Disneyland has introduced a new annual pass that requires holders to make reservations for high-demand days, but its lower price might hit the sweet spot for people who visit the park two or more times a year.
The $599 Disney Flex Pass, available May 21, is an attempt to even out the park’s ever-growing crowds, with the number of visitors only expected to grow once the new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land opens May 31.
The Flex Pass is $200 cheaper than Disney's previously most affordable annual pass available to those living outside California, the $799 Deluxe Passport. But Flex Pass users must make reservations for high-demand days — most weekends and throughout summer.
You won't need reservations to visit during off-peak times — largely in fall, late winter and spring. Blackout days are Dec. 21, 2019-Jan. 4, 2020.
The new system will allow Disney to better anticipate crowd levels, as well as block Flex Pass on dates once a certain number of reservations have been made (a level officials won’t reveal).
Who is the Flex Pass for?
Officials said the Flex Pass is designed for new passholders as well as those desiring to trade down from costlier, less-restrictive passes, officials said.
The goal, they said, is to provide each guest the same opportunity to enjoy all of the parks’ amenities. Many guests can attest to the frustrations of extremely busy days when major attractions feature waits of an hour or more. The opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge may exacerbate the situation.
Even the parks’ slower times are fewer and far between thanks to special events, shows and decorations designed to lure visitors during off-peak periods.
With the Flex Pass, Disney is dipping its toe in the crowd-monitoring waters. Could this be a sign that officials are open to other crowd-control alternatives, such as selling date-specific multi-day passports that would allow them to cut off sales once certain limits are reached?
Disney won’t say, only to reiterate that the goal is to make sure each guest has an enjoyable experience.
How the Flex Pass works
Passholders will consult a color-coded calendar via Disneyland.com or the Disneyland app. They’ll see three types of days – green “good to go” days (no reservations required), blue “reservations necessary” days, and gray “blocked out” days.
When reservations are required, holders can reserve dates up to 30 days in advance, or as late as the same day, for up to eight Flex Pass owners. Each passholder is allowed no more than two reservations in a 30-day period.
And that's where the pass can be used to moderate crowds. Disney will issue only so many reservations a day — officials refuse to say what that number is or how it will be determined. But once that level is reached, the day will be off limits to further reservations.
Does Flex Pass allow park-hopping?
The Flex Pass allows holders to visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on the same day. Even on days when each park requires reservations (as in the summer), you'll need just one reservation to visit both. That can be a valuable perk.
Flex Pass caveats
Passholders are strongly urged to cancel reservations they can't use. (You can cancel up to the day before.)
If you don't, it will still count as one of your two reservations in a 30-day period. Additionally, Disney will track no-shows to a point of penalizing those who repeatedly fail to show for their appointed days.
Those who are no-shows for three reservations over a 90-day period will be barred from making further reservations for 30 days. However, if your reservation is for both parks and you only visit one, you won't be considered a no-show.
Carefully consider the pass's restrictions if you are limited to travel during summer or weekends. If your family reserves back-to-back days in mid-June, you won't be able to reserve again until mid-July. A two-day visit may not be worth the flight or drive.
Then again, you can make two days at Disney part of a vacation that includes trips to the beach or other Southern California amusement parks.
Flex Passes offer one of Disneyland's best deals when it comes to traveling during slower periods. If you can visit in late winter, spring or fall, the Flex Pass is the way to go.
Or, use your reservations for a Saturday and Sunday and extend your visit into the "good to go" weekdays.
Is Flex Pass coming to Disney World?
Much too early to tell. Expect park officials to keep a close eye on sales and the pass's impact on crowd distribution. But Disney World doesn't face the same pressure from crowds as Disneyland, thanks to its four parks and, more than likely, fewer annual passholders living within a 30-minute drive of the front gates.
Should you buy a Flex Pass?
There's no telling how popular the Flex Pass will be, or how quickly high-demand days will be blocked as reservation limits are reached.
Still, the Flex Pass can be a more affordable option for families who visit Disney more than twice a year for a few days at a time. Throw in the pass' discounts on merchandise and dining and it may be worth considering.
Other Disneyland annual passes
Here are the park's other passes. Those exclusive to California residents not included.
- Deluxe, $799. Disneyland blackout dates include much of summer, winter holidays, and many weekends. California Adventure blackout dates include some weekends and Dec. 20, 2019-Jan. 4, 2020.
- Signature, $1,149. Disneyland and California blackout dates are Dec. 21, 2019-Jan. 4, 2020.
- Signature Plus, $1,399. No blackout dates.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Disneyland's new Flex Pass: It's cheaper, but there's a catch