USA! USA! USA! Good has once again triumphed over the evil empire, as Walt Disney World has announced that parking trams will soon return to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. This covers everything we know (basically a single sentence) plus a surplus of shuttle commentary (basically the rest of the post).
In case you missed it, Walt Disney World closed back in March 2020. That was the last time that parking tram service was offered at all four parks. Upon reopening a few months later, indoor attractions operated at the parks and the open-air trams were suspended everywhere…for safety.
Fast-forward about a year later, and Walt Disney World essentially abandoned all health safety protocol by the start of Summer 2021. Trams remained suspended everywhere at that time. Approximately 16 months after Walt Disney World reopened, the parking lot trams returned to service at Magic Kingdom in December 2021.
Walt Disney World made the following announcement back on December 2, 2021: “Driver you are clear…to spread a little holiday cheer! Parking trams will be returning to Magic Kingdom Park later this month and other Walt Disney World theme parks throughout 2022!✨”
Delivering on that bold promise, parking lot trams returned to Animal Kingdom on May 27, 2022. That was the last we heard anything about parking lot trams at Walt Disney World.
It’s my understanding that the year is currently 2023 based upon most conventional calendars. Based upon my unscientific calculations, it’s approximately 8 months after the latest date in 2022. But my math could be wrong.
It’s been over 1,100 days since the parks reopened. It’s been over two years since things went back to normal. Prices have increased by, I dunno, at least 15% as compared to pre-closure. (The precise amount depends upon how you account for the removal of previously-free perks like FastPass, Disney’s Magical Express, etc.) And yet, no parking trams at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Well, our long national nightmare is almost over. After over
84 3 years without them, both EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will have parking lot tram service restored in September 2023.
Here’s the official announcement from Walt Disney World: “Beep beep! This September, parking trams will return to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With this update, trams will once again be available at all Walt Disney World theme parks.”
In terms of commentary, I want to start by admitting that I’m not quite sure how to thread the needle on this news. A terrible fight is going on inside me between two wolves. One wolf is angry, annoyed, resentful, sarcastic, and has hard drive full of outdated memes. It’s probably obvious from the text and photo choices above, that this wolf is the one winning out thus far.
That’s because this news is long overdue. Frankly, December 2021 was “too late” for parking lot trams to return to all four parks, and we’re ~20 months after that. A vacation destination that purportedly prides itself on delivering world-class guest service and exceeding expectations should be embarrassed by this delay. It’s a “please clap” moment–Disney doesn’t deserve accolades for doing the minimum in such a late fashion.
Then there’s the wolf inside of me that’s stupidly upbeat, easily impressed and pleasantly surprised by this news. That part of me thought parking lot trams would be gone forever at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios once the calendar rolled over to 2023. That guest complaints must not have been too bad about their absence. Or that the cost-savings was worth it. That trams had been gone for so long that it was almost certainly permanent at this point.
That wolf (more like a miniature dachshund, to be honest) is more sympathetic to Walt Disney World’s post-reopening position. I realize staffing shortages significantly hampered attempts to scale up, and there are a number of ways–big and small–that this remains true even today, somehow. And I know that’s the actual issue, since Walt Disney World is still leaving money on the table when it comes to other things. (Obviously not with trams, but with a fuller slate of After Hours, afternoon tea, additional character meals, or the expensive events during the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival.)
This part of me does not want to applaud Walt Disney World for doing the right thing way too late, but also doesn’t want to be too heavy-handed with the criticism. After all, an amenity absent for 3 years is usually gone for good. Bringing back the parking lot trams at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will cost Disney more money, and they probably could’ve “gotten away” with not doing this.
Given that, I don’t want to come across as punishing Walt Disney World for doing the right thing. That sends the wrong message, and disincentivizes the company from making moves like this in the future. (This isn’t the only example of this–the same happened with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and will occur to a more pronounced degree during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, with the parade in particular.)
So that’s why this has me so conflicted. Bringing back parking trams at EPCOT and Hollywood Studios is not praiseworthy, but Walt Disney World also shouldn’t be condemned for this. It’s a small step forward. In a perfect world, I would’ve written about this topic in harsh terms last month, and positive ones right now.
Honestly, parking lot trams are not a big deal to us. Even as we have frequently driven and parked at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland on a regular basis in the last decade, I cannot recall the last time we used a tram anywhere. It’s been at least 2019. Before that, we might’ve used them about once per year.
However, we can recognize that not everything at Walt Disney World needs to cater to us. We are healthy, relatively young, and enjoy walking–not everyone who visits the parks is like us. At best, having to hike from the parking lot makes a bad first impression. For older or disabled guests, those with chronic pain, parents with young children–and others I’m probably forgetting–it’s even worse. The experience is downright unpleasant and uncomfortable, and definitely not what you’d reasonably expect of a “world class” theme park complex.
Again, it was laughably embarrassing…to the point that it became a punchline even beyond the Walt Disney World fandom. On the Late Show segment about “skimpflation” (2 years ago!), Stephen Colbert used the parking lot trams at Walt Disney World asn example, noting that guests have to walk nearly a mile from the parking lot to theme park entrances. (That video picks up where the relevant joke begins at the 6:46 minute mark.)
Colbert joked that in typical Disney fashion, they’ve rebranded the unpleasant parking lot walk into an attraction called Simba’s Boiling Asphalt Stroll. “It’s actually more fun than you think!”
Colbert’s segment is based on an NPR article, “Meet Skimpflation: A Reason Inflation is Worse Than the Government Says It Is.” We’ve actually discussed the concept a lot since and how it applies to Walt Disney World, but that’s still an interesting read if you missed it. Although the tram debacle is the only direct connection made to Walt Disney World, many of the examples in the article also apply to Disney.
We’ve been fairly forgiving of Disney’s slow restart during the phased reopening, recognizing that labor shortages and supply chain disruptions are impacting businesses around the country. In some cases, the more measured approach is prudent; long term solutions to temporary problems would pose different problems. We do not give Disney the pass on this one.
Ultimately, the return of the parking lot trams at EPCOT and Animal Kingdom is great news. But it’s also long overdue. Their absence was another instance of eroding the guest experience. No parking trams by themselves are not a huge, make-or-break detail of a Walt Disney World vacation. However, the lack of trams are not “by themselves.” It’s the totality of the circumstances–the cumulative impact of many cutbacks and nickel & diming practices over the last three years.
Conversely, the comeback of parking lot trams could be viewed as another small signal that Walt Disney World is taking seriously its guest satisfaction woes, and is actively trying to improve. When you add parking lot trams to bringing back free overnight self-parking at on-site resort hotels, adding on-ride photos to Disney Genie+ service, and Walt Disney World’s 5 major improvements to make your visit easier in 2024…it can be viewed in a much more favorable light.
Hence the inner wolves conflict explained above. Walt Disney World still has a long way to go before restoring the guest experience to what it was back in 2019. It’s appropriate and arguably productive to continue pointing this out. That’s the role of consumers, and it’s good to hold Walt Disney World to their own purportedly high standards!
It’s also fair to acknowledge steps in the right direction, even if they are overdue. A lot of you are understandably still hoping to see major changes, but the thing about that is it will never happen in one leap forward. So here’s to
applauding golf clapping the small stuff, and hoping that this is another in the line of many positive changes on the horizon for Walt Disney World!
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What do you think about all this Walt Disney World news? Are you angry/upset/embarrassed by how long it has taken Walt Disney World to bring back parking lot trams at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Or are you optimistic about this? Think people are making a mountain out of a molehill? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!