Home Disney, Universal & Other Theme Parks Disney Offered This For Free For Decades; Will They Soon Charge?

Disney Offered This For Free For Decades; Will They Soon Charge?

by SharonKurheg

If there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to the Walt Disney Company, it’s that they will always figure out a way to make more money off of its visitors. Cases in point:

  • Disney has given their hotel guests something called MagicBands (MBs) for years. They were touted as a way to make your visit easier (because your ticket media, credit card info, etc., could all be loaded onto your MB), as they also tracked every place you went on property, which helped Disney’s marketing department immensely. Anyway, you could always get a plain MB for free. Then they started selling fancy ones with Disney characters and attractions on them. Limited edition MBs cost even more. And then, effective January 1, 2021, MBs were no longer given for free…if you want a new one, you have to buy one. By the way, if you DO have a MB, promise me you will never do this with it!
  • Disney’s Magical Express (DME), the free bus service between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World (WDW), entices people to stay at Disney property and not leave. So all of their money gets spent at Disney and not offsite. DME is going away in early 2022 – we assume it’s in anticipation of the new train system that will go from MCO to WDW in a couple of years – I guess that’s a better deal for Disney than DME. Meanwhile, this new option for transportation between the two will be available in the interim.
  • If you ever got sick at WDW, or left your prescription medications at home, you generally had to go off property for medical care or to get more meds. WDW’s now announced a partnership with a local health system so your medical needs can be taken care of on Disney property. You KNOW Disney is getting a cut.
  • And speaking of getting a cut…for years, local stroller and wheelchair rental companies were allowed to leave their strollers at Disney hotels, ahead of guests arriving. Disney changed that in October, 2019, and only one “preferred” (read: Disney gets a cut of the profits) stroller & wheelchair company is allowed that practice anymore. All the others have to meet the guests in person (and kudos to the two stroller companies that thought outside the box on that one!).

So what could be the next thing Disney will try to make a profit on?

Fast Passes.

Fast Passes have been at WDW since 1999. It’s a way for theme park guests to avoid long lines for rides and other attractions by reserving a time to come back and wait in a minimal queue, ahead of most people who don’t have a FastPass and are waiting on a “standby” line.

Other theme parks have followed Disney’s lead and have made their own versions of FastPasses. Universal Studios offers Express Pass. Six Flags parks have Flash Passes. Dollywood offers something called a TimeSaver. Schlitterbahn has Blast Pass. Knott’s Berry Farm offers Fast Lane Passes.

However, in nearly all circumstances, the “other” parks’ respective reservation systems are a paid-for add on. For all these years, WDW’s FastPasses have been free.

There are rumors that might soon change.

For over 25 years, the Orlando Weekly has been an award-winning alternative media publication in the Orlando area. Available as a physical newspaper and an online entity, both for free, they write about local news, opinion, events, and culture. It is the second most-read local publication in Central Florida, just behind the Orlando Sentinel.

The Orlando Weekly published a very interesting piece about FastPasses and why they think Disney may begin charging for them in the not-too-distant future.

Click here to read the Orlando Weekly’s “Disney May Soon Charge For Something It’s Been Giving Away For Decades.”

We enjoyed the article immensely and it all made sense.

But still, FastPasses are SO flippin’ popular; I mean, people based their entire vacation on what time their FastPasses were. Could WDW really get rid of the free FastPasses in favor of a paid system?

Apparently, you only needed to look as far as the other worldwide Disney parks:

  • Before COVID, Disneyland had offered regular FastPasses for years, but also had a “MaxPass” system, wherein you could pay a certain amount per day and besides being able to make FastPass reservations on your phone (as opposed to having to go to attractions to get paper FastPasses), you also had access to PhotoPass downloads taken by Disney photographers or on select rides (neither are currently available at this time, post-COVID)
  • Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland both offered free FastPasses for years, but also offered paid-for options. DLP had “Super FastPass” (which allowed you one-time FastPass access to three rides at any time throughout the day), and Ultimate FastPass (which gave you access to 6 rides in a day). At HKDL, their “Priority Special” pass also gave you quick access to 3 rides, and “Priority Special +” gave you access to 8.
  • Shanghai Disneyland also offers free FastPasses, but also has something called “Disney Premier Access,” which is a per ride upcharge for certain rides, that gives you priority over regular FastPasses.
  • (Tokyo Disneyland is, at this time, the only other Disney park that doesn’t offer a paid FastPass system; only a free one)

Welp, the Orlando Weekly recently wrote that Disneyland Paris has now eliminated its free FastPass system, in favor of its own version of “Disney Premier Access.” Prices vary from €8 ($9.43) to €15 ($17.69) (prices are per guest and attraction, and vary according to attraction and day of visit). This means if a family of 4 wants quick access to, I don’t know, let’s say, one of the more popular attractions, like, Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, or Phantom Manor, you can expect to pay over $70 JUST FOR THAT ONE RIDE.


Our take on it

As the Orlando Weekly suggested, COVID has been a “reset” of sorts at Disney parks. With that in mind, as well as WDW wanting to recoup the money it lost during the pandemic, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Orlando Weekly is right and we see a paid-only version of FastPasses in Walt Disney World’s (and maybe Disneyland’s?) future.

Joe and I are not really fans of WDW’s current-until-COVID FastPass+ system. Granted, we’re local to WDW and FP+ is not really helpful to people like us, who don’t plan their visits to WDW until days (if not just hours) instead of months in advance; FastPasses, which are limited in number, are often all gone by then. So we agreed with Brian Krosnick, of Theme Park Tourist, a few years ago, when he suggested that Disney should get rid of its FastPass system.

That being said, if WDW does eliminate FastPasses at WDW, I’m afraid it’s going to alienate a whole slew (and I daresay an entire generation) of WDW fans who plan their vacations around what FastPasses they’ve gotten months ahead of time. With a paid system, they’re going to have to cough up even more money, or (gasp!) stand on a “stand by” queue with the rest of us.

Unfortunately, a paid system will also only reinforce the “elitism” of the “haves and have nots.” But that’s been happening at WDW, in dribs and drabs, for decades. And frankly, Disney doesn’t care. After all, if there’s one thing you can count on when it comes to the Walt Disney Company, it’s that they will always figure out a way to make more money off of its visitors.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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