9 changes Disney fans want returning CEO Bob Iger to make at parks

Disney die-hards cheered Iger’s return. Now they’re demanding changes.

Bob Iger is back in the CEO role for Disney. (iStock/Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/Washington Post illustration)

When news of a CEO switch at Disney broke late Sunday night, hardcore fans of the brand rejoiced on social media by posting clips from movies such as “Frozen” and “Black Panther.”

“The king has returned,” one popular meme says, using a quote from “The Lion King” as a reference to Bob Iger’s comeback.

Then they presented a list of demands, begging the newly reinstated executive to replace some of the wrongs they blamed on ousted CEO Bob Chapek, who many derisively refer to as “Paycheck” because of his perceived emphasis on the corporate bottom line. According to an announcement from the company, Iger agreed to a two-year term and is tasked with “developing a successor” to take over.

Chapek’s departure and Iger’s reinstatement were announced in a news release nearly two weeks after the company reported steep losses for its streaming business. The company’s share price tumbled, and plans for a hiring freeze and layoffs followed, Reuters reported.

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But visitors to Disney’s theme parks had been sharing their disappointment for much longer, bemoaning increasing prices, the elimination of formerly free perks and complicated new line-skipping services. A Change.org petition to fire Chapek gathered more than 117,000 supporters, citing budget cuts, layoffs and a decline in experience at parks.

“The magic’s gone; it’s not fun anymore,” one North Carolina woman told The Washington Post shortly after a visit earlier this year. “Then with all the price hikes and the money stuff, it’s just like I don’t even want to go back.”

With news that Iger — CEO from 2005 to 2020 and executive chairman until late last year — was returning, many fans saw a Prince Charming coming to the rescue. The fact that he held a position of power when many unpopular decisions were made did not seem to faze them.

Their overall request: Bring back the magic. Many had specific ideas about how to do that.

Stop requiring reservations for parks

When Disney theme parks reopened earlier in the pandemic — 2020 for Florida and 2021 for California — they limited capacity and instituted a rule to require reservations. That means even if someone bought a ticket, they couldn’t visit without also locking in a reservation for the park they intended to visit; on some days, those slots run out at one or more parks.

Last week, the company announced that under a new system at Walt Disney World in Florida, one-day tickets for a single park will no longer require an additional reservation. But those who buy other types of tickets will still need to take the extra steps.

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Allow park-hopping earlier

Under another pandemic-era change, visitors who pay extra to visit more than one park a day need to wait until the afternoon to leave their first park. In California, that time is 1 p.m.; in Florida, it’s 2 p.m. This has caused fans to complain that they aren’t getting their money’s worth.

Abolish Genie Plus

Not every fan hates the new paid service that lets visitors skip the lines at many popular rides for a fee; another option tacks on a la carte charges for the most in-demand rides. But most people still chafe at having to pony up for the option when the old version, called FastPass, was free.

The new app-based service, Genie Plus, and the option to buy access to “individual lightning lanes” are big moneymakers for the company. Many visitors complain that they are complicated and pricey, requiring them to stay on their phones all day.

Make annual passes available again

Frequent visitors to the California and Florida parks have been begging the company to take their money — a not-insignificant amount of money. New sales of most annual passes were halted last year in Florida.

In California, sales of the “Magic Key” passes have been suspended repeatedly. Sales resumed last week, only to halt again a day later, according to local media reports. Disneyland says on its website that it has “currently paused” new sales.

Reinstate the free airport shuttle

Disney hotel guests in Florida used to be able to head to a dedicated section of Orlando International Airport and hop on a free themed shuttle to the resort, called the Magical Express. That service went away in January, stripping a popular perk and adding a new expense for families.

Bring back dining plans

Some fans loved the option to prepay for meals and use the “credits” they got as part of the Disney Dining Plan during their trip. That was paused during the pandemic, and the company’s website for Florida parks says only that the plans are “temporarily unavailable.”

“While the Disney Dining Plan was not right for everyone, a significant number of Disney World guests are devotees, swearing that it helps them plan, budget, and save money on vacation dining,” the trip-planning site Touring Plans wrote in August 2020.

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Stop charging for MagicBands

Guests at Disney’s Florida resorts or annual pass holders once got an extra accessory free: a bracelet called a MagicBand, which would let them get into their hotel room, make purchases, enter the parks and access the shorter-line lanes they had reserved. Eventually, the “free” part of the perk went away.

Now the new MagicBand Plus includes the ability to interact with parks even more — and comes at a cost. The least-expensive version at Disney’s online store starts at $29.99.

Lower prices

Disney raises prices regularly, even if the lowest-cost tickets stayed the same for several years. Now, that’s even changing for most parks. The company announced earlier this month that the range of prices for three of its four Florida parks — Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios — were all going up. At the most popular park on the busiest days during the winter holidays, the price for a one-day visit will be a new high of $189.

That followed some price increases for California parks and hikes for line-skipping services.

For conservative fans, abandon ‘woke’ changes

Some fans who feel as if Disney has pushed a liberal agenda in parks, movies and television urged the returning CEO to abandon a “woke” agenda. Disney opposed legislation in Florida that restricts what teachers can say about gender and sexual orientation, setting off a feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Iger, who has said that he considered running for president, was also outspoken in opposition to the bill.

A few people on social media also urged Iger to change plans to give the old Splash Mountain ride a new theme. Based on a movie that is no longer shown because of racist themes, the ride is being turned into an attraction themed around “The Princess and the Frog,” featuring the company’s first Black princess. The new version is scheduled to open in late 2024.

Iger is unlikely to change course; the new theme was announced when he was executive chairman, and he has spoken about the decision not to make the ride’s original source material available on Disney Plus.

“I’ve felt as long as I’ve been CEO that ‘Song of the South’ — even with a disclaimer — was just not appropriate in today’s world,” he told shareholders at a meeting in early 2020.