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Disney World Gives its Biggest Fans Something for Free (No, Really)

The theme park giant has mostly been all about raising prices, but the Mouse House sometimes surprises you.

Walt Disney (DIS) has not made things easy for people who love its theme parks. The company has steadily found more ways to get money from visitors to Disney World and Disneyland without actually raising ticket prices.

The most obvious change has been Disney dropping its free FastPass+ system in exchange for the paid Lightning Lanes and Genie+. That move took something that was literally free that nearly all of its theme park visitors used and made it an added-fee product that you more or less have to buy in order to ensure a reasonably good experience at Disney World or Disneyland.

Disney has also steadily raised prices (or shrank portions) for food items at both of its U.S, parks. In some ways, these price increases were actually balanced with Disney keeping capacity at both of its U.S. theme parks below where it was before the pandemic.

The company has subtly acknowledged that it has to balance its desire to pack the park with delivering a good experience for people visiting. That has led to (slightly) fewer visitors allowed and the park reservation system that many regular parkgoers don't exactly love and Disney World annual passholders -- a group used to being spontaneous and visiting whatever park they want -- really don't like.

Now, however, Disney has brought back something that these loyal fans will be very happy about.

Disney Magnetic Pass Lead KL

Disney World Gives Annual Passholders a Gift

Annual passholders -- arguably Disney World's biggest fans -- saw the theme park change the annual pass program generally making it more expensive to get less. (That's better than what happened at Disneyland where the annual pass program was cancelled and brought back in a very different form).

Before the pandemic, Disney World annual passholders were mostly Florida residents who could visit the parks on a whim. That used to be an important audience for the company because while a passholder visiting again does not add any ticket revenue, it's very likely they will spend money on food, beverages, merchandise, or even some combination of all of those.

Now, Disney has actually suspended nearly all of its annual passes at Disney World, selling only the lowest-tier pass that's only offered to Florida residents. Existing passholders, however, have been allowed to renew and Disney has decided to reward that loyal customer base by bringing back an exclusive piece of 50th anniversary memorabilia.

"Yoo-hoo! Missed out on the 50th Anniversary celebration Mickey & Minnie Passholder magnet? Just visit Creations at EPCOT. Pickup will be available August 25 through September 21, 2022 during Park operating hours," Disney shared and BlogMickey first reported. "There will be no virtual queue for pickup. Each Passholder must be present and show their valid Annual Pass card, linked MagicBand or Disney MagicMobile pass and government-issued photo ID to receive a magnet."

It's a small gesture -- Disney has made different magnets available for free to passholders regularly over the years -- but at a time when the company has been focused on the bottom line, this is a nice gesture.

Disney Theme Parks Rebound

Disney theme parks fans may not be happy with the changes at Disney World and Disneyland, but that has not caused them to stop visiting. Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke about the state of the company's U.S. theme parks during its third-quarter earnings call.        

"Domestic demand at our theme parks continues to be strong, and we are seeing continued progress in those businesses still recovering from the pandemic," he said, "At the same time, the business model transformation we have achieved over the past few years have driven substantial increases in per capita spending and give us the flexibility to adapt should economic conditions change."

Basically, people are spending more when at Disney's parks, a trend the company has sort of encouraged with changes to the park experience and raised in-park pricing.

CFO Christine McCarthy offered further color on the U.S. theme parks during the call.

"Our continued focus on improving the guest experience through the use of our reservation system to purposely manage capacity versus simply increasing volume has the added benefit of improving yield and optimizing overall economics. So even while the average daily attendance at our domestic parks across the first three quarters of this fiscal year was slightly below 2019, we have delivered significantly higher revenue and operating income over that same time period," she explained.