“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 January 9, 2023.)
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. Upon reopening, sales of new Annual Passes were “paused” while renewals were allowed.
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. Here’s a look at the current tiers and pricing:
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.”
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 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, and have continued that trend one week into 2023. However, there are a couple of positives within that. Although some dates ran out of Disney Park Pass reservations, most did not. To the contrary, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom seldom filled up even during the busiest dates of late 2022 and early 2023.
On an even more positive note, every single date in 2023 is green on the Disney Park Pass calendar as of right now. Some of those will undoubtedly turn yellow, with MLK Day Weekend being the next prime candidate, followed by the week of Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras after that. However, as of right now, nothing is booked up–and that 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 (like right now!). The potential upside would be not having to suspend regular ticket sales again when travel heats up again in 2023. 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.
On the plus side, Walt Disney World continues to restore capacity by bringing back entertainment, more 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.
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 due to diminished demand. In other words, 2023 could be when increased supply collides with decreased demand, all but eliminating the need for reservations or capacity constraints entirely.
Another wildcard that could be 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.
That lawsuit pertains specifically to the Disneyland Magic Key Annual Passholder program and California consumer protection laws. However, the same principles–both legal and policies with regard to blockouts–are relevant to Walt Disney World Annual Passes. (In fact, there is now a similar lawsuit in Florida, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going anywhere.)
This has led to some speculation that Disney is reticent to sell APs on both coasts. It’s possible that the same fundamental flaws exist in both AP programs and are legally actionable at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It’s thus possible that the company has paused Annual Pass sales on both coasts while waiting the resolution of this case to mitigate legal exposure. However, there are a few reasons to believe this is a total a non-factor.
First, Disney has not totally paused AP sales on both coasts. The lowest tier of pass is still being sold at Walt Disney World. Over at Disneyland, Magic Key renewals resumed this off-season, along with minor changes and major price increases. 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. When Disneyland began Magic Key renewals, even more was added to make it abundantly clear that “it may be difficult or not possible” to get park reservations. It thus does not seem like there’s legal exposure going forward with AP sales.
Finally, and most notably, Disneyland briefly resumed Magic Key sales prior to the start of last year’s holiday season. That only lasted a couple of days and involved 10+ hour waits in a virtual queue just to purchase passes, but the point is that it did happen. If the lawsuit were a consideration at this point, AP sales and renewals would almost certainly be entirely suspended.
On a tangentially related note, this could be a potential sneak peek of what Walt Disney World fans will have to endure when AP sales for the Florida parks resume. That actually came as something of a surprise, given that Annual Passes are even more of a “problem” for the California parks, so it’s interesting that they’d resume sales right before Thanksgiving and Christmas. To me, that suggests AP sales aren’t too far away for Walt Disney World.
But the bottom line is that the Magic Key lawsuit is not having any impact on the suspension of AP sales. That just doesn’t 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. If legal exposure were a concern, Disney wouldn’t be selling APs at all. They are, so it’s not. (While we call this litigation a “wildcard” above, the only reason it’s even addressed is because we’ve received so many question about its impact. Given the circumstances since the suit, there’s about a 0.001% chance it’s impacting Disney’s decision to keep AP sales paused at this point.)
The more 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 after January 9, 2023. (This is the earliest date we’ve been predicting AP sales would resume since last September–it’s not conveniently chosen as the same day as our latest update.)
This is not necessarily the precise date that APs will return to Walt Disney World, it’s simply after Marathon weekend and Central Florida schools go back into session following winter break. 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.
The added new wrinkle to the on or after January 9, 2023 prediction is that Walt Disney World has discounted Florida resident tickets that go on sale tomorrow (January 10, 2023). This is a pretty common special offer that’s typically released right around this time of year. However, it could have a couple of implications.
Walt Disney World could want to resume AP sales ahead of that, to give consumers more choice as to whether they purchase regular tickets or APs. This would also relieve the burden of the company having to upgrade partially used Florida resident tickets if Annual Pass sales are planned to resume in the near-term.
Alternatively, Walt Disney World could want to double-dip, capturing both regular multi-day ticket sales and Annual Passes from the same individuals. The idea here could be to put enough distance between the special offer on multi-day tickets and the resumption of AP sales that many Disney-starved Floridians will buy both.
Given Walt Disney World’s recent track record in attempting to squeeze consumers for as much revenue as possible, I’m inclined to lean towards the latter possibility. It’s also possible that this Floridian ticket deal has absolutely no bearing on the resumption of AP sales. That’s probably the most likely scenario of all. But still, I’d expect a decent amount of ‘distance’ between the multi-day ticket deal and resumption of AP sales.
If Annual Passes don’t return by mid-January 2023, the next logical time to bring them back would be after spring break season and Easter 2023. So perhaps Walt Disney World will bring back Annual Passes on April 18, 2023…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.
With that said, there are so many other variables at play. Ongoing attendance, guest spending, forward-looking projections, and even the opening date of TRON Lightcycle Run could impact the return date of APs. 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 mid-January 2023 or late April 2023. These are two prime windows of opportunity in the off-season that are the most likely, as they occur with enough time before the peak of spring break or summer seasons. After that second timeframe, 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.
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 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 in mid-January 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!