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Disneyland's new annual pass program has arrived: Is Magic Key worth it?

Aug. 04, 2021
9 min read
Disneyland Resort Introduces Magic Key Program
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Ever since Disneyland canceled all Annual Passports at the beginning of 2021, frequent visitors to the Happiest Place on Earth have been patiently waiting for an annual pass replacement. That wait is now over. Yesterday, Disneyland announced a brand-new program to replace annual passes of old.

Called Magic Key, this new frequent visitor program goes on sale Aug. 25, 2021. Disney has been very careful not to call Magic Key an annual pass, but the program works a lot like one annual pass Disneyland introduced in 2019: the Disney Flex Passport. All guests now need to make advance reservations to enter the parks, but many of the other features (and the pricing) are not too radically different from the previous program.

Magic Key basics and pricing levels

So, what does the Disneyland Magic Key program look like? And more importantly, what does it cost?

Magic Key offers four different pass price levels, with the lowest level of passes available only to Southern California residents. The most expensive passes naturally have the fewest restrictions, including no blockout dates. The pricier passes also include extras like parking and more generous discounts on food and merchandise. The lower pass levels have more extensive blockout calendars and fewer perks and discounts.

Screenshot courtesy of Disneyland

The four Magic Key offerings are:

Dream Key ($1,399)

  • May hold up to 6 theme park reservations at a time
  • Up to 20% off select merchandise
  • Up to 15% off select dining
  • Standard parking included

Believe Key ($949)

  • May hold up to 6 theme park reservations at a time
  • 10% off select merchandise
  • 10% off select dining
  • 50% off standard parking

Enchant Key ($649)

  • May hold up to 4 theme park reservations at a time
  • 10% off select merchandise
  • 10% off select dining

Imagine Key ($399)

(Only available for Southern California Residents living in zip codes 90000 to 93599)

  • May hold up to 2 theme park reservations at a time
  • 10% off select merchandise
  • 10% off select dining
Screenshot courtesy of Disneyland

For the sake of comparison, the pricing of the previous Annual Passports that were offered pre-closure in 2020 is not too far afield from the new Magic Key prices. The highest pass that existed last year, the Disney Signature Plus Passport, was previously $1,449. Like the $1,399 Dream Magic Key, the Signature Plus Pass also had no blockout dates and free parking. The Signature Plus pass, however, also included MaxPass (and therefore also PhotoPass). The Dream Magic Key isn't identical but is at least within the same pricing ballpark.

Reservations required with Magic Key passes

The most important new feature of the Magic Key program is that all pass levels require guests to make park reservations in order to enter. Under the previous Disneyland Annual Passport program, only holders of the Disney Flex Passport needed to make reservations. Other annual passholders could visit on any and all days they wished, as long as they weren't on the blockout calendars at that price level.

Since the parks in Anaheim have reopened, however, reservations have been required of all guests. (Related: How to make a theme park reservation for Disneyland). The reservation requirement has been essential for controlling capacity since Disneyland reopened in April 2021, and it also better enables Disney to adjust staffing levels to demand long term when COVID-19 is not the controlling concern. It’s definitely not a surprise that any new frequent visitor program would require reservations as well.

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Holders of more expensive passes will be able to make more reservations at once -- up to six for the two top-level passes: Dream and Believe. These reservations work on a rolling basis, so as soon as one is used, a Magic Key holder can make another.

Theoretically, that means a guest holding the top-level Dream pass could visit the parks every single day of the year as long as reservations were still available continuously several days in advance. Of course, until the program starts, it's unknown just how far in advance reservations will book up.

Magic Key holders can only make reservations up to 90 days in advance, regardless of the pass they hold. This is a shorter time frame than regular guests buying standard theme park tickets. Regular ticket holders can currently make reservations up to 120 days in advance.

Magic Key blockout calendars

In addition to making reservations, Magic Key holders are further limited by the blockout calendars for each pass. While the most expensive Dream pass has no blockout dates, all the other passes do. As you might imagine, the most sought-after holidays and peak travel dates are precisely what is blocked out.

Blockout dates for the other passes include:

  • Believe: Peak dates around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Easter are blocked out, along with several holiday weekends. In total, 20 Saturdays are also blocked out between the program launch and the end of September 2022.
  • Enchant: Even more peak dates around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Easter are blocked out, along with several holiday weekends. Summer from early June to mid-August is completely blocked. In total, 42 Saturdays are also blocked out between the program launch and the end of September 2022.
  • Imagine: Nearly two-thirds of the days of the year are blocked out, making this a pass only for the most flexible of locals. Summers, major holidays and all weekends are blocked out. Essentially usable only Monday through Thursday on non-peak weeks.

As you can see, the blockouts are substantial but not entirely out of line with the previous Annual Passport program. The previous second-most expensive Annual Pass, the Disney Signature Passport, had fewer blockout dates than does the Believe Magic Key, but it was also a bit more expensive ($1,199 for the Signature versus $949 for the Believe).

Former Disneyland Annual Passport. (Image by Leslie Harvey)

Guests who can only visit the parks on weekends or on school breaks, however, may find that the top-level Dream pass is the only one that matches their availability. But at $1,399 for the Dream Magic Key pass, those travelers may ultimately find purchasing regular theme park tickets a better value.

For example, a guest visiting Disneyland for three long weekends a year purchasing three-day park hopper tickets each time ($345) will still pay less purchasing regular tickets compared to the Dream Magic Key. But guests with some flexibility who know that they can work around blockout dates in picking their visits may find the Believe or Enchant Magic Keys could be the better value, especially when pass discounts are factored in. Be sure to check out TPG's guide to Disneyland tickets to help in making the price comparisons.

Other Magic Key Features of Note

What else do potential Magic Key holders need to know about perks and restrictions? Here are a few odds and ends to keep in mind:

  • Park hopping is permitted after 1 p.m.
  • None of the passes include PhotoPass (or MaxPass, which is currently suspended).
  • The passes penalize no-shows, but the policy is pretty generous. Guests have until 11:59 p.m. PT the night before to cancel with no penalty. But if you have more than three no-shows in a 90-day window, that pass will be blocked from making park reservations for 30 days.
  • Monthly payment plans are available to all California residents for any of the Magic Key pass types.
  • Guests will be able to upgrade regular theme park tickets to Magic Key passes, as they were able to with Annual Passports. For that reason, I highly recommend purchasing regular tickets (ideally through a discounted broker like Get Away Today or Undercover Tourist) and then upgrading them to the Magic Key level of your choice before the end of a trip. That way, guests can make park reservations farther in advance on the 120-day timeline and also dodge any blockout dates on that first trip at least. Note that the current special California resident tickets that expire on Sept. 30, 2021, cannot be upgraded.
  • Look for other Magic Key perks like exclusive photo spots, a special reservations-based Magic Key terrace lounge, welcome gifts for charter members, exclusive food festival items and more.

Is Magic Key worth it?

Image by Leslie Harvey

Whenever Disney makes changes, there is always plenty of backlash. Many Disneyland fans were truly expecting the worst when it came to this program. Rumors swirled that this new program might even limit guests to a certain set number of days in the park.

In the end, the Magic Key program doesn’t look as revolutionary as many feared. It’s essentially the Disneyland Flex Passport extended to apply to everyone, albeit with more blockout dates. Superfans can still go to the parks a significant number of days if they can simply plan ahead a bit in making reservations. There are still options for the flexible but more budget-conscious as well.

Until the program launches and we see it in action, it's always hard to say with certainty whether the program is worth it. But most Disney Flex Passport holders were pleasantly surprised by how that program operated in 2019 and early 2020. Getting reservations with Flex Pass was pretty easy, even planning fairly last minute. While there is not a guarantee Magic Key passes will offer the same reservations experience, it's also not unreasonable to be cautiously optimistic about how the program will work in the coming months.

And at the very least, the new Magic Key program isn't going to be a massive shock to the budgets of most former Annual Passholders. Those who have been holding their breath for this announcement worried about being priced out can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Featured image by Disneyland Resort/Christian Thompson
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.