Bob Chapek Continues to Defend Park Reservations & Limits on Annual Passes

Disney CEO Bob Chapek began his transition into the company’s top executive position at the beginning of 2020. So far, this tenure as CEO has been a controversial one with standout moments including the company’s reopening from a global pandemic, a major lawsuit from a renowned actress, political involvement (or lack thereof), and of course, mixed reviews at best from fans on several aspects of Disney Parks.

One of the notable outcomes of the Chapek era has been the Park Pass Reservation system, which requires Guests to book advanced reservations to visit a Disney theme park. This change came with limited Park Hopping access (after 2:00 p.m. only) and was praised in the immediate reopening of the Parks when state and local governments were limited crowds and capacity anyway.

Along with the Park Pass reservation system came a pause on Annual Pass sales, with only limited passes available to Florida residents today while out-of-state Guests remain out of luck.


Credit: D23

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As we continue to move on from the pandemic, leaving all other COVID-19-related restrictions in the past, Chapek has already made it clear on several occasions that the Park Pass reservation system is here to stay. The CEO, along with CFO Christine McCarthy, have continued to express how the system offers a better experience for Guests in the Parks as it gives the company the ability to limit crowds and manage capacity.

In a new interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Chapek once again defends the Park Pass reservation system AND the pause and limits on Annual Pass sales. Despite hearing similar comments from him before, the latest interview has us with some questions as we think back to the “old days” of visiting Disney Parks.

On the subject of balancing Annual Passes with day Guests, Chapek said:

…We’ve got to make sure that there’s room in the park for the family from Denver that comes once every five years. We didn’t have a reservation system and we didn’t control the number of annual passes we distributed and frankly, the annual pass as a value was so great that people were literally coming all the time and the accessibility of the park was unlimited to them and that family from Denver would get to the park and not be let in. That doesn’t seem like a real balanced proposition.

As lifelong Disney fans, with Annual Passes ourselves when we are able to get them, we have to take a quick look back at what the Parks were like before the reservation system began and sales of Annual Passes were limited. In Chapek’s example of the hypothetical family from Denver arriving at the gates only to be turned away, we cannot imagine that this was a regular problem in the Parks, since pre-2020 they did not hit capacity save for the rare exception of major peak days like Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve.

Moreover, most Annual Passes have always come with blackout dates, meaning many of Disney World’s locals would actually not be in the Parks during peak days. (And, if they were to get into the Parks, they would certainly not be adding to lines for attractions or crowds for shows. Locals and regulars often skip lines over 30 minutes, these are not the Guests who would be contributing to a negative experience due to crowding even if they held a pass without blackout dates.)

Chapek continued:

We have a real high-class problem: We have much more demand than there is supply. What we will not bend on is giving somebody a less than stellar experience in the parks because we jammed too many people in there. If we’re going to have that foundational rule, you have to start balancing who you let in. … Our ticket prices and constraints we put on how often people can come and when they come is a direct reflection of demand. When is it too much? Demand will tell us when it’s too much.

Unfavorable Attendee Magic Key

A Guest pokes fun at Disney’s “unfavorable attendance mix” comment. Credit: @Juliet/@Perfecting The Magic TikTok

To this point, we would argue that the CEO should have brought up the company’s continued staffing challenges, and other reasons for the way that capacity is currently being manipulated lower than it has been in the past. While we understand that Disney cannot build a new theme park overnight, there is some flexibility in increasing supply as it stands right now, it seems the company is simply not considering it or at least not sharing this information publicly.

Earlier this week, we saw a new posting for a job fair that incentivizes applicants by offering a free ticket to a Disney Park. And at the Disneyland Resort, we cannot forget the latest quarterly earnings report that referred to Magic Keyholders as an “unfavorable attendance mix” due to their supposed limited spending in comparison to day Guests.

Chapek’s latest comments in the recent interview, unfortunately, drives home the disconnect that many fans are feeling between the way the company is currently managing capacity and the way it had been managed in the past, when visiting the Parks was more attainable to both Guests visiting on vacation, and regulars who were able to purchase Annual Passes.

As the 2022 D23 Expo wraps up today at the Anaheim Convention Center we will continue to monitor all news out of Disney Parks, and will be back with additional updates as we have them here on DisneyTips.

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."