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Disney tries a new approach after angering fans: Cutting fees

‘Great day to be a Disney fan,’ one devotee wrote

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)
5 min

For a change of pace, Disney’s domestic theme parks announced that they are offering some free perks, removing unpopular restrictions and adding more low-priced days.

The changes, announced Tuesday, follow months — even years — of ire from fans who have complained that the company was nickel-and-diming its customers with fees and increases to the price of admission.

When former CEO Bob Chapek was ousted in November and replaced by predecessor Bob Iger, the Disney faithful immediately inundated the new top boss with a list of requests.

Leaders have been listening, they said this week.

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In a note to staff published online, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said he spends a lot of time in the company’s theme parks and listens carefully to employees and guests about what’s working (and what’s not). He said the changes announced Tuesday have been requested by staff and visitors.

“And while this doesn’t address everyone’s feedback, these changes will increase flexibility and add value to our guests’ experience,” D’Amaro wrote.

Some of the changes went into effect immediately, while others start Feb. 4 and more are scheduled to go into effect in “the next few months.”

More days at the cheapest price point at Disneyland

In a blog post, the company said Disneyland will offer “nearly two months worth” of one-day, one-park tickets throughout the year at the lowest price level: $104. That represents a nearly 40 percent increase in the lowest-priced days over last year; D’Amaro said in a letter to employees that the company was “significantly increasing” the number of days priced at that amount.

A calendar shows 17 days between now and early May, all weekdays, with a $104 price tag; the most expensive price during that time is $179. Pricing information isn’t yet available for the rest of the year.

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Free hotel parking returns at Disney World

Hotel guests at the sprawling Florida resort used to park at hotels free, a perk that went away in 2018. Prices have increased slightly since then, with nightly parking costing $15 to $25 a night, depending on the type of hotel. That charge is history as of Tuesday.

“This is a Disney difference many of you have asked us to bring back, and we’re happy to reintroduce it to make your vacation a little easier and more affordable — whether you’re road tripping across the country, renting a car or vacationing as a local Florida resident,” the company said in a blog post.

If hotel guests drive to the theme parks, they don’t have to pay the standard parking fee of $25; hotel stays also include free on-site transportation to the parks.

Earlier park-hopping at Disneyland

Visitors who have an annual pass or a ticket that gives them access to both California parks — called a Park Hopper — will no longer have to wait until 1 p.m. to switch between parks. Starting Feb. 4, guests can jump to the next park starting at 11 a.m.

After Iger returned as CEO, earlier park-hopping was one of the biggest requests fans had. No new policy has been announced for the four Florida parks, where visitors are not allowed to switch between parks until 2 p.m.

Reservation rules easing for annual pass holders at Disney World

Another huge complaint from fans: The reservations that have been required since parks reopened following pandemic closures. That requirement will be eased for people who have annual passes to the Florida parks in most cases, starting at an unspecified time in the “next few months,” Disney said.

The pass holders will be able to visit parks after 2 p.m. without needing to make a reservation, with the only exception being Saturdays and Sundays at Magic Kingdom.

“While the theme park reservation system remains important to manage attendance in our parks, especially on busier days, we realize our Passholders enjoy more spontaneous visits — and this change will make that possible,” the announcement said.

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More free ride photos at both parks

Disney is not getting rid of its relatively new, oft-bemoaned Genie Plus system that allows visitors to pay a daily fee for faster access to many rides. But it is sweetening the deal at Disney World.

Starting in the next few months, those who buy the service in Florida will also get digital downloads of photos taken on attractions — think the screaming photo as Space Mountain hurtles down a track — free. That can amount to a significant savings; individual ride photo downloads cost $16.95, or Disney sells more expensive photo packages for a single day or entire trip.

At Disneyland, all visitors will get free downloads of attraction photos starting Feb. 4; an individual download costs $14.99. The offer is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney Co. and will be available “throughout the Disney100 celebration” at the resort. It was not immediately clear when that offer would end.

The company also recently introduced some deals for residents of Florida and Southern California.

“I’m excited about all of these changes and offers and want you to know that we are committed to listening, adapting, and staying relentlessly focused on making the guest experience at our Disney parks even better,” D’Amaro wrote.

Many fans praised the changes online, while acknowledging that there were still gripes to address.

“Gonna be honest, it’s really satisfying when Disney listens to brutally honest guest criticism,” one Twitter user wrote.

Derek Burgan, senior theme park correspondent for trip-planning site TouringPlans, said on Twitter that he hoped anyone who thought the change of leadership didn’t matter would realize that things could change.

“I’m not saying ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ but the first positive steps have been taken when we’ve only been going backwards for a long time,” Burgan wrote.