BIG Changes At Disney: Free Parking, Food Discounts, & More!

by SharonKurheg

In November 2022, The Walt Disney Company unceremoniously fired its CEO, Bob Chapek, and brought back its previous CEO, Bob Iger. Chapek’s 2-year tenure at the company was not good – he was intensely disliked and Disney’s stock value was not doing well (Disney Tourist Blog did an excellent write up about why Bob C. was fired and how Bob I. returned).

Iger “got” Disney; he understood it. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a significantly better CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world than Chapek. And his return caused squeals of happiness, not only from Disney fans, but from cast members (Disneyspeak for “employees”), as well. Some of the memes were hysterical:

With a promise on both sides for him to be the person in charge through December 2024, Iger has made some small changes here and there since his tenure begun. However some huge announcements were made the other day, many of which will ultimately affect visitors to Walt Disney World:

Complimentary overnight self-parking

Unlike most hotels, Walt Disney World did not charge overnight parking fees for its guests who were staying at the 30 or so hotels and resorts it owned on WDW property (ever wonder about hotels charging for parking in the first place? Here’s why). That all changed in 2018, when they began charging $13 per night at Value resorts, $19 at Moderate resorts and $24 at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts (those prices have since increased to $15, $20 and $25, respectively). And then there were all the times that people didn’t have cars but were charged for parking anyway.

However on January 10th, Disney made the following announcement:

Beginning this evening, Jan. 10, overnight self-parking will once again be offered complimentary to guests staying at Disney Resort hotels at Walt Disney World. This is a Disney difference many of you have asked us to bring back, and we’re happy to reintroduce it to make your vacation a little easier and more affordable – whether you’re road tripping across the country, renting a car or vacationing as a local Florida resident. As a reminder, Disney Resort hotel guests also continue to receive complimentary standard parking at Walt Disney World theme parks, daily early theme park entry (with valid admission and a park reservation) and complimentary on-site transportation options such as buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner.

Disney Dining Promo card

Before the pandemic, one of WDW’s most popular deals was their dining plan, which was available if you stayed at a WDW-owned hotel. The WDW Dining Plan allowed you to pre-pay for meals ahead of your trip so you didn’t have to worry about budgeting for food when you were on your WDW vacation. There were four different plans to choose from, and they ranged from snack-based to “nearly everything you’d ever want to put in your mouth at WDW.” Overall, it was a big hit with lots of guests.

The Disney Dining Plan disappeared with the pandemic, and long-time guests hoped it would be back in 2023. Welp, a dining promotion is being rolled out, but it’s not exactly (well, not nearly) the same as what was offered previously.

Disney has just announced their new Disney Dining Promo Card. They say it’s, “…a digital gift card—and it’s included with a special offer for select Walt Disney World room-and-ticket packages. The card can be used for select food and beverage purchases during your Walt Disney World vacation!

Use your digital Disney Dining Promo Card to purchase meals, snacks, treats and beverages at select participating dining locations during your Walt Disney World vacation. Enjoy a tasty bite on the go from quick-service venues, food carts, kiosks and more. Or, sit down to a leisurely meal at a table-service restaurant (advance reservations are highly recommended).”

Get up to a $750 Disney Dining Promo Card when you purchase a non-discounted 5-night, 4-day vacation package that includes:

  • A room at a select Disney Deluxe Resort or Disney Deluxe Villa Resort
  • Theme park ticket(s)

This offer is valid for arrivals most nights:

  • July 1 to July 10, 2023
  • August 1 to September 14, 2023

A lower-value Disney Dining Promo Card may also be available when you purchase this package during other select summer arrival dates.

The amount of your Disney Dining Promo Card will be based on what resort category you stay:

Disney Dining Promo Card Value Resort Category

So it’s a gift card, only good for food, if you stay at a Disney-owned hotel. Not nearly as valuable as their old Disney Dining Program, but at least it’s something. A compromise.

Attraction photo downloads will be included with Disney Genie+ service

If you had a higher end annual pass at WDW, you could get free photo downloads. After WDW reopened, they redid their annual pass program and the free photos were discontinued; you had to always pay for them. Guests were NOT HAPPY.

I guess the suits finally figured that out, because there’s something new on the horizon:

Beginning in the next few months, guests purchasing Disney Genie+ service will also receive digital downloads of their Disney PhotoPass attraction photos, taken in the park on the day of their purchase, at no additional charge. Attraction photos are taken while in the parks at more than a dozen of our most popular attractions including Space Mountain, Slinky Dog Dash, Test Track, Expedition Everest and more. …An exact launch date will be announced at a later time. Disney PhotoPass terms and conditions and expiration policy apply.

(Genie+ is a paid skip-the-line service that allows guests to enter through a special line called the Lightning Lane [think of the former FastPass program, which had been free] rather than the standby line)

So this one is also a compromise. You have to pay for Genie+ but if you do, you get free photo downloads again.

WDW annual passholder park reservations requirements will be relaxed for visits after 2pm

From Disney:

Beginning in the next few months, Walt Disney World Annual Passholders will be able to visit the theme parks after 2 p.m. without needing a park reservation, except on Saturdays and Sundays at Magic Kingdom Park. Pass blockout dates will continue to apply like they do today. While the theme park reservation system remains important to manage attendance in our parks, especially on busier days, we realize our Passholders enjoy more spontaneous visits – and this change will make that possible.

We’ll share a start date with Passholders soon for when these offerings will become available…

As a Central FL resident and former (past tense) WDW Annual Passholder (AP), this announcement excites me the most.

Disney started requiring reservations for the parks during the pandemic – they said it was their way to ensure they didn’t go over the capacity limits they had put into place to help ensure covid-related safety. However even after covid became less of an issue, they didn’t get rid of the reservation system. That’s when they started saying it was so “guests knew they were guaranteed park entry” but really, the only time the (smaller) parks ever hit capacity was during big holidays. Christmas. New Year’s Day. Days like those.

Word on the street was Disney kept the reservation system in place to help them determine how many cast members they would need to work at any given time. Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past them.

However as Florida residents who live less than 10 miles from WDW, having to make reservations REALLY put a damper on things. We rarely “planned” to go to Disney; it’d be Joe getting off from work and one of us saying, “Hey, it’s only 4 o’clock. Wanna go to Disney, ride a couple of rides and maybe grab dinner there somewhere?” Not being able to be spontaneous like that anymore was a big part of why we didn’t renew our APs.

So for Joe and I, this news is HUGE. Sure, it’s yet another compromise – we wouldn’t be able to go until after 2pm. But honestly, after 2pm was when we’d go to the parks half the time anyway. So frankly, I’m liking this update.

Disney rarely makes changes that positively affects guests when there’s nothing in it for themselves. When they do, it’s usually indicative of their hurting in some way. Perhaps not as many people are staying at their hotels so they’re making them more lucrative by removing the overnight parking fees. Maybe they’re not selling as many photo packages as they anticipated, or people are eating off property more. Or perhaps there are lots of Florida residents (Florida residents are the only people who can buy APs right now) like us, who let their APs expire and didn’t renew because it just wasn’t worth it to them. Whatever the case, although 3 out of the 4 are compromises, they’re at least reasonable. When you’re talking about Disney, that in itself is a cause for celebration.

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.

Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary, or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

Pat January 11, 2023 - 1:04 pm

You skepticism is warranted but I think these changes are a genuine change of attitude. Chapek’s short tenure will always be remembered for nickel and diming guests, and Iger wants to go back towards “the good old days” when customer’s were merely overcharged instead of outright fleeced.

What I wonder is if these goodwill gestures will help or diminish the value of Disney Vacation Club.


Leave a Comment