Worse was how Mr. Chapek treated “cast members,” as Disney park employees are known. The people who greet you at the park entrance, serve you food, and get you on and off rides safely have a huge influence on the quality of your visit. I’ve spoken to many cast members, from youngsters to older adults, about why they’re willing to wear polyester suits in the Florida summer heat for relatively low pay. To a person, they say something like, “I want to make people happy, and Disney is the best place to do that.”
So it was disheartening when, in September 2020, Mr. Chapek announced that the company was laying off 28,000 workers, most of them cast members. While many other companies were laying off workers during this time, Mr. Chapek was also urging Disney to spend billions to ramp up content production for its Disney+ streaming service. As we’ve seen, Mr. Chapek viewed the incomes and health care of thousands of people — the people who do the magic — as less important than another season of “The Mandalorian.” Many cast members have decided not to return to Disney parks when they reopen.
Mr. Chapek also decided that Disney could charge for faster access to its theme park lines, replacing the parks’ free FastPass ride reservation system with a complicated two-tier process in which access to the most popular rides costs up to $29 per person, per day. And for faster access to one or two of each park’s most popular rides, guests will need to pay an additional fee of up to $25 per person, per ride, per day. For a family of four, that could add over $200 per day. Fans were in disbelief.
There was more. During the pandemic, Disney has implemented a mandatory reservation system for visiting its parks, where guests must specify in advance which park they will visit each day of their trip.
Covid restrictions are mostly a thing of the past, but Disney is still enforcing these reservations. As the author of several unofficial Disney guides and the owner of an unofficial Disney planning website, I know from dozens of guests that the reservation system only adds more stress and confusion to a process often already difficult. Josh D’Amaro, a Disney executive, said the reservation system allows Disney to dispatch labor more efficiently.
Mr. Iger isn’t perfect – he’s endorsed Mr. Chapek as his successor, after all – but there’s a reason a senior Disney executive summed up Mr. Iger’s comeback with the words “Dad is from return!”
Mr. Iger is said to be already reviewing the reservation system and is alarmed at the price increases introduced by his predecessor. To further improve the relationship with our community, Mr. Iger is expected to explain how Disney will use revenues from top-up programs to improve the customer experience.