Of all the changes we’ve seen at Disney Parks over the past few years, few have caused more controversy than park pass reservations…and all current signs indicate they’re here to stay.
For those unfamiliar, the Parks Pass reservation system was a change introduced by Disney following the long pandemic closures of 2020. In order to control park capacity levels, Disney began requiring reservations for visit one of its parks. Reservations are available in a limited capacity for three “groups” of Guests: Disney Resort Guests, Annual Passholders and All Others.
Park pass reservations have certainly played an important role in helping Disney reopen its parks, but the system has lingered well beyond the lifting of other pandemic measures. In fact, every recent statement from Disney management has hinted that the system is here for the long haul.
Mandatory reservations mark one of the biggest changes to the Disney experience in the company’s history, and the system has certainly earned its fair share of criticism. If we’re stuck with park reservations for the foreseeable future, it’s worth asking an important question…
Is the Disney Parks Pass reservation system entirely a bad thing?
I want to clarify that I’m coming from the perspective of someone who misses a lot from pre-pandemic Disney parks, like the ability to unannounced as a pass holder. Like many readers, I’m not a fan of Genie+ and many of Disney’s sweeping cost-cutting measures. At the same time, I wanted to weigh fairly whether there could be any benefits from the reservation system as long as it remains in place.
What are the real pros and cons of Disney requiring park pass reservations?
1. Inside Out – Crowds can’t get out of hand so easily
If there’s one positive thing to take from the Disney Parks Pass Reservation System, it’s the effect it’s had on crowd management at Walt Disney World.
The original goal of Parks Pass Reservations was to limit capacity to reasonable levels as part of Disney’s pandemic safety measures. Although most of these restrictions have been lifted, attendance limits have remained in place. While these limits are nowhere near as low as they were during the pandemic, the choice to limit park attendance has had a positive effect in preventing extreme peak days.
Prior to park reservations, customers took some risk if they visited during a busy season like spring break or around major holidays. On July 4 and New Years Day in particular, Disney has routinely been forced to limit entry to Magic Kingdom due to skyrocketing demand.
By limiting capacity to even a small extent, Disney has taken a step forward to prevent extreme surge days and limit the sting of ultra-busy seasons. This is certainly a positive point, especially for those who have had no choice but to visit during these tumultuous times of the year.
2. Downside – Walt Disney World always feels quite crowded
While the park’s limited capacity can certainly have some positive effects, that doesn’t necessarily mean Disney is limiting attendance to a comfortable number. Increasingly, customers are noticing that when parks reach reservation capacity, they definitely feel busy.
This makes sense from a business perspective, as Disney’s primary focus has been to restore revenue streams lost during the pandemic. It remains in their interest to get as many people into the parks as their resources allow. That means there are definitely days when the Disney parks feel busy, even with the reservation system in place. This tends to be most noticeable at both the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Unfortunately, as long as demand remains high, it seems likely that Disney will continue to push the limits of attendance, generating the most revenue while still being on the verge of managing guest comfort with certain attendance limits.
3. Upside down – Disney can better allocate resources in the parks
There is no doubt that the Parks Pass reservation system offers a major advantage to Disney: a better allocation of resources.
I know… not the most exciting topic, at least not for the guests.
The benefits for Disney are significant, however.
If Disney knows how many guests are visiting a particular park on a particular day, they can plan staffing, supplies, and other budget factors with an accuracy that simply wasn’t possible in pre-pandemic free-for-all. . Staffing shortages proved to be one of the biggest hurdles Disney struggled to overcome, and the park’s capacity limitation allowed them to balance cast-to-guest ratios much more easily than before.
CEO Bob Chapek and Disney management have been hard at work on this particular perk, trying to sell it as a game changer for the future of Disney parks. The theory is that if Disney can fine-tune its budgets using Parks Pass Reservations, it can manage its revenue streams more efficiently without having to increase ticket prices, which ultimately means savings for customers. While this is great news for Disney as a company, we have to admit we’re skeptical about one thing…