This Week in Theme Park News: Disney World’s New Annual Pass Program, and Universal Beijing’s Opening Date

Travel Features theme parks
This Week in Theme Park News: Disney World’s New Annual Pass Program, and Universal Beijing’s Opening Date

For what feels like the fourth week in a row, the biggest theme park news of the week broke on the day I write this column. Disney finally revealed all the information behind the new Disney World Annual Pass program in a blog post that went up earlier today. When the pandemic shut Disney World down in March 2020, the company gave passholders two options: either give up your pass and get a refund for however much time you had left on it, or keep your pass and have its expiration date extended by however many days the parks stayed closed. They also halted new sales of the pass at that time, although existing passholders were able to renew.

That’s how it’s stood since the parks reopened in July 2020. The only people who’ve had annual passes for Disney World over the past year are returning passholders who didn’t get a refund during the pandemic. Obviously that wouldn’t last long, and when Disneyland’s new Magic Key Program was unveiled earlier this August, it was clear that the next iteration of Disney World’s Annual Passes would be on their way soon.

Fortunately, the new plans aren’t that much more expensive than the old Annual Pass structure. Some of the perks and benefits have changed, though, and if you wanted to get the full slate of benefits that your old plan offered, you could be looking at a couple of different add-ons that would raise your annual price by almost $200.

Before we get to the add-ons, though, let’s break down the basic plans. There are four, two of which are only available to Florida residents, with a third only available to Floridians and Disney Vacation Club members. Florida residents can also pay on installment plans, with each plan consisting of 12 monthly payments. And, uh, if you aren’t a fan of Disney’s extreme attention to branding, I apologize in advance for the new names. I’m just repeating what Disney went with.

1. Disney Pixie Dust Pass
Annual Cost: $399

The most affordable tier is exclusively for Florida residents, who can pay on an installment plan of $19 a month with a $205 down payment. It is, unsurprisingly, the least comprehensive of the new plans, letting guests visit one or more Disney World parks “on most weekdays.” It’s subject to blockout dates which will include “peak and holiday periods,” so don’t expect to ride that Pixie Dust Pass into the parks on New Year’s Eve, or the entire second half of December. Like all the new plans, you’ll need a park reservation to get in, and can make up to three reservations at one time.

2. Disney Pirate Pass
Annual Cost: $699

The second tier is also only for Floridians, and its installment plan will set you back $45 a month after a $205 down payment. This pass will get you access on most days, including, presumably, some weekends, although once again the holidays and other peak periods are blocked off. Reservations will be needed for any park visit, and you can have up to four of those at one time.

3. Disney Sorcerer Pass
Annual Cost: $899

This pass will cut down on the number of blockout days you’ll be subject to, and it’s the first one you can get if you don’t live in Florida—although only if you are a Disney Vacation Club member. Out-of-staters who aren’t DVC members need not apply. Those blockout dates will include “select days during select holiday periods,” so expect days around Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and the other major holidays to be off-limits. For Floridians who want to take it monthly, this one breaks down to $63 a month, with that standard $205 down payment. This plan also nets you five reservations at a time.

4. Disney Incredi-Pass
Annual Cost: $1299

The biggest of the bunch is what you’ll have to get if you don’t live in Florida or aren’t a Disney Vacation Club member. As with the previous program’s highest tier, this will net you entrance to one or more parks per day year-round, with no blockout dates. You will need to make reservations still, though, and you can have up to five at once on this plan. If you’re a Florida residence who doesn’t want to put up with blockout dates, you can get this pass on an installment plan, at $99 per month after that $205 down payment.

All annual passes get you complimentary parking at each theme park, as well as discounts of up to 20% at select restaurants and stores throughout the resort.

Other than the new price points, another notable change with the new program is that Disney PhotoPass and access to Disney’s water parks and golf courses don’t come standard with any of the plans. PhotoPass, which automatically links the photos taken at specific points in each park to your account, and offers you unlimited downloads of them for a set period of time, will now be an extra $99 (plus tax) for a year. The Water Park and Sports Option will also be a $99 add-on, granting access to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon (when it reopens), two golf courses, two mini-golf courses, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, whenever it reopens.

Also, in a note that has probably stricken fear in the hearts of Disney bloggers and lifestylers who depend on the Annual Pass for regular content, Disney warns that Annual Passes may not always be freely purchasable like they’ve been in the past. As the Parks blog explains, “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.” Whether this is due to the capacity limits that are still in place at Disney World, or simply being cautious in case Covid’s current resurgence continues to get worse, it’s sure to drive the most dedicated Disney fans to buy an AP as soon as they go back on sale.

When do they go on sale, you ask? Well, on September 8. No specific on-sale time has been announced yet, but given how swamped Disney’s website has been whenever major events go on sale, or major reservations become available, it’ll no doubt be a very busy website come Sept. 8.

For more information on the new Annual Pass program, including specific blockout dates for each plan, visit Disney’s official Annual Passholder page.

I’m going to wrap this one up a little bit early this week, but before I go, let’s talk real fast about Universal’s latest theme park. Universal Beijing Resort has been under construction since 2016, but is finally ready to officially open on Sept. 30. That date was announced today, along with the news that there would be an invitation-only soft opening starting this week, on Sept. 1. Universal Beijing will be home to some of Universal’s classic properties, including Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and the Transformers, as well as an exclusive new land based on Kung Fu Panda. The state of the pandemic and international travel will understandably make it very difficult for most Westerners to visit this new park for some time, but hopefully one day theme park fans from all reaches of the earth will be able to find out what exactly is happening in the Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness.

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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin