Spring is upon us which means it’s spring break madness in Orlando. Typically, these are crazy times of year for Disney World, Universal Orlando and pretty much everything else in town. But, this is a special year, one we’ll likely never see the likes of again. Park capacity is significantly reduced. And, to gain access you’ll need to have a Park Pass reservation for the specific park on the specific day you want to visit.
It’s (probably) nobody’s fault, but there are destined to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who thought they were all set for their Disney (or Universal) vacation. There are already plenty of reports in Facebook groups about people showing up at Disney World with a hotel reservation and park tickets but not park pass reservation. Alas, the gates are pretty much closed to all of these folks. Mike from Disney Park Pride was discussing this with me the other day. That lead me to do some research and discover that this is likely going to be a fairly common occurrence during spring break.
It’s Easier Than You Think To Miss Park Pass Reservations
Now, if you’re a Disney World veteran or even just a frequent reader of Disney Park Magic, you know that you need park pass reservations. While Disney World makes it more evident that you need park pass reservations, they still don’t require you to make reservations when you buy park tickets. In fact, the ticket buying process doesn’t even really push you into the reservation system and force you to opt-out. It’s worse with popular ticket sellers such as Undercover Tourist.
Now, to be clear, I think Undercover Tourist can be a great way to save money on Disney World tickets. They’re a popular place to save money on what can be an expensive family vacation. But, their current ticket purchase process is even less specific than Disney World when it comes to the need for park pass reservations.
Purchasing Disney World Tickets on Undercover Tourist
If you look at the Disney World ticket purchase screen on Undercover Tourist, there isn’t a whole lot of guidance about Park Pass reservations.
You’ll see a note above the calendar that talks about the Park Pass system. And, that’s about it. When you click on a specific date, you don’t get a whole lot much more. In fact, I missed the drop-down of what parks are available the first time I went through the process.
During the window my theoretical ticket was valid, Magic Kingdom was unavailable the entire time, as was Hollywood Studios. If I purchased this ticket and immediately made my Park Pass reservations, I could visit EPCOT and Animal Kingdom (and Animal Kingdom was only available a handful of days).
So, what about stern warnings later in the process? Not really. Here’s a detailed description of the tickets if you happen to click on it. They clearly indicate you add your e-ticket, go straight to the gate and onto the rides. There is a passing reference to Disney Park Pass, but very passing (you may link….).
And, the final screen before you push the big red button and buy your tickets:
I have an annual pass right now, so no need for park tickets. That means I wasn’t able to see what, if any message is included on the purchase confirmation screen. I would imagine any messaging is consistent with the rest of the process. Park Pass reservations may get mentioned, but there’s really not a lot to prevent someone from buying tickets they can’t use if they don’t have reservations.
The reality is that buying directly from Disney World isn’t much better. There’s no forced step in the process to book Park Pass reservations. I’m not a big fan of the way Undercover Tourist fails to emphasize the need for Park Pass reservations. But, it feels Disney’s own website has a clear fail in not forcing customers into this step before they purchase tickets.
As it stands right now, there’s no formal process to get into a Disney World theme park with a valid ticket if you don’t make a Park Pass reservation, even if you wait until later in the day after some visitors have gone home.
Is Universal Orlando Any Better?
Universal Orlando doesn’t require a reservation to enter their parks. However, there’s no guarantee a ticket purchased for a specific day will even get you into the parks. They do have one warning, on the screen prior to getting the ticket purchase process started.
Once you get to the date selection screen (a few screens later), you’re choosing a specific date or date range for your tickets. Note there’s no reference here you could purchase a ticket and never gain entry on the day you have a ticket.
On the purchase confirmation screen for a busy weekend day in spring break season, no warnings at all that parks may hit capacity. And yes, that’s a $200 one-day ticket. No, Universal Orlando isn’t cheap.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to purchase a Universal Orlando ticket without much warning about capacity. It’s pretty typical during busy holiday periods right now at Universal that the park hits capacity pretty early in the day. On some days, they hit capacity within 10 minutes of opening. Once the parks are at capacity, guests are forced to stand in line and wait for enough people to leave. You might wait minutes or hours for your chance at a little Harry Potter magic.
Wrapping Up The Magic
So many aspects of our daily lives have been more challenging during the pandemic. I don’t envy the position companies like Disney and Universal find themselves in, balancing profit with the safety of their guests. However, I think it’s clear that both theme parks could do more to keep guests from the disappointment of a once-in-a-lifetime family trip that has no happily ever after.
If you read Disney Park Magic on a regular basis, you already have a good understanding of the theme park landscape during the pandemic. But, so many people plan a Disney World or Universal trip without extensive reading on the internet. They start out with a loose plan, only to find out they were horribly unprepared. It’s hard to lay all that blame on them when the companies selling them tickets aren’t doing more to inform them of the entire process.