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The Radical Way Disneyland Resort Should Change The Reservation System

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland
(Image credit: Disneyland)

When Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World reopened after their respective pandemic closures, they did so with a brand-new reservations system. Due to the fact that the parks needed to significantly limit capacity in those early days, the system was necessary. While capacity has since increased, it’s been made clear that the reservation system isn’t going anywhere.  

Unfortunately, the reservation system is a pretty big headache for many guests, which is why it needs to go, especially at Disneyland. But it seems the only way that could happen would be if the resort took a radical step. If we can't eliminate reservations, then we may need to eliminate single park tickets from Disneyland Resort.

Partners statue and Sleeping Beauty Castle at night

(Image credit: Disneyland)

How The Disney World And Disneyland Reservation System Works 

In the before times, you bought a ticket to a Disney park, and then you used that ticket pretty much whenever you wanted. Later, tickets gained a sort of reservation element to them, as tickets had different prices on different days depending on how popular the park was on those days. But even then there was a grace period allowing you some flexibility regarding when you could go.

With the reservation system, flexibility is gone. After you buy a ticket, you need to make a reservation for a specific date, and without that reservation, you can’t get in. In the case of park hopper tickets, which let you visit more than one park on the same day, you must make a reservation for the park you want to enter first, and you must go there first. Then, at a set time (2 pm at Walt Disney World and 1 pm at Disneyland Resort), you may leave and go to another park.

Disney has said that the reservation system is important because it allows them to better manage the parks. By knowing how many people will be in the resort on a given day, and where they will be, Disney can make sure that the right places are properly staffed, crowds can be better managed, and guests will be able to have an overall better experience.

There has been some anecdotal evidence that this idea of managing demand isn’t really happening, or at the very least isn’t working as intended. However, even if we assume the best, there are some problems; not with reservations themselves, but with what they cause. The biggest issue is with park hopping.

Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

The Reservation System Kills Park Hopping, Especially At Disneyland

Before the reservation system, if you bought a park hopper ticket, you could move around parks as much as you wanted. You could walk into any park at Walt Disney World and immediately turn right around and leave for another. If you wanted to rope drop Space Mountain just to make sure you got on it and then head to Animal Kingdom an hour later, you could do that.

But the reservation system essentially requires a delay between initial park arrival and park hopping. If you can make a reservation at one park and then turn around and immediately go to a different park, then the reservation becomes meaningless; whatever value it’s supposed to have is lost.

At Walt Disney World, there is perhaps an argument to be made that people doing this is less likely. Disney World is massive, and getting from place to place is honestly a chore. It’s part of what makes park hopping there less worthwhile in general, in my opinion. Getting between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios by Skyliner isn’t bad, assuming you don’t get stuck on it, but if you’re traveling by bus, it’s going to take awhile to get anywhere. You might as well spend some quality time in that first park; it’ll be more fun than waiting for a bus.

But at Disneyland Resort, things are a little different. There are only two parks, and they’re only yards away from each other. On the one hand, it’s all the more reason for the reservation system and limited park hopping to exist. People absolutely would walk into one park and then turn around and go to the other if they could. But the close proximity is exactly why the limited park hopping makes no sense. It’s right there.

Limiting park hopping between two parks that are so close together that they feel like one place is ridiculous. But at this point, it seems clear that the reservation system isn’t going away, and if it’s staying, the park hoping limitations become a necessary requirement. There is one way to make the reservation system technically work while allowing for unlimited park hopping: treat Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as a single location and make every ticket a park hopper ticket.

Haunted Mansion exterior

(Image credit: Disneyland)

All Disneyland Tickets Should Be Park Hoppers 

Walt Disney World is often the resort credited with the “blessing of size,” and while its massive scope certainly allows for so much that will never be possible at Disneyland, there is something to be said for the California location’s smaller scale. All the elements of the resort, both theme parks, three hotels and Downtown Disney are all right next to each other, making them all incredibly easy to navigate.

Jumping between the two theme parks easily is one of the great selling points of the entire resort. Without it, a great deal is lost. Having dinner at Carthay Circle at DCA before heading over to Disneyland to watch the fireworks is the point. Based on the plans Disney has presented for its proposed Disneyland Forward expansion, the parks, hotels and shopping and dining are only going to become a more cohesive environment, with each flowing into the other nearly seamlessly. 

By giving all ticket holders access to both parks, we can still make the reservation system work. Disney will know how many people to expect on a given day, but those guests will have freedom to move through the resort. True, Disney doesn’t know how many people will want to rope drop Galaxy’s Edge compared to Avengers Campus, but Disney also doesn't know how many people are going to rope drop Space Mountain compared to Thunder Mountain. At its core, the reservation system is about linking a specific ticket sale with a specific day of attendance, and that remains intact.

There Is One Big Downside 

There is, of course, a significant downside to this idea. If you thought Disneyland Resort tickets were expensive before, doing this would cause a significant jump. A single day park hopper ticket currently costs you a minimum of $164, compared to the current single park ticket which is $104. You can be sure that if single park tickets went away, those park hoppers would not be getting any cheaper.

So we're looking at more than a 50% increase in the baseline ticket cost. That's not a benefit to anybody's wallet, but odds are a lot of people are spending that money already. And when you built that cost in to a Disneyland vacation, it becomes manageable. The per day cost of a ticket drops significantly when you go multiple days, and most people do.

Of course, if I had all the control in the world, I would simply eliminate the reservation system entirely and return tickets and park hopping to the way it used to be. That’s the perfect solution, but since it doesn’t seem likely to happen, this may be a better choice than what we have now. At Walt Disney World single park tickets make sense, but at Disneyland Resort, park hopping is a way of life and it needs to return.

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.