New annual passes are finally coming back to Walt Disney's (DIS -3.00%) flagship Florida resort. Disney World announced on Monday morning that it will start selling annual passes again on Sept. 8, in time for the park's 18-month celebration of the resort turning 50 that kicks off in October.
The news itself wasn't a surprise. Disney mentioned four weeks ago -- when it reintroduced annual passes for Disneyland in California -- that it would be providing details later this month on the revised program to resume sales next month. The only real surprise with this week's news is that there aren't a lot of surprises.
It's a small world with a big price point
Disney World's new four-tiered annual pass program falls roughly in line California's offering, even down to the price points. The new Disney World annual passes come with $399, $699, $899, and $1,299 price tags. The two cheapest passes will be available only to Florida residents, with the third-cheapest option accessible only for Floridians as well as members of the Disney Vacation Club timeshare platform. Anyone else wanting year-round access to the parks at a single price point would have to purchase the $1,299 Disney Incredi-Pass.
The difference in prices beyond who can buy them basically boils down to blockout dates and how many future park reservations can be held at a time. The $399 Pixie Dust Pass is only good on weekdays during non-peak and non-holiday periods. Those guests can only have three outstanding park reservations at any given time. The $699 Pirate Pass includes access on most days including weekends during non-peak and non-holiday periods. They can make four advance park reservations.
The $899 Sorcerer Pass offers admission on "most" days like the Pirate Pass. It bumps the number of park reservations to five, and it's the cheapest option for Disney Vacation Club members. The high-end Incredi-Pass also includes five park reservations, but it has no blockout dates and is the only available purchase option for folks who don't live in Florida or belong to Disney's timeshare program.
All four tiers will include free standard parking, something that isn't the case at the resort's largest rival where just half of the four annual pass options at Comcast's Universal Orlando include complimentary parking. In defense of Universal Orlando, the upper tier passes there are much cheaper than comparable Disney passes with a lot of extra perks.
Disney World pass holders will also receive up to 20% in discounts for in-park purchases. It's all surprisingly similar to the pre-pandemic offerings beyond the park reservations system, and that was made possible by a genie.
The method to the mouse-ness
There were fears that Disney would hold off reintroducing annual pass sales with the resort turning 50 in a few weeks. New shows, rides, and experiences would draw visitors to Disney World without having to lean on the reliable flow of locals with annual passes through the 18-month fete.
The introduction of Disney Genie+, despite angering regulars, actually makes the return of annual passes possible. The previously complimentary FastPass+ program offering access to expedited queues died in March of last year when Disney World closed in the wake of the pandemic.
Disney Genie+ will cost all visitors who wish to participate in the program $15 a day to access most of the FastPass lines that will be rebranded as Lightning Lanes. Some of the more popular rides with the longest lines will be featured as premium one-off purchases for Lightning Lane access.
No one likes to pay for something they were getting at no additional cost before, but the celebration was going to be a mess under the old system. Annual pass holders paying between $2 and $4 a day for year-round access to parks with single-day ticket prices in the triple digits wasn't going to play out well. The deluge of one-time visitors for the resort's 50th birthday event and more knowledgeable regulars slamming the same FastPass system was going to be an unpleasant experience for all participants. It would've been easier for Disney to switch to single-day admissions or continuous multi-day admissions during the 18-month celebration to keep crowds in check while optimizing its revenue. Disney Genie+ makes it feasible to keep annual pass holders around even through this expected spike in attention and visibility for the mother of all travel and tourism stocks. If the crowds don't come as planned Disney can always revise its game plan, and now it has the flexibility to pull new levers as needed.