My Disney Top 5 - Current Walt Disney World Questions & Concerns

by Chris Barry, contributing writer
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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.


Remember getting these in the mail? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

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


It looks like if I stay with Roger Rabbit, I won't be able to stay in the parks after hours. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

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.


I better start saving up for a trip back to my beloved Yacht Club. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

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?


Not gonna lie; I really miss these. Photo by Chris Barry.

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.


I get one last trip aboard Disney's Magical Express. MousePlanet File Photo.

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.

 

Comments

  1. By wdwchuck

    Hey Chris! Thank you for doing this! Excellent idea for a Top 5. I am surprised you didn't have the Park reservation thing as #1? Or the pricing on the hotels. I agree we get some perks but the sticker shock is incredible. And then the new Star Wars experience is out of this world pricing too. My family is not wealthy and we are working stock like you and yours, so the idea to have to pay more and more to experience the bubble is tough to take. Disney has the data and they know there are plenty of people that will pay these prices so not much we can do but go elsewhere with our vacation dollars. I loved FastPass and didn't understand why they couldn't keep us distanced in those lines too during the pandemic. Now I know why, they are making the transition to pay to play.
    I will be going to Boma for a meal soon, but for all the reasons you mentioned and more, we won't be doing WDW like we used to do WDW. Thanks again for adding your voice to these conversations. Always enjoy getting your point of view.

  2. By MattyN

    Great list! I agree with everything. When booking our upcoming October stay (the first in about five years!) my family was dismayed to find out we would have to pay for MagicBands. They were even more upset when I told them MagicBands would likely be going away in the future. You're right - that box arriving in the mail was like a confirmation of a dream realized. Physical proof that the magic exists and we'll soon be experiencing it for ourselves. Reading about the prospect of MagicBands (and Magical Express) going away sparked a childhood memory for me of a long-lost signifier that the magic was approaching - the messages that would play on the car radio as you entered Disney property and made your way to the Magic Kingdom. I remember being six years old, riding with my parents, brother, and sister in our '75 Ford Granada, as we approached the park for the very first time, back when the Magic Kingdom was the only park. The signs on the road said to tune our radio to a particular station. When we did, it was like magic. A Walt Disney World radio station telling us when the parade was, where we could get something to eat, what attractions to see. Wow! All this before we even saw the parking lot! It made the long drive from Maine worth it. The magic began before you even got out of the car.

    For my kids, getting those bands in the mail (heck, even just picking their band color online) was the start of the magic of each WDW trip. Soon they'll just have a bunch of old, colorful, yet useless plastic bracelets and the memories of feeling the magic weeks before we even stepped out the door.

  3. By Dave1313

    All good points. (I would open with my (traditional ) "Another great top 5!" remark, but that seems wrong for the topic since a lot of these changes are possibly not "great" - time will tell...)

    1) Bands: I agree, even though I never bought in to linking them directly to my credit card, so I still carried a wallet. I liked them for park access and for the FP+ touch points, and I loved the special effects some of the premium ones would do at the touch points. That to me was one of the little Disney Magic things that will be missed if the bands and touch points totally go away in the near future. (I guess with the touch points not working all the time to trigger those effects, maybe Disney won't miss having to try to maintain that function if the bands do go away fully). With the inclusion of Photopass with the Annual Passe I used to get in the past, I also liked them for the ride photos (or even photos with park photographers), either the ones where you scanned, or the more recent ones (SDMT as an example) that linked the pics to your MDE without using a touch point at all. That was cool.

    2) EMH and Resort Pricing: I recall several previous trips where I got similar pricing as you suggest for Deluxe hotels. I think I got something in the mid to high three hundred range for 3 days or so at Yacht Club during the last year of Star Wars Weekends (2015, IIRC). I recall similar positive experiences for some EMH evenings. I recall walking on to Soarin' twice in a row right at the boundary of regular park hours concluding and EMH starting. That was nice. I have to admit though, since I enjoy driving during my trips, I stopped staying on site after they added the parking fees. I was considering making my peace with the parking fee and arranging my next trip (last time was Dec 2019) an on-site at a Deluxe Resort, but that was when I was assuming the parks would be returning to similar operations as before the COVID shutdown and phased re-openings. The retained park reservations and park hopping limitations (combined with Virtual queue for RotR) made me think better of that plan though, as I'm not sure I'm making a return while the parks are running in that manner.

    3) FP: I shared the love for the original paper. Yes it required exercise (hey, I need the exercise as much as anyone! ) to run to the machines to get the passes, and yes for the top rides, the line to try to get one could be a line in itself. But in general, I liked that method. The evolution to picking three to start and then being able to add more after you used them for anything that still had availability was decent enough too.

    4) DME: For me on solo trips, not an issue, as I'm a driver. I've never been on DME personally. It was very useful for a larger family trip though, so I fully appreciate it's usefulness. The mini van I rented was great for running the six of us all around during our vacation, but there is no way it could have (at least not in one trip) transported 6 people plus luggage to/from MCO. So everyone but me took the DME to/from the airport.

    So while I thought all of those were good points, I have others (alluded to in my #2 above) that I personally consider even more important based on the habits the old systems got me into during my vacations.

    #1) The park reservations. I fully understand why these were needed when Disney was truly limiting park capacity in the early days of phased re-opening. But many, many photos/videos people have been posting on line over most of 2021 seem to indicate there is not a significant limit on park capacity being used right now. They may be limiting to something less than pre-COVID 100% capacity, but it seems pretty clear they are significantly beyond the 35% limit they last acknowledged using around the end of 2020 during the Holiday season.

    #2) The park hopping limitation of not being able to until 2 PM. This to me is again, at this point, a big question mark. I understood doing it for a while when they first brought hopping back at the beginning of January. The limited capacity at that time made sense to start that way and see how much impact there would be. At this point, though, it just seems like a control mechanism combined with the park reservations.

    #3) The virtual queue concept. I wasn't a fan of this even before, but combining it with the reservations and hopping rules makes it extremely restrictive. This needs to go away, not expand(IMO).

    #4) The expansion of ordering counter/quick service in advance via MDE to the point where it becomes required, and depending on what you may want to eat, placing your order many hours earlier than when you want to eat in case all pick up times are taken. This just turned quick/counter service into an ADR in terms of needing to plan it. Really? Really? (again, made sense perhaps during the earlier phased re-opening to keep people spread out, but at this point, it just saves them from paying staff to take orders, and transfers the line a guest must wait in from placing the order to picking up the order)

    So those first 3 I listed are to me the trifecta of why I'm not in a rush to make plans for a trip right now. I'm by no means feeling like I should be able to go on RotR every day during a trip, but I would really like to try to get at least one ride on it. With the current rules, I could start every day in DHS and if I get unlucky not ever get a boarding group. I'd be fine with that risk if I could just shrug it off and go spend time in another park once I miss getting the morning boarding group lottery. But since I now can't enter any other park until 2PM, that's the deal breaker. The total unknown of when your boarding group may come up even if you are successful is also limiting, since I'd better not plan any ADRs for any day I may try to get a boarding group. That aspect alone, I fail to see how the virtual queue helps Disney's goal to get us to spend money. If I can make an ADR, I'm probably spending a lot more than I am if seeking out quick/counter service locations. Maybe that part can be helped with Guest Services intervention, I'm not sure. I have no knowledge if they can move boarding group times if yours happens to conflict with an existing ADR. I know they used to be able to adjust FP+ times if things that were not in the control of the guest caused you to miss windows for using the FP.

    All that said, I did receive a positive report from a work colleague who spent some time at the parks last week and into last weekend. He mentioned having a good MK day with being able to do a lot of the key rides in Frontierland and Liberty Square. He pretty much hit all the big tickets except Splash (and maybe JC- not sure if he mentioned that one), along with HoP and CBJ, and I think he said it was all within about 3 hours, I think 11-2 on the day he did it. He also mentioned getting a standby boarding group for RotR when he arrived at DHS around 2:15 one day, and he got a notification that he could return to ride sometime right around park closing. He also indicated he heard they may have done a soft test of using a RotR standby line one day when he was there. If that's true, I'm glad to see that being considered. So I will try to remain positive that these things can work out.

    Looking forward to the day when I am comfortable committing to a trip where I can buy a multi day park hopper and not have all the hand-tying limitations listed above. Only time will tell if I am looking forward to something that ever returns or not.

  4. By BrerFrog

    I always enjoy reading the Top 5 posts, and I share your general positive attitude towards all things WDW, including the "Disney Bubble" concept.

    But I have consistently been underwhelmed with the Magical Express. It has always felt to me like a pale imitation of a Disney experience, especially when the Mears drivers I've had grovel for tips and tell you straight up that they don't work for Disney during the tipping spiel. ( I do tip, though!) The bus TV monitors were also in poor shape the last time I rode. I thought it would be amazing if Disney would just take over that service.

    I am hoping that the Brightline train service will eventually replace the need for a bus to the airport, and will have more Disney flavor!

  5. By wdwchuck

    On all the other Top 5's you comment on our posts. I guess this one stands alone.

  6. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by wdwchuck View Post
    On all the other Top 5's you comment on our posts. I guess this one stands alone.

    That thought crossed my mind, but I'm feeling like Chris' kids may be right around college aged (based on many comments he's made before). This last weekend was the time for a lot of kids to move back into dorms, so maybe he's just busy with family stuff.

    I'll certainly be looking to see if he has any further thoughts or musings based on any of our responses. (even if my own falls into the category of "too long ; didn't read", I will forgive him 100% !)

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