Originally published in Theme Park Tourist Friday, December 2, 2016 06:15
By now you already know that 2016 hasn’t exactly been the best year for Walt Disney World in terms of attendance levels. Quarter after quarter, The Walt Disney Company has been reporting lower than expected growth at Walt Disney World, and while we won’t know the full picture of the Orlando resort’s attendance in 2016 until next year, Disney has wasted no time reacting to this news enacting a number of changes around the resort in response to this increasingly-pervasive trend. And though we discussed some of the side effects of this year’s attendance slowdown earlier this year, the past few weeks have seen even more changes come to the resort, some of which you may have already noticed…
1. Reduced hours are coming to a handful of Walt Disney World attractions for the end of 2016
Earlier this year anti-fans rejoiced when it was revealed that one of the most reviled attractions in history, Stitch’s Great Escape, was going to be closing permanently in the new year. However, according to the rumor mill it seems like plans to create a new VR experience based on Wreck-It Ralph have been put on hold (potentially indefinitely), which means Stitch’s Great Escape could be sticking around for a little bit longer. However, instead of opening this attraction back up for regular operation, Disney will be keeping it shuttered for all but the busiest operational days at the Magic Kingdom, making this an attraction one that will continue the strange and somewhat frustrating trend of Disney keeping attractions standing but not operating. And while there probably won’t be too many tears shed over the (potentially) untimely shuttering of this attraction, there are some other places where guests will notice some cost-saving operational changes around Walt Disney World as well.
Over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, two attractions will be getting a new operating schedule for the rest of the year. Kali River Rapids will now be open from 10:00 AM-5:00 PM from December 4th through the 17th and then when high season kicks up later this year, the attraction will be open from 10:00 AM –though 7:00 from on December 18th-24th. Finally, during the busiest time of year, this attraction will return to a nearly full-day schedule, opening from 9:00 AM-7:00 PM from December 25th-31st. In addition, the park’s Minnie and Mickey meet and greet will now only be available from the park opening until 4:30 PM daily for the foreseeable future.
Though these changes are only happening at two Walt Disney World parks, we expect more reduced hours to come to other attractions in the coming weeks as Disney looks to streamline its operations as much as possible in the coming weeks as 2016 finally draws to a close.
2. Upcharge experiences are becoming more and more prevalent everywhere you look
If you feel like you’ve been hearing a lot more about upcharge experiences in the past few weeks than might be normal for this time of year, we’ve got good news: you’re not imagining things. Disney has officially announced its “enchanting extras” initiative, which aims to increase the amount of upcharge experiences around the parks, and already includes upcharge events like $50 dessert parties with poor views of the Festival of Fantasy Parade, and the ability to rent a $700 tent in Tomorrowland.
In recent days Disney has even announced a new dining experience that allows guests to board the monorail with “priority” access and enjoy a three course meal spread out at different stops on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop, including Citricos and The Wave…Of American Flavors. The cost for this scheduled monorail dining crawl? $150 per guest. But at least this price includes food, drinks, gratuity, and a rooftop view of the nightly Wishes spectacular, which actually makes it an OK value (dining at the monorail resorts isn’t exactly cheap under normal circumstances either).
While all of these upcharges are pretty straightforward (and don’t effect guests who don’t want to take advantage of them), some of the changes around Walt Disney World aren’t as obvious…
3. Additional “conveniences” pop up all around the resort
Last week, news broke that the ABC Commissary, which isn’t exactly the most well-regarded dining establishment on Walt Disney World property, was switching to a casual dining format for dinner beginning this week. And interestingly, the prices for entrees at dinner service has just so happened to rise along with this format change. And this isn’t the only way that Disney is trying to get guests to pay more for conveniences around the resort.
While Disney introduced a “preferred parking” option earlier this year, Disney is trying to further monetize its parking lots by adding snack carts at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom for guests who find themselves needing that last-second bag of chips or soda before hitting the road.
Disney has even gone as far as monetizing bus stops, as they have rolled out a recent test at the All-Start resorts that has brought take away pizza right to the front of the resort bus station, a convenience that we expect to see expanded to other hotels in the coming weeks.
Now of course not all of these reactionary changes are bad. You can hardly fault Disney for cutting hours at some of its attractions in an effort to run their theme parks as efficiently as possible, and offering additional experiences and increased conveniences for guests who can afford them is hardly a new concept for Disney parks. However, when we take all of these changes together, it’s difficult not to wonder what may be in the future for Walt Disney World. It’s too soon to tell, but if Pandora – The World of Avatar isn’t the giant success that Disney is likely hoping it will be and attendance slides again, could we see even more cuts and upcharges come to the resort in 2017? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
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