Breaking Down Disneyland’s New Annual Pa — err, Magic Key Program

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So, at this point, you’ve probably seen the news about Disneyland’s new Magic Key program at Disneyland, which is intended to replace their Annual Passholder program. Having had sufficient time to digest it, we wanted to take a deep dive into the program and get a sense of when each tier is a good value, and where the sweet spot is for different types of travelers. As a reminder, here’s an overview of the various options, per the Disneyland site:

 

Dream Key

$1,399

  • Reservation-based admission to one or both theme parks every day of the year.
  • Hold up to 6 theme park reservations at a time for different dates
  • Up to 20% off select merchandise
  • Up to 15% off select dining
  • Standard theme park parking included (excluding blockout days)

View Dream Key Access Calendar

Believe Key

$949

  • Reservation-based admission to one or both theme parks most days of the year.
  • Hold up to 6 theme park reservations at a time
  • 10% off select merchandise
  • 10% off select dining
  • 50% off standard theme park parking (excluding blockout days, and available for purchase at Mickey & Friends Parking Structure, Pixar Pals Parking Structure and the Toy Story Parking Area)

View Believe Key Access Calendar

Enchant Key

$649

  • Reservation-based admission to one or both theme parks select days of the year.
  • Hold up to 4 theme park reservations at a time
  • 10% off select merchandise
  • 10% off select dining

View Enchant Key Access Calendar

Imagine Key

$399

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

  • Reservation-based admission to one or both theme parks select days of the year.
  • Hold up to 2 theme park reservations at a time
  • 10% off select merchandise
  • 10% off select dining

View Imagine Key Access Calendar

There are one important caveat to be aware of, and that is Disneyland’s “no-show policy,” which is very obviously designed to deter people from making reservations unless they are pretty sure they will actually use them. Basically, if you make a reservation and don’t enter either Disneyland park that day 3 times within 90 days, you will lose your ability to make reservations (and, thus, use your pass) for 30 days. You can avoid being considered a “no-show” by canceling your park reservation, and you have up until 11:59 Pacific time the night before to do so. Accordingly, people that make park reservations in good faith but for whatever reason can’t make it should be able to cancel their reservations and not get dinged for a no-show unless something truly comes up at the very last minute in most circumstances.

One of the biggest differences in the passes has to do with when you can use them. Starting at the top end, we have the Dream Key, when you’re free to use on any day, and they get progressively more restrictive as you go down in price. Here’s how the three remaining keys compare, in terms of blockout dates (i.e., days you CANNOT make a reservation):

Believe Enchant Imagine
Fall (through Thanksgiving) Saturdays in October. All Believe Dates, plus Labor Day Weekend, Sundays in October, Saturdays in November. All Enchant Dates, plus all weekends (including Friday) through Halloween, October 11-14, November weekends and November 11, 22-24.
Winter Thanksgiving Weekend, Saturdays in December, Winter Break, and President’s Day Weekend. All Believe Dates, plus most weekend dates through mid-January and President’s Day. All Enchant Dates, plus at least Saturday and Sunday of all weekends, and Friday in many instances.
Spring (through Memorial Day) Saturdays 3/19-4/9, Easter Week, Memorial Day Weekend. All Believe Dates, plus all Saturdays 3/12 through Memorial Day). All Enchant dates, plus Fridays and Sundays.
Summer July 4 Weekend, and July Saturdays. All Believe Dates, plus most June 3-5, and June 10-August 14, plus August 20. All dates except for June 1-2, and August 22-25 and 29-31.

You can access the full calendars at the links above if it’s easier for you to look at them that way.

Let’s get a few obvious points out of the way, as they will streamline the analysis for some of you:

  • If you typically visit during winter break and holiday weekends, you really don’t have any choice but to look at the Dream Key. It’s obviously the most expensive, but if that’s when you can go, that’s when you can go, and it’s the only Key that includes park entry during those times.

 

  • Similarly, if you plan to visit during the summer, you should not look below the Believe Key, as both the Enchant and Imagine Keys essentially block you out most summer dates.

 

  • The Imagine Key is appropriately named because on most days of the year, you’re going to have to imagine what it’s like to be in a Disney park. It blocks out literally every weekend, every holiday, and basically the entire summer. It is really only appropriate for a narrow band of Disneyland visitors, i.e., locals who only want to go during the week and don’t care about the summer.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to assume that you’ve already decided that you’ll make enough visits that you’re going to at least break even on the ticket cost. With single day tickets starting at $104, however, that could be as few as 4 days in the parks, with the Imagine Key. For most people, however, the Enchant Key would be the lowest tier that would make sense, as noted above, so we’re going to use that as the baseline, and will be looking at the circumstances where it will make more sense for you to upgrade to a higher Key. If the blockout dates are too restrictive, however, just start at the Believe Key — the same methodology applies.

Financial Matters

Parking

One of the biggest distinguishing features amongst the keys is how they handle parking. The Dream Key includes parking, which has a value of $25 each time you use it. The Believe Key gives you 50% off of parking, so that benefit is worth $12.50 per use. Neither of the other keys include any parking benefit.

We know parking isn’t the only thing you care about, but just to bring the math into focus, if it WERE the only thing you cared about, here’s how it would break down:

  • You’d have to visit 24 times to make up the $300 difference between the Enchant and Believe Keys.
  • You’d have to visit 30 times to make up the $750 difference between the Enchant and Dream Keys.
  • You’d have to visit 36 times to make up the $450 difference between the Believe and Dream Keys.

Discounts

The Dream Key provides the best discounts, offering a 20% discount off of merchandise, and 15% off of food. All other passes provide for a 10% discount on both. Doing the math for merchandise:

  • You’d need to spend $4,500 in merchandise to make up the $450 difference between the Believe and Dream Keys.
  • You’d need to spend $7,500 in merchandise to make up the $750 difference between the Enchant and Dream Keys.

And for food:

  • You’d need to spend $9,000 in food to make up the $450 difference between the Believe and Dream Keys.
  • You’d need to spend $15,000 in food to make up the $750 difference between the Enchant and Dream Keys.

Note that there is no difference in the discounts between the Believe and Enchant Keys (or the Imagine Key, for that matter). As such, neither of these discounts should be a consideration in deciding between those Keys.

Situations

So, these are all pretty big numbers, but the reality, of course, is that most Key holders will likely take advantage of all of these discounts to some extent. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few possible scenarios, focusing upon the folks that do not visit frequently enough for the parking discount to begin to cover the difference (i.e., guests visiting less than 24 times). Again, we’ll use the Enchant Key as the baseline, and look at how much more you would save with the Dream and Believe keys under these circumstances:

The Minimalist

This guest enjoys visiting the parks but doesn’t spend a lot of money while there. We’re assuming that they’ll visit 20 times over the course of the year, spend about $25 per visit on food, and buy a $50 souvenir every 5 visits or so. It breaks down like this:

Normal Cost Believe Savings ($300 breakeven) Dream Savings ($750 breakeven)
Parking @ 20 visits $500 $250 $500
Food $500 N/A $25
Merchandise $200 N/A $20
Total $1200 $250 $545

The Foodie

This visitor doesn’t go as often, but tends to make an event of dining when they do, spending around $200 per day on food. Let’s assume they spend a bit more on merchandise, spending $100 every other visit.

Normal Cost Believe Savings ($300 breakeven) Dream Savings ($750 breakeven)
Parking @ 10 visits $250 $125 $250
Food $2000 N/A $100
Merchandise $500 N/A $50
Total $2750 $125 $400

The Merch Fiend

This guest visits the park periodically, doesn’t emphasize food but doesn’t plan around it, either, but DOES love picking up Disneyland merchandise and plans to make liberal use of the merchandise discount, spending $200 per visit.

Normal Cost Believe Savings ($300 breakeven) Dream Savings ($750 breakeven)
Parking @ 15 visits $375 $187.50 $375
Food @ $50/visit $750 N/A $37.50
Merchandise $3000 N/A $300
Total $1200 $187.50 $712.50

The Non-Driver

This guest visits frequently — 35 times — but lives close enough to the parks that they need not pay to park. They spend significant amounts on food, and get a $50 souvenir every other every visit.

Normal Cost Believe Savings ($300 breakeven) Dream Savings ($750 breakeven)
Parking @ 35 visits N/A N/A N/A
Food @ $150/visit $5250 N/A $262.50
Merchandise – 17 @ $50 $850 N/A $85
Total $6100 $0 $337

Obviously, none of these situations actually reach the breakeven point, but they do highlight that from a discount standpoint, by a wide margin, the biggest driver of value among the different tiers is the parking benefit. The extra 5% you’ll save on food at the Dream Key level is negligible, and the extra discount on merchandise is unlikely to move the needle for most guests. Accordingly, if for whatever reason you don’t often need to pay to park at Disney, you are going to have a tough time getting enough value out of the other discounts to justify the higher tier unless you are spending a colossal amount on food and merchandise. In that case, just pay attention to the blockout dates, and select the tier that allows you to go at the times you would actually go, and remember that you can always upgrade your pass along the way if there’s a need.

For those of you that do would have to pay to park every time, however, the parking benefit, covers something you’re likely already committed to paying anyway, and represents a savings of $25 (free for Dream) or $12.50 (50% off for Believe) every single time you visit the parks. Accordingly, once you get to about 25 visits, you’re at a point where casual food and merchandise purchases are likely to deliver enough value to put you at the breakeven point for the Dream Key. Once you hit 30 visits, the cost of parking itself pays for the upgrade to the most expensive pass, regardless of when you usually visit the parks.

Note that this breakeven analysis is for a single person, and if you have a family or other group that regularly visits together, you can take advantage of the discounts by having one person get the Dream Key. Buying food and merchandise for four, those discounts will actually start to add up in a meaningful way much faster, and between that and the parking benefit, it might make sense even with fewer visits. Put another way, if you wouldn’t be visiting on the extra days you get with the Dream Key but you’re going to be visiting enough for parking to cover the difference, consider getting a Dream Key for one member of your group, and everyone else can get the tier that matches the dates they need.

Finally, you’ll note that we’ve not really discussed the impact of the difference in the number of reservations you can hold at once under the different tiers. It’s difficult to predict how this will play out in the real world, but our assumption for the time being is that there is not a mammoth difference between holding four reservations and holding six for most people, and if you’re the sort of traveler for whom having more than four reservations at a time is appealing, you’re likely to be going often enough that the parking discount will likely justify the more expensive tier anyway.

* * *

In closing, which pass you opt for is obviously going to be a function of lots of individual factors, including when you can travel and which discounts you’ll actually use, and is going to be different for everyone. From a financial standpoint, however, analysis is basically the same across the board, and is primarily driven (if you’ll pardon the pun) by whether or not you’ll need to pay to park your car regularly.

So, are you planning on joining Disneyland’s Magic Key program? Which Key makes the most sense for you and why? Let us know in the comments!

 

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Jamie Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable daughter, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

7 thoughts on “Breaking Down Disneyland’s New Annual Pa — err, Magic Key Program

  • August 16, 2021 at 7:53 pm
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    Thanks for all this analysis. I am in Colorado but am hoping to visit Disneyland for 15-20 days next year, so I think the Believe Key makes the most sense for me. On most visits, we stay in a nearby hotel and walk to the park, so the parking isn’t needed. I also have a flexible schedule and don’t like the holiday crowds, so the few on-the-holiday blockout dates don’t bug me. Same for the blocked out Saturdays – I can avoid those, too.

    I am assuming – correct me if I’m wrong – that holding six reservations means six individual park days? We usually do three park days per visit to make the travel time worth it (unless we’re visiting relatives and just drop in for a day). So if I reserve three park days in a row that counts as three reservations, correct?

    And even though we don’t get the monthly payment plan here, I purchased a three day park hopper for September before the Keys were available… I’m guessing I’ll be able to use the value of those toward the Believe Key when I arrive? That will make the price a little less painful all at once!

    I will miss the “included” photopass and the online fastpass tool – those were great benefits. Even so, I paid $365 for a three day parkhopper in September… the Believe Key will pay for itself in parkhopper tickets alone if I only go 4 more days. Glad these are back!!

    Reply
    • August 17, 2021 at 11:02 am
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      That is my interpretation of how the reservations will work as well, yes. 3 days in a row would require 3 separate 1 day reservations.

      And yes, Disney should let you upgrade existing park tickets to one of the Keys. That should definitely reduce the sting a bit, since you’ve already got that sunk cost defraying the amount you have to lay out now. Every bit helps!

      Reply
    • August 17, 2021 at 1:50 pm
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      As long as your tickets are “full- price” you should be able to upgrade to a pass.

      What I have heard is that you should do the upgrade on the last day of your multi day ticket reservation. If you do it on your first or second day, you will lose your upcoming reservations.

      Probably a good idea to go to a ticket booth on your first day to know for sure.

      Reply
  • August 17, 2021 at 6:42 am
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    Apart from anything else, I think it would be so much better if the names of the annual passes included the word “annual”!

    Reply
  • August 17, 2021 at 2:06 pm
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    I don’t think we’re going to get any passes straight away. We can only do weekends. The reservation system makes the Dream Key cost prohibitive.

    We had the signature plus AP in the past. Without the reservation system, we could go anytime, at a moment’s notice. It was well worth the money.

    If Disney eventually eliminates the reservation system, we’ll reconsider.

    Reply
    • August 17, 2021 at 2:11 pm
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      I totally understand what you mean. I am not a local, but I had a AP for the last several years because I was in LA regularly for work, and it was great to just be able to pop in for a few hours when I was in the area and had some free time, usually on very little notice. I guess we’ll have to see how it actually plays out, but it sure seems like the reservation system is going to make those spur of the moment visits a lot trickier.

      Reply
  • October 26, 2021 at 3:26 pm
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    I’m confused as to why you are saying Believe Savings is N/A or $0 for food and merchandise. What about the 10% discounts?

    Reply

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