Monday, May 8, 2023

Dining Plan Returns, Park Reservations (Mostly) Eliminated and More!

Disney dropped a big chunk of news related to 2024 visits today and there is a LOT to get to.  It's funny timing, as I was just talking to someone yesterday about a 2024 trip and we realized that park tickets weren't available yet.  I looked back, and 2023 packages went on sale on June 8, so I had a feeling it was coming soon.  I guess I just didn't realize HOW soon, as this news then broke today.

These bits of news run the gamut, but they all have to do with trips that would begin in 2024 (specifically January 9, 2024, in most cases).  There's always a bit of dread when I see that new Disney news is dropping, but there wasn't any cause for concern this time (which, to be honest, has been the case with a lot of recent news - a good trend!).  All of these things are good news in different ways, so let's dig in and talk about them one at a time.

First up is a big one, and it's one that guests have been hoping for for a while - park reservations are effectively ending as of January 9, 2024.  The announcement specifies that "theme park reservations will no longer be required for date-based tickets."  That might sound like it comes with some asterisks, but it really doesn't - most every ticket is "date-based" nowadays, with the exception of annual passes and such (which we'll get to).

When you purchase tickets, you just need to select the start date (usually the first day of your trip) and go from there - no more selecting a park many months in advance.  Essentially, this gets things back to where they were pre-pandemic - you'll notice this theme a lot throughout this post.  There was a time and place for park reservations, but with full capacity restored, there really wasn't any good reason to keep it up in practice and I'm glad Disney sees it this way.

One thing that does NOT change (at least as of now) is park hopping.  There is still a restriction of 2:00 p.m. before you can park hop.  That was a pandemic change, and another unpopular one, so hopefully this is a step in the direction of eliminating that time restriction soon.  But not having to select a park is a good thing and should make for more flexible trips from now on.

Next up relates only to annual passholders and cast members - select "good-to-go days" will be introduced, so that those guests can visit without needing theme park reservations.  So this isn't an entire elimination of park reservations, but it is for many people.  I'm not sure why there are still roadblocks for AP's, but this should ease some of that, as well as allowing those guests to visit any theme park after 2:00 p.m. without a reservation (with a couple of exceptions), which was introduced recently.

Third up is another huge one, which guests have been clamoring for since the pandemic - the return of the Disney Dining Plan!  The announcement specifically mentions the Quick Service Dining Plan or the the regular Disney Dining Plan - by not mentioning the Deluxe Dining Plan, I have to assume that means that this one is gone.

There are no further details about pricing or any (non) participating restaurants, so we'll circle back to that when we have those details.  The dining plan is one of Disney's most popular offerings and it has taken its sweet time coming back (having been "temporarily" paused upon reopening from the pandemic - I hope I don't need to do anything a timeframe in which "temporarily" is nearly two years).

As always, you have to run the math for yourself with the dining plan - it isn't in and of itself a "deal", and it may end up costing you in the long run.  But people love to pay for things in advance (this is why all inclusive resorts are a huge hit) and having paid for all your meals ahead of time is better than coming back to a large credit card bill, at least to many people.

This also opens the door for the potential return of free dining, Disney's most popular discount incentive by a large margin.  Again, if this is offered (and that's still an "if" right now), you have to calculate whether free dining is a better deal than any other discount offering that's happening simultaneously for your trip.  It seems like a slam dunk, but everyone's situation is different and therefore that is not always the case.

As a side note, we've talked plenty of times recently about the many discounts Disney is offering for upcoming trips.  The fact that anything is being offered is an indicator that sales are soft, and Disney is trying to boost them and get people in the parks.  This is largely a result of short-sighted policies that may be coming back to bite them, as well as economic conditions now that things have mostly settled down to normal after the pandemic.  Again, this announcement today isn't about free dining, only about the return of the dining plan itself.  But given how people feel about it, this is a big win and another return to the "old normal" before Covid.

Next up isn't an announcement of something new or returning per se, but rather a statement that something popular ISN'T going to be taken away anytime soon.  Both early theme park entry (for all Disney resort guests) and Extended Evening Hours (for deluxe resorts and villas only) will continue through 2024.

I'll be honest, I hadn't considered that these perks would be going away, though I did see something just yesterday that had me questioning this idea.  So it's good to know, way in advance, that these perks are here to stay.  There aren't as many perks for staying on property as there used to be, but these are two big ones.  Extended Evening Hours in particular is a tremendous way to beat the crowds if you are eligible, and I am happy to hear that they are still going to be happening next year (he says as he books his stay at the Boardwalk for 2024).

And finally, this last one is sort of the "announcement of the announcement" that the NFL has become famous for, but it is a very intriguing statement.  Disney calls it "simplifying the Genie+ experience".  The pre-announcement here says that guests "would like ways to plan with Disney Genie+ service and individual Lightning Lane selections before the day of their park visit" and that they are "working on ways guests may do this in 2024."

So ... it sounds like you will be able to book some of your attractions on Genie+ before you arrive at the park.  This sounds very familiar!  Almost like it's ... FastPass+.  And obviously, FP+ was free where G+ is not, but ultimately, paid FP in some form was coming even before the pandemic.  Disney just had to shut everything down, bring parks back without a ride reservation system, then start a "new" service and charge people for it, before adding back in features from their old free service to end up with paid FP.  This is the definition of the "guy pointing at his head" meme.

In all seriousness, I don't like to praise Disney for charging us for something that was formerly free.  However, if you accept the inevitability that at some point, you were going to be charged for FP+, the least they could do was allow guests to use many of the same features they used to use when it was free.  In recent months, a big change was the return of the ability to modify reservations.  Booking in advance would be the biggest change yet, and a welcome one for many (though maybe not all) guests.

This is ANOTHER return to the old ways of doing things - it's almost like Disney is realizing that a lot of the changes that were implemented in recent years were unpopular.  If they bring back the Magical Express next, I'll definitely believe it.  But for now, without any other details, it's hard to speculate further.  There's no indication of whether this will only be available to certain guests or if it will have an additional cost, nor how it will affect the experience of someone using Genie+ as it is now, where they purchase that day and select attractions.  Obviously this will be a big story once details emerge, and we will be here to talk about it.

One other likely change here as a result of this will be that Genie+ should be available to purchase in advance again, which was the case upon rollout but was stopped almost a year ago.  If you are going to have the ability to select attractions ahead of time, by definition, you would have to have purchase Genie+ in advance.  The question becomes whether you need to purchase this as a ticket add-on for every day of your trip (something discussed in great detail here) or whether you can add it to particular days individually.  It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

Regardless, that was everything from today as Disney starts to prepare for 2024 bookings.  Stay tuned for more information as we get it.

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