It’s safe to say that things feel a little… off at Disney parks right now.
It’s not just the arrival of sweeping changes or the tension of a world still learning to navigate the lingering effects of a global pandemic. Across the board, longtime Disney fans have taken note that visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland feels strangely different compared to years past. Some elements of the parks experience that were just givens have shifted in unexpected ways or disappeared. In some ways, it even feels like some of the company’s core values have been changed.
One of the biggest causes of these changes has been cost-cutting tactics. While Disney has claimed to resist pressure from outside advisors urging drastic cost-cutting, evidence suggests that many belt-tightening measures we saw begin after the 2020 closures are here to stay. While some signs of cost-cutting have been subtle, others are getting painfully obvious—to the detriment of the overall Disney parks experience.
Speaking of which, does it feel hot in here?
1. What happened to the air conditioning?
Back in 2017, I remarked in an article that it seemed like Universal Islands of Adventure suffered from a seeming lack of air-conditioned spaces compared to Walt Disney World. This seems like such a necessity in Central Florida. I hated the idea I was seeing Universal cast members sweating like they’d run marathons inside stores and restaurants. You just couldn’t find anywhere to cool down properly across the park. This was a dramatic shift from our normal experience at Walt Disney World, where many restaurants and attractions are kept at cozy, cool temperatures, even during the hottest times of year.
It seems that times have changed…
On a recent visit to Walt Disney World during the blazing summer months, we noticed a weird shift—Disney’s restaurants and rides appear to be operating at hotter temperatures than they used to.
We first noticed the phenomenon during a lunch at Katsura Grill. We’d chosen to eat at an indoor location to get some relief from Florida’s heat, but halfway through our meal, we realized the restaurant didn’t seem to have much air conditioning. At first, we assumed this might just be a quirk of the location.
As a very-pregnant Disney fan, moving from AC to AC had become an essential skill for a Disney visit, so I started paying attention. Across the board, it seemed most of our usual havens to retreat from the summer heat were all operating at hotter temperatures. Even old faithful stops like Spaceship Earth felt weirdly warm and muggy.
I was ready to write this off as a pregnancy issue when I did some research—I wasn’t the only one who had noticed this. Other Disney fans remarked the same issue, and the assumption is Disney has started operating indoor locations at higher temperatures to save on AC costs.
I get the push for energy efficiency, but this is a pretty frustrating change considering Florida’s relentless humidity and Disney’s longstanding reputation for going above and beyond for their guests. It was strange having difficulty finding relief from the heat short of planning a detour to First Aid (which should be a last resort). This is definitely one cost-cutting measure we are not a fan of.
2. “Alright you baa-aa-d boy… but no more freebies!”
There’s no question that a visit to Disney parks is expensive. That being said, part of the benefit of visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland over the years has been the consistent availability of all-inclusive services bundled in your base cost as well as the occasional surprise freebie to be found throughout the parks.
Freebies and included services aren’t totally gone at Walt Disney World—celebration buttons are still a thing, Passholders still get new magnets, and Club Cool still exists, but options for free perks have waned overall.
Most of these changes took place after the closures of 2020, when Disney was scrambling to reclaim lost revenue and find sustainable ways to operate their parks in the midst of an unsteady world. This in and of itself wasn’t a particular shock, but the way many of these changes have become long-term policy was. The most well-known examples were the elimination of free MagicBands, the Disney Magical Express airport shuttle, and of course, Fastpass+ in favor of the still-controversial paid Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane system.
Small freebies like stickers, occasional festival goodies at Epcot, and special event items (like those given away on Disney+ day) can still be found by savvy guests, but these are trickier to find than before and sometimes require a paywall (such as the gifts one can get at Epcot festivals for food scavenger hunts). Overall, Disney just seems a little more tight-fisted than before, both with services and surprise perks. We are definitely not in the midst of a season like the Year of a Million Dreams.
3. The whole concept of Parks Pass Reservations
The most dramatic change to the Disney parks experience has definitely been the arrival of the Parks Pass Reservations system. Originally put in place in 2020 as a way of controlling attendance in the midst of the pandemic, the system introduced required park-specific reservations in order to enter any Disney park.
While many guests had hoped otherwise, it appears the Parks Pass Reservation system is here to stay for the foreseeable future. This change definitely has not been without controversy, as park reservations have definitely put the kibosh on much of the spontaneity that used to be possible visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort. The system only offers one major benefit for park guests: it has made a significant positive difference in limiting park attendance to manageable numbers, preventing some of the wild gatebuster days (like 4th of July and New Year’s Day) that we used to see prior to 2020. While this change is good, it has come at the high cost of reducing flexibility.
It doesn’t take rocket science to discern that the reason Parks Pass Reservations are still here is because it benefits Disney’s bottom line. With the ability to tell exactly how many guests may be in a park on a given day, Disney can allocate resources with extreme precision. While this is a good thing to a point (you don’t want to be short on cast members or restaurant supplies on a busy day, for example), the problem is it has given incentive for Disney to make noticeable cuts on days when attendance is lighter.
Some ways we’ve noticed this trend affecting visits is things like more shops and restaurants being unavailable on lighter days. Certain entertainment options may be thinned or closed, you might see fewer characters, and perks related to seasonal events may not be as easily accessible.
Most frustratingly, park hopping remains very limited, only allowing guests to start jumping between parks after 2PM. With the worst of the pandemic behind us, there is little excuse for maintaining this arbitrary hurdle except to benefit Disney financially. Rumors have even persisted of Disney has considered expanding throttling on park hopping to require secondary reservations, rather than lightening the restrictions to allow park hopping earlier as guests want.