After a long, weird season, things are starting to look up for Disney parks fans. New attractions like TRON Lightcycle/Run are now open, some attractions (like the Indiana Jones Adventure) have finally received a long overdue maintenance, and the company is finally starting to cultivate some vision again for major expansions to its parks.
One question has remained hanging, however: are park reservations finally going away?
The answer is complicated…
It comes as no surprise that Disney has opted to keep their controversial Parks Pass Reservation system for the foreseeable future, even in the midst of the temporary return of Bob Iger. The benefits of the system for Disney as a company are just too significant to ignore. It does seem, however, that Disney has heard guests’ frustrations and is currently working on steps to modify the system. Indeed, it is possible Parks Pass Reservations might actually be going away for some guests.
The question is, should they?
We asked this question back during Bob Chapek’s purview as CEO, and with some of the options Disney is supposedly floating, we need to ask it again: should Disney completely get rid of Parks Pass Reservations, or do they ultimately improve guest experience enough to keep around?
Why do people hate Parks Pass Reservations?
For those unfamiliar, Disney Parks Pass reservations came about in 2020 after the long closure of all Disney parks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The system allowed Disney to carefully control attendance, making it possible for Walt Disney World to safely reopen (eventually followed by other parks).
Declaring an actual “end” to the pandemic has been a slow, foggy business years later. For the most part, Disney has rolled back most pandemic-era policies, except for Parks Pass Reservations.
The company’s usual go-to reason is that they feel keeping Parks Pass Reservations makes for a better park-going experience for guests since they significantly limit park capacity (more on that later). In truth, the reason Disney’s corporate overlords like the system is obvious: by knowing exactly how many people are planning to come to a park on a given day, the company can allocate resources and schedule cast members with a much higher precision than in years past. If they know a park is going to be dead one day, they can purposefully scale back everything from cast member presence to how much food is ordered on a given day.
While this could, theoretically, increase the potential for fans to save money, it's ultimately not a good thing—it's far too easy for Disney to use low reservation numbers as an excuse to thin offerings in any park with low attendance, ultimately diminishing what guests can enjoy on lighter days.
The bigger problem is Parks Pass Reservations continue to crimp one of the biggest perks of visiting Walt Disney World in years past, especially for Passholders: flexibility.
As long as Disney requires reservations to enter their parks, a last-minute or largely unstructured Disney vacation is no longer possible. Yes, there are still light days where a Passholder can pop in last minute, but Parks Pass Reservations affect every component of a guests’ vacation now, from access to virtual queues for E-Ticket attractions to posing frustrating limits on park hopping. Sifting through reservations can also prove an annoying step for families who already have limited time and options for visiting Disney Parks.
Do Parks Pass Reservations actually make Disney parks better?
Despite the fact Disney has no doubt inflated the benefits of Parks Pass Reservations for guests, there is one area where they have made a significant difference: they really have helped lower crowds to some degree.
Is it still possible to catch Disney Parks on a very, very busy day? Absolutely, particularly during holidays and special events like RunDisney marathons. However, Disney has finally put a much-needed upper limit on days where the parks have reached extreme capacity levels--particularly doorbuster days where the parks hit maximum capacity and have to start turning guests away.
Several times a year, usually on the 4th of July and New Year's Day, Walt Disney World used to regularly reach full capacity, particularly at Magic Kingdom. The parks became so packed with people, even moving from one land to another required a test of fortitude. I frequently have warned people over the years that visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth during these extremely busy days is a recipe for a lousy vacation that really no clever strategy can solve.
Parks Pass Reservations at Walt Disney World have at least succeeded in spreading Disney guests out more across the four parks, discouraging those old ultra-busy days. Yes, the parks still get busy, but not to that extreme anymore. The reservation system has also provided a helpful side-benefit as a means to estimate crowd levels well before a trip. While the loss of flexibility is lamentable, this at least is one tangible benefit of Parks Pass Reservations that has made a big difference. It’s such a big difference, in fact, that for some guests, it's enough to keep the system around in some form.
Is it possible, however, for Disney to preserve the benefit of the Parks Pass Reservation system while eliminating some of the hassle? Let's find out...