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.
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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?
Capitalism, right? Apparently the demand is there. If it isn’t, they will be forced to drop prices. I don’t understand Disney myself, think it is honestly insane even at the current prices, but I know a very significant portion of the population doesn’t agree. We will see how far they are willing to pushed before they push back and shift their spending.
The adult Disney women will eat this up.
Disney has also increased VIP tour pricing cause they know people that had money made a lot more money during Covid. And basically any day we’ve tried to go, it’s always at the max rate of $700/hr instead of $425/hr. Does the tour guide get paid more for that? No. At least I would feel better about paying the higher rate if I know more of it went to the tour guide.
It’s supply and demand. When the parks are expected to be busy, they will charge you a premium for the VIP experience. Do you think hotels will pay employees more on the weekend in Vegas when the room rates increase?
I loved Disney as a kid and enjoyed it for many years. It was always a stretch financially to go. The prices have gotten so out of hand, I haven’t been in nearly 10 years except for one trip to Disneyland a few years ago. I was so disappointed with the rides breaking down so often and the very long lines even off season. I won’t be going back soon, unfortunately. It’s a huge money grab and that loses the appeal to me.
Pretty sure nobody is required to do this. If people don’t like it, it will go away. If they do it will continue. That’s how the free market works.
I grew up when it was just Disneyland in CA. No special line passes or reservations. You bought your ticket book and figured out what you wanted to ride and off you went. Those were the days.
My last visit to Disneyland was in Anaheim in 1991. And yes, it was exactly as you described. I even had a book about Disneyland that featured “day plans”, outlining which rides to run to first because they were the busiest. Back then, it was the new Star Wars attraction followed by a roller coaster that was mostly in the dark, next door. I had my guide book and literally ran around the park , managing to go on every ride I wanted. Those were the days. There were no passes allowing somebody to skip the queue and people just had to wait, like they do at every other amusement park. I think if I were to return to Los Angeles and visit Disneyland again, my 50 year brain would have a stroke trying to make sense of everything now on offer, mostly to empty my wallet!
I go back farther than that. The one and only time I went to Disneyland was in 1965, and I’ve never had any desire to return to any place run by Disney. I don’t know if it’s even still around, but back then, Six Flags Over Texas was much more fun, better run, and less expensive.
It’s misleading to say that this is related to COVID. Some form of the Genie app was in the works was being planned since well before COVID, and most people who follow Disney thought the switch to Genie would also see the introduction of paid FastPass. Without COVID, this would have been in place awhile ago.
@Chasgoose – Thanks for reading and being a consistent commenter, we really do appreciate our readership. To your point, I could clarify that the Genie app was originally announced at D23 in 2019 and then mentioned it would be launched this fall by VP of Parks earlier this year – but they never mentioned a cost for the use of the app and they never mentioned (and still haven’t) the rides excluded and the costs of those rides for “Lightning Lane.” They only recently concluded that trial in Paris, though Universal has offered something similar for years without a per ride charge. It might have been put into plane earlier without COVID-19, but coupled with the service reductions and massive increases for special events, it still seems like perhaps the wrong time to roll it out. If they had returned the parks to full service and then added this on it might seem different, but this is far more money (never disclosed) for a far lesser experience.
You do realize that the ‘massive’ increases for special events is because the events are completely different, right? The Halloween party of old was a highly attended event. Lines just to get a bottle of water were long, and the parks were crowded. Number one complaint – too many people attend these events.
The 2021 versions are ‘After Hours’ events. After hours events have always been limited attendance, with higher prices. They aren’t offering the same crowded experience for the same money, they are offering a much lower attendance experience, for the same higher price they have offered it for in the past. We attended an After Hours event at Animal Kingdom for $150 a person years ago. Walk on Flight of Passage, free food and drinks, and the eerie feeling of walking around the park with very few people there.
The limited attendance (that people wanted) is what is being offered with these After Hours events. If Disney is going to have the park open with lower attendance, of course they have to charge more.
Nobody goes to Disney anymore. It’s too crowded.
It’s unfortunate that an amusement park costs this much nowadays.
I suppose when you have the IP Disney does, and the popularity of it’s products, they’ll be able to charge what the market will bear. I don’t doubt the cost of doing business has increased since the pandemic forced them to shut down for months. I suppose it’s not surprising that it has continued to raise prices.
That said, an average family will not be able to consider a trip to Disneyland without some really hard decisions on how much their hard earned money goes into this, or something that provides better value.
Maybe for a family or hardcore Disney fans, the price is still worth it.
But that seems to be a more elite group of people as the years progress.
Well said. Disney used to actually care about customers but for some years now they’ve given up on even pretending that’s still the case. Will they show you a good time if shovel enough money at them? You bet but now the money is the only thing that matters. That puts a Disney vacation increasingly out of reach for normal people.
Every article I read about Disney either talks about how expensive it is, or bow to make your visit less terrible. I truly don’t understand it and can’t think of anywhere I’d rather go less.
The greatest Disney villain is Disney itself.
Same tired old rides, still too-long lines, more expensive every year. They are editing out Prince Charming awakening Sleeping Beauty via a kiss as it might offend as pushing victimization. How’s that for being “woke”? I live 15 miles from DW here in FL and have zero interest in ever visiting again.
@Kyle, either I’m confused, or some of the information is inaccurate, especially in your first section.
Genie is the app itself and is free for everyone.
Genie+ is paid, but I don’t think it’s a separate app. At DL/DCA, it basically replaces MaxPass, so it includes unlimited PhotoPass downloads. AFAIK, that’s NOT the case at WDW – just some “augmented reality lenses.”
Lightning Lane is just the name for the former FastPass queues (IMHO, it seems stupid to rename them). The “regular” rides are included with Genie+. The “premium” or high-demand ones are pay-per-use. Either way, you can’t reserve access in advance (unlike with WDW’s FastPass+), but you have to wait until the day of the visit (at park opening, or earlier in the morning).
Regardless, I do agree with your conclusion – yet another cash grab from Disney. 🙁
Disney has become a truly bad actor and Walt Disney should be spinning in his grave. That’s why I just bought shares in the company.
As a very loyal Disney fan who goes to Disneyland no more than once a year, I would gladly pay more if it meant the parks were less crowded. Maybe this time the price increases will have that desired effect. It’s scarcely worth going at any price if it’s so crowded that it’s not enjoyable. Sure, I have to save for longer to afford it, but I consider it a better value. No one’s priced out if they know how to save money and it’s valuable enough to them to do so. For many of us, it is.
I haven’t gone to Disneyland since 1987. It seems it would cost a small fortune to go nowdays, especially for a family. I got much better things to do with my $$$.