The People Have Spoken & For Once, The Disney Parks Have Listened (Yay Free Stuff!)

The Walt Disney Company is at a place in its existence where it rarely answers to anyone or anything; the company calls the shots, usually with no meaningful explanation and definitely without apology. We’ve seen it happen time and time again with the closing of the Virtual Magic Kingdom online game, Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World and the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland.

The only time they seem to backtrack on decisions is when a small division of the company is suddenly losing money because of the change, or when it garners so much ill will that it makes Disney look bad.

Such appears to be the case of FuelRods.

FuelRods were introduced at Disney Parks in 2016 as a way for guests to recharge their cell phones while walking around the parks at Disneyland or Walt Disney World. You purchased their portable recharging kit for $30 (well, at Disney it was $30. It was $20 everywhere else) and could then swap batteries, for free, for fresh ones, whenever needed. We wrote about them in early 2018, when we didn’t recommend using FuelRods for a variety of reasons. Due to some changes in the system over time, we wrote several months later, that we could potentially recommend them, under specific circumstances.

In late October, 2019, we wrote that it had been announced (via signs on FuelRod kiosks at the Disney parks) that battery swaps were no longer going to be free – they would cost $3 per swap, effective Nov. 1.

Many Disney fans were, not surprisingly, upset about this change. I read dozens upon dozens of complaints on Twitter and Facebook, all with the gist of, “I purposely bought Fuel Rods because the swaps were free and now you’re going to charge for swaps? What kind of {insert your favorite expletive here} is that?”

So what happened shortly after Disney announced swaps weren’t going to be free anymore? Someone filed a class-action lawsuit.

According to Attractions Today, the law office of Carey, Danis & Lowe filed suit to seek damages from Fuel Rod’s parent company, Tropican, Inc., for false/misleading advertising and breach of contract.

As per Attractions Today:

According to the lawsuit, this “unlimited, free swaps” guarantee was a large part of the company’s marketing and was the primary benefit of purchasing a FuelRod. Because of the change to charge per swap, the plaintiff and those in the suit feel as though they now have a lesser-than product that they would not have purchased at all or would have rather purchased at a lower price.

Now, I had heard somewhere down the line that the plan had always been to eventually charge for swaps at the Disney parks. But if that was to be the case, all they needed to do was include documentation that free swaps were for a limited time. They didn’t have to include how much time or even how much the swaps would eventually be; just that their being free was temporary. But they didn’t. For over three years, they just said the swaps were free, with no documentation that suggested that would eventually change.

So yeah, I could see people being upset.

But wait! The plot thickens!

So the class action lawsuit was announced on October 28th. On October 31st, a few Disney-themed blogs reported that the parks might not charge for the FuelRods after all. And sure, enough, on November 1st, none of the kiosks were charging for swaps; they still just said “swappable,” with no mention (or requests) of payment for swaps.

Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 10.43.16 AM
FuelRod charger on Nov. 1, 2019, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. Photo courtesy of BroadwaysAway vlog

Disney also made the following statement on Nov. 1st:

A decision has been made to not implement the $3 portable charger swap fee until further notice. Guests can continue to swap their FuelRod portable chargers using FuelRod’s owned and operated kiosks at Walt Disney World Resort for no additional cost at this time.

So there you go. FuelRod swaps will remain free. At least for now.

I wonder what happened, though – Did they underestimate how unpopular the decision would be? Did it have to do with the class action lawsuit? Was the bad word of mouth not worth whatever relatively small profit would be made?

Also, what’s going to happen in the future? The wording, “…until further notice” and “…at this time,” makes it sound like it could be a temporary reprieve. I’ve already heard people who were on the fence about purchasing Fuel Rods say they’re not going to buy one because who knows if/when Disney will start charging for swaps again. I’ve heard others say they’re going to buy power banks and stop using their FuelRods because they don’t want to go to Disney on their next vacation and find out they’ve decided to charge for swaps.

I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what the next move is.

But for now, FuelRod battery swaps remain free.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

2 thoughts on “The People Have Spoken & For Once, The Disney Parks Have Listened (Yay Free Stuff!)”

  1. Since they used the same marketing everywhere, I wonder if this will affect the swap charge at other locations — airports, convention centers, etc.? Or perhaps they decided to try to head off the suit because a legal judgement _would_ most likely affect all their locations.

  2. They started charging for swaps at airports about a year ago. It was a crappy battery and after they asked me for a credit card for a $2 charge (or whatever it was) I dropped it in the closest battery recycle bin I could find. They got hot to the point of scaring me every single time. Much better off spending $28 on a reliable 10000mAh battery that can charge your phone 2.4 times!

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