Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Small, Positive Changes Made To Guest Experience At WDW

As part of a big news day, Disney announced multiple changes to the park experience, one taking effect right away and the others within "the next few months."  This post will take a look at what was announced and speculate as to why and what this might mean for your park experience going forward.

I don't think it's any big secret that Disney's reputation has taken a hit in recent years.  This largely encompasses the time when Bob Chapek was CEO, but is not exclusive to his tenure.  Regardless, the recent return of Bob Iger was a signal to many longtime fans that changes were coming, and for the better.  Fair or not, the guest perception of Chapek and Iger couldn't be more different.

I wrote about this a bit here, as Iger was reportedly "alarmed" by the price increases at the parks.  As I speculated there, any substantive changes would probably be on a smaller scale, at least at first.  Iger is still beholden to a multi billion dollar corporation and the shareholders that go along with it.  He can't just slash prices and cater to the guests while costing the company money.  If anything, the changes would be more like NOT having an increase in pricing for a while - it would be a positive change, but not one that guests would see immediately.

Today's announcement offered some substance for a few changes that largely won't make a difference to Disney's bottom line but will go a long way to helping its reputation, something that I would argue is just as important in the long run.  You can look at these and say they're no big deal - this is how we justified all the negative changes in the last few years.  Taken individually, they don't mean all that much, but in the aggregate, those changes had a snowball effect of making guests angry.  Today's changes should have the opposite effect.  These are baby steps, but you have to start somewhere.

One other note before I talk about the changes specifically - I already alluded to those changes happening because of Bob Iger's return, but Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro addressed this in an interview and said that these changes were "not necessarily" because of a change in leadership.  I appreciate that he's playing the company man here, but I think if you paid attention, this is the logical conclusion to come to.

In any case, the first change announced (effective immediately) is that Walt Disney World Resort guests would no longer be charged to park at their resort.  Parking at the parks still costs money, but for many years, resort guests didn't have to pay to park where they stayed.  That change rankled a lot of people, and it's good to see some goodwill being restored by this simple change here.  

The next change is to the ever controversial park reservation system, but only in one specific way.  Annual Passholders will no longer have to make park reservations if they enter after 2;00 in most cases (weekends at Magic Kingdom are an exception).  Any relaxation of the park reservation rules will probably be embraced by guests, and in this case, this rewards the most loyal visitors by not locking them into reservations if they just want to show up.  Of course, you still can't purchase new annual passes, but one step at a time.

This actually runs counter to what I had previously heard about the reservation system, which was that the rules would be more relaxed for day guests as opposed to AP's.  I suspect this is just the first of many changes to come to this system, a proverbial dipping of the toe in the water.  While the park reservation system will continue to exist indefinitely, it can certainly be made more user friendly and this is one step towards that.

And finally, attraction photos will now be available with the purchase of Genie+.  Again, this is a change that has little to no monetary value for Disney but is an easy fix (and a case can be made that it makes Genie+ more valuable, though that is debatable).  It also doesn't cannibalize their already existing Memory Maker service, as this only relates to on-ride photos and not the dozens (hundreds?) of other park photos you can find in the parks.  An easy win for Disney.

As I've said before, this is a Walt Disney World focused blog, but there were other changes announced specifically for Disneyland that I wanted to address, since they could be precursors to what's to come on the east coast.  One relates to ride photos but isn't tied to Genie+ in that case, which is an even better perk.

But it's the others that interest me more.  One change is that there will be more $104 tickets, which is currently Disneyland's lowest priced single day ticket of the year.  Their blog post promises "nearly two months" of tickets at that price.  This goes back to what I said above - even if prices aren't cut, keeping things the same while manipulating them in favorable ways is a big plus for Disney.

Could something similar happen with WDW ticket prices?  I sure hope so!  This might be a matter of necessity, with Disneyland seeing softer ticket sales than their WDW counterparts but it's also a good experiment to see how it drives sales.  Keeping (already high) prices steady for a while is a good idea to draw people back and I would love to see that hit Florida.

The other change involves park hopping - at Disneyland, you can now (well, starting February 4) use your Park Hopper ticket as early as 11:00 a.m., down from 2:00 p.m.  That latter timeframe was a Covid holdover and has been one of the changes that guests have been very vocal about not liking (going hand in hand with the park reservations).

While this isn't carte blanche park hopping like in the old days, it is again a step in that direction. This one may be easier to uphold at Disneyland, with only two parks and a more local based guest mix.  But again, this should hopefully lead to a similar rule at Disney World.  It might not satisfy everyone, but a half measure here is a good way to open the door to how things used to be, if that is their intention.

Overall, it's hard to fault any of these changes announced today.  This is a clear sign of the new Iger-led Disney hoping to win back fans that they may have alienated in recent years.  There is still a lot of work to be done in that department, but these few things give me hope that any future changes will be for the better.  It's nice to look forward to change at the parks rather than worrying about how they will make your experience worse.

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