Today in “not a big deal now but something to watch for future Walt Disney World trends” news, we have two tidbits. First, alcohol is now being served at two new Magic Kingdom restaurants. Second, park tickets are being sold that come bundled with pre-selected FastPass+ times.
In this post, we’ll cover why neither of these pieces of news are particularly noteworthy right now, but what they could mean in the future. We’ll start with alcohol being served at those two Magic Kingdom restaurants (Crystal Palace and Plaza Restaurant), which really is not noteworthy since four Magic Kingdom restaurants started serving alcohol a couple of years ago.
In our article covering the announcement of an expanded alcohol presence in Magic Kingdom, we focused primarily on the hypocrisy of the decision by a company that is usually eager to invoke Walt Disney quotes to justify decisions that it knows could be unpopular with diehard fans. We pretty much glossed over the impact to the guest experience, noting that it should be minimal because the sales are constrained to a few table service restaurants.
That was probably a mistake then, and it would likewise be a mistake to dismiss this as a non-issue since no one is likely to care that two more restaurants, which aren’t exactly places where booze is thematically necessary or appropriate. We think that’s sort of the point, though.
If the goal was to introduce alcohol–a product that carries with it high profits–into Magic Kingdom with as little controversy as possible given that it was against Walt Disney’s explicit wishes for alcohol to be sold in Disneyland (and presumably by extension, Magic Kingdom), how do you go about that? Start with the French restaurant, where alcohol is part of the experience to create an exception to the rule. Continue with the four restaurants that all have thematically-appropriate types of alcohol that could be served to establish precedent.
After that, expand alcohol to settings where it makes zero sense in terms of guest experience or theme. From there, slowly introduce it everywhere else. Each subsequent instance of the no-alcohol policy being further relaxed carries less significance because the damage has finally been done, until the exceptions swallow the rule.
Case in point: we don’t really care whether alcohol is served at Crystal Palace or Plaza Restaurant. We’re not going to pay $9 for a can of Bud Light or Stella (the photo at the top is what we were served at Tony’s; a can of beer, just like every fine Italian restaurant), but it still doesn’t affect us. It’ll have zero impact on the experience of other guests who choose not to drink, and in isolation, it won’t in any way change the family-friendly atmosphere in Magic Kingdom.
However, we don’t think the same justifications Disney has used in the past work here, and we do think this is sort of silly to serve beer at a Winnie the Pooh character meal, but it ultimately makes no difference to us. We do note that alcohol is now included in the Disney Dining Plan, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Disney releases a statement chalking this up “to guest demand.”
It’ll be interesting to see whether Walt Disney World tries to further relax Magic Kingdom’s alcohol policies and how they try to do that. We suspect counter service restaurants, outdoor vending carts, and the like are a line in the sand for a lot of Disney fans (that’s the case for us).
Table service restaurants are one thing and unlikely to be problematic, but once alcohol is at counter service dining spots, more guests have unfettered access to it, and that’s a potential cause for concern. Although that’s exactly the kind of access that exists in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, and we’ve never experienced any issues there. Problematic drinking, in our experience, is exclusively a World Showcase issue, and that likely is due to the unique nature of that area of Epcot.
Next, the 1-day tickets with pre-linked FastPass+ experiences. Walt Disney World just started offering this, and there are a variety of different options with names like “Fantasyland Classics” (it’s a small world, Dumbo, Mad Tea Party), “Futuristic and Frightful Fun” (Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland Speedway), and “Pint-Size Adventures” (Barnstormer, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean). You can see the rest of the ticket options here. In every case, these are unpopular FastPass+ attractions being tacked on to one-day tickets for no additional charge.
So it’s free and these are unpopular rides…what’s the big deal? Well, potentially nothing. This could simply be a way for Walt Disney World to provide the perception of added value on pricey tickets, or even increase the adoption rate of FastPass+ (it’s probably unfathomable for anyone reading this, but a lot of guests don’t realize FastPass+ is free–so they never use it). Both of those would be savvy moves, and no cause for alarm.
The cynic in me worries that there’s more to this. For a while I’ve been predicting that we will see some form of paid FastPass at Walt Disney World. I’ll double down on that prediction now: we will see some form of paid FastPass+ before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens late next year.
Whether it takes the form of MaxPass at Disneyland, pre-loaded tickets like this, or something else is an open question. While no fans are going to run out and purchase these one-day tickets for the current FastPass+ allotment packages, what happens if/when there’s something better?
What concerns me here is that Disney has created the underlying tech infrastructure needed for tickets with pre-linked FastPass+ and will do a pilot test on that technology. Once the hiccups are overcome (because this is Disney and technology, so nothing is ever smooth sailing!), they could move on to more popular attractions, which can be sold at premium prices. Maybe you wouldn’t pay extra for any of these tickets, but would you pay $20 extra for “Triple Mountain Whammy” (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain)?
Maybe you’ve been there, done that, and wouldn’t pay extra for those. What about $50 extra for “Batuu Blast-off!” (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Star Tours) if you couldn’t otherwise score a FastPass+ for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attractions and knew this would save yourself rope drop insanity and over 5 hours in line? (Come to think of it, $50 is probably way less than they’d actually charge in that scenario.)
Whatever ends up occurring with this, I don’t see Walt Disney World eliminating free FastPass+ allotments. It earns them too much goodwill, and flipping a switch to make that paid at this point would result in exponentially more complaints than the overnight hotel parking fees and pet-friendly hotel announcements combined. It would be a disaster. Seriously, I think the only more controversial thing Walt Disney World could do is ban children.
Rather, the way they will do this (if at all) is by diluting the pool of free FastPass+ allotments by moving some of those over to the paid pool. In other words, it’ll technically be possible to book a Ratatouille: the Adventure or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway FastPass+ free of charge, but half the “normal” pool is set aside from the outside for some sort of up-charge, and the rest are so popular that they are fully-booked over 60 days in advance. In this scenario, there’s less likely to be outrage, even though the functional result is the same: effectively no free FastPass+ for the popular new attractions.
This all may very well be much ado about nothing. As mentioned, it could just be Walt Disney World trying to improve FastPass+ adoption rates and guest satisfaction with them. I’ve painted a vivid picture here, but I want to be abundantly clear that I have zero inside information; this is entirely speculation (what would the internet be without rampant speculation and over-analysis?!). It just seems to me like the writing is on the wall for some form of paid FastPass+ given the massive success (and profitability) of MaxPass at Disneyland and recent trends in up-charges at Walt Disney World. It’s possible that my prediction will never come to pass and I’ll be totally wrong–it has happened many times before. I just find it hard to believe that Walt Disney World is investing so heavily in new attractions without plans to leverage those to create new revenue streams. That would be a move wholly inconsistent with recent history at Walt Disney World.
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What do you think about the new alcohol offerings at Magic Kingdom? Do you worry this is part of a larger trend, or does this make zero difference to you? What about bundling FastPass+ with one-day tickets…any concerns for how that could play out in the future? Are we making much ado about nothing, or is there genuine cause for speculation here? Any other thoughts? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!