Disneyland Unveils Magic Key Annual Pass Program

Passholders will need to make reservations

Fireworks Above the Disneyland Castle
Fireworks Above the Disneyland Castle.

Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

It's been a tough year for Disney fans: Disneyland enthusiasts had to endure months of not being able to visit the beloved Southern California landmark and its sister park, Disney California Adventure. Then, fans learned in January that Disney cancelled its Annual Passport program. But finally, on Aug. 3, the theme park resort announced that it would be replacing its AP program with a new reservation-based Magic Key pass.

Set to launch on Aug. 25 (the same day that the passes will be made available for sale), Magic Key will be available in four tiers or “keys.” The higher the price that keyholders pay, the fewer blackout dates they will face and the more benefits they will receive. Regardless of the level, however, everyone who enrolls in the annual program will need to make reservations to visit the parks. Keyholders will not be able to enter the parks on the days they wish to visit if no reservations are available.

All keyholders will be able to make reservations up to 90 days in advance and will have limits on the number of reservations they can hold at once. Disney is offering a monthly payment plan that amortizes the costs over 12 months.

The highest-level Dream Key, which will be available for a cool $1,399, has no blackout dates, includes parking, and tosses in discounts of 20 percent on select merchandise and 15 percent on select food purchases. For $949, Believe Key holders would be able to seek reservations 317 days a year with holds placed on high-demand days around holidays and certain weekends. They would also receive 50 percent off parking and 10 percent savings on select merchandise and dining options. Both the Dream and Believe levels will allow holders to maintain up to six park reservations at a time.

At $649, the Enchant Key will scale back the number of available days to 216 days throughout the year. It will eliminate nearly all of June and July and much of April, May, and August, as well as holiday seasons and other days at other times of the year. It also restricts holders to four park reservations at any one time. The lowest-tier Imagine Key, which will cost $399, will be available only to Southern California residents. It will be good for a limited 147 days and blocks out nearly all high-demand days, including weekends. Imagine Key holders will be able to have up to two park reservations at once. No parking discounts are included for the Enchant and Imagine levels; however, 10 percent savings on select merchandise and food are part of both plans.

Additional keyholder perks include special events, exclusive merchandise, and discounts on Disney’s PhotoPass program, making images taken by park photographers available to guests who chronicle their visits. To entice people to join the program, Disney is offering special swag and other benefits along with the passes for the first 66 days that they will be available (in honor of Disneyland’s 66 years of operation).

The reservations requirements are, ahem, a key part of the new pass program. Depending on how many reservations it makes available to keyholders, Disney could use the system to throttle back attendance clogging the parks. In 2019, an estimated 18.7 million people visited Disneyland Park alone. That’s second only to the larger Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida, which is pegged as the park with the highest attendance in the world.

Unlike Disney World, which relies on visitors outside of Florida for most of its business, California residents account for most people making their way down Main Street U.S.A. And an incredible number of them have been passholders. An estimated 1 million people had Annual Passports and were thought to make up a full half of the people visiting the two California parks.

Will fans want to part with hundreds of dollars per year for an annual pass program that not only blocks out certain dates but also adds reservation requirements? That remains to be seen. But based on the number of passes sold, the level of usage by keyholders, customer feedback, and other input, Disney should be able to make adjustments to the program so that participants would remain satisfied.

When it reopened its gates in April, the two Disneyland parks, like most theme parks that reopened this year, instituted an advance reservation program to control attendance and conform to capacity and social distancing restrictions. Most theme parks have since abandoned their reservation requirements, but the Disney parks in California and Florida have maintained them. Perhaps they will require all visitors, not just keyholders, to continue making reservations for some time to come. That could help make the parks less crowded and more enjoyable for visitors–even as it would disappoint those unable to score a reservation.