Things are constantly changing at Disney World.
In 2020 alone we saw TONS of changes (like the temporary suspension of fireworks and the suspension of the Disney Dining Plan) and — oh yeah — the parks CLOSED for the longest time in history! All of these majorly changed how you plan your Disney vacation. BUT, Disney has made many major changes like this over the years that dramatically impacted how trips are planned. Today, we’re taking a trip back in time to go through some of those BIG changes. Plus, we’ll make a quick trip to the future to see some changes that are on the horizon!
1. Bye Bye E-Tickets, Hello 1-Day Passes
When Disney World opened in 1971, things were very different. Instead of getting a 1-day pass that was inclusive of all attractions, you had to buy ticket booklets to use on individual rides. A 7 Adventure book incided 1 A ticket, 1 B ticket, 1 C ticket, 2 D tickets, and 2 E tickets. There were also other types of ticket books available then and individual tickets could be purchased.
Want to go on the Jungle Cruise? In 1971, that would have cost you 1 E-Ticket. How about The Haunted Mansion? That’s another E-Ticket for you. You’d have to carefully plan out how many lettered tickets you had and how many you would need to ride all of the attractions you wanted.
Gradually the A-E Ticket system was replaced by tickets that were good for any attraction. And finally, by June of 1982, we said goodbye to ticket books altogether at Disney World. Instead, guests could just buy a “Passport” that generally gave them access to ALL of the attractions.
That switch was a MAJOR game changer. It’s the reason why today you don’t have to pay for each attraction with a separate ticket or worry about how many E-Ticket rides you can go on during your trip. You pay 1 price to get into Magic Kingdom now and that (generally) includes ALL of the attractions (except for things like Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery). It means you pay once and the whole park is available to you to enjoy. The downside? That admission ticket price saw a big hike up!
2. Opening of NEW Parks
When Disney World first opened in 1971, it only had one theme park — Magic Kingdom. It also had two resort hotels and a campground. So, if you were planning a trip then, you only had one theme park to really worry about — including only one park’s worth of restaurants to consider eating at or rides to plan for.
But, over the years several other theme parks opened at Disney World — EPCOT in 1982, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios in 1989), and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998.
With each new park came a whole host of new rides, restaurants, and shops to explore. That meant your Disney trip potentially went from just visiting 1 park to visiting 2, 3, or even 4 parks. That’s 4 times the level of planning! This dramatically changed how guests prepared for their trips and thought about Disney World in general. If you want to see it all, it could mean significantly lengthening your stay or buying Park Hopper passes to try and squeeze everything in.
3. Opening of New Rides, Hotels, Restaurants, and Lands
The opening of a new hotel could mean that you’ll skip out on staying at your family’s favorite resort to experience something different. The opening of a new land might require you to totally reconsider your game plan for the park, taking into account ALL of the new things there is to see.
Some of these openings have been incredibly impactful because they marked some big FIRSTS. For example, Be Our Guest Restaurant in Disney World was the FIRST spot to require an Advance Dining Reservation for a counter service meal (although it is not serving quick-service breakfast or lunch right now). Be Our Guest was also the FIRST restaurant to have guests pre-order their meal too.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is the first ride in Disney World to require the use of a virtual queue. Initially, this meant a mad scramble of guests arriving at the park hours before dawn to get a spot in the elusive boarding groups. Changes like these are all MAJOR deviations from the way we might “know how to do things” and can greatly impact the way you plan your trip. These can also serve as testing grounds for technology or methods that might be expanded to other restaurants or rides in the future. Or, in the case of Rise of the Resistance, how plans can be improved over time.
4. Introduction of Extra Magic Hours
Maybe you never even considered staying at a Disney resort before due to the cost or other factors. “We all get into the park and get to stay for the same time anyway, right?” Well, thanks to the introduction of Extra Magic Hours, that’s actually not quite the case.
Extra Magic Hours essentially became a FREE morning and night offering that allowed Disney Resort guests to get into select parks early or stay in them later than non-Disney hotel guests. That extra hour or two in the parks with more limited crowds could be a HUGE benefit and might even convince you to stay on property when you previously would not have.
At the moment, extra magic hours have been suspended. But, a special Early Theme Park Entry offering for resort guests has been announced and we’re on the lookout for any updates on that.
5. Introduction of the Magical Express
Disney’s Magical Express service began being offered back in 2005. The service allows Disney World hotel guests to take a FREE bus from the Orlando International Airport directly to Disney World. The service also complimentary included luggage pick-up. Guests didn’t need to collect their luggage from the airport at all. Instead, the Magical Express service would get your luggage for you and it would magically appear in your room.
This was a major change to how guests planned for their vacations. You no longer had to take a taxi, rent a car, or otherwise figure out how you and your bags would get from the airport to Disney World if you didn’t want to anymore. You could simply utilize this service at no extra cost and let Disney handle the rest.
Disney’s Magical Express is set to be discontinued in 2022. Wondering what the best ways are to get to the airport once it’s gone? We’ve broken that all down for you here.
6. Dining Booking Window INCREASED to 180 Days
Know where you want to eat 180 days from now? Well, if you’re going to Disney World, knowing where you want to eat HALF A YEAR ahead of time became the norm! The window within which guests can make an Advance Dining Reservation has changed quite a bit over the years. Several years ago, Disney used a 180-day window. That meant that you could make reservations up to 180 days in advance of your trip. For much of 2009, however, Disney actually used a 90-day reservation window.
Starting in October of 2009, however, Disney switched back to a 180-day window. Opening up dining reservations that far in advance meant that guests really had to decide where they wanted to eat early to make sure they could score those reservations at popular spots. Forget to set that alarm and wake up right when reservations drop and you could totally miss your chance.
As of the reopening of Disney World in 2020, the dining reservations window has been reduced to 60 days, but things are always subject to change again.
7. First Park Hopper Tickets
In the early days of Disney World, Park Hopping simply didn’t exist. But, in the 1980s, the first Park Hopping ticket was introduced. The 3 Day World Passport allowed unlimited use of both Magic Kingdom and EPCOT for 3 days for 1 person.
That was another game-changer. With Park Hopper tickets, you didn’t just have to stick to one park per day. You could hop between parks and really maximize your time in both however you wanted to.
8. Introduction of Disney Vacation Club
Before 1991, you could stay at the Disney World hotels, stay off property, or figure out other arrangements. And while there were other vacation timeshare programs in existence that you or your family might have participated in, Disney didn’t have a vacation ownership program of its own. But, in 1991 that all changed.
In 1991, the Disney Vacation Club officially launched with its first resort — Disney’s Old Key West Resort, originally known as The Disney Vacation Club Resort. Unlike a traditional timeshare program where owners buy a unit of a specific size in a set time of year, DVC members work off of a points system, providing them with more flexibility.
Over the years, the program has expanded to include 15 different properties where DVC points can be used for room rentals. But, even the DVC’s initial introduction with just one hotel greatly changed the way that people plan for their vacations. Those who were looking for a vacation ownership program with all kinds of magical benefits for their Orlando vacations (and beyond!) could take part in a Disney-centric experience. Plus, those members could take advantage of unique discounts, special access to members-only events, and more.
9. Introduction of FastPass
We’ve all been there. The line to Space Mountain is ages long. You just wish you could magically hop to the front of the line and skip all the waiting. Well, back in 1999 Disney made those dreams come true with the original FastPass system.
With the old system, you would put your Disney World park ticket into a distribution booth near the attraction and get a FREE physical ticket which told you what time you could come back to the attraction. Once your return time began, you could come back to the attraction you got the FastPass for and skip waiting in the regular standby line. The FastPass ticket would also tell you when you could get your next FastPass.
Talk about MAJOR changes that affect how you plan your Disney trip! FastPass totally altered the way guests planned for their trips. Do you rush to Splash Mountain to get that FastPass first? Do you send one family member ahead with all of your tickets to get them quickly while the rest of the family zooms to Space Mountain? With the introduction of FastPass, a typical park day went from just walking around and waiting in the lines that were there to strategically planning how to skip LOTS of lines and ride all of your favorite attractions.
Eventually, the system changed to FastPass+. The FastPass+ system also dramatically changing the way that guests plan for their vacations by limiting the number of FastPasses that can initially be made and allowing guests to make FastPass+ reservations in advance. (Miss the old paper FastPass system? It’s still alive and well on the West Coast in Disneyland…and hopefully when it reopens!).
10. Introduction of My Disney Experience App and MagicBands
There used to be a whole host of unofficial apps that would give you Disney information to could use in the parks. (Anyone else feel like a dinosaur and remember when apps were a novel idea??) Disney also had a park app of its own — Mobile Magic — which gave users access to mobile park maps and a few other things. But in 2012, Disney launched the My Disney Experience app, which would eventually fully replace Mobile Magic. My Disney Experience had a new look and features that would ultimately be integrated with FastPass+.
Over the past few years, and especially the last few months, the My Disney Experience app has become critical to planning Disney World vacations. The app now provides an easy way for guests to make dining reservations, order food through Mobile Order, check-in for dining reservations, see if there is any waitlist availability at select restaurants, skip long merchandise check-out lines through the mobile check-out option they were testing, order food to go from popular table service restaurants, and more.
The app also lets guests make their FastPass+ selections (although that is not currently available).
In 2013, Disney introduced even more interconnectivity into the parks and the way you plan your vacation with the introduction of MagicBands.
Need to scan your ticket to get into the park? No need to dig through your purse or wallet for a key card, just tap your band! Need to pay for those corn dog nuggets? No need to grab your credit card or cash, just tap your band and charge it to your room!
MagicBands eventually became used for everything from linking PhotoPass photos to opening your hotel room door. While MagicBands are longer being provided for free to hotel guests, they haven’t disappeared from the parks. You can still use them to get into your room, tap into the parks, and more. We’ve seen quite a few new MagicBand designs released lately as well and we’re interested to see how this technology will either be utilized or improved in the future.
11. Park Reopening Changes in 2020
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many things changed in 2020 all around the world. Disney World was no exception to that. For several months, the Disney World theme parks closed. Eventually, the parks in Orlando reopened, but a number of changes were made. For example, the Disney Dining Plan was temporarily suspended and has not been offered again yet.
FastPass+ was also temporarily suspended, as well as fireworks, character meet-and-greets, and parades. Park Hopping was also initially not allowed. All dining reservations were canceled prior to the parks reopening and when reservations opened up again, they opened with a 60-day Advance Dining Reservations booking period (down from the 180 days it was at previously).
Some Disney hotels reopened with the parks in 2020, but others have remained closed or have had their reopening dates delayed. The same has occurred with restaurants — some have reopened but several favorites are still closed.
Additionally, with the reopening of the parks, Disney introduced the Park Pass Reservations system. This requires guests to have a valid ticket AND valid Park Pass reservation for the park they want to visit in order to get in.
All of these have significantly changed the way you plan your Disney vacation. Now, you can’t just get a ticket and visit whatever park you want. You have to have a Park Pass reservation for the first park you want to visit that day. Park Pass availability can change though, and can fill up for some parks on certain days, especially holidays. So, if you don’t book them far enough in advance, you might not get to visit the parks you want to. You also might not be able to stay at your favorite hotel or eat at your favorite restaurant if they are still closed.
And you’ll become much more familiar with those standby queues (and the plexiglass in many of them) because FastPass+ is still suspended. Face Masks are also required, there are rules against eating in line (or eating at ALL while moving around, for that matter!), and many ride vehicles have plexiglass on them as well or have changed how guests are seated. LOTS of things have changed at Disney World over the past year — possible more than ever before — and it’s really critical that you keep all of these in mind when planning future vacations.
12. Reintroduction of What Has Been Removed
But, some things that have gone away have come back, many in modified ways. Some restaurants and stores have started to reopen in the parks and resorts, and some hotels have also reopened. Park Hopping has also returned, BUT it has some new rules. Park Hopping hours don’t begin until 2PM (although that is subject to change), meaning you can’t hop to another park until the clock strikes 2.
You also need a Park Pass reservation for the first park you want to visit AND you need to enter that first park before going to another park that day. Hopping also depends entirely on availability. So, you can start your day in EPCOT and finish your night in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but be aware that it isn’t all exactly how it used to be.
Fireworks also came back in a small way during the holidays, and it’s possible we’ll see more of that in the future. Our favorite pals have returned to some character dining spots, and some live theatre shows are back up and running for guests to enjoy. Many things are different, but the return of some things that used to be available in the past can give back some of those magical moments guests have seriously missed.
Here’s to the FUTURE and YOU!
Like we said, things are constantly changing at Disney World and more changes are set to come soon! As part of Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, a new Early Entry program is set to debut, giving Disney hotel guests early access to the Disney World theme parks. In 2022, the Disney Magical Express bus service will be discontinued. But, at some point in the future (potentially in 2023) a Brightline train is set to connect Disney Springs to the Orlando International Airport.
The future will also bring with it some new attractions and restaurants including Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, La Creperie de Paris, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and MORE as part of the EPCOT Transformation. Magic Kingdom guests will also get to zoom around Tomorrowland on the new TRON Coaster when that opens in the future. These new experiences will definitely impact how you plan your days in the parks.
Disney has also discussed some technology coming in the future that will impact vacation planning. Specifically, what we’re talking about is the Disney Genie. This digital offering “is being designed to help you make the most out of your visit, whether you’re a first-time guest or a seasoned pro.” The Disney Genie will provide customized itineraries with just a few taps on your smartphone. Itineraries will be able to focus on everything “from a royal, princess-themed day at Magic Kingdom Park to a trip around the world at Epcot for foodies and even a perfect day for thrill seekers.” Note that, after the initial announcements, very little has been shared about Disney Genie since.
So, it seems some significant changes are on the way that will change the way we plan Disney vacations in the future. And, there are likely LOTS of other new things set to be announced in the future that we don’t even know about yet which will greatly impact the way we vacation at the most magical place on earth. We’re always on the lookout for more Disney updates, so be sure to come back to DFB for all the latest Disney news!