This Week in Theme Park News: Disney’s Magic Key Program, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, and More

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This Week in Theme Park News: Disney’s Magic Key Program, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, and More

This week we learned what Disneyland’s new annual pass program will look like, got a rough idea of how much it’ll cost to spend two nights in a Star Wars bed, and found out that Six Flags Over Texas was launching a new dark ride next year. Yep, it was another week in the always busy world of theme parks, full of news and reveals and all kinds of excitement over what’s coming next. Let’s recap the most important parts, okay?

If you’re a diehard Disney fan, there’s a good chance you’ve subscribed to an annual pass at some point in the past. There have always been different levels to the pass program, each with its own benefits; the highest price points brought you unlimited entry any day of the year, whereas other levels had various blackout dates and other limitations. The pandemic disrupted all of this, obviously, bringing changes to how the annual pass programs have operated at both Disney World and Disneyland, with Disneyland’s program getting cancelled altogether. It might be a little premature, with Covid variants surging, but Disney has started to step back into the annual pass waters, starting with Disneyland. After ending its existing program back in January, Disney’s original resort is seeing a large, fundamental change to how annual passes work, starting later this month.

The annual passholder plan at Disneyland is relaunching with a catchy new name. The Magic Key Program was announced last week, with Disney touting how it will deliver “choice, flexibility and value for park admission” to guests. It’s a four-tier program, with prices ranging from $399 a year all the way up to $1399. Let’s break it down:

1. Imagine Key
Annual Cost: $399

The cheapest option is available exclusively for Southern California residents, who remain Disneyland’s bread and butter. You have to live within the California ZIP codes 90000 to 93599 to sign up for this plan, which gets you admission on select days of the year to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure. You can make up to two park reservations at a time, and you also get 10% discounts on select merchandise and food. There’s also a monthly option, where guests can pay $19 a month for a year after a down payment of $179. So if you’re a local and don’t mind most likely missing out on the busiest and most popular times of the year, this is probably the plan for you.

2. Enchant Key
Annual Cost: $649

The next step up is good for anybody in the world, but at a cost of an extra $250. It seems roughly equivalent to the Imagine Key in terms of benefits, with reservations at either park available on select dates throughout the year, and 10% discounts on select merch and food. You can make up to four park reservations at a time with this plan. If you live anywhere in California you can pay by the month instead of in a lump sum, with a $179 down payment and then a $40 a month fee.

3. Believe Key
Annual Cost: $949

Now we’re really talking the big bucks. The Believe Key doesn’t get you unlimited access, but it does let you in to either park on most days of the year. So it’ll have less blackout dates than the lower tier plans. It also lets you make six reservations at a time, gets you the same 10% discounts, and gets you a 50% discount on parking—something you’ll need if you aren’t staying somewhere nearby in Anaheim. The Believe Key is also available in a monthly plan for California residents, at $65 a month after the standard $179 down payment.

4. Dream Key
Annual Cost: $1399

Finally, if you just need to go to Disneyland whenever you feel like it, and have the money to make that possible, the Dream Key gets you admission to both parks every day of the year—as long as you make a reservation, of course. That’s one pandemic-era change that’s going to stick around. This plan lets you make up to six reservations at a time, knocks 20% thet price of select merchandise, 15% off select food and drink, and gets you free parking. And as always, California residents can break it up by month, with a $179 down payment and a monthly fee of $102.

As always, Californiains understandably have the most to gain from a Disneyland annual pass—sorry, Magic Key. Even with the advance reservation system sticking around, locals will still be able to drop in often, with just a little bit of planning. This also streamlines the whole plan a bit; before the pandemic there were six different annual pass plans to choose from at Disneyland, with the most expensive, the $2199 Premier Plus plan, offering unlimited access to both Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida. There’s currently no plan that offers bicoastal access, but perhaps that option will return once (if?) this virus ever gets under control.

Disney’s also promising “unique surprises” for Magic Key members throughout the year. Anybody who signs up within the first 66 days (that’s how many years Disneyland has been around) will get a welcome package, and will also be able to “enjoy a limited-time experience in Disneyland Park,” starting in September. If this sounds like something you’d be into, the Magic Key program goes on sale on Aug. 25 (“no earlier than 10 a.m. PT,” Disney says), at both the Disneyland website and through the Disneyland app.

We didn’t just learn how much it’ll cost for Disneyland lifestylers to get back to their daily trips to the promised land this week. We also now know what it’ll cost to spend a few nights in “space”—or at least in a building in Florida designed to make you think you’re in space. Disney also revealed a ton of details on Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, the Star Wars-themed resort hotel they’re building as a follow-up to Galaxy’s Edge. Pretty much all the news about its activities and dining and immersive elements was buried by the realization of how expensive it’s going to be, though. Prices will fluctuate seasonally and by demand, so when the only sample price released is for weekdays during one of Disney World’s slowest times of the year, you know the price on weekends, during the summer, and at holidays will be astronomical as all those Star Wars. And those sample prices for the back-to-school down period are already eye-popping. Guests are looking at $4800 for two people to stay two nights at the all-inconclusive Star Wars resort. A family of four will be paying just under $6000. Even for the always-escalating prices of Disney theme parks, this is extreme. A huge portion of the potential customer base for this thing will be priced out of the action from the start, guaranteeing this will be a luxury only for the very wealthy. And that’s a shame, because everything Disney has shown about the hotel looks like a fantastic new step in themed entertainment. The goal is to fully immerse guests in the world of Star Wars, and although we’ve only seen concept art and a sample itinerary of activities, Galactic Starcruiser seems on track to provide guests with something truly amazing. It’s disappointing that relatively few people will get to experience it.

In more Disney news, the Disney Parks blog offers up a look at some of the special 50th anniversary merch coming to Disney World this fall, Disney Cruise Lines spotlights a look at the construction of the Disney Wish, and more restaurants and dining opportunities are reopening at Disneyland. Also, in potentially big news for fans of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room (a.k.a. the best theme park bar in America, and perhaps the world), the Disneyland Hotel’s beloved tiki bar starts taking reservations for the first time on Aug. 15. Reservations open up on Aug. 11, so if you hope to get a HippopotoMai-Tai any time in the next couple of months, you’ll probably need to hop on a computer fast that morning.

Let’s move on from California and Florida and head to a state whose theme parks I’ve never actually visited: Texas. Six Flags Over Texas celebrated its 60th anniversary last week, and surprised theme park fans by announcing a new original(-ish) dark ride. The Arlington-based park will ring in the 2022 season with a newly imagined version of one of its classic attractions, Pirates of Speelunker Cave. Six Flags promises that the ride will “place guests squarely in the middle of a pirate treasure hunt thwarted by resident Speelunkers,” with “17 brand-new scenes that combine state-of-the-art cinematic projection with immersive sets and animatronics.” As a massive fan of dark rides who keeps an annual membership to Six Flags Over Georgia pretty much only so I can ride Monster Mansion whenever I feel like it, this is pretty fascinating news.

This ride has a history that I was completely unaware of until last week. For almost 30 years Six Flags Over Texas had a ride called The Cave. It was a pirate-themed boat ride that ran from 1964 to 1991, which puts it perfectly in the time frame where I would’ve probably known it by heart. It was then updated into a new ride, Yosemite Sam and the Gold River Adventure, which will be replaced by the newest version opening next year. (I am sure there are huge fans of the Yosemite Sam ride who are upset about it going away, and I feel for them. I wouldn’t wish the pain I felt over Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on anybody.) Six Flags hasn’t released any other info on the new-old ride, but I’ll be keeping tabs on it over the next several months.

That’s not the only new attraction Six Flags Over Texas will be unveiling next spring, though. It’ll also open up a new multi-launch roller coaster, Aquaman: Power Wave, at the start of the 2022 season.

Before I wrap this up, let’s hit two last bits of news. Universal Orlando’s latest Halloween Horror Nights haunted house was announced last week, and should be a nostalgic blast from the past—or I guess highway to hell?—for long-time HHN fans. Halloween Horror Nights Icons: Captured will bring together 30 years of original Halloween Horror Nights characters, putting them in a single house for the first time. Yep, we’re talking Jack the Clown, The Caretaker, The Storyteller, and other original characters I don’t know anything about but that Horror Nights lifers will probably be jazzed to see murdering together. That joins an already impressive list of houses for the annual frightfest, which will definitely be scarier than ever this year, what with Orlando leading almost the entire planet in the spread of Covid right now.

Finally, Las Vegas will be getting its own version of Soarin’, when the new attraction FlyOver opens on Sept. 1. Guests will fly over the majestic American West, gazing upon sweeping vistas from Nevada, California, a half-dozen other western states. With former Imagineer and former Soarin’ Show Director Rick Rothschild serving as Creative Director, this could be something special. FlyOver’s Vegas outpost will join three other FlyOver attractions currently found in Vancouver, Reykjavik, and the Mall of America, with a fifth scheduled to open next year in Toronto.

And that’s it for another week. If you work at a theme or amusement park and want to keep me and our readers updated on your latest news, feel free to reach out to me via email or on Twitter. And if you’re headed to any amusement parks this week, stay safe and have fun! And don’t forget your mask(s)—this stuff is far from over.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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