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Disneyland pauses Magic Key annual pass sales as summer crowding begins

Visitors walk in and out of the castle at Disneyland.
Disneyland welcomed visitors back in May 2021 at reduced capacity after months of COVID-related closure. Once the capacity limits were lifted, Disneyland continued to require parkgoers to make reservations before visiting the park.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The Disneyland Resort has paused the sale of all annual passes as the theme park works to control crowding at the start of the busy summer travel season.

The new annual pass system launched in August, dubbed Magic Key, created four annual passes that ranged in price from $399 per year for Southern California residents to $1,399 for the option with no block-out days and the greatest flexibility for making reservations.

But in October and November 2021, the resort paused the sale of the two most expensive passes — the Dream Key and Believe Key — and on Tuesday it stopped the sales of the two least expensive passes — the Enchant and Imagine keys.

“It’s all about managing the guest experience,” Disneyland spokesperson Jaime Clower said.

The resort plans to let current pass holders renew their passes this summer. More details will be released at a later date, she said.

The previous annual pass program was scrapped and replaced last year with passes that are slightly more expensive and require park visitors to make reservations before entering Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Daily ticket holders are also required to make reservations. Under the previous system, pass holders could show up any day, as often as they wanted, as long as their pass was not blocked on that date.

Theme park experts blamed the persistent crowding problem at the Disneyland Resort primarily on annual pass holders, especially local fans, who visited several times a week, often to ride one or two attractions or to have a meal in the parks.

After the parks reopened following a 15-month closure due to the pandemic, the resort operators adopted a reservation system for all park visitors to maintain attendance limits imposed by state health officials. Once the pandemic limits were lifted, the resort kept the reservation requirement to try to reduce overcrowding, congestion and long attraction queues.

Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business professor at Farmingdale State College in New York, said Disneyland seems to be trying to manage the crowding problem that has made trips to Disney parks less enjoyable for some visitors lately.

“Demand is again outstripping capacity, and guest experience suffers when the parks can’t deliver on what’s promised to people who’ve paid,” he said. “This is especially problematic when those who’ve paid to avoid blackout dates find that they can’t get reservations.”

Still, some fans prefer the previous pass system that allowed pass holders to visit without reservations.

“I would like a pass similar to the old system, even if that means paying more for no reservations,” said Lexis Hanssen, an annual pass holder from Bakersfield who visits the park once a month. Under the old system, she could plan a trip to the park with only a few days’ notice, she said. Now, she has to make a reservation several weeks in advance.

The new pass program was the subject of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last year that alleges Walt Disney Co. deceived buyers of the Magic Key passes who thought they would get unlimited access to the park and say that they were instead blocked out in favor of daily-pass buyers.

The lawsuit by Jenale Nielsen of Santa Clara County, who is described as a longtime Disney customer, claims that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts sold her a Dream Key pass for $1,399 with the understanding that no dates would be blocked out for entry to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. Disney officials say the company has made the changes in the program clear and vowed to vigorously defend against the lawsuit.

Disneyland representatives declined to disclose how many passes they have sold or how many visitors they are allowing into the parks on a daily basis. Before Disneyland added its newest expansion — Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — insiders said its capacity was 80,000 visitors. A longtime Walt Disney executive revealed that Disneyland attendance on a “normal” day is 65,000.

California residents can now buy a three-day ticket, starting at $249 per person, for admission on Mondays through Thursdays or $299 for any three days including weekends. The tickets don’t have to be used on consecutive days and can be used at either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. Reservations are required. More details are available at the Disneyland website.


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