How do you know Disneyland is way too crowded? When they decide to launch a brand new annual pass tier to deal with the crowds!
Just in case there was any doubt that The Happiest Place on Earth is turning into The Most Crowded Place in the Universe, Disneyland is introducing a new annual passport—designed specifically around the expected attendance surge for Star Wars Land. The pass promises both value and flexibility, but is it worth it?
Disneyland has become more crowded than ever in recent years, and with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s only projected to get even worse. Disney has already taken unprecedented measures to manage the swelling attendance for the new land, including restricting many annual passholders to California Adventure access only on certain days. Still, the park is expected to run into capacity issues going forward. The prices of tickets and annual passes have also steadily increased over the years to seemingly no effect on deterring anyone from visiting. The crowds just keep on coming, and that’s where a new annual pass tier comes into play.
A New Pass in Town
The new Disney Flex Passport, priced at $599, is aimed at better distributing attendance throughout the year. Flex features a new reservation system that’s unique to the pass. Like other passes, it has the normal valid dates and blockout dates, but also includes new “Reservation Required” dates. To visit on these dates, Flex passholders must book a reservation on the Disneyland website or app. You can make reservations 30 days in advance and hold up to two reservations during a 30-day window.
The Flex Pass is essentially a premium version of the popular Southern California Select Passport. Flex shares the same blockout calendar with SoCal Select, so if a date is blocked out on SoCal Select, it’s a “Reservation Required” date on Flex (with the exception of the last weeks of the holiday season in late December and early January). Flex simply gives you the opportunity to visit on SoCal Select blockout dates if you can get a reservation. You also don’t need to be a SoCal resident to purchase Flex.
The AP Effect
Annual passholders make up a significant portion of Disneyland’s attendance, growing in large part due to SoCal Select’s popularity with locals and the monthly payment plan. An unexpected side effect of the AP program’s success is its uncanny ability to turn so-called “peak days” into manageable days. With most passholders blocked out and ticket prices hiked up to “peak” rates on weekends, Saturdays and Sundays at Disneyland can end up being less crowded than the weekdays. On days when all annual passes are valid and ticket prices are lowered to “value” pricing, the parks sometimes attract more crowds. This is a trend we see frequently on the Disneyland Crowd Calendar.
It’s more or less like the classic “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” paradox. The original purpose of AP blockout dates and demand ticket pricing was to prevent the parks from getting overwhelmed on days that are expected to be crowded. Instead, the opposite happens many times throughout the year thanks to a growing number of annual passholders. Park officials hope Flex will more evenly spread crowds across the week as the Disneyland Resort braces for more growth following the Star Wars expansion.
Flex vs. SoCal Select
The SoCal Select Pass is $399, while the new Flex Pass is $599. So here’s the $200 question: is it worth it? Whether or not Flex is worth upgrading to from SoCal Select mostly depends on how frequently and when you plan on visiting Disneyland.
Flex makes it possible to visit Disneyland on weekends throughout the year, including holidays and virtually every Saturday (a luxury even Deluxe passholders don’t have). Perhaps the biggest perk of the Flex Pass over SoCal Select is the opportunity to go during the summer months. All of June, July, and August are blocked out for SoCal Select passholders, but a few summer visits to Disneyland is possible on Flex with reservations.
So if you think having the option of visiting Disneyland a couple more times each month is worth an extra $200, you might want to consider upgrading. Based on current ticket prices, you would only need to visit on a “Reservation Required” date once or twice to break even.
The real value of Flex depends on the availability of reservation days—the more of these dates, the better the value. We’re expecting reservation days to be more easily available initially, but this may change as other passholders decide to upgrade/downgrade to Flex when their passes are up for renewal.
The only big question right now is how difficult it will be to reserve a desired date, as it’s still unclear how quickly reservations will get booked full. As far as we know, Disney hasn’t placed any limit on the number of Flex Passes that can be sold, so if a lot of passholders move to Flex, reservation dates may start to become harder to come by.
Downgrade to Flex?
Downgrading to Flex from higher-tier APs may actually be a no-brainer for some passholders. The Deluxe Pass currently costs a hefty $799, so moving to Flex saves you $200. For many out-of-state passholders who are ineligible for SoCal Select, downgrading to Flex might be an easy choice.
Deluxe passholders have also seen their access to Disneyland become more restricted since park-specific blockouts were released, especially in the summer. Flex will allow them to visit on (almost) all Saturdays, holidays, and every summer month. The big catch, however, is that you need a reservation—and there’s a limit of only 2 reservations per 30-day window. So despite gaining access to more possible dates to go, you may be more limited in the number of days you can actually visit Disneyland or Disney California Adventure with Flex depending on reservation availability.
If you take advantage of reservation dates just twice a month on Flex, Deluxe passholders would be able to visit Disneyland about 7 more days each month. Downgrading might be a tougher sell if you’re a frequent California Adventure goer too, as Deluxe offers an average of 12 more days each month to visit that park. We do suspect, however, that Flex reservations for DCA will be more commonly available than Disneyland, so the disparity may end up being less.
Remember that dates that require a reservation on Flex (and there’s a lot of them) are never a guarantee since they may become unavailable, so keep that in mind if you decide to downgrade passes.
The highest tier annual passes, Signature ($1,149) and Signature Plus ($1,399), may also lose some appeal. Both APs include parking, have virtually no blockout dates (only Signature has a few), and Signature Plus even includes MaxPass. Before the Flex Pass was offered, these pricey passes were the only way to visit Disneyland on any date year-round, including holidays and Saturdays (minus the last weeks of the holidays with Signature). Flex now gives passholders the chance to visit on any 350 out of 365 days of the year at a fraction of the cost—if you can manage to get a reservation of course.
It’s still too early to tell how popular the Flex Pass will be, but it will almost certainly attract both SoCal Select and Deluxe passholders. Even still, we think SoCal Select will remain the most attractive Disneyland AP tier for the foreseeable future simply for its more affordable price.
For the best and worst days to visit Disneyland, be sure to keep an eye on the Disneyland Crowd Calendar. The forecast is updated regularly, so check back often.
What do you think of Disneyland’s new Flex Passport? Are you planning on upgrading or downgrading to Flex? Are you staying with your current pass? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.