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Disneyland Article
Facing Fan Backlash Disneyland Announces Huge Changes
Julie Tremaine
This week, Disneyland announced massive changes to the theme park, addressing guest concerns about cost and in-park experience. Foremost among the changes: Park hopping has changed from 1 p.m to 11 a.m., and the company is making the lowest-tier, lowest-cost park tickets available on more days in 2023.

“Many of you know that I’m in the parks fairly often … and I listen to you and to our guests about the things that are working … as well as the things that might need some change,” Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro said in a letter to Disney employees on Jan. 10.

According to D’Amaro, these changes are “specifically ones that our guests have asked for” and that have been shared by cast members, Disney’s term for its staff. In addition to increasing the number of days the $104-tier ticket will be valid at the park, Disneyland will also offer free PhotoPass downloads of photos taken of guests on attractions and plans to resume sales of its Magic Key annual passes.

On Jan. 12, Disneyland announced that it will also debut a new restaurant later this year. Tiana’s Palace will replace French Market in New Orleans Square and will complement the forthcoming retheme of Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. (Walt Disney World will close Splash Mountain permanently on Jan. 23, but there is no set date for Disneyland’s closure. Walt Disney World also announced this week that its long-anticipated Tron Lightcycle/Run roller coaster will finally open in April.)

And while fans were surprised by the abrupt closing of La Brea Bakery this week, that closure was quickly followed by news that Porto’s Bakery will replace it later this year, which Disney announced with confirmation that Earl of Sandwich would reopen in Downtown Disney as a pop-up later this month.

With Disney’s centennial celebration, 100 Years of Wonder, beginning at the end of January, the company appears motivated to ensure that the “happiest place on earth” is filled with happier visitors.

The changes are coming fast and furious right now, likely for two reasons. First, Universal has been making its own announcements lately. Universal Studios Hollywood soft-launched its highly anticipated Super Nintendo World this week, which is scheduled to officially open on Feb. 17. The company also announced that it would open a new, smaller park in Texas aimed at young kids, as well as a permanent Halloween Horror Nights attraction in Las Vegas.

But competition aside, Disney has its own news cycle, and an increasingly vocal and dissatisfied fan base, to consider. At the end of November, the company announced that its unpopular CEO Bob Chapek would be replaced by former CEO Bob Iger. The move was largely financial; under Chapek’s leadership, Disney’s streaming platforms lost $1.5 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter.

Still, fans rejoiced at the end of an era marked by cost cutting, price hiking and declines in quality, like a marked increase in ride malfunctions. With Iger back in charge, many hoped that those problems would be remedied quickly. While some are definitely improving, the biggest one remains an issue.

After cost, the most common guest complaint, by far, is about Genie+. The paid line-skipping service — which replaced the free FastPass — costs $25-$30 per day, depending on how busy the park is. In an era when the costs of everything from merchandise to food have gone up, visitors have been vocal about paying additional money for something that used to be an included perk.

People are willing to pay, though. Over the holidays, during the busiest time of the year at Disneyland, Genie+ sold out on several days, meaning the park was capping the number of people who could skip the line to make sure the experience was worth the investment for those who purchased it. Hand in hand with that cap: surge pricing for the service, which goes up depending on demand.

It’s unlikely that Genie+ is going anywhere — but the system is in serious need of revision. Genie+ operates differently for different people: There are separate rules in place about who can start booking Lightning Lane entries at what time, depending on whether they’re staying at a Disney hotel and whether they’re in the park when they’re trying to book.

At Walt Disney World, resort guests can start booking at 7 a.m. before the park opens, but at Disneyland, no one can book anything until they’re scanned into the park for the day. So even if people planning to learn the complex Genie+ system try to research the rules in advance, they’re likely going to read something that explains how the system works in a different place.

Essentially, if you buy Genie+, you book entrance into an expedited Lightning Lane, by being assigned a return time later in the day. You can book one Lightning Lane every two hours, and you can’t repeat a ride. Using the system means you need to spend quite a bit of time on your phone in the park, and it means you need to set alarms for every two hours if you’re going to maximize your value.

Smartphone dependence aside, the system is constrictive: You can’t choose your own time for a Lighting Lane return, so you’re assigned the next available, even if it conflicts with another plan. Until very recently, you couldn’t modify existing Lighting Lane reservations, so if you needed to adjust a time, you would be forced to cancel and rebook. That meant you lost the previously booked slot and had one fewer opportunity to use Genie+ in the day than you should have had.

While the ability to modify reservations is a step in the right direction, there are more steps to go.

In the letter, D’Amaro acknowledged that there is still work to be done to repair the diminished guest experience. “While this doesn’t address everyone’s feedback,” he said, “these changes will increase flexibility and add value to our guests’ experience.”

He added: “We are committed to listening, adapting, and staying relentlessly focused on making the guest experience at our Disney parks even better.”

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