Disney announced a number of updates and improvements to the Disney Parks for the start of 2023 following CEO Bob Iger’s return.
Many of these adjustments are reversals to unpopular policies instituted during former CEO Bob Chapek’s tenure, such as paywalls and limited park access.
Following the announcement that Walt Disney World’s newest attraction, TRON Lightcycle Run, would be opening on April 4, Disney further extended an olive branch in rolling out a surprising number of changes.
In 2023, the Walt Disney Company is celebrating its 100th anniversary, marking a century of storytelling. But for its founder, Walt Disney, the parks were another medium for telling its stories.
Just like the parallels between Disney’s films and its theme parks, Bob Chapek’s approach to dealing with studios and their talent extended to that of the company’s theme park clientele.
In announcing this string of updates, it appears that Bob Iger is signaling that Disney Parks audiences are just as important as those in theaters.
Here are four major improvements from both Walt Disney World and Disneyland following Bob Iger’s return:
In recent years, purchasing a Disneyland Annual Pass – which is now known as a Magic Key – didn’t guarantee park access.
In addition to blackout dates, Magic Key holders – who Chapek seemingly referred to as “an unfavorable attendance mix” – were faced with Disney’s park reservation system which drastically limited their ability to visit the parks, leading to a public lawsuit.
In addition to that hurdle, Magic Key sales were frequently paused, preventing Southern California locals and Disney Park fans from purchasing.
While Walt Disney World Annual Pass sales remain paused, Disney announced that select Magic Key passes at the Disneyland Resort will be available once more as inventory becomes available.
Plus, a new ticket deal will be made available for Southern California residents along with two months’ worth of dates where tickets will be priced at $104 USD.
Before the pandemic and Chapek’s reign, those who had an Annual Pass on either coast – or who purchased a Park Hopper ticket – could ‘hop’ or visit multiple parks a day.
Since the parks reopened, Annual Pass (or Magic Key) holders were limited to when they could ‘hop.’ And, despite Park Hopper tickets still being sold and at an ever-increasing rate, those who purchased were limited to when they could use its benefits as well.
Thanks to Disney’s new updates, Disneyland Magic Key holders or guests with a Park Hopper ticket can ‘hop’ between parks beginning at 11 a.m. – two hours earlier than the prior policy – beginning February 4.
At Walt Disney World, Annual Passholders still have to wait until 2 p.m. to hop, but they no longer need to a park reservation during weekdays.
Disney Genie+ is a pricey, line-skipping service that replaced Disney’s free FastPass service in 2021.
While it’s one of park guests’ biggest complaints, in the coming months, Walt Disney World guests who purchase the service will receive free digital downloads of themselves on attractions or taken by Disney’s own photographers in the park.
Disneyland guests will be able to receive these free photo downloads apart from purchasing Genie+ beginning February 4.
Nighttime fireworks shows have long been a key element of a Disney Park experience. However, since 2021, Walt Disney World’s versions have been unpopular guests.
For the resort’s underwhelming 50th Anniversary, Disney replaced the Magic Kingdom’s “Happily Ever After” firework and projection show with a new addition titled “Enchantment.”
Meanwhile, at EPCOT, Disney unveiled “Harmonious,” which required massive fireworks barges resembling Stargates or Ebony Maw’s Infinity War ship and that marred the park’s central lagoon during daytime hours.
Part of Disney’s January 10th anniversary announcements included the date of the return of “Happily Ever After” and news of a temporary fireworks show at EPCOT as the barges are removed.
While it’s true that the return of “Happily Ever After” and the “Harmonious” closure was announced at the 2022 D23 Expo, park audiences didn’t know when these changes would occur or the fate of the infamous barges.
The original Disneyland Park and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom are designed to resemble the sensation of entering a movie theater and into cinematic worlds, with details ranging from the intentional smell of popcorn upon entry to red carpet-hued sidewalks to the subtle use of ‘credits’ on shop windows.
But since 2020, those who were even able to purchase a ticket at the theme park box office found that elements of this real-world movie experience had changed.
In announcing these improvements and even backtracking on these still-new offerings, Iger’s Disney regime is showing guests that have been heard.
Even though Disney still has work to do in mending the relationship with its park guests, it looks like Iger is taking steps to ensure a happy ending.
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