Thursday, October 12, 2023

FULL Park Hopping Returns (Plus Price Increases)

Disney put out a bunch of announcements yesterday about its parks, and as is often the case, there is both good news and bad news.  We're going to look at both here, and talk about why they are happening now and what it might still mean (in terms of bad news!) in the future.

Disney has a habit of "softening the blow" by announcing price increases or cutbacks along with some news that is objectively good.  In this case, it's no different, and I'm going to start with that good news - all day park hopping is back at Disney World!  Starting January 9, 2024 (remember this date), park hopping is really, truly back to normal for those that have hopper tickets or annual passes.  

If you haven't been paying attention, this is noteworthy, albeit long overdue.  Ever since the parks reopened after the pandemic, park hopping has been altered so that it was only allowed after 2:00 p.m.  This messed with a lot of guests - dining reservations, Genie+ planning and just plain flexibility were impacted.  

At the time, this was largely due to capacity issues, so Disney could manage the parks better at a time where the amount of guests was limited. But since those issues are behind us, the question has been asked many times recently - why do we still have park hopping restrictions?  There really is no GOOD answer there, and Disney has now rectified this.  That means that you can now grab something to eat at Kringla in Epcot and then immediately head over to Hollywood Studios.  Or you can hit Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom at the crack of dawn, then jump over to Magic Kingdom in time for regular rope drop.

These are just a couple of examples, and ones that largely aren't very common.  But like most things, the idea of being able to do something is more important than the thing itself.  This is just another step on the return to park normalcy, and one that should be welcomed by everyone, even if you don't normally take advantage of park hopping.  Normalcy is good here!  

The park that is likely to be the most heavily impacted will by Animal Kingdom, a park in which most people don't spend a whole day as it is.  Now guests don't have to wait until 2:00 to leave if they are done with what they want to accomplish.  It will be interesting to see if that has any material impact on midday crowds at the other three parks.

Remember when I noted that date above, January 9, 2024?  That date is important, and not just because it's my wife's birthday!  Back in May, Disney made another series of "back to normalcy" announcements, most notably the elimination of park reservations for most guests.  I noted at the time that park hopping wasn't included ... but it is now, and the fact that it begins on the same date is no coincidence.  For those looking for a vacation like you used to have prior to Covid, January 9 is the start of the closest you'll come to that.

Of course, there is no more Magical Express, and FastPass+ has been replaced by Genie+, so it's not EXACTLY the same.  Speaking of that latter one, Disney teased the idea of making Genie+ reservations in advance at some point, though how far in advance and to what extent has not yet been announced.  That would really make things more like the "old days", albeit paid instead of free.  But I wouldn't expect that to start in January, since I suspect it would have come with this announcement and it obviously did not.

Now let's move to the "downer" portion of today's news, which are price increases in many facets of your trip.  Disneyland actually took the brunt of the larger increases, but there are plenty of increases for Disney World as well.  Most notably, all tiers of annual passes increased, ranging from $30-$50 per year.  The "good" news here is that the Pixie Dust Pass (the lowest tier) had been rumored to have larger increases to "push" guests towards other tiers, but that did not happen in this case.

In addition, other increases include parking at the parks (up from $25 to $30), as well as Memory Maker ($185 in advance now, up from $169).  There was even the (sort of) annual increases in food and beverage prices, which are items that guests won't balk at individually but all in all, it adds up to a more expensive trip across the board.  There was also an increase in water park admission, as well as the two mini golf courses on property. You'll notice that all of these are effective immediately and not January 9 - why wait to get more of your money??

The silver lining here (at least for now) is that regular daily park tickets have not increased ... at least not yet.  Any time a price increase is announced, Disney usually gets dragged on social media so if they were raising these ticket prices as well, you would think they'd want to just get it out of the way instead of saving that for another announcement a few days/weeks/months from now.  

So is it possible that day tickets will not increase this year?  Anything is POSSIBLE.  Disney has been up front about the slow down at the parks, and all of the current discounts and offers have been put into place to try to bring more guests in.  Raising ticket prices would seem to run counter to that initiative, so it's possible that Disney didn't think it was worth it to do so this year.

But if that were the case, then why all the other increases today?  My feeling is that these increases affect the average guest less than a ticket price increase.  Annual passholders are likely to renew regardless, and the other increases are all of the "not a big deal in isolation" variety.  People will complain, but still go.  Would the same be true for ticket price increases in the current environment?  I'm not sure, honestly.

Still, just because it would have made sense to announce everything today doesn't mean that we're in the clear.  Disney could be holding back that bullet to be announced at the same time as the advance Genie+ purchase announcement to soften the blow.  There could even possibly be a new ticket tier involving Genie+, which would then muddy the price increase waters.

But this is just speculation for now.  If ticket price increases ARE announced, and you are waiting to purchase tickets for an upcoming trip (as I am), the third party sellers such as Undercover Tourist should still have old inventory for a little while so you can always get them that way without missing out.  So be on alert for something in the coming weeks, but enjoy the good news portion for today.

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