Disney World eliminates two big fees, relaxes some pandemic-era rules
Over the last five years, Disney World has been on a streak of not only opening new lands and attractions but also increasing fees and eliminating perks that used to be free or included.
Disney began this fee spree when it started charging its resort hotel guests for self-parking in 2018. The once-free Magical Express bus to and from the airport for Disney resort guests went extinct at the end of 2021. Also, free FastPass went into the Disney history books when Disney Genie+ came about in late 2020.
However, today Disney surprised guests by eliminating not one, but two fees. While this is in no way a return to "the way things used to be," it's a positive start with some additional glimmers for the future.
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Parking free once again for Disney resort hotels
Effective Jan. 10, Disney World hotel guests will no longer have to pay a fee for overnight self-parking. Disney World hotel guests will continue to receive complimentary parking at Disney's four theme parks, a policy that was already in place before this change.
Previously, guests had to pay a nightly fee that varied based on the designation of the resort. Self-parking used to cost $15 per vehicle, per night at value resorts, $20 at moderate resorts, and $25 at deluxe resorts.
The list of reasons to stay on Disney property is again growing. In addition to being able to self-park for free, those who choose to stay at a Disney resort hotel can enter the parks 30 minutes early, make individual Lightning Lane purchases at 7 a.m. (instead of when the parks open) and stay late on select nights (for deluxe resort guests only).
Attraction photos are now complimentary with Disney Genie+
There are more than one dozen park attractions — including Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Slinky Dog Dash and Frozen Ever After — that snap a fun photo of you during your ride. Unfortunately, the only way to access on-ride photos is to either purchase the photos individually or purchase Memory Maker for unlimited photo downloads during your vacation.
Of course, both options come with a fee that can add upward of $100 to the cost of your Disney World vacation.
Memory Maker, for example, carries a flat fee of $169 when purchased in advance, or $199 if purchased during or after your vacation. However, that includes on-ride photos and those taken throughout the parks by Disney PhotoPass photographers.
All of those are set to change sometime in the next few months, though (the exact date has yet to be announced). Soon, guests who purchase the Disney Genie+ service to skip the standby lines during their Disney World trip will also get access to complimentary digital downloads of all on-ride photos taken for each day they purchase Genie+.
We're crossing our fingers that this means we can take home a free digital download of our screaming faces on Tron Lightcycle / Run when it opens on April 4.
Disney World Annual Passholders can soon enter the parks without making a reservation
Disney also announced that in the next few months, Walt Disney World's annual pass holders will be able to enter any of Disney's four theme parks after 2 p.m. without making a theme park reservation (except on Saturdays and Sundays at The Magic Kingdom).
An exact date should be announced soon.
Disneyland also making changes
It’s not just Disney World making changes that can save you money and improve your visit.
While the ability to visit more than one park in a day on a Park Hopper ticket is unfortunately still not back to pre-pandemic normal, it just got one step closer out west.
Beginning on Feb. 4, Disneyland visitors with eligible tickets will be permitted to park hop starting at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. Meanwhile, at Disney World, the time for park hopping is still stuck, for now, at 2 p.m.
Additionally, at Disneyland, on-attraction photos will now be included for all visitors as part of that park’s Disney100 celebration. This means the next shot of you screaming on Space Mountain won’t cost anything extra. There’s no set end date for the Disney100 celebration and this promotion, but our best guess is that it at least runs through 2023.
Disney also announced that Disneyland annual passes, known as Magic Keys, will go on sale at various times of the year as inventory permits. The park is also increasing the number of days per year available at the lowest $104 ticket price.
Related: Here's where to stay at Disneyland
A 'bibbidi bobbidi' blip or a change in course?
The elimination of parking fees at Disney resort hotels is good news, as are some other elements of today's announcements. For example, moving park hopping up two hours at Disneyland is at least a hopeful sign for a more normal future.
However, you still generally need a reservation to get into the parks, and you can't change parks until 2 p.m. at Disney World.
Not to mention, Genie+ has only been increasing in price in recent weeks. Dropping $15 -$25 per night in vehicle parking fees at the resort hotels hardly offsets all of the fee additions and price increases in recent years.
Will today's flurry of good news be a 'bibbidi bobbidi' blip on the larger Disney Parks roadmap? Or, is this the moment that the tide begins to turn, at least a little, away from added fees and complexities of a Disney theme park vacation?
We are certainly wishing on a star for the latter.
Read on for more tips to help plan your next Disney vacation: