Frustrations Mount For Walt Disney World Annual Passholders Over Access, Benefits and More
Yesterday, we shared the news that Disney World was beefing up their offerings to Annual Passholders by offering a 30% merchandise discount at shopDisney and shipping out new TinkerBell annual passholder magnets to current members. However, as the Orlando Sentinel reports in a recent piece, for some members it’s not enough as they struggle with limited benefits and availability under Disney’s new Park Pass system.
Passholders that spoke to the Sentinel like Jen Vargas and Craig Hicks spoke of five hour hold times to speak to a Disney representative or grappling lack of availability now that unlimited theme park access is gone. As a matter of fact, there are increasing instances of annual passholders frustrated with how Disney has handled reopening among the theme park’s most loyal visitors.
There are a fair reaching range of complaints. Chief among them is the struggle passholders have with making advance reservations via Disney’s new Park Pass system. To limit and track the amount of guests coming in and out of the park, it is no longer enough to just have an annual pass. Rather guests with valid tickets and annual passes must also reserve theme park visits almost like you would a dining reservation. Capacity at the parks is being limited to about 1/4 or normal visitors and with the way that Disney currently has the system set up it is possible for resort guests and people paying full price for tickets to snag them up first.
The new system also means that passholders no longer have the freedom and flexibility to visit spontaneously or to park hop as the ability to visit more than one park per day under the Park Pass system has been eliminated. In addition passholders can only make three advanced reservations to visit the theme parks. This makes it difficult to forward plan as many slots (especially over the weekends) are completely booked- even more so the case at parks with high demand attractions like Hollywood Studios which is now the home Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Other complaints, according to the Sentinel includes how refunds are calculated and the length of time it takes to have refunds processed.
Then, there’s the previous issue reported on here at MickeyBlog where passholders were mistakenly charged lump sum payments for annual passes with some passholders unexpectedly being charged hundreds of dollars at a time when many are facing financial hardships. As we reported, Disney did apologize to passholders and refund the amounts but the company is now facing three lawsuits over the issue including one filed by AP holder Jamie Heindl who said that the company charged her in July despite the fact that her annual pass had already expired.
Rick Munarriz, a financial analyst for Motley Fool said, “Disney had a bad hand and played it poorly,” said Rick Munarriz. However, he was also quick to point out that COVID-19 has been tough on all of the theme parks during these unprecedented times. With a recent earnings report showing a loss in the billions and a historic theme park shutdown of four months coupled with soaring COVID-19 cases in Florida, Disney is operating in unfamiliar territory. Munarriz goes on to say that passholders’ concerns are legitimate, “For the most part, it’s right for them to feel cheated. They paid for something and aren’t getting it” He continues, “Disney is keeping a very tight leash on how many people they are letting through the turnstiles. It’s a very brutal business call that Disney is making, but it’s one that’s understandable if you take three steps back and take off the Mouse ears and look at … supply and demand.”
When asked, Disney said that Passholders remain an important priority for the company, spokeswoman Andrea Finger said, “Annual Passholders are some of our most loyal guests, and we want them to know how much we appreciate them.” She continued, “We are offering passholders multiple options on how to manage their passes as we all adjust to these unprecedented times.”
During Disney’s earnings call on Tuesday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke about how the theme parks are prioritizing reopening strategies. He said, “Typically someone who travels and stays for five days to seven days is marginally more valuable to the business than someone who comes in on an annual pass and stays a day or two and consumes less merchandise and food and beverage.”
Despite the theme parks opening, with the state of Florida becoming a COVID-19 hotspot, many travellers aren’t ready to head back yet to Florida and are continuing to cancel reservations. As these cancellations occur, Disney is releasing more park pass availability to accommodate Annual Passholders who according to Chapek now account for about 50% of the daily visitors to Disney World.
Vargas, a passholder who had to wait on hold with Disney for five hours to get her refund said she understands that these are unprecedented times. She told the Sentinel, “I know there’s no rule book.” However she felt that there was more Disney could be doing for passholders, “There’s some ownership that Disney is not taking on behalf of their passholders. I don’t think it’s right, pandemic or not. It’s their brand. It’s their product. It’s their parks.”
Hicks, another passholder and amatuer photographer told the paper that he missed not being able to visit spontaneously, “If I decide to get up in the morning and want to go to Disney, I’m going to Disney. That’s what I’m accustomed to and that’s exactly what I’m paying for.”Now, it’s a “nightmare” to get reservations, he said.
This is a story that we’ll continue to follow closely here at MickeyBlog. Readers are encouraged to keep checking in with us for further news and updates!
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Source: Orlando Sentinel