My Disney Top 5 - Current Walt Disney World Questions & Concernsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As far back as I can remember, I've always had a little trepidation in mid August. I was never one of those kids that wanted to go back to school. That concept always baffled me. Why would anyone want to go back to school? As opposed to summer? Who would choose school? As a teacher for more than two decades now, I've always felt the same way. I love what I do and I love working with my kids, but, it has to be said, in a perfect world…I'd rather be off! As summer sails into its final stretches these next few weeks, I'll be trying to cram in some more beach time, some more late nights, some outdoor live music, maybe a few late sleep-in mornings, basically anything I can to stave off the inevitable return come September. One thing that has always helped me get through that big leap back is to have something coming up to get excited about. Fall has meant a lot of things to me in my life. Fall has typically meant a Grateful Dead tour. Fall is Comic-Con. Fall is cool weather on the beach or up at the lake. And on more than one occasion over the last two decades Fall has meant a trip to Walt Disney World.
This October, I will be getting away to the most magical place on Earth for a long weekend. I'll be spending it with my family, but I'll also be spending it with several members of the MousePlanet crew. We're scattered around the country and have seen each other on screen during our Fun at Home series of live shows during this mess of a pandemic we've all been living through but we've never been all together like this before. I can't wait to actually experience a whole bunch of the magic with them in person. It's a short trip, but I haven't been there since Fall of 2019, so you can imagine just how much I'm anticipating the whole thing. As it gets closer, I'm starting to get real excited that it's al actually going to come together and happen.
It's been two years since I planned a Disney trip. I've done my planning. I've got park reservations. I've got some dining reservations. I know it's going to be different. Things still aren't quite the same down there, but we're going to make the best out of all of it for sure. There are aspects of this trip that are going to be familiar and I'm quite sure there will be many things that are completely different for us. I've always adhered to Walt's original credo that the parks will always be changing and growing and that they will never really be finished. I buy into that completely and always have. That said over the past few weeks a lot of news has been coming out of Orlando about just what a trip to Disney is going to be like in the future and I find myself saddled with a whole bunch of questions. As far as my writings here on MousePlanet have gone, I've always strived to stay positive. There's way too much negativity out there online about Disney. I can't go that route. It's just not who I am. But there are some current and upcoming changes that have me a little…perplexed I guess is the word I'm looking for. So, let's consider this a list of the Top 5 Walt Disney World questions and concerns that I have going forward.
5 - Are MagicBands really going away?
I'm sure most of you are aware that Disney no longer includes complimentary MagicBands with their hotel reservations. That in and of itself is a pretty major disappointment. Just how excited were you when you got that big box in the mail with your set of MagicBands weeks before a trip? To me, MagicBands were one of Disney's best innovations. Leave my wallet behind? Yes, thank you! Don't fumble for the park tickets, room keys, FastPasses…just tap your band. What an absolute pleasure it's been since 2013 having this on my wrist at the ready, for pretty much everything, no matter what. It's unparalleled vacation ease and that's something you need especially on a Disney trip. For the time being, you can still use an old band or purchase a new one, but the next generation of Disney vacation ease will be on your smartphone, not on your wrist. Well, technically that's not completely true, those of us out there with a smart watch like an Apple watch will be able to use that in the future as well, so some of it will be on your wrist.
But here's the thing for me. I'm not an old fuddy, believe me, I do a ton of things with my iPhone in this day and age, but I also really…really like to put it away sometimes. I honestly don't want to use my phone for my park ticket, my room key, my wallet, etc. I find it infinitely more convenient to strap a MagicBand on my wrist and do everything with that. This may sound corny, but I always liked the idea that when I'm in my Disney bubble, I can put my phone away and do something unique that I don't do at home, like use a cool orange bracelet with a Hidden Mickey on it for everything I might need. It was a special part of the trip that made me feel like I was really there, away from it all. But apparently, they will go away, probably sooner than later and I'm actually not too happy about it.
4 - So…I have to stay in a Deluxe resort in order to get Extra Magic Hours?
One of the true perks of staying on Walt Disney property was getting extra time in the parks in the form of Extra Magic Hours. To be fair, these aren't going away completely. Disney will be offering Early Theme Park Entry for Disney hotel guests and Extended Evening Theme Park Hours for guests at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resort hotels. Now, to be perfectly honest, I was never a big fan of Extra Magic Hours in the mornings. We typically found that just about everybody on property took advantage of this offering in the morning and all it ever meant was a much too crowded park. As a matter of fact, if we saw that one park had an extra hour in the morning, we made it a point to go to a different park that day and we'd just about be guaranteed a quieter experience. However, we always loved the Extra Magic Evening Hours. We typically traveled in summer, when the parks had longer hours to begin with. I can remember the Magic Kingdom closing at 11:00 PM and then being open for resort guests until 2:00 AM! On one trip I remember all 5 of us going back to our room at Riverside at around 10-10:30 PM. By 11, everyone was asleep but me. I was wide awake. So, I put my sneakers back on and went to the Magic Kingdom and stayed until 2, riding whatever I wanted to. Between 1 and 2 I rode all three of the mountains multiple times each! It was incredible. Walking through an empty World Showcase from 11PM until the park closed down at midnight was also one of my favorite all time things to do down there thanks to Extra Magic Evening Hours and now it looks like that's going to be a harder thing for me to experience
So, on my next trip for instance, we're saving some bucks and staying at Pop Century. That means I'll get 30 minutes extra in the morning in the parks and no extra evenings at all. I have to say…I'm putting that down as a loss. 30 minutes is barely anything. We're big fans of the Yacht Club and I guess I'll have to be back there again to enjoy some of those wonderful later nights in the parks. So, I'd have to say, I'm not too happy about this development either.
3 - Will I ever be able to afford another stay at the Yacht Club?
I've long been a proponent here on MousePlanet that a trip to Walt Disney World is actually a bargain. At the very least, I've always argued that Disney is completely worth the money you spend. Was it cheap? No. Not at all. But not that long ago, I can remember paying much less than $200 a night to stay at a place like Port Orleans Riverside or Caribbean Beach. We got a postcard in the mail once offering us 40% off our room if we came back to Disney. That actually got us the Polynesian for around $280 a night! Once again, it's not cheap, but in comparison with other resorts at other major travel destinations, it was a deal and a half. Try booking anything along the eastern seaboard during summer and you'll see what I mean. Our room at Cape Cod during the summer of 2019 was close to $400 a night. It was nice enough and yes, it was on the beach but was it a Disney resort? No way. The property was tiny. The walls were thin. The pool was a postage stamp. Put me at Riverside with an awesome main pool, 5 quiet pools, full food court, sit down restaurant, shop, arcade, two bars, nightly bonfires and movies, fishing, surrey bike rentals, boat rentals, boat rides to Disney Springs, complimentary bus transportation to theme parks and water parks, horse and buggy rides…I could go on and on. Try booking a room at the Hershey owned hotels in Pennsylvania or at any modern ski resort. Inevitably Disney was giving me so much more bang for my buck.
Now, I realize that I'm dealing with a post pandemic travel world right now. Demand is high and so are prices. But, I'm getting awfully concerned that a Disney Deluxe hotel is going to run me around $500-$600 a night at best. Back in 2018, we got a 30% off room only reservation deal for my 50th birthday. Our July stay at the Yacht Club that week was in the low $300s per night. Once again, not cheap but I've paid way more than that to go see my daughter and stay in a high rise chain hotel in Boston with barely any amenities. Will I ever get a deal like that again? I certainly hope so. I adore Walt Disney World and I have to make sure that I'm not getting priced out. This year, I am choosing to go at a busy time given the 50th anniversary celebration and there are currently no fall promotions running at all. With any luck and some Disney magic, that will hopefully change and next time I'll be lounging poolside at Stormalong Bay.
2 - No more FastPass?
Here's the thing. If you've spent any amount of time here on the internet surfing through all of the various Disney fan sites over the last 10 years or so, you have more than likely come across a spirited discussion regarding FastPass or FastPass+. Personally, I've never understood the argument. I think FastPass is a godsend. So, going back to the early days, you're telling me that all I had to do was go to a machine and stick my ticket in and I'll get told when to come back and ride with little or no wait? Why would I ever complain about that? And yet, plenty of people did. Then FastPass morphed and we were able to make reservations ahead of time. Granted, I wasn't too crazy about making decisions about what attractions I would be going on and when I would be going on them months in advance. But, it was still free, open to everyone who put the time in, and it allowed me to never wait in the line for Peter Pan's Flight. It allowed me to experience Flight of Passage with barely a wait. To me, it was always a win-win and I never complained about it. Now that it's ostensibly gone and may never return, at least not free and open to everyone, I wonder how many of the posters out there will be lamenting its loss?
I get the argument. Just about every theme park or amusement park you go to has some sort of line cutting offering and they all cost extra money. Why should Disney be the only one that gives it to their guests for free? The answer, of course, is that Disney isn't Universal. It's not Six Flags. It's something different and allowing me to skip a few lines each day for free was a special perk about going to Walt Disney World. There's a lot of conjecture out there about FastPass never returning or a potential paid version coming to Walt Disney World. Personally, I think that'd be a shame.
As a postscript to this particular entry, MousePlanet's own Adrienne Vincent Phoenix posted a more in depth look at the future of FastPass. For the most up to date info check out her recent article on the new Disney Genie service recently announced by the Walt Disney Company.
1 - This will really be my last Magical Express ride?
There's no conjecture here. As of 2022, Disney's Magical Express will cease operation. This trip in the fall will be our last ever Magical Express ride. Once again, this to me was always a no-brainer. So, you're going to take me from the airport to my resort and I can skip baggage claim? You'll get my luggage off the plane and take that along as well? I'll ride in a nice air-conditioned coach bus with a wonderful video to get me psyched up for my trip. Then you'll do it all the same way when I return home…and you won't charge me? How could people argue with that? And yet they did. I never understood the problems people had with this service. We went to Disney pre-Magical Express, so I know we can do so again when it finally goes away. But taking a taxi or the Mears shuttle sure wasn't better. I'm sure you can tell by my tone here that I simply love, love, love Magical Express.
As I've said before. I want to be in the Disney bubble. I want them to bring me there. Once I get there, I want to stay there happily inside the bubble. I don't want to drive. I don't want to go to an outlet mall or a supermarket or eat at Chili's. That's not why I'm going to Walt Disney World. So, yeah, bring me there for free. Take my luggage. Trap me on your magical property for a week with nothing else to do but stay immersed in my happy Disney bubble and then soften the blow of me having to leave by getting me back to the airport. And do it all for free. Yes. I accept. Doing away with this is a colossal letdown and I'm kind of viewing this as a shortsighted decision on Disney's part. One thing's for sure, I'm going to savor this last Magical Express trip in a tremendous way.
Truth be told, I'm trying not to be too negative with this list, but some of these things are stacking up to be big losses when it comes to my oh so important Disney experience. I'm going to miss them if they all do indeed go away. Trust me, I'm equally excited about going back to Galaxy's Edge. I can't wait for Tron. I'm looking forward to the transformation of Epcot, seeing Ratatouille open and maybe even dining in Space 220. I have a lot to look forward to at Walt Disney World. Going back to my favorites. Walking down Main Street. Quietly strolling around World Showcase or looking up in awe at the carvings on the Tree of Life. And maybe, just maybe, some of these changes will pave the way for some new and better ways to enjoy my trips. I'm a hopeful kind of guy and I do believe in Disney. I think that's part of the deal we all struck with Disney when Walt told us that things will always be changing. We need to allow the parks to adapt and change even if it means losing things we like. I can point to plenty of examples. I actually never went on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at the Magic Kingdom. I know people loved it and were pretty upset when it was closing. But, honestly, all three of my kids cherish its replacement, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as do my wife and I. Their formative Walt Disney World magical experiences are inextricably linked to that attraction and I'm thankful that this particular change took place.
So, Disney…please…don't burn me on these! I've been getting a little concerned that some of these are big mistakes instead of big changes. I want to believe in you. I've got your back. I'll keep being positive and sticking up for you. But I need you to hold up your end of the bargain. Don't forget about us out here. We adore you and dedicate a lot of energy and time to you, so let's keep things a two way street here. I'm not giving up on you, so don't start giving up on us. Deal?
That's all for this time. Check back next time when I'll dip back into my ongoing countdown of each and every single Walt Disney World attraction. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below. Let me hear your thoughts. Stay safe, and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.