Disney Quietly Makes a Big Theme Park Change

The Mouse House has gone through quite a turbulent week, but one major change that could make your theme park visit worse went largely unnoticed.

Walt Disney Co.  (DIS) – Get Free Report has to balance quite a few things when it comes to its theme parks. First, it needs to deliver a good-enough experience that park visitors will want to come back, while also telling their friends about their positive experience.

Second, the company has to maximize revenue. That’s not always about charging the most for park tickets (although the company has been working on that). Disney wants the most money it can get, but it’s content pushing some of that revenue out of the core ticket price and into pricey add-ons.

After-hours events, for example, have been a huge revenue driver for the company. These involve paying a separate fee for admission to one of the company’s Disney World or Disneyland theme parks for a limited-ticket event that usually starts at 6 p.m. These events, which are generally holiday-themed, offer shorter waits for rides, special snacks, and some added character appearances.

Disney has also boosted its bottom line by getting rid of the free FastPass+ system and replacing it with Genie+, a paid product. Basically, you pay $15-$22 per guest, per day for access to a system that works a lot like FastPass+ did. You can pick a time to ride most rides (one at a time) and buying Genie+ allows you to add-on “Lightning Lane” purchases, which cost more, but get you fast access to the most popular attractions.

More or less, you pay extra–and then you pay even more–if you want to have good experience at Disney World or Disneyland. It’s a de facto backdoor price increase for anyone hoping to ride a lot of rides during their Disney visit.

Now, the company has quietly changed the rules for this popular-because-you-need-it-added-cost Genie+ service and the change may be bad news for your vacation.


Disneyland Makes a Genie+ Change     

Genie+ has become an essential purchase for anyone visiting Disney’s U.S. theme parks who wants to spend the day on rides and meeting characters. You can opt to not have it and simply wait in line, but your park experience will almost certainly be worse without it.

Currently, you can’t buy Genie+ in advance. It becomes available for purchase at midnight on the day of your visit. Previously, there was no reason to literally stay up late and buy it, but that may have just changed.

Journalist Scott Gustin, who covers Disney, noted that the company had quietly changed some language about Genie+, essentially in the fine print on its website. It added a pretty meaningful disclaimer.

“Please note that there may be days where day-of Disney Genie+ sales are stopped based on demand for the service.”

Disney used to allow for advance purchase of Genie+. That ended in June. The company did previously include language saying that Genie+ was subject to “limited availability and is not guaranteed.”

The new language suggests that the company may be hitting those capacities at Disneyland and wants to be more explicit in sharing that you could get shut out.

Genie+ Shows Off a Disney Problem

The problem with selling special access is that, at some point, if enough people have it, then it’s no longer special. Genie+, like FastPass+, can only handle so many people before more folks are waiting in the “special” line than in the regular one.

That sometimes happened in the FastPass+ on less-popular attractions. You might have a FastPass, but the regular queue had few people in it, so it wasn’t needed. But you had to use it, because not doing so would limit your ability to get another FastPass for a subsequent ride choice.

In recently raising the price of Genie+ and making it variable (likely based on projected demand) Disney can maximize revenue while keeping the experience good. Some people will pay pretty much any price for special access, so Disney may be able to make more money selling Genie+ to them at higher prices.

That’s actually a similar model to how Disney prices tickets to its parks and how the after-hours events work.     

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