Disney Hits Hard with Changes – How I Plan to Adapt and Overcome

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Disney World Changes

Walt Disney World Changes and Our Strategy to Maximize Future Trips

Disney has announced huge changes on multiple fronts which create challenges for travelers.  Most all future visitors will be affected in some way by the changes.  Disney’s complimentary FastPass+ system has been replaced by a pay model, the passholder system has been revamped and costs more, and many park/resort features have been discontinued.  It’s safe to say our next trip will be very different than our last in early 2020.  How are we planning to make that “different” an improvement, though?  Here are just a few ways we plan to deal with the recent Walt Disney World changes to our benefit.

Hello, Chain Hotels

First off, Disney World has greatly devalued the benefits of staying at their own resorts.  With the rollout of the Genie+ and an a la carte option to pay for Lightning Lane access, resort visitors have entirely lost their ability to book FastPasses in the extended, exclusive 60-day window.  For my family, we’re left with only two primary reasons to stay at Disney resorts: convenience and the unique Disney feel.  We’ve built up significant Disney gift card balances via rewards.  But for our next trip, at least, we aren’t interested in redeeming at such high rates for those benefits.

Hilton Lake Buena Vista.

Instead, we’ll take our healthy hotel point balances, particularly Hilton, and stay in nearby Lake Buena Vista.  We’re losing the convenience of one park primarily, Magic Kingdom.  We can easily make up for the lost Disney charm in other ways, such as optimizing our park visits and more convenient access to Disney Springs.

While we’re planning for staying off-property, we aren’t canceling our existing Disney resort reservation just yet.  Given Disney’s generous cancellation policy, we’ll see if any new updates will incentivize us to stay with them.  I’m not expecting anything, though.

Shamelessly Paying For Genie+ (and More)

I’m currently planning to spring for Genie+ on each day of our park visits.  Sure, that’s $60 daily for my family, but it’s a no-brainer in our situation.  We’ve toured the parks and attractions via FastPass+ and enjoy that experience.  We simply have no interest in degrading it.  Undoubtedly, Disney knows that plenty of people like us exist who will happily fork over for access.

I’ll even consider paying a la carte for certain rides if we’re unable to obtain them via Genie+.  Why?  Because, again, it may work best in our situation.  I recall our early 2020 trip.  We had the opportunity to get in the virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance, but it entailed an early morning arrival at Hollywood Studios.  It didn’t happen – the Grand Floridian bed was just too comfortable.  The time may come where I’ll pay for the convenience of Lightning Lane access for a specific attraction based on our schedule.  Some may think I’m playing right into Disney’s hands here.  How am I balancing out these “costs”?

See above.  We’ve shifted currencies thanks to staying at points hotels.  We’ll be redeeming hotel currencies more actively.  Simultaneously, we’re hugely saving our Disney gift card balance since we aren’t significantly redeeming them at their deluxe properties.  Yes, we fully know we could opt for more economical Disney resorts, but we prefer the nicer options.  Regardless, avoiding Disney resorts gives us plenty more Disney currency to have fun with.  Under the old model, we would have spent way more on Disney properties than we would pay for Genie+/etc.  On a whole, we come out ahead here.

Disney World Changes
Southwest has been my favorite travel option to Orlando, but not next time.

Catch You Later, MCO

Our early 2020 Disney World trip was our only experience with Disney’s Magical Express, and it was a game changer for us.  Thanks to this Disney feature, we arrived at MCO and got on a bus for delivery to our resort.  Our bags showed up in our room soon after.  Magical, indeed.  Disney had me in their grasp indefinitely thanks to this benefit.

But Disney subsequently announced that the Magical Express will disappear at the end of 2021.  Sure, Mears will launch a comparable service, for a substantial fee, but it won’t be the same.  In Mears’ announcement, I haven’t seen any mention of the baggage service returning.  Bummer.

Additionally, since we’re now planning a chain hotel stay, having a car is more important to us.  I have little faith on the timeliness of hotel shuttles to Disney World and prefer the freedom of having a vehicle when I’m not in the Disney bubble.

Add this all together.  A family of four (including two little ones) flying to MCO, picking up baggage, obtaining a rental car, loading that rental car, and installing two booster seats.  During the pandemic.  For us, that’s a hard no.  We’ll road trip it, instead.  Fortunately, we live close enough where this makes sense.

The Crystal Palace has been one of our favorite Magic Kingdom restaurants for a long, relaxing meal. Source: Walt Disney World.

Doubling Down on Table Service Restaurants

My family loves Disney World’s sit down restaurants.  What first was a respite from huge park experiences has turned into an easily-justifiable activity during our Disney World trips, almost daily.  We enjoy the variety of restaurants, theming, food quality, and characters.  If anything, we may visit such dining more in the future.  Why?  The extended, leisurely breaks!  Given we’re staying at an off-property hotel during our next visit, a convenient rest in the hotel room right off the monorail won’t be an option.  Table service restaurants will play an even more vital role, instead.

Maximizing Disney World Changes – Conclusion

Our relationship with Disney World will become even more transactional than it was before.  In our situation, we’ll clearly come out ahead on our next trip.  Of course, much is still to be clarified with Disney’s changes, and they’re apt to make even more tweaks between now and our next trip.  Likewise, my strategy will need updates, as well.  With Disney’s changes, those who put in the time and plan will be able to maximize their Disney experiences.   And if you don’t want to put in that time, just work with a Disney travel agent!  How are you adapting your upcoming trips due to the Disney World changes?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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13 COMMENTS

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I just listened to something where they did the math on deluxe resort vs value resort vs offsite with genie and the conclusion was people were going to be saving money by not staying at a Disney hotel and just maximizing genie. Even if you use uber to get to and from the park, I think the calculation was you could add on 2-4 days to your park experience by staying offsite and using genie in place of what you’d get at a Disney resort.

  2. The part that really surprises me about their eliminating The Magical Express is they had a captive audience 45 minutes to an hour each way to basically sell Disney through on-board videos. It was like it was “Free” as long as you agreed to hear a time share pitch.

    • Kale,
      Agreed, but it appears Disney wasn’t concerned about losing the captive audience in that forum, at least.

  3. We priced on vs off site. With a stay at the Hilton Palace in Dis Springs vs 2 rooms at ASM and with Base tickets it’s about the same for 3 adults. But really leaning towards the Hilton because it is a Suite. Unless suites came up available at ASM I think we’re going with the Hilton.

  4. No longer calling these Disney trips. Will just be trip to Orlando and if we get to Disney we get there. Plenty to do in Orlando area itself. A lot of nonsense in going to a theme park.

    • Brett,
      That’s definitely a way to manage expectations, and I agree there’s plenty of other stuff to do in Orlando!

  5. I’m really torn on the Genie+ thing. While I can personally afford it since given the ever-increasing prices for everything Disney what’s yet another surcharge, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution so I’m reluctant to pay to make things worse for other people. Does my personal convenience take precedence over everybody else’s, particularly to the point of paying money grabbing extra fees to ensure that convenience? It’s a quandary.

    • If you value your personal convenience more than others, yes it does take precedence. It’s no different than paying for business class over economy.

      • Christian and Jackson,
        I see merit in both of your comments. As I mentioned in the article, I plan to use cash rewards to pay for Genie+. Bigger picture, I could use similar logic to Christian’s to question if I should ever use points/miles/rewards on myself over others. I doubt many out there, if any, have donated all of their rewards. But I do see value in giving to others in our hobby; I’ve written about that here. We can apply that generosity on Disney World trips, as well.

        However, one benefit of rewards is personal convenience, as Jackson points out. Indeed, as Christian says, it is a quandary. Bigger picture, I think it’s more about how we balance using rewards on ourselves and giving back to others. That specific balance and how each individual calculates it is a tremendously personal decision.

  6. Just based on demand and quality, I could see Rise of the Resistance selling out of passes on some of the busier days of the parks for onsite guests, and also the ride that I could easily justify $15 a person to guarantee a chance of riding without having to burn the entire day waiting in the standby line.

    I look at the value equation differently, because I use RCI (timeshare) exchanges into Saratoga Springs for my Disney stays where I get a one bedroom condo for less than it costs to stay at a Value resort hotel room for a week. The loss of free fastpasses is a reduction in benefits, but at least for MK and Epcot the Deluxe resort after hours can definitely be advantageous for the busy rides (And also why I’m likely not to buy the Lightening Lane individual ride passes for MK and Epcot). The one major advantage is that onsite guests get to book dining reservations for their whole stay 60 days out from check-in instead of 60 days out to the day.

  7. Great write-up! As a fellow dad with two young kids, people underestimate the HORRIBLE job it is to install booster car seats inside a rental car. It’s so, so bad.

    • DiscoPapa,
      Thanks for reading and the kind words! Indeed, the process of installing booster seats in a rental car is the opposite of what a vacation should feel like.

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