5. Hotel Package Pick-Up
One of the lesser-known services offered to guests at Disney Parks is Package Pick-Up, which offloads the irritation of having to carry a bag of souvenirs all day. In practice, guests can send a fragile snow globe, oversized stuffed animal, or awkward poster print to the front of the park to be grabbed on the way out of the park at the end of the day instead of lugging it onto rides or storing it in lockers.
For Disney hotel guests, the service was even more beneficial, with merchandise delivery with Resort Hotel Delivery! If you go through the expense of buying a Lightsaber, for example, who wouldn't want to take some quick glamour photos with it out in Galaxy's Edge? But naturally, carrying the awkward, padded case around the rest of the day or trying to store it on the Tower of Terror or Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you can drop it off at Dok Ondar's and pick it up the following day at your resort! Genius, right?
Merchandise pick-up was one of many services slashed due to COVID-19 to reduce the number of hands touching things. Weirdly, it didn't return even once Disney stepped back its pandemic-related health policies. In 2020, the front-of-the-park pickup briefly resumed for the holiday rush (December 20 - January 2) but then disappeared again. It's not yet clear if Disney will resume the service for the holidays in 2021, or if it'll ever return.
6. Complimentary MagicBands
STATUS: Replaced with an upcharge
PRICE YOU'LL PAY: $80+ (for a family of 4)
In 2013, Disney launched the MagicBand – an all-in-one incarnation of the resort's 2010s technological MyMagic+ initiative. MagicBands were imagined as a panacea for Disney World's woes. Developed before smartphones were widely in use, the colorful, RFID-enabled plastic wristbands were the place where Disney's dissimilar systems would converge. That one, simple, easy-to-manufacture bracelet would act as a guest's park ticket, room key, credit card, FastPass+, and dining reservations. It didn't hurt, of course, that they were stylish, customizable, and collectible – the perfect souvenir for a 21st century Disney trip.
Today, it's almost hard to believe that MagicBands were free* (read: included) for guests staying at Disney Resort hotels. Better yet, they'd arrive in an excitement-building box with each guests' chosen color and engraved name – a sort of extra expense it's hard to imagine Disney ever approving. For a generation, though, the appearance of MagicBands in the mail served as a signal that a trip was coming, and MagicBand tan lines as the symbol that one had just ended.
Disney officially ended the free* distribution of MagicBands on January 1, 2021. MagicBands can still be purchased (the formerly-free ones retail for $19.99, with more elaborate ones costing much more), paired, and used just the same way a ticket would, but you won't receive complimentary bands with a resort reservation anymore.
It makes sense... MagicBands fulfilled their purpose by bridging the gap to today, when smartphones are plentiful and powerful enough to serve the same function (and without the manufacturing and shipping costs). By the 2020s, MagicBands had become a middle man between the parks and the My Disney Experience app anyway, but it's still a free* service (and in this case, a physical product) that's no longer offered, and makes a stay in the "Disney Bubble" that much less magical.
7. Extra Magic Hours
STATUS: Replaced with a free* service
Extra Magic Hours allowed guests of Disney resort hotels access to a select theme park each day by tacking on an additional hour before or two hours after the standard day exclusively for hotel guests. It was a major perk in the sense that it gave guests a head-start (or a "VIP" evening), but it also had its faults... like, for example, seemingly every on-site guest opting to visit whichever park offered the perk that day, all but ensuring it would be the busiest park on property.
The replacement for Extra Magic Hours comes in two forms. The first, Extended Evening Theme Park Hours leave a park open two hours after its posted closing time, but just for guests staying at Deluxe hotels. (A rare stratification for Disney, who tends to be pretty egalitarian with on-site guests.) Early Theme Park Entry is for guests staying at any Disney hotel (and participating partner hotels). Rather than an hour-ish of exclusive access to a select theme park or two, Early Entry essentially opens all four of Walt Disney World's hotels to hotel guests 30 minutes before its official opening time to the public. Like during Extra Magic Hours, only select attractions are available.
As a replacement for Extra Magic Hours, Early Entry makes a good amount of sense, as it better distributes hotel guests. The people who will be really affected by this "perk," though, are those staying off-site. Whereas off-site guests could simply avoid whichever park was offering Extra Magic Hours to ensure they weren't affected in the past, now off-site guests begin every day at every park at a clear disadvantage since on-site guests have already had 30 minutes to surge into E-Ticket lines or gather at "rope drop" points farther in the park.
8. Resort Airline Check-In
Just as our list of lost perks and new upcharges began with the start of guests' trip and the loss of Magical Express, it ends with a small but frustrating inconvenience at the end of the trip. Resort Airline Check-In allowed guests of Disney hotels to check-in to their flight (on select carriers) and print boarding passes through their Resort's front desk – just in time for Magical Express to pick them up and whisk them back to the airport, worry-free.
Just as Magical Express "magically" delivered bags to your room on arrival, guests could check luggage from their hotel lobby, which would then make its way onto the airplane, checked through to its final destination.
Resort Airline Check-In is no longer available. That means that the end of a trip to Walt Disney World is a lot like the end of a trip anywhere else... you need to lug your bags out to the hotel's front porch to either catch a Lyft, Uber, shuttle, or rental car back to the airport. It's not exactly "magical." In fact, it's the same treatment you'd get for staying outside the Disney Bubble. Yep, the end of yet another free* service means that the perks of staying on-site are few and far between.
For many guests returning to Walt Disney World for its 50 anniversary, the story told back home won't be about Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind or TRON Lightcycle Power Run; it'll be the story of costs run amock and perks slashed. To recreate the "Disney Bubble" experience you might remember from an on-site stay in 2015 – with free* Magical Express, hotel parking, FastPass, and MagicBands – a family of four would need to shell out at least $600 for Mears Connect, hotel parking, Genie+, and 4 Magic Bands... and that doesn't include intangible perks like Resort Delivery and Airline Check-In.
The most important question, though, is this: will anyone change their vacation plans as a result? While angry fans take to social media to decry that they're never giving Disney another of their hard-earned dollars ever again, they... will! They always do! So even as perks are slashed, upcharges are added, and vacation prices spike, Disney's betting that you'll still go, and that you'll probably pay for what used to be free*, too. Will you?