Disney tries to bring back the magic, unveils park changes

The Walt Disney Co. is making several changes at its domestic theme parks, including some easier reservations, in order to improve the public perception of its business.

Among the changes: it will cease charging for overnight self-parking at its Walt Disney World resorts; Walt Disney World annual passholders will be able to visit the theme parks after 2 p.m. without needing a park reservation (except on Saturdays and Sundays at Magic Kingdom) and individuals buying its Genie+ service will receive digital downloads of their ride photos taken in the park on the day of their purchase for no additional charge.

Like many companies, Disney struggled during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its theme parks were shut down for some time, with the closures causing delays in the construction of various projects. Concurrently, former CEO Bob Chapek received a lot of criticism for increased prices and other moves that the company made, including the end of the Magical Express bus service from the airport in Orlando, Florida to Walt Disney World resorts, the implementation of the Genie planning and ride reservation system and its theme park reservation system.

Disney theme park loyalists have not shied away from their criticism of the moves that have occurred over the past two years, with some even bemoaning on social media that “the magic is gone.”

One big recent change is the return of Bob Iger to the Burbank, California-based company. Iger replaced Chapek as CEO in November and just a few weeks later was seen visiting the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks in Anaheim, California with Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products.

Disney is now making known that it is listening to its visitors. On Tuesday the company made a flurry of announcements that were largely met with great fanfare by theme park goers.

Disney had started charging for overnight self-parking at its resorts at Disney World in 2018. It went back to offering complimentary overnight parking as of Tuesday evening. Disney resort guests continue to receive complimentary standard parking at Disney World theme parks.

“This is a Disney difference many of you have asked us to bring back, and we’re happy to reintroduce it to make your vacation a little easier and more affordable,” the company said in a statement on its Disney Parks blog.

The company did not give specific dates for the annual passholder or Genie+ changes, only to say that they will start in the next few months.

“Please know we will keep listening to you and adapting as we focus on making the guest experience even better for more people who visit us,” the company said.

Disney also made some other announcements that theme park goers have been anxiously waiting for, including the return of its “Happily Ever After” nighttime show at Magic Kingdom on April 3 and an official opening date of April 4 for its TRON Lightcycle/Run roller coaster at the same park.

Changes are also afoot at Disneyland. They include allowing people who buy a Magic Key pass or a Park Hopper ticket the ability to switch between its Disneyland and California Adventure parks two hours earlier, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, beginning on Feb. 4. It’s also adding more dates for people to buy its $104 one-day, one-park tickets and giving complimentary digital photo downloads for any PhotoPass available ride for all ticketed park guests on the Disneyland app starting Feb. 4, for the length of its Disney100 celebration.

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