A trip to Disneyland might one of the most popular — and hardest to get — items on Disney fans’ wish lists this year. Tickets for the park this holiday season are not as easy come by, as availability remains extremely limited through the end of the year. Disneyland’s new annual passes are also proving to be hot sellers, with two Magic Key tiers now sold out.
Despite high demand, the “Happiest Place on Earth” has seemingly pulled off a Christmas miracle: a park that isn’t unbearably crowded for the holidays. It’s a welcomed gift for many longtime park-goers — but it’s also left some Disney diehards feeling like they got a lump of coal in their stockings.
Disneyland + Holidays = Crowds
Disneyland has always been popular in the months of November and December, historically the park’s busiest time of the year. It’s no exception this season, as attendance has picked up for the annual “Holidays at the Disneyland Resort” festivities. The park has become known for attracting big, and sometimes overwhelming, crowds for the holidays. Disneyland veterans know to stay clear of certain days, like Thanksgiving week, weekends in December, and the weeks around Christmas — typically marked as “Forget About It” days on the Disneyland Crowd Calendar.
Some people learned the hard way though, and the park greeted them with elbow-to-elbow gridlock and endless lines on peak days during the holiday season. Crowds would sometimes get crazy enough to trigger a temporary shutdown, forcing Disneyland to turn away guests due to capacity limits. Many Disney fans are again being turned away this year, but it’s not because the park is bursting at the seams.
This time around, it’s Disney’s new approach to reining in attendance that has effectively locked some fans out of the park for the holidays. That said, attendance at Disneyland continues to remain strong this holiday season. What has changed though is the park’s admission process, now requiring reservations for both ticketed guests and annual passholders. Reservation availability, or lack thereof, has caused a bit of a stir among the Disney faithful.
I'm so over the reservation system for @Disneyland
— SCEE (@SCEE_13) November 21, 2021
The new reservation system often requires guests to plan ahead — way ahead, sometimes months in advance, to secure a visit on a desired date. Reservations for one-day Disneyland tickets are completely sold out for the remainder of the year. Park Hopper ticket reservations are also very scarce, with only four days in December currently showing as available. Things aren’t any better for annual passholders, either.
Members of Disneyland’s new Magic Key program are also feeling the effects of the reservation requirements. So far, Magic Key has been a hit with hardcore Disney fans. Its priciest tier, the Dream Key, sold out just two months after debuting. Despite paying a premium for access to the parks every day of the year (in theory at least), Dream Key holders have been dealing with reservation shortages like the rest of the tiers. Reservations for all key holders remain limited through December, although Disney has been slowly making more dates available.
Magic Key, which replaced the park’s old annual pass program earlier this year, has helped Disneyland solve some of its overcrowding woes. The former passholder program, while wildly popular with locals, had become bloated — too inefficient and dated to handle the never-ending cycle of new attractions and seasonal events that had drawn record-setting attendance in recent years. So Disney hit the reset button, and it’s now a combination of aggressive reservation limits and an abundance of blockout dates that’s keeping the annual pass crowd at bay.
Still, demand for the new passes isn’t showing signs of slowing. Just before Thanksgiving, Disney halted sales of yet another Magic Key tier, the Believe Key, as park officials continue to grapple with increased demand for the holiday season.
Where Are the Crowds?
For a look at what Disneyland may be trying to avoid, look no further than nearby Knott’s Berry Farm. A stop by at the smaller theme park offers a glimpse of what a more lax approach to the holidays looks like. Knott’s doesn’t require reservations and is seeing a surge in attendance thanks, in part, to its own popular (and less expensive) season pass program. The result? Agonizing wait times, as much as 2-3 hours long on weekends.
Back at Disneyland, guests lucky enough to snag a reservation are enjoying a Christmastime rarity: a little bit of elbow room. Yes, the parks are still crowded, but compared to past holiday seasons, it’s markedly more manageable. Wait times for rides and attractions at Disneyland averaged around 30-40 minutes over the week of Thanksgiving, according to the Disneyland Crowd Tracker. That’s a far cry from the 1-2 hour waits the park traditionally sees that week. Crowds have also been steady but not crazy, and certainly not enough to trigger a maximum capacity closing of the park — a holiday tradition at Disneyland that’s now perhaps a thing of the past.
Thanksgiving Week Average Wait Times (in minutes)
Source: Disneyland Crowd Tracker
For Disney, it’s all by design. While unavailability and sell-outs can throw wrench into vacation plans, it’s a tradeoff Disneyland’s willing to take. Reservation limits and a more efficient annual pass program, with sales limits of its own, are helping park officials maximize attendance this holiday season, and beyond. It isn’t exactly a Christmas miracle, but for a place known for long lines this time of the year, it’s close enough.
Are you planning on visiting Disneyland for the holidays? What has your experience been like with the new reservation system? Are the parks less crowded than before? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!