As Walt Disney World continues to make its way back from an unfathomable 2020 some of what fans have grown accustomed to is sure to be changed and taken away. When the parks reopened last summer, they did so without FastPass+, Extra Magic Hours, the Disney Dining Plan and a number of other norms. For many of those things, it’s just a matter of time before they come back. For others, it gives Disney a chance to change or modify the experience. The latter happened today as Walt Disney World will be discontinuing Disney’s Magical Express and changing Extra Magic Hours to a new Early Entry system.
We’ll start with Disney’s Magical Express. The bus system that transports guests from Orlando International Airport to their Walt Disney World Resort will be ending in 2022. While there are pros and cons to Magical Express, the transportation was very popular and an easy way for guests to get to WDW without spending additional money. Disney has cited the popularity of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft as a cause for the eventual abolition of DME. This news may appear to be a cost-cutting measure by Disney, and while there’s certainly a degree of that, I’m not sure it’s that simple.
Disney’s Magical Express is operated by Mears who, unfortunately, had a disastrous 2020 from a financial standpoint. Mears sadly had to furlough 83% of its employees. Combine that with the popularity of ride sharing services over the last few years and it’s fair to wonder how much longer companies like Mears can survive. Whether this played into contract negotiations is conjecture on my point but that would certainly make sense. With every negotiation, there is a breaking point and I can’t imagine Disney just gave a hard no when it came to continuing the complimentary service.
The main reason that this doesn’t appear to be simply a cost-cutting move by Disney is because there’s a chance they could be losing money over this. Disney’s Magical Express was and is very convenient to guests but it also gave Disney a captive audience. Sure, guests could always take an Uber or Lyft from their Disney hotel to Universal or SeaWorld for a day but I imagine the numbers show that once guests are on Disney property, without a rental car, they are far less likely to leave. Magical Express gave Disney that advantage. If all of this is done for Disney to make some financial gains then I think the move would be very short-sighted, not that that’s out of the realm of possibility after the losses of last year.
Even with the announcement today, I would not be surprised to see Disney figure out a new bus system from Orlando International to Walt Disney World. If they just go without, I think the resort is likely to lose more and more guests to other theme parks in Orlando. Maybe Disney has measured that and it won’t offset the cost of running the Magical Express service. Or maybe they have something else coming.
It bears repeating that Disney’s Magical Express will run throughout 2021 and internal transportation will remain free.
Moving on to the other piece of news that came out today. Walt Disney World will be replacing Extra Magic Hours for an Early Entry program that will let WDW Resort guests into the four parks half an hour early every day. On the surface, exchanging an hour for half an hour of extra park access isn’t great but I’m bullish on the move and think it will be more beneficial to guests in the long run.
Over the last few years I think Extra Magic Hours have become oversaturated with park guests. Along with WDW Resort guests taking advantage of the perk, Disney had extended this to a number of hotels outside of their own resorts. This led to a number of guests being in the park with the Extra Magic Hour, and maybe guests would get in an extra ride in the morning but it would lead to more congestion throughout the day. Over the last few years, we’ve started to stay away from Extra Magic Hours because we could get more done in the parks that weren’t having them.
Obviously, I’d rather a park be open an extra hour instead of half an hour but with four parks being open for this every day it will spread people out far more and, theoretically, would lead to guests getting more done. If the system will truly lead to an extra half hour of each park opening every single day then I think this will be a net gain for resort guests.
One downside is that this will likely eliminate Extra Magic Hours in the evening. These were on their way out anyway, as only EPCOT and Magic Kingdom offered them in the past few years. But it still led to some very late and enjoyable nights in the parks. Yes, the same scenario of more crowds going to the park with late night hours happened but at times it would get so late that the park would still clear out. This led to many empty photography nights that I will miss.
Disney could offset this by keeping parks open later but Disney World has seemed averse to this recently, even before the pandemic hit. I hope that this will reverse course over time but I have my doubts. All in all, I think the Early Entry is mostly a positive but I will miss those late nights.
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