2018 was a great year to be a Disney Theme Park fan wherever you are in the world, with every single resort getting something exciting added to it. The Tokyo Disney Resort celebrated its 35th Anniversary with a plethora of new entertainment options across both parks including a brand new Parade and nighttime spectacular! We saw Toy Story themed Lands open at both Hollywood Studios and Shanghai Disneyland, Pixar Pier opened at Disney’s California Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland opened a brand new theatre in Adventureland and Paris celebrated its upcoming expansions with a new Marvel-themed stunt show. This is partnered with exciting announcements and looks into the future of Disney parks including things such as the $2.3 Billion upgrades planned for Walt Disney Studios park in Paris, as well as every park around the world celebrating the 90th Birthday of the main Mouse himself, Mickey. This helps setting up 2019 to possibly be the biggest year in Disney Theme Park history with Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opening on both American Coasts as well as a ton of other projects wrapping up around the World.
However, not everything Disney did in 2018 was positive in fact in some regards you could almost say some of the “Magic” of Disney Parks has been lost over the last year.
Disney in 2018 has made a lot of adjustments that are often quietly made behind the scenes but ultimately have a negative impact on guests experiences whether they realise the difference it or not. Some examples of these changes over the last year are things such as the removal of talking Mickey at the Magic Kingdom and paid soft-opening parties for lands such as Pixar Pier rather than the traditional soft-openings for guests who happen to be in the right park at the right time (and you know they are ultimately testing this to see the limits of what people would pay for a Star Wars Land opening party next year).
All of these changes are reminiscent of an idea coined by Disney blogger Kevin Yee, “Declining by Degrees”. This refers to the concept that over time Disney’s changes to its parks are not always positive. In fact, the deletions and quiet changes may outpace the additions. This issue becomes worse with prices continually on the rise and the value of your money lowering each time you visit Disney. However, since the cuts and changes are often so small, many guests barely notice them. Over the last year across all resorts, there has been a ton of quiet small changes to help with budgets, guest flow, and the like. A lot of Disney fans will notice and initially kick up smoke about these changes, but over time they slowly go quiet, leaving each guest with a possible lesser experience than the last.
One of the biggest contributors to this argued removal of the Disney Magic taking guests privileges that have historically been provided for free and are now being offered for a premium price as well. We have recently seen almost every park at Walt Disney World offering what are essentially separately ticketed “Extra Magic Hours” events that they are calling either “Early Morning Magic” or “Disney After Hours” depending on if the event takes place before or after regular park hours. Now whilst these are additions to the regular Extra Magic Hours it sets a scary precedent and seems to be another test of how far they can push the consumers to open their wallets. When these events are offered in the mornings they can make wait times for popular rides such as Slinky Dog Dash and Flight of Passage already be multiple hours when the park opens, subtly encouraging guests themselves to partake in these upcharge opportunities or spend their days waiting around in lines.
We have also seen two parks outside of the states begin to offer paid FastPasses as well as Disneyland California continuing to offer the “Maxpass”. In 2018 both Shanghai and Paris are offering “Super and Ultimate” FastPasses which in Paris cost up to $154 for unlimited fastpasses for a single day, which is on top of the up to $101 it costs you to get into the park… Now these upcharges for something once offered for free aren’t just reserved for overseas parks, at Walt Disney World we have also seen the inclusion of Dinner Package availability for almost every nighttime spectacular and show, and at the Magic Kingdom the viewing areas for these packages are taking place in the once free, FastPass viewing areas down in Town Square for parades and up in the hub garden areas for fireworks. There is also the new upcharge dining options within upcharge events such as “Tony’s Most Merry Town Square Party” at the Magic Kingdom taking place during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which costs an extra $99 per person on top of the party ticket prices.
But what’s driving this need to cut back on the small things and monetise everything they possibly can? Simple, to maximise profit, the Walt Disney Company is a publicly traded stock. Like most public companies, Disney feels it has to deliver results every quarter that are not just steady but have to be better than last quarter over and over again to keep its shareholders happy.
Now to be fair, there are obviously changes in the parks that are done for the greater guest experience that has no direct impact on how much guests spend. But match these against the removal of the small things such as free Guacamole at Pecos Bills combined with some other bigger changes as well, such as the upcoming replacement of PhotoPass photographers with robots at selected meet and greets and it seems like Disney guests are getting a less “magical” experience each time they go especially partnered with the consistent year after year ticket price increases.
Disney is known for going that extra mile for their guests, but all these changes and upcharges are leaving a scary precedent on the guest experience. Of course, we would love to know what are your thoughts on Disney Parks and all their changes in 2018? Are there things you have noticed that have gone missing between Disney visits? Are sudden up-charges appearing on things you used to experience for free? We’d love to hear about your opinions in the comments section.