What Has Changed at Disney This Year?
The Walt Disney Company has navigated a chaotic 2021.
The ups and downs of the pandemic forced Disney executives to reevaluate all forms of theme park-related business practices.
Throughout the year, MickeyBlog has updated you on various changes at the parks, some of which we’ve liked. Others…don’t thrill us.
Let’s take a quick look at what has changed at Disney this year.
The permanence of Park Passes
When Walt Disney World reopened, we fully expected park officials to employ some sort of methodology to control crowds.
Otherwise, Disney couldn’t have protected guests during the pandemic.
Ultimately, the company came up with Park Passes. Guests schedule these to guarantee a park visit on a given date.
Without a Park Pass, you’re not getting into any Walt Disney World theme park. Actually, I should update that.
When Disneyland returned in April of 2021, it also employed Park Passes. So, park officials require them everywhere now.
During a recent interview, Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed that Park Passes will remain indefinitely. Disney likes them as a way to estimate crowds.
Guests remain…ambivalent about Park Passes. They’re at least semi-permanent, though. So, you better get used to them.
During 2020, Disney parks operated at half-mast. Just keeping them up and running proved enough of a challenge.
Thankfully, the ready availability of vaccines has allowed Disney to bring back many of your favorites.
Character interactions, character meals, show-based attractions, and fireworks presentations have all returned.
Now, a Disney vacation feels the same way as you remember it from before the pandemic.
The other change from 2020 is that Disney felt comfortable opening new stuff this year.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Space 220 should have debuted last year. However, the pandemic killed any chance of that happening.
This year, park officials felt comfortable with opening both. Better yet, Disney California Adventure opened an entire themed land, Avengers Campus!
Limitations on Annual Pass Sales
Some of the changes remain a mystery even to insiders. To wit, Disney recently stopped selling most annual passes at Walt Disney World.
Floridians can still buy a pass that works on most weekdays. It’s the Pixie Dust Pass. Unfortunately, everyone else must purchase standard admission tickets for the time being.
Disney has indicated that this is temporary. Still, the expectation is that annual passes will remain unavailable until early in 2022.
The same thing has happened at Disneyland, too. The top two tiers of annual passes there have sold out as well.
In fact, the struggles at Disneyland may provide insight into what’s happening behind the scenes.
Remember those Park Passes I just mentioned? Well, even annual passholders must book Park Passes before they can enter the Happiest Place on Earth.
Disneyland works a bit differently than Walt Disney World. A more significant number of park guests at Disneyland are local to California.
So, Disneyland has developed something of an infamous Park Pass crunch. Longtime annual passholders suddenly cannot visit whenever they want.
Suffice to say that many have complained. Even though Walt Disney World receives many more guests from out-of-state, park officials noticed the trend.
They moved proactively to avoid something similar happening in Orlando.
These new annual passes represent a new system, and park officials must work out the kinks before they go on sale again.
I strongly suspect that the new problem will prove much simpler to fix at Walt Disney World than at Disneyland.
New Store Checkout Options
Here’s a move I had expected for a while, although it wasn’t the majority opinion.
Late last year, Disney introduced a new form of checkout system. As a result, guests could skip the process of waiting in line to pay for their goods.
Instead, they’d load My Disney Experience on their phones. Then, they’d scan barcodes for the items they wanted to purchase.
Afterward, they’d checkout via their phones and receive a QR code. Finally, the shopper would show this code to a cast member on the way out the door.
Seriously, the only interaction you have with a Disney employee is to show them the digital equivalent of a receipt.
They may check your bag to make sure you’re not trying to walk out with a signed lithograph you didn’t pay for or something like that.
Otherwise, this system totally eliminates the need for standing in lines at stores.
You decide when you leave by completing checkout on My Disney Experience. It’s that simple.
Plenty of people thought this system would never work at Disney. That’s why the company field-tested it for a calendar year.
Now, Walt Disney World and Disneyland have gone all-in on this system, Merchandise Mobile Checkout.
Thirteen of the most frequented stores will enable Merchandise Mobile Checkout by the end of the year.
Years from now, you’ll tell your grandkids that you once stood in line to check out with a cashier. You’ll really blow their minds if you say you paid with cash.
The world is changing, and Disney’s on the cutting edge of it.
These last two are arguably the most controversial park changes, at least for Walt Disney World fans.
Disneyland guests ceded the free FastPass system a while ago. Park officials introduced MaxPass as a way to thin the herd on FastPass usage.
As more guests visited the parks each year, FastPass demand grew while attraction throughput remained static. That’s bad math for Disney.
MaxPass solved the problem. Guests who didn’t care about standing in line didn’t need this amenity.
Meanwhile, those Disneyland fans who wanted to skip the lines could pay for the privilege. MaxPass started at $10 and had increased to $20 by the start of the pandemic.
Walt Disney World officials kept FastPass free until the world caught fire. Then, after the parks reopened during the pandemic, they chose a new path.
Now, you’ll need to buy Disney Genie+ or Lightning Lane to enter the short line queue on many attractions.
Disney Genie+ costs $15 per person per day, while Lightning Lane runs from $7-$15, depending on the attraction.
Free FastPasses aren’t really a thing now, and they’re not even called FastPasses anymore. Instead, you enter a Lightning Lane to board an attraction faster.
Thus far, Disney has resisted the temptation on a Lightning McQueen-themed tie-in, but that feels inevitable.
Anyway, guests who pay for Disney Genie+ discover ample availability for most attractions.
That’s because more than half of daily park visitors never use the Lightning Lane system now.
End of Magical Express
On January 1st, 2022, Disney will no longer offer Magical Express as a free amenity for guests staying onsite.
So, in less than a month, vacationers must fend for themselves at Orlando International Airport (MCO).
Honestly, the whole thing has probably gotten blown out of proportion a bit, even by me.
The next time you visit MCO, it’ll be just like any other airport when you travel. You’ll take care of your own bags and transportation needs.
The complaints stem from the fact that Disney had really, REALLY spoiled its hotel guests with this amenity. So that’s why we hate the thought of losing it.
If/when Magical Express returns, I’ll appreciate it all the more. Still, I need to be less dramatic about this change.
I’m visiting Walt Disney World in a few weeks, and traveling from the airport to the hotel will be a breeze. I just got used to Disney chauffeuring me.