Walt Disney World has announced that new sales of Annual Passes will soon resume! This post covers AP pricing, dates, details, past precedent, and everything else you might want to know.
As a quick recap, Walt Disney World suspended sales of all new Annual Passes during its closure, and for over a full year after reopening. Finally, Walt Disney World resumed AP sales in September 2021 with new names, higher prices, restrictions, and other details. In so doing, the company dropped the straightforward precious-metal tier names in favor of a nonsensical hierarchy of fictional characters and concepts.
Annual Passes were available for about 3 months before sales started being suspended in late November 2021, which occurred simultaneous with park reservations filling up and the suspension of single and multi-day tickets around Thanksgiving and Christmas. The key difference then was that Walt Disney World was still in a capacity-constrained environment and pent-up demand was running hot.
Back when the new Annual Passes were announced, Walt Disney World stated: “Please note as we continue to manage attendance to provide a great experience for everyone, at any time, Annual Passes may be unavailable for purchase.” It’s now been almost 18 months, and APs are still “temporarily unavailable,” at least for the most part.
Sales of Walt Disney World’s three most expensive Annual Passes are all currently paused. This means that the Disney Pirate Pass, Sorcerer Pass, and Incredi-Pass are all unavailable for purchase and have been for well over a year. Only the lowest-level Disney Pixie Dust Pass, which is available exclusively to Florida residents and valid only on weekdays, remains available for new sales as of right now.
Fast-forward to Spring 2023, and Walt Disney World has announced that new sales of the Disney Incredi-Pass, Disney Sorcerer Pass and Disney Pirate Pass will resume and can be purchased online beginning on April 20, 2023! Disney warns that as the company attempts “to provide a great experience for our Passholders, the quantity of passes will be limited and passes, or a pass type, may become unavailable for purchase at any time.”
This is basically the same caveat as was offered back in September 2021, meaning essentially that Annual Passes can and will sell out.
Eligible Disney Vacation Club Members will have the opportunity to purchase the DVC Disney Sorcerer Pass online beginning April 13, 2023 as part of your Membership Magic benefits.
To purchase the Disney Sorcerer Pass, Disney Vacation Club Members must be eligible for Membership Extras. To be eligible for Membership Extra, you must be a “blue card” Disney Vacation Club member, meaning that you purchased directly from Disney or bought before the resale restrictions were implemented back in April 2016. If you have a member card, you’re good.
Current WDW Annual Passholders may choose to renew into any available AP type during their renewal window (60 days before and 30 days after expiration) with a special renewal benefit.
Beginning April 20, 2023, existing Walt Disney World Annual Passholders will also have the option to upgrade their Annual Pass into any available pass type outside of their renewal window on the DisneyWorld.com website or via the My Disney Experience app. The difference in price must be paid in full at the time of the upgrade and the new pass will have the same expiration date as the original pass.
According to Disney, it’s an incredible time to be a part of the Walt Disney World Annual Passholder program as the company has taken the feedback we received from Annual Passholders and are making exciting changes. Passholders now receive access to select Disney PhotoPass benefits.
Beginning April 18, Annual Passholders can visit the theme parks after 2 p.m. without needing a park reservation, except on Saturdays and Sundays at Magic Kingdom. Pass blockout dates continue to apply. Disney also recommends those who are planning on visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios any time soon, to try out the new Disney PhotoPass Muppet*Vision 3D Lens – it’s a lot of fun! (Seriously, that’s in the press release–it’s not pro-Muppet propaganda I’ve added. I didn’t even realize this MuppetVision lens was added. Distinctly unpatriotic of me.)
These updates will help Annual Passholders enjoy some of the newest Walt Disney World experiences. This includes the return of the “Happily Ever After” nighttime spectacular at Magic Kingdom, the world’s first Toy Story-themed table-service restaurant Roundup Rodeo BBQ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened just a few weeks ago, and Animal Kingdom’s 25th Anniversary later this month!
Much more is also on the horizon for EPCOT. Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana is coming later this year, as is the start of the Disney100 Celebration, an all-new nighttime spectacular over World Showcase Lagoon, and the filling-in of the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit. (Perhaps that last one will be an ‘interactive activation,’ but only if you bring your own shovel!)
With the sale details out of the way, let’s take a look at pricing and compare the various tiers of Walt Disney World Annual Passes:
The biggest distinction among the various tiers of Annual Passes, aside from who is eligible (or not) to purchase each of them, is the blockout calendar.
You should definitely consult the official Walt Disney World AP blockout calendar before making your purchase, as the most popular dates to visit are all excluded from even being eligible to make reservations for the lower tiers of APs. Be sure to toggle the pass type to see excluded dates for each.
We would strongly recommend anyone who is on the fence about purchasing an Annual Pass to make the decision between now and April 20, 2023. Given how long sales have been paused and the amount of pent-up demand for APs among locals, you should absolutely join the virtual queue ASAP on day one of sales resuming if you have been shut out in the past.
How long WDW AP sales will remain up is anyone’s guess and we refuse to make predictions. I have some thoughts in my head, but I won’t be committing those to writing because I was wrong about demand for Magic Keys at Disneyland last holiday season, overestimating just how long they’d remain available there.
To that point and for reference, AP sales at Disneyland resumed prior to last Thanksgiving and there was an 8-12 hour virtual queue for the entire first day, with passes selling out in under 2 days. Some fans were shut out again because they couldn’t get through the virtual queue or opted to wait until it died down. A miscalculation that deprived them of visits during the best time of year at Disneyland.
Disneyland once again resumed Magic Key AP sales this January, and the virtual queue once again had a lengthy wait on the first day, but passes remained available much longer. The virtual queue died down after a few days, and it took over a week for some Magic Keys to start selling out again.
With that past precedent in mind, you should be prepared to encounter a multi-hour virtual queue if you try to buy a Walt Disney World Annual Pass on April 20, 2023. You might wait ~15 minutes if you instead opt to purchase on April 21 at 5 am. The downside of waiting until then is that sales may have already concluded. Proceed at your own peril.
As for what time Walt Disney World APs will go on sale on April 20, that’s anyone’s guess as of right now. When Disneyland resumed Magic Key sales, they announced in advance that pass sales would resume “no earlier than [time].” In actuality, the virtual queue page opened ~10-15 minutes later, and almost immediately jumped to several hours.
That’s typically a Disneyland thing, with Walt Disney World’s standard approach being to start sales super early in the morning–between 4 am and 7 am, depending on the offering and anticipated demand. It’s a good way of reducing strain on the system by starting sales when fewer people are awake.
My guess as of right now is that Walt Disney World will opt for its normal approach–but perhaps not, as this is relatively unprecedented. I’d advise checking back on April 19 to see if a specific time has been set, and if not, be prepared to be awake at the crack of dawn. Typically, those virtual queue waits are shortest the earlier you’re up; you might wait in line 15 minutes at 6 am, whereas someone trying to buy at 10 am could wait 3 hours.
All of these recommendations apply even to those who don’t plan on visiting Walt Disney World until later this summer or whenever. The clock starts ticking on your Annual Pass when you activate or use it for the first time, not when you purchase it.
This means that if you purchase an Annual Pass on April 20, make reservations and enter one of the parks for the first time on May 18, your pass expires a year from the latter date–in May 2024. There’s no disadvantage to buying immediately. In fact, our Ticket Tips for Walt Disney World has been recommending people purchase admission ASAP to lock-in current prices and guard against increases. That applies here, too.
If you live out of state and/or visit infrequently, you might be wondering whether it’s worth the money to purchase a Walt Disney World Annual Pass. Our answer is: no but maybe.
Here’s our story, to serve as a cautionary tale. It was ~15 years ago and we lived in the Midwest, but were visiting Walt Disney World a couple times per year. Annual Passes were a fraction of their current price, but we also had access to discounted and sometimes-free tickets thanks to a friend from college. Against our better judgment, we opted to purchase Annual Passes, justifying them on the basis of discounts on merchandise and food. (Truthfully, I think that we just *wanted* to be APs.)
Once you have an Annual Pass in your hand, you will use that “free” admission to justify even more trips. You get an airfare alert about discounts from Southwest, and book a quick 3-day visit to see something new or limited time. You start doing D23 events. You join Disney Vacation Club. You get super-into photography and start a blog to expose the world to all of your crazy thoughts and obsessions. You relocate closer to the parks.
If you live out of state, buying an Annual Pass to theoretically save money will, without a doubt, cost you much more money in the long-term. It might also increase your happiness and quality of life. We speak from experience on all of this.
Turning to commentary, we’ve been speculating about this for (literally) over a year in When Will Walt Disney World Resume Annual Pass Sales? If you’ve read that, you’ve already heard every possible angle to why APs have been paused. (On a positive note, it’s nice to see a prediction finally coming true.)
As for theories as to why Annual Pass sales keep being paused for so long, one is that the company is embracing the “Disney Vault” strategy of creating demand through scarcity, or rather, perceived scarcity. It’s possible that Walt Disney World has survey data showing a high dissatisfaction rating among AP and low intent to renew.
This is plausible given the difficulty some APs have reported in securing reservations and the general anger among Annual Passholders, as expressed online. However, if these same fans believe they might not be able to simply purchase passes at their leisure down the road, they might err on the side of caution and renew when their time comes.
We doubt this, though. For one thing, the internet is not real life. What people say online and how they behave in realityland are two different things, often inconsistent or downright at odds with one another. Beyond that, the entire population is not present online, and the loudest voices tend to dominate conversations.
This is true everywhere, not just in the Walt Disney World fandom. When it comes to Walt Disney World, there are extremes who absolutely adore everything Disney does and feel the company can do no wrong; then there are others who find fault in everything, and spend endless hours commenting about how they’re done with Disney. (We’re not suggesting that there aren’t valid complaints, just that if Walt Disney World were as bad as some online claim…well, attendance wouldn’t be at the level it presently is!)
To that point, the biggest factor is most likely demand. As stated above, Walt Disney World theme park reservations have been limited. It’s also no secret that crowds have been high at Walt Disney World in the last year-plus, with 2022 being the busiest year ever (beating 2019) as measured by average wait times. Thus far, 2023 is shaping up to be a similar story, with wait times just a hair below year-over-year averages.
Annual Passholders are advantageous to Walt Disney World, but not in a constrained capacity environment at the expense of tourists. Statistically speaking, per visit spending is significantly higher among resort guests and day ticket holders than APs. It thus makes sense that Walt Disney World would want to prioritize those demographics and not fill the parks with Annual Passholders at the expense of more lucrative vacationers during busier seasons.
Higher attendance has been exacerbated by the fact that Walt Disney World still is operating below 100% capacity. It’s not as bad as last year or 2021, but some shows are still dark, not all atmospheric entertainment is back, and not every venue in the park (dining, in particular) is fully efficient due to staffing shortages.
This is mostly “invisible” to guests and may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things–but it’s actually reducing attendance limits by a meaningful amount. During recent earnings calls, the company acknowledged that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World are still operating with undisclosed capacity caps in place, not for the sake of safety but due to a lack of staffing and other resources. Suffice to say, the self-imposed limitations on attendance impact AP sales, as Walt Disney World would prefer to prioritize regular ticket buyers because they typically spend more per visit. (See above.)
Ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Walt Disney World Annual Pass sales going forward. Will there be another virtual queue lasting well into the evening on April 20, 2023? Will new APs still be available a few days later? What about a week after that, or mid-May 2023, or throughout the summer?
Or, have many locals gotten their Disney “fix” and moved on to Universal Orlando or other Central Florida parks? Will the higher prices result in a significant number of people being priced out, or is there an insatiable desire for all things Disney among locals? Will former Annual Passholders take a wait and see approach, or will the ‘Disney Vault’ perceived scarcity strategy spike sales even further?
Without answering any of those specific questions, we’d advise you to not underestimate the demand for all things Disney. Even after aggressively courting locals and offering great deals, Universal Orlando has not captured significant market share (as measured by relative wait time levels–not anecdotes or speculation) from Walt Disney World. They’ve done well and grown, to be sure, but it has not come at the expense of Disney.
For that matter, Disney’s own “unpopular” decisions have not done any real damage to date. Demand is higher than ever, as are crowds. Maybe there’s lasting reputational damage that’ll hit down the road, once pent-up demand fizzles out. Who knows. But at this point, I would not bet against Disney. For the pessimists, you might want to assume the popularity of new AP purchases will be higher than otherwise anticipated.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Excited that Walt Disney World is resuming new Annual Pass sales on April 20, 2023? Will you purchase a Walt Disney World AP right away when they go back on sale, or will you wait? Agree or disagree with our assessment and commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!