To say that a vacation to Walt Disney World is now a lot more expensive than it used to be is one of the more obvious statements in the history of the theme park business. We see ticket prices increasing every year for guests planning once in a lifetime vacations, and Annual Pass prices also go up regularly for those who visit more often.
However, if there’s anything more frustrating than the thing that you’re playing for getting more expensive, it’s having to start paying for something that used to be free. We’ve seen that happen a lot in recent years, even just in recent months. Here are five things that used to be included in your Disney World experience that you will now lose unless you pay up.
Walt Disney World Resort Parking
One of the first things to disappear from Disney World that used to be included was parking at Disney World Resort hotels. Whether you were close enough to drive to the parks or you rented a car at the airport, you used to be able to park that car at your Disney World hotel for free. Considering that lots of other hotels have always charged for parking, it was worth building that into your calculation when deciding whether or not to stay on property.
But in 2018, that changed, and Disney World resort hotels started charging for parking, just like nearly every other hotel in the area. Parking now costs $15 to $25 per night depending on what level of resort you are staying in. There was a way to save that money, however, because it used to be possible to get from the Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World for free.
Disney’s Magical Express
With four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and dining district, and more, there’s more than enough going on at Walt Disney World for it to be your entire vacation, and Disney World found a brilliant way to make sure you did exactly that. Disney’s Magical Express was a free bus service that picked you up at the airport, took you to your hotel, and then brought you back at the end. It even took care of your bags so you didn’t even need to carry them from the airport. It meant you could save money renting a car, and the bus service itself was completely free.
Starting at the beginning of 2022, however, Disney’s Magical Express no longer exists. There are bus services that have filled the vacuum, doing the same job that the Magical Express once did, including one from Mears, which was the company operating the Magical Express. Unfortunately, these services don’t manage your bags, and of course, they all cost money.
MagicBands (For Resort Guests and Annual Passholders)
The MagicBand is a pretty awesome piece of tech that makes your Disney World stay just that much simpler. It acts as your park ticket, your hotel room key and your credit card, allowing you to charge anything the parks back to your room. The other thing that was awesome about them was that if you were staying in a resort hotel, or had an annual pass, you got one for free.
Starting last year, however, Disney World stopped giving the MagicBands away. For a while it looked like the entire system was being dropped, with most MagicBand capabilities now being handled by your smartphone. Then in 2022, the new MagicBand+ was released, which did everything of the original MagicBand, with additional LEDs and haptic feedback for interacting with nighttime spectacular shows. Unfortunately, nobody is getting MagicBand+ for free anymore, though resort guests do get a discount if they order them ahead of time.
FastPass+/Genie+/Individual Lightning Lanes
At this point, pretty much every theme park and amusement park in the country has some sort of option for skipping some or all of the longest lines for the most popular rides. And at basically all of them, this additional feature costs money... sometimes quite a lot of money. While one might expect Disney World to cash in on a service like that, for years that did not happen. While FastPass and its follow up FastPass+ certainly had their issues, one thing the service had going for it was that it didn’t cost anything.
Due to capacity restrictions, FastPass+ did not return when Disney World reopened in a safe manner following the pandemic closure, and when something like it did finally come back in the form of the new Genie+ service, gone was free service. It was replaced with a $15 per day per ticket fee. On top of that, some of the most popular attractions in each park have a separate fee for skipping the line separate from Genie+. A year later, Genie+ is now working on a variable price program and is costing closer to $20 most days.
PhotoPass (For Annual Passholders)
Nobody goes to a place like Walt Disney World without taking lots of pictures. If you were a frequent visitor with an Annual Pass, that was no big deal because Photopass was included with the top level passes. This meant that you could take as many pictures with Disney World’s official photographers as you wanted and you would be able to download and keep all of them. All your character photos and the cool Magic Shots that added Disney characters into your photos were included.
But when the new Disney World Annual Passes were unveiled following the pandemic closure, Photopass was no longer available, even on the top level pass. It can now be purchased via a $99 add-on, which is still a pretty good deal considering a single day of photos normally costs $69, but Annual Passes didn’t get $99 cheaper, so it still costs more than it used to.
Walt Disney World is a magical place and that magic isn't cheap. But sometimes, what makes us feel that magic most are those little perks, those small extra things that, as Walt used to say, “plus” the experience. Not having to buy a MagicBand or pay for FastPass+ used to be some of those things. Now they’re gone, and we can only hope that we can find the magic elsewhere.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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