Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida has seized the global pandemic as the perfect time for a cash grab as it plunders its most loyal fans.
Disney Genie+ App
In a move that could only be judged as wholly tone deaf, Disney announced an enhanced guest experience with the Disney Genie service. With Genie, Disney has consolidated a number of benefits and opened them to every traveler for a premium of $15/day/guest as a base cost. For a family of four, this adds $60/day without any extras at Disney World, $20/day/guest at Disneyland Resort in California.
Within the app, guests can choose basic rides for their chosen theme park to stand in for a Fast Pass which was discontinued – due to COVID. However, the app adds “Lightning Lane” *so exciting* which gives paying guests the pleasure of paying for hard-to-access rides that are nearly impossible with the former Fast Pass by selecting date, attraction, and park. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (fun, but not that fun) is one such example as is the Haunted Mansion during peak periods and around Halloween.
Lightning Lane pass costs have not been announced yet but at the worst property, Disneyland Paris, per ride charges are between $8-18/ride. Some Disney World Annual Pass holders have suspected this could rise to as much as $50/ride. While shocking, this doesn’t seem unbelievable as it once would have.
The Genie+ app will replace a mix of systems across the world. Within the app, PhotoPass is included (unlimited downloads of photos taken by photographers or automated cameras), reservations for Walt Disney World Dining plans, and a more organized experience. By indicating interests, the Genie will lay out your day in an efficient manner with the appropriate upsells for the rides you really want to do.
This will bring some homogeny to the parks. For example, Hong Kong International Theme Parks Limited initially offered Fast Passes one at a time while Disney World would allow up to three daily and a potential fourth in the evening as most guests are leaving Walt Disney World for the day. Every park will offer the same program.
Disney’s Crushing Pandemic Cash Grab
Everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, allowances are made. Disney initially closed its parks worldwide for the first time and when they reopened per local requirements, there were sharp changes. Disney World, for example, discontinued Fast Passes altogether (the line skipping perk) forcing everyone to wait in socially distanced lines. Annual passes were no longer sold (cost savings to frequent guests), Park Hopper was taken away as well in favor of a reservation system allowing visits to just one park per day, and possibly a second after 2 PM if there was availability. Disney also discontinued its bussing system between the parks.
Rate increases came along with these changes as well. Disney simultaneously took away benefits, made it harder to access the parks (even after guest volume restrictions were removed), increased costs for fewer perks, and is adding additional costs for things included in their prior sky-high daily visit rates.
What It Costs Now
As Annual Passes go on sale for Disney World again soon, there is likely a price increase – something that has happened every year since opening. However, adding back Fast Passes through the Genie+ app and taking away some rides for eligibility unless an additional premium is paid is very expensive for families.
Special events have been sold separately for many years, and typically replace evening Extra Magic Hours. For example, a three-hour pass for Disney’s Christmas event last year cost $99-139 for the short period but includes snacks made available throughout the park and very limited crowds. This year’s Christmas event pricing was just announced at a staggering $169-249/guest for four hours.
Last year, a family of four choosing to go to both a standard day and a special event would have paid about $250/person or $1,000 for the family. This year, that cost would move up to $132/person during the day ($528) plus the special event (average of $199 x 4 = $796) plus the Genie+ access ($60 for the family) and that’s before any additional premiums for hard to access rides. If those additional ride access costs during a special event jumped to just $18/person ($72) or $1,456 for the one long day at Disney for the family. In this example, Disney is grabbing an extra 45.6%
If we look at what a Florida Resident would pay for Disney’s latest four-day park hopper offer ($289/person) plus $60/day minimum for a fraction of the benefits that were available as recently as March 2020. A lesser experience of a four person family four-day trip would cost $1,216 vs. $800 just last year. That’s 52% more for fewer benefits.
Annual cost increases have been added since the parks opened with the greatest year-to-year increase running $6. None of those increases were coupled with a reduction in benefits and none of the jumps have been as substantial as the ones that are occurring this year. Disney flat out used the COVID-19 crisis to cut back everything they had not yet monetized and then added substantial pricing increases when some (but not all) were reintroduced. It’s a perverse approach to the pandemic and says just how little Disney sees in their customer outside of their wallets.
What do you think? Are these changes warranted? Should Disney try to squeeze as much revenue as possible from customers? Are these increases long overdue anyway?