Disney fans recently learned about a new paid option coming to Disneyland Paris called Premier Access — not to be confused with Disney+ Premier Access, which offers members of the streaming service the chance to pay for access to select first-run movies.
With the Premier Access option coming to the Disneyland Paris app, guests will essentially be able to pay in order to cut the line at select rides. We’re seeing more and more pay-to-play options like this popping up around the Disney Parks. Although this strategy of encouraging guests to pay for experiences à la carte can be more profitable for the company, it’s also creating a have-and have-nots class system within the parks.
Additional perks being available for additional cost at the Disney Parks isn’t a new concept. For years, there have been specialty behind-the-scenes tours, holiday parties, and a lot more. But more recently, these add-on charges have been replacing content that used to be included with your vacation costs. The extra touches of magic that used to set Disney apart from all of the competition is slowly being stripped away from your Disney vacation. I know that’s a fairly intense statement to make, so I would like to make it perfectly clear that I believe the front-of-the-line cast members are still giving that extra magic in a lot of cases; it’s the decision makers who are making less than magical choices.
The Disneyland Paris Premier Access replacing the previously free FastPass isn’t the first time we’ve seen a paid version of the perk. Disneyland Resort introduced MaxPass several years back, where guests could make FastPass reservations in the app instead of picking one up for free at the attraction. The big difference in this case is that the free FastPass option remained available at Disneyland Resort, but Disneyland Paris has eliminated FastPass entirely, opting for the complimentary “Standby Pass” instead. The thing that is strange about MaxPass is that a very similar service called FastPass+ was available for free at Walt Disney World that utilized the app to make FastPass reservations.
If I had to guess (and this is purely a guess with no insider knowledge), I think that when Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure eventually have some sort of standby queue, there could possibly be an option to pay for access to the boarding group and digital queue, likely with a different name at that point. That seems to be the way that the folks in charge are running things these days.
Another service that has gone away is the Extra Magic Hours benefit at Walt Disney World for resort guests, where they would often get to enjoy extra evening hours in the parks. This has instead been replaced by an extra 30 minutes each morning at any park of choice instead of the longer hours on rotation. Although this hasn’t blatantly been replaced by a paid service, I do believe this decision was made to make it easier for the resort to schedule more additional-cost Disney After Hours events along with other separately-ticketed parties. Disney After Hours events essentially offer what Extra Magic Hour evenings once did: the chance to enjoy the parks with less crowds, with the difference being the addition of some added bonuses and, of course, an additional cost.
One extra touch of magic that is extremely handy for any guest landing at the Orlando International Airport is Disney’s Magical Express, a free bus service that takes you directly from the airport to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel. It’s been announced that this service will no longer be available starting in 2022, causing guests to need to find a paid replacement. This is in addition to Disney Resort hotels adding a parking fee several years back just to park at the hotel that guests are already paying to stay at. This is not uncommon in the tourism industry, but for a lot of people, this nickel and diming feels off-brand for Disney. Guests expect a lot of extra magic from Disney because that has been their brand for so many years. It’s sad to see the Disney experience leaning toward a more common experience.
There seems to be a change of mindset and branding from the higher-ups. In the past, Disney guests were all treated fairly and equally. Sure, you might have seen the occasional V.I.P. “plaid” guided tour, but it was much more uncommon than you see these days. This service is now heavily advertised, where it once seemed like one of Disney’s best kept secrets.
Disney vacations have never been an inexpensive getaway, but it seems as though Disney wants to cater more toward the wealthy rather than the middle class — and that is completely their decision to make if they want to change the model. But along with those changes comes a lot of disgruntled former guests who can no longer afford a Disney vacation, never mind all of the upgrade charges to make the most out of their experience. So, angry outbursts on social media are to be expected and I think Disney knows that.
In addition to this being a hard pill to swallow for some (as change is hard in general), the issue is that Disney Parks’ marketing campaign for so many years has made a Disney Parks visit feel like a rite of passage. The fact is, it isn’t. Visiting a Disney Park is an expensive privilege. It’s been expensive for a long time, but the current regime seems to enjoy testing how far they can push the envelope (or dollar) before people stop attending. So far, they don’t seem to have gone too far, as there are a lot of people still willing to pay. It reminds me of that scene in “Jurassic Park” where the lawyer says to John Hammond, “We can charge anything we want; two-thousand a day, ten-thousand a day. And people will pay it.” We all know how things ended for that lawyer.
Overall, Disney has one of the most passionate fanbases around. It’s beyond a fanbase. It’s now a lifestyle (and dare I say, addiction) that so many are willing to go into debt for. The changes we’re seeing for additional cost opportunities don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. I expect to see many more changes like this coming to Disney Parks, as long as enough people continue to be willing to pay.
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles, California. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” a Disney fan podcast. He is offering the free gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent “Attractions Magazine”.