some point, things will normalize. 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 in the coming months or it could last until mid-2023. For the better part of a year, we’ve been wondering when demand would slow…and it’s only grown stronger during that time.
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, 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 in late April or early May 2023 is a safe bet, or will Walt Disney World be more cautious this time, waiting all the way until Fall 2023 to ensure there’s ample 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!