OpEd: Bob Chapek is Out to End Annual Passholders’ Free Reign of Disneyland, Disney World

Bob Chapek Annual Passes

Over the past year, The Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Chapek seems to have made it clear through his leadership’s changes to the Theme Parks that he is not a friend of Annual Passholders (APs) at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. His goal seems clear: Put everyone treating The Magic Kingdom like a playground in check.

Bob Chapek Disney Integration

Credit: Disney

In a recent interview with The Hollywood ReporterChapek explained,

“We want to make sure that our superfans who love to come with annual passes and use [the parks] as their personal playground — we love that. We celebrate that. But at the same time, we’ve got to make sure that there’s room in the park for the family from Denver that comes once every five years. We didn’t have a reservation system and we didn’t control the number of annual passes we distributed and frankly, the annual pass as a value was so great that people were literally coming all the time and the accessibility of the park was unlimited to them, and that family from Denver would get to the park and not be let in. That doesn’t seem like a real balanced proposition.”

But that “balance” is not so much to generously give other people who aren’t so fortunate financially or geographically to have their time with the magic. Rather, it is about which Guests are going to spend more during their time on Disney property. I hate to say it, but this perspective makes perfect sense. Annual Passholders arguably spend far less money in the Parks compared to other Guests. After 5-10 visits, all Annual Pass tiers are essentially paid for. Or, in my current case, my monthly payment for the Sorceror’s Pass is less than a one-day Park Hopper Ticket. Passholders did not have to pay for Parking or PhotoPass, they got great discounts, and it was much less expensive to ensure they had no blackout date. The irony here is that this is how Annual Passes make Disney World–and Disneyland–affordable for everyday people, and that affordability is becoming antagonized, not celebrated.

Credit: Disney

Related: Fans Think Disney Has ‘Lost Its Magic’ Per New Poll

I grew up 90 minutes from Walt Disney World, and I can remember the amazing feeling of waking up at 9 am on a Saturday, packing lunch, and driving up to Magic Kingdom for a few hours. We may have spent some money on drinks or something scrumptious at the Ice Cream Parlor or The Confectionary, but a Disney Day was easily conquered for less than $50. I will still try to practice this frugality today when I visit, and I still refuse to pay for Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane access. Sure, there are times when we will stay on property and go all out as a legitimate vacation, but for 90% of the year, Chapek is right: it has become like a personal playground. And, personally, I thought that was the point of it all.

Now, let’s look at this hypothetical family from Denver Chapek highlights in his interview. We can safely assume this family is not Annual Passholders and are not using a Florida address or credentials to score the resident discounts. This family will most likely be staying on property and spending full price on probably 5-day Theme Park Tickets with the Park Hopper option. While everyone has a budget, the binge-spending of vacationers will be in full swing as families take advantage of “magical” options like character dining, Lightning Lane purchases, and souvenirs. To them, Disney World, and Disneyland, are not playgrounds. They are legitimate, top-tier Resort destinations.

Disneyland Magic Key Pass

Disneyland Magic Key Passes include the Enchant Key, Believe Key, Imagine Key, and Dream Key. Credit: Disney

There is no doubt in my mind that Chapek looks on that binge-spending family from Denver much more favorably than loyal, local, financially-mindful families like mine.

Now, in no way do I mean to speak of who he is personally. I have never met the man, and I would like to meet him one day as I have only heard good things about him. This is simply my observation of how a “short-term-numbers-first” corporate professional appears to be directing a company. It appears that Bob Chapek and his leadership see Disney’s APs as a waste of space in the Parks and, after artificially shrinking the Park capacities with his CFO Christine McCarthy, want to find excuses to bottleneck the flow of admittance and prioritize admittance to the Guests who are statistically known to spend the most money. And the company’s recent actions with him as CEO prove this new perspective all the more.

It has been almost three years, and new Annual Passes for Disneyland and Disney World still are not up for sale. Only renewals and the lowest Disney World tier are available, which may make one think that current APs still have favor, but those renewals are more expensive, with fewer perks like Parking and PhotoPass, and more blackout dates! Heck, EVERY Disneyland Magic Key tier is now blacked out of at least the Holiday Season. The idea of APs getting exclusive incentives has also gone out the window as, all of a sudden, Disney+ subscribers can get discounts on hotel stays that are almost as good as the APs’ discounts. It is also reportedly harder for Cast Members–Disney’s everyday Magicmakers–to get into the Parks off-duty to have fun from the Guest’s point of view.

Disney Park Pass Reservations

In the quest for fast, short-term profits, long-term loyalty has lost its value in the eyes of Disney’s leadership. (For crying out loud, they still have not reinstituted the dividend payout for shareholders!)

But, hey, maybe it’s a good thing! Entire generations of so-called “Disney Adults” grew up as the free-reigning APs who have gotten so comfy and entitled that they ruin the fun for the once-in-five-years families. From echoing ride monologues, live streaming, and other immersion-wrecking silliness to refusing to offer the usual parade and fireworks spots for children, there is an attitude change that needs to be adjusted. We need to remember that experiencing the Magic at face value is the goal. We need to share that Magic with others and be mindful of those experiencing the Parks for the first time in a long time. The ugly, yet also beautiful, thing about this country is that, more often than not, there will always be willing to pay the costs, even if we APs won’t anymore.

Disney's Contemporary Resort

Credit: Disney

Regardless of whether or not it is good or bad, it is clear that the “free reign” of Walt Disney World Annual Passholders and Disneyland Resort Magic Key Holders is coming to a close. I just hope things go back to the way they were in time for me to be able to have those same Saturday afternoons in the Parks with my kids in the near future.

Epcot at Night

Credit: Disney

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.

About T.K. Bosacki

Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, TK Bosacki is a professional writer, amateur adventurer, and lifelong Disney Fanatic. His Disney Park days include Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Nomad Lounge. He believes in starting at the Canada pavilion (IYKYK), and the Monorail is superior to all Ferry Boats.

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