After a few brutal years of price increases and changes that harmed the guest experience, Walt Disney World has shown a new desire to improve satisfaction and restore some of the lost magic. The most recent instance of this happened earlier this month, but frankly, it didn’t go nearly far enough to move the needle. This list covers what else Disney should do if they want to make fans happier.
For most of you, the “why” of this is probably obvious. But in case not, guest satisfaction and intent to return or recommend metrics took a beating after the “honeymoon” period post-reopening, as cuts were made that eliminated Disney’s Magical Express, free FastPass, Extra Magic Hours, etc–while also implementing policies that many fans hated.
Honestly, this didn’t really matter for a couple of years. Revenge travel was running hot, and travelers–especially those with kids who had missed a couple valuable years–were making up for lost time. Some Walt Disney World diehards would grumble about paying more and getting less, but other fans and average tourists were just satisfied to be back in their happy places. However, things have changed.
Point being, all of these are initiatives to improve guest satisfaction and common complaints about Walt Disney World being too complicated. A lot of those announcements crossed off entries in our Wish List for Changes Bob Iger Could Make Upon Returning as CEO. from immediately after he returned. So we’re quite pleased with these incremental improvements, and recognize that nothing happens fast at Walt Disney World. Progress takes time.
However, it’s also very obvious that Walt Disney World still needs to do more to fix guest satisfaction and rebuild goodwill with lifelong fans who have become jaded, disillusioned, or stopped visiting entirely. If all of the discounting and statements on earnings calls are any indication, this is pretty urgent.
Discounting alone isn’t going to solve the problem (well, unless they get 2008-2009 levels of aggressive!). If Walt Disney World wants to make a big splash and win back fans, we’d recommend another “we’re listening and fixing stuff we broke” announcement with a grab bag of at least 3 of the following experience updates to improve guest satisfaction in 2024…
Bring Back Entertainment
Here’s just a partial list of the atmospheric acts and shows that are still conspicuous omissions from Walt Disney World entertainment lineup:
Citizens of Hollywood
Jedi Training Academy
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Citizens of Main Street
Main Street Trolley Show
Pandora Rangers & Drummers
It boggles the mind that some of this is still missing. Jedi Training Academy was absolutely adored by guests, and was a ‘magical moment’ for so many kids and their families who had the chance to participate. Voyage of the Little Mermaid was dated, sure, but could easily be refreshed. Puppets are timeless and the show provided a valuable indoor, air-conditioned offering at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Look, I’m not asking for this list of things to come back on a one-for-one basis, identical to what was offered in early March 2020. But I think it absolutely makes sense to have another big ‘entertainment update’ demonstrating that Walt Disney World still cares about streetmosphere and live performers.
Add Nighttime Spectaculars
On the nighttime spectacular front, the following remain missing:
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
Once Upon a Time
Rivers of Light
Three entries may seem insignificant, but we’d argue that’s a large number when it comes to spectaculars. Not only that, but daytime parades were cut from Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios several years pre-closure, and Magic Kingdom lost its nighttime parade. Comparing nighttime spectaculars and entertainment today to a decade ago is a pretty brutal comparison.
Again, not asking for these exact offerings to return. But if Walt Disney World is serious about getting people to stay longer in Animal Kingdom, the answer until Tropical Americas opens (2026?) is necessarily going to be entertainment. Well, unless Dr. Seeker starts taking hostages.
This is not a new problem. For as long as I can remember, Walt Disney World has published boilerplate park hours with extensions and the actual hours not coming until much later. Even preclosure, we frequently complained about how Walt Disney World expects guests to plan months in advance, but didn’t hold themselves to the same standard. It’s frustrating that Disney practically forces you to plan, but also doesn’t allow you to properly plan.
It also seems like it has gotten worse. In the last 6 months or so, park hours extensions have frequently been more last minute and also less predictable. Magic Kingdom hasn’t consistently done 8am openings on party days and other parks less consistent schedules. It’s a similar story with Extended Evening Hours, which has been all over the place–I can’t imagine shelling out big bucks for a Deluxe Resort months in advance, only to find out that I’d have consecutive nights of EPCOT.
But the final “straw” that landed this entry on the list is the Skyliner gondola refurbishment in early 2024. We’ve been warning readers for over a year that there’d likely be a refurbishment during the winter off-season, since there has been for the last few years. However, not everyone reads this blog (the vast majority of guests do not!) and the upcoming refurbishment is longer than ever before.
Despite that, Walt Disney World waited until the end of October to release dates and, adding insult to injury, there have been several reader reports of the call center not being willing to rebook guests at different resorts under previously-released special offers. (It’s understandable that availability might be limited, which is kinda the point–this info should’ve been released earlier. The “old Disney” would’ve understood the issue, and upgraded guests or offered recovery to compensate for the inconvenience and lack of a defining feature of the resorts in question.)
Some fans will make all sorts of excuses for Walt Disney World being slow to release this info or update hours, but none of them are good excuses. The bottom line is that expecting people to plan months in advance while being slow to release the info that’s needed to make informed decisions for planning is poor guest service.
Longer Regular Hours
Effective arsonist fails at fighting fire.
So many of Walt Disney World’s ineffectual “solutions” to overcrowding are fixing a problem that they themselves created. We discussed this at length in Disney Doesn’t Really Want Lower Crowds, but restoring park hours would instantly increases park capacity by redistributing crowds over the course of the day. It would also relieve some of the pressure to purchase the Genie+ line-skipping service.
Adding hours is a time-tested solution, and precisely the reason why Magic Kingdom used to open at 7am during peak season dates and stay open until midnight in the summer in the aughts. Even then, Main Street was busy until 1am with shoppers. It’s also why Magic Kingdom used to have Extra Magic Hours until 2am or 3am. (Yes, really–Evening Extra Magic Hours were 3 hours long!)
Now, attendance is significantly higher (by several millions of guests per year) and regular park hours have been reduced by several hours per day–most notably at Magic Kingdom. There’s also less entertainment due to the stage shows and atmospheric acts that have been cut, as well as the loss of 3 different parades.
To Walt Disney World’s credit, we’re finally starting to see significant park hours extensions this holiday season, with three midnight closings scheduled for Magic Kingdom in November. That’s a good start, but it’s only a start. Given contemporary crowd levels, those should be commonplace–and 9am to 9pm hours for Magic Kingdom should be a thing of the past entirely.
(Combining the two issues above, rather than doing week-by-week park hours extension, they should identify all dates for the rest of the year when park hours should be longer. Make those extensions in one fell swoop, and make an official announcement trumpeting the number of “more midnight Magic Kingdom nights!” It’d be an easy win with fans, similar to earlier this year when Disneyland advertised adding more of the cheapest ticket dates.)
Nothing says “address guest complaints about pricing” like adding things that cost extra money…right?!?
Well actually, yeah. Not everyone has problems with the guest experience that revolve around price increases. Not only that, but it’s possible to take issue with paying more while getting the same or less, but also wanting certain upcharge opportunities that offer something for the extra money to return. The two notions are not in conflict–it’s possible to hold both!
There’s actually a lot in the Enchanting Extras Collection (and associated add-ons) that gives Walt Disney World a tremendous amount of repeatability for regulars. Things like certain behind the scenes or VIP tours, dining or dessert parties, early or late park access, and much more. The big one for us is the EPCOT festival seminars and experiences–without those, Food & Wine has lost a lot of its luster. (They’re also missing from other festivals, but it’s most glaring at Food & Wine.)
Although I’m not huge on upcharges, I’d likewise love to see another themed After Hours at Magic Kingdom event. The short-lived Villains After Hours was better than the vanilla version, and it’s about time Walt Disney World revived the Pirates & Princess concept. Earlier this week, I made a plea for a Nostalgia Nite at Magic Kingdom with Wishes, SpectroMagic 2.0, and Disney Afternoon characters.
Also, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes comes out next year–a bunch of fighting monkeys in the park would be the perfect synergy play for Animal and/or Magic Kingdom. It’s right there in the title of the movie!!!
Remake Missing Meals
This seems like such a little and inconsequential thing, but we hear from longtime Walt Disney World fans who are still disappointed by restaurants or special meal options that are still missing:
1900 Park Fare
Be Our Guest Restaurant – Breakfast & Counter Service Lunch
Brunch at California Grill
Dining with an Imagineer
Grand View Tea Room
Plaza Restaurant – Breakfast
Trattoria al Forno – Bon Voyage Character Breakfast
Pizzafari Family Style Dining
Restaurantosaurus Burgers & Sundaes
The two character meals, in particular, are big ones with families. Same goes with breakfast and lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant–a venue that’s fairly beloved, but not for the current prix fixe dinner. Probably less significant to average guests, but we really miss Brunch at the Top and Restaurantosaurus Burgers & Sundaes (don’t laugh!).
Bringing these back would give the Disney Dining Plan more appeal and provide needed dining capacity. Win-win!
Rejuvenate Restaurant Menus
No first-timer is sitting on pins and needles, waiting to book their rite of passage Walt Disney World vacation until the Grilled Hanger Steak returns to Primo Piatto. They don’t care that the menus at Contempo Cafe or Gasparilla Island Grill are shadows of their former selves. They probably are even unbothered or unaware that the counter service scene sucks at Magic Kingdom. I get all of that.
This is about winning back longtime fans, though, and Walt Disney World’s culinary landscape is very much ‘a thing’ to the diehards, and it’s noticeably worse than it was in early 2020 due to scaled back menus. Improve enough of those, and it would move the needle for at least some Walt Disney World regulars.
Frankly, we know this because of the positive response to recent menu changes at Wilderness Lodge, Saratoga Springs, and even Plaza Restaurant in Magic Kingdom. With food inflation relenting, it’s time to let culinary teams get creative again. Highlight that on “Disney Eats” (or whatever it is), and then emphasize the ‘new menus’ as a line item in a guest experience improvements post.
Return of Extra Magic Hours
I’ve been singing the praises of Early Entry at three of the parks (and even Magic Kingdom when the park opens at 8am) for over two years, and very few of you agree with me. It’s one of those why are you booing me, I’m right situations. But perception is reality, and most fans still prefer the former morning Extra Magic Hours to their replacement.
It’s a similar story with Extended Evening Hours. I love the perk and think it’s far superior to evening Extra Magic Hours, which had become unbearably uncrowded. This is an even more pronounced perception problem, but in a different (and worse) way. Fans know this is a good perk, but are downright disillusioned and disenchanted that it’s reserved exclusively “for the rich.”
In a period of pent-up demand where consumers were spending freely/recklessly, such an approach might’ve worked or been “worth it” to incentivize Deluxe Resort bookings. As people tighten the pursestrings, it’s not going to move the needle as much, and sticks out like a sore thumb as an easily-identifiable instance of Walt Disney World “ignoring the middle class.”
Undo that damage, bring back Extra Magic Hours, and win back fans who feel ignored. As for fixing Extra Magic Hours, stop offering it to the Disney Springs Area Resorts. Sure, that’s actually just shifting around the class hierarchy, but now at least most of those who were complaining loudest are part of the in-group! 😉
Remember how I spent like a dozen blog posts whining about how Genie+ and Lightning Lanes were the dumbest and most confusing branding decisions of all time? (Then HBO and Twitter both said, “hold my beer!”) Well, as much as I hate being wrong, I have to admit as much here.
It turns out that Robert Chapek was a visionary thinker in some regards. He must’ve known that he was launching such a half-baked product that would take years of tweaks to get in a semi-functioning state and would be so reviled by guests that it’d become a toxic brand on par with Monsanto, Philip Morris, or Comcast. Chapek was such a great thinker that he foresee a day when Disney fans would jump for joy just at malevolent Genie going away. (It’s honestly impressive, in a way, that Chapek somehow managed to make us hate something associated with Robin Williams.)
We already know that the pre-booking of Lightning Lanes is arriving at some point in 2024. What that’ll entail is unclear, and it sounds like Walt Disney World has not yet settled on specifics. Whatever the new line-skipping system does end up being, I’d advise Disney to ditch the Genie name. Everyone hates it. There is nothing of value to be lost. It taints the legacy of a national treasure.
It’s time to break from the past and ditch both Genie+ and Genie (I cannot imagine the latter is being used in meaningful numbers, let alone fulfilling its goals of crowd redistribution/utilization). Regardless of what the new system ends up being–my guess is pretty close to paid FastPass Plus–it will benefit from not being attached to this toxic brand.
I’ll take this advice a step further. Call it MaxPass to benefit from the degree of goodwill attached to that, even if it is fundamentally different from that paid FastPass system. Then, in another year or so (or whenever the United States enters a recession) when Walt Disney World needs to boost hotel bookings and attendance, bring back free FastPass+ for resort guests with the option for a paid MaxPass+ tier.
One way or another, I still don’t think we’ve seen the last of FastPass at Walt Disney World. It probably won’t be back in 2024, but the 2025 opening of Universal’s Epic Universe is right around the corner, and Walt Disney World hasn’t broken ground on any “answer” to that. That pretty much leaves options like adding entertainment, restoring FastPass or Disney’s Magical Express (an otherwise conspicuous omission from this list, but this is improvements for 2024, and realistically, the ship has sailed on bringing back DME next year) as an indirect response to Epic Universe.
What would you like to see done to improve the guest experience and satisfaction at Walt Disney World? Which of the entries on this list have a realistic chance of coming to fruition? Think things will get better or worse throughout 2024? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!