Recent Disney Park Changes We Like
Walt Disney World reopened more than a year ago, but we’re still experiencing some of the ramifications today.
In fact, Disney somehow did the impossible and improved several aspects of a vacation during the pandemic.
Here are seven changes from the past year that we hope stick around for many years to come.
Okay, let’s start with a hot take. Have you visited Walt Disney World during the past 12 months? If so, you know it was better.
Disney integrated Park Passes as a method of ensuring social distancing. However, even with the pandemic winding down, the system has stayed.
Park officials like the control and information that stems from knowing who will visit where each day.
As a consumer, less choice sounds problematic. I won’t lie and say that I like only having one park I can visit at the start of the day.
Realistically, that statement applied before the pandemic as well. When you had a morning FastPass at a park, you started there, right?
So, Park Passes haven’t changed anything from a user perspective, at least nothing untoward.
On the plus side, capacity limits have kept wait times in check for a year and counting. For example, only three rides at Walt Disney World consistently require 60-minute waits.
Before Park Passes, the number was…higher. Disney hasn’t fully returned to pre-pandemic capacity yet, and I kinda hope that they never do.
Charging more for fewer customers can and will net the same amount of revenue, and it makes for happier guests.
Elimination of FastPasses
Here’s another controversial one, but it’s an opinion many share.
Disney eliminated FastPasses when the parks reopened. Initially, guests had no need for FastPasses, as the lines were the shortest ever.
That’s not hyperbole. I’ve gone to several Disney After Hours events and even a VIP Tour. Yet, on those dates, I waited longer than people did last July.
Virtually all rides at Walt Disney World – including Avatar Flight of Passage! – came with waits under 15 minutes.
Over time, capacity expanded enough that wait times normalized, yet everyone did fine without any form of digital queuing.
From July of 2020 through now, guests returned to the 1990s way of experiencing attractions. We waited in full lines.
Some of us prefer the old school method and don’t want to go back. After all, the most recent implementation of FastPass wasn’t great.
Disney limited the number of pre-booked FastPasses at three and then only allowed guests to add one more at a time.
Realistically, few people were booking more than a handful of FastPasses per park visit anyway. So, what’s the point of having the system, then?
Standing in line worked for decades. Maybe we should stay with that system instead of the more convoluted yet often frustrating Fastpass method?
Family-Style Service Instead of Buffets
Quick, what’s the restaurant that guests missed the most at Walt Disney World? The answer is ‘Ohana, and it’s not even close.
Part of the explanation stems from the decadent feast that cast members deliver to our table every meal at ‘Ohana.
Giant skillets overflowing with food work as shareables for the entire party. Best of all, you can refill them as much as possible.
Gluttony is good at ‘Ohana, and you don’t have to do anything as annoying as, you know, getting up and walking over to fill your plate.
This place feels like cruise ship living, with a Disney employee doing all the work while you reap the rewards. It’s decadent.
Well, many disease transmission videos during the spring of 2020 highlighted the problems with buffet meals. Seriously, it’s gross:
So, Disney officials switched from buffet to family-style service, and we’re all the better for it! Finally, we have an excuse to eat the lazy way!
Less Need for Planning/More Spontaneity
Here’s a subject where I suspect most people would agree. Over the years, Walt Disney World had required more and more of vacationers.
We had to book early to reserve the room that we wanted. But, somehow, that was only the first step.
Afterward, we had to schedule Advanced Dining Reservations and FastPasses months before our visit.
I’ve said this before because the absurdity of it bugs me.
There were times where I didn’t know what I would have for dinner, but I knew where I would eat at Disney in five months. That’s ridiculous.
Similarly, FastPasses required 60-day bookings as well. Otherwise, you risked getting shut out of the best attractions…another reason not to miss FastPasses.
Since Walt Disney World’s return, planning has circled back to the days of minimalism. At most, you’ll know the park where you’re visiting and maybe a meal or two.
Otherwise, you’ve got free rein to do whatever you want during a Disney trip. That’s a refreshing change of pace after at least a decade of forced planning.
Mobile Ordering Required for Tables
Here’s a simple change that matters. Those of you who visit Disney often know the reality of this situation.
When you want to dine at certain Quick Service restaurants, you’re in for a fight. Getting a table is akin to winning the lottery.
In my experience, Casey’s Corner at Magic Kingdom and Woody’s Lunch Box at Disney’s Hollywood Studios have demonstrated that the most.
You feel like you need to knock strangers out of the way to get a seat, which is antithetical to the Disney experience. You’re there for joy, not combat.
When Walt Disney World reopened, restaurants embraced a different approach.
Cast members encouraged and all but required guests to utilize Mobile Ordering to order and pay for meals.
Then, when guests arrived to pick up their meals, they had to prove this fact. Workers would ask to see Mobile Ordering screens to verify completed orders.
Once a guest proved this fact, the cast member moved aside and allowed them to grab their food…and a table.
This modest change guaranteed that people dining at restaurants could do so without incident. There were enough tables for all the prepared orders.
At popular establishments like Backlot Express, the new method proved the difference in people having tables versus begging with their eyes for someone to leave, thereby liberating a new seat.
Rise of the Resistance Changes
Here’s a very specific example that only applies to a select few guests. It matters, though.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios had kinda screwed up the process for claiming a Boarding Group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
You had to enter the park before you could book. Without someone’s physical presence there, you could never schedule a Boarding Group.
This decision led to some ridiculous park behavior, as everyone would stop what they were doing at a set time each morning.
Legitimately more than 90 percent of park guests would freeze long enough to participate in Disney’s equivalent of running with the bulls, the Great Boarding Group Rush.
The process shut down all park movement, creating bottlenecks for those who weren’t interested in a Boarding Group.
Eventually, Disney took the hint and altered the process. Now, the Boarding Group window opens at 7 a.m. EST.
Importantly, you don’t need to be at or even near the park to book.
That’s a tremendous change, as people can try to snag a Boarding Group from the comfort of their hotel rooms.
In fact, you can even play Boarding Group Roulette from places outside Orlando! It’s a bit risky since your Boarding Group window could open before you reach town. Lots of people still play, though!
Unique Character Interactions
Disney really unleashed the creative process during the pandemic, a time when physical character greetings represented too much of a health risk.
Park officials evaluated their resources and came up with several strategies to entertain guests, some of which are genuinely charming.
When the parks reopened, guests wandering near wooded sections of the parks would notice Winnie the Pooh. He held a net and was trying to capture butterflies!
Others like Princess Jasmine and Mulan would hover just past the places where guests would stay. That way, you could take their picture safely.
Undoubtedly the most inventive character interactions involve Cavalcades, the lightning-fast parades that involve a single float.
Disney stockpiles several characters on each float, giving guests plenty of opportunities to wave at their favorites and take several pictures.
Then, the Cavalcades end quickly, preventing crowd bottlenecks by dispersing people rapidly.
Earlier this year, Disney phased out several Cavalcades. However, park officials have announced plans through the end of the year.
I’m happy to report that Cavalcades aren’t going anywhere, which is the right call. They should be a permanent part of the Disney theme park experience.
The same statement applies to characters goofing off in “out-of-bounds” parts of the parks, putting on a show for the rest of us.