This week’s announcements out of Walt Disney World created a firestorm of responses on the internet. Disney fans struggle to make sense of the upcoming discontinuation of Disney’s Magical Express airport shuttle service and changes to the Extra Magic Hours perk for onsite resort guests. Compound these changes with all the other changes to perks for on-property guests in a post-pandemic Disney World, and many of us are wondering, “Is it still worth staying at a WDW Resort hotel?”
What Would Juliana Do? Let’s look at the current state of affairs one by one.
As of January 1 this year, Magic Bands are no longer complimentary as part of a resort hotel stay. When staying at a WDW Resort hotel, guests can choose to purchase solid-color Magic Bands for $5, or select a designed Magic Band for up to $20. If purchasing a Magic Band doesn’t suit you, don’t fret. Disney is upgrading the My Disney Experience app so guests can use their smartphones for many of the functions of the Magic Band, such as opening your room door, making purchases, and park entry.
WWJD: Personally, I love the Magic Band. I love that I have access to all I need in the parks and at my resort right on my wrist. I rarely have pockets in my warm-weather clothes, and even if I did, I wouldn’t use them for my phone. That just begs for me to lose it. I also really don’t like the idea of having to pull my phone out of a pocket or a bag as often as I would need to. I don’t even like to do that to snap pictures in the parks (one of the reasons I love Memory Maker).
I should also mention that last time I was at WDW, I accidentally left my Magic Band in the room and the app absolutely would not work to open my door. Every time I tried, either the app itself crashed, or, if I got it to load, the bluetooth wouldn’t work. I admit, I’m not very tech savvy, so it could have been an operator error. Regardless, I’ll take a Magic Band please! And I have no problem paying for it. In fact, now that I have to pay for a solid Magic Band, I’m more likely to upgrade my purchase to a designed one and have a little fun with it while I’m at it.
Since reopening in July, Disney has suspended the Dining Plan option, with no concrete indication of when it will return. So, instead of being able to pre-purchase a meal plan for that all-inclusive feel, guests have to pay for what they eat when they eat it. If you think about it, with so many restaurants not yet reopened, it makes sense not to offer guests an option to pre-pay for limited dining options.
WWJD: Full disclosure, I was never a die-hard dining plan fan, so this isn’t a deal-breaker for me. I’m certainly not against the Dining Plan, it’s just not a must-do for me with every trip. I think it depends on how you like to vacation and what your priorities and specific plans are. In short, it changes with every vacation. That said, I miss so many of the Disney dining options and experiences. When they return, I think I’ll take a full culinary tour of the Walt Disney World Resort and plan to dine at all of my favorite restaurants and at all those I have been meaning to try. Hopefully by that time, the Dining Plan option will be reinstated because I’m going to want to avoid the trauma of paying for those meals separately as I go.
Back in the heyday of ‘beforetimes’, all ticketed guests at Walt Disney World parks had access to 3 pre-planned FastPass+ experiences in one park per day. The bonus perk for on-property resort guests was a pre-booking window beginning 60 days prior to check-in, versus 30 days for off-site guests. But like the Dining Plan, FastPass+ reservations did not return when the park reopened in July. Speculation about why this is, and about the future of the Disney FastPass+ Reservation system, abounds. We have our own theories about the Future of the FastPass+. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the option isn’t currently available to anyone.
WWJD: This one stings a little. Whether you’re an over-planner or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-little-red-pants kind of mouse, FastPasses guaranteed us 3 seamless/no-wait experiences. While the option remains unavailable to all guests, the real kicker for me here is as an on-site resort guest. The early FastPass+ booking perk all but ensured I would get to experience some of the most popular attractions (typically those with the longest waits). This perk really drew me into paying the premium to stay at a WDW Resort hotel. Not happy.
Extra Magic Hours: Another you-get-what-you-pay-for perk of staying at a WDW Resort hotel was the use of Extra Magic Hours. Previously, on-property guests could enjoy a full hour before park opening or up to 2 hours after park closing at specified parks on specified dates. But this option has gone the way of the FastPass+ and the Dining Plans. Disney has promised us, however, a new Early Theme Park Entry option in which all parks will be open to WDW Resort guests a half an hour prior to rope drop each day. While Disney hasn’t given a start date, they have said it will be in time for the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration this October
WWJD: I don’t mind this one. While I loved Extra Magic Hours for getting a jump on the crowds, I didn’t love having to wait for schedules to be released and planning my park days around which parks would offer EMH on which days. Additionally, the one park that offered EMH often ended up more crowded by afternoon, effectively counteracting the benefit to lower crowds in the morning. Now, with all parks offering early entry each day, on-site guests will be dispersed across 4 parks. So, we will be able to accomplish more in a half hour with fewer crowds, and we probably won’t see an afternoon spike in crowds at a single EMH park.
The down side is for those non-morning people. With no mention of an after park closing option, night owls have no good option. Personally, I’m a morning person, so I’m all set.
Perhaps the most disturbing news of all for our friends on the internet was the announcement that in 2022, Disney’s Magical Express complimentary airport shuttle service will be discontinued. Fans are noticeably upset, including our own MousekeMom Lori. Magical Express offered such convenience. Not only was airport transportation super simple to add to a resort stay, luggage delivery service and eliminating the need for car seats added an extra bonus. Not to mention, it was, well, Magical. Your Disney vacation started the moment you got off the plane. No fuss. No stress. Just convenience handed to you effortlessly by helpful and friendly cast members.
WWJD: I get it. Losing Magical Express makes getting to and from MCO a bit more challenging. It’s hard to let this one go, but as Lori tells us, maybe something better is on the horizon. Or maybe not. Consider that nearly every other vacation destination requires effort and money in planning your own transportation from the airport. Is this loss really going to keep you from staying on-property or even taking the WDW vacation at all. For me, it won’t. To be honest, I’ve rarely used Magical Express anyway. My family prefers a road trip, so we opt to pay for resort parking anyway. Even when we do fly, we don’t have to worry about car-seats, so that’s a non issue for us. But for those of you still in the car-seat stage of life, remember that airlines can not charge you for checking a car seat with your luggage. Many taxi services in Orlando will allow you to install your own for the transfer or will have them available with an advanced reservation.
As much as many of us will miss the Magical Express perk, let’s try to remember complimentary airport transportation is not what makes magic. No one ever leaves Disney saying, Magical Express sure was the most magical part of my trip.
Now, let’s add up all these changes. What Would Juliana do?
For me, taken individually, none of these changes are a deal-breaker for staying at a WDW Resort hotel. But what about when we add them all up? It’s an awful lot of disappointment. Subtract the value of all of these perks, and one can legitimately question the premium price of an on-site stay. Even still, I say don’t think about the dollar value of the perks. It’s about two things: convenience and Magic.
Walt Disney World is a huge resort. Free transportation is still offered within the resort, so once you get there, you don’t need to worry about getting around like you would if you stayed off property. If staying off property, you would have the added hassle and expense of renting a car and parking at the parks. If you chose a taxi or ride-share, drop off points at Magic Kingdom are actually far from the park entrance. The same is true for bus services offered by other Orlando area hotels. Additionally, those tend to run more seldom, so if you miss one, you have to wait a really long time for the next.
When staying in what many fans call “the Disney bubble,” the Magic begins the moment you wake up in the morning with that call from a favorite character. It extends through your breakfast Mickey Waffle and carries all through your day to your welcome back ‘home’ at night. Cast Members at resorts continue to go above and beyond to make each Prince and Princess of any age feel extra special. You can’t put a price on that..
What do you think? Would you still stay at a WDW Resort hotel for your next WDW vacation. It’s a hot button issue right now, and we would really love to hear your thoughts. Send us a comment.
The MousekeMoms, Lori, Jennifer and Juliana, are experienced Disney moms who dole out valuable, honest, no holds barred information on their weekly podcast to help you plan your Disneyland, Walt Disney World or Disney Cruise Line vacation.
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