July 2011: One drop of Disney magic has been cut back. The Disney monorail once gently moved tourists from massive parking lots to hotels to theme parks, and it will still to do so – but only during high demand times. Vacationers who book a late night meal at Epcot or shop past park closing in the Magic Kingdom will now find themselves boarding a bus (or a boat if traveling from Magic Kingdom to the parking lot) to get to a car or resort.
Disney announced that its Epcot monorails have stopped operating one hour after Epcot closes and, effective Aug. 1, Magic Kingdom monorails will stop one hour after that park closes. In the past, Disney kept the monorails operating longer, and a monorail trip along the lake late at night – with nary another tourist nearby – held its own form of magic.
Officially, Disney says the change gives it more time for maintenance, though that hasn’t been a problem for the past 30 years, so it doesn’t pass the sniff test. (In Disney’s defense, however, it has had some monorail problems recently.) It could be a money-saving move – it costs the same to run a monorail with 300 people as it does 30. Disney is, after all, a for-profit company. Still, it could make a visit a bit less special.
If complaints arise, they’ll probably come from Disney hotel guests with monorail access – the ones who paid top dollar for the full resort experience. As part of their package, Disney offers “extra magic hours” at selected parks, but the new monorail rules pretend extra magic hours don’t exist. If the park closes at 9 p.m. for regular guests, the monorail now shuts down at 10 p.m., even if hotel guests are riding Space Mountain at 9:55. That’s a lot of guests on busses. Hotels such as the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary tout their monorail door-to-door service as a reason to stay there, and guests paying over $300 per night expect more perks, extra magic hours or not.
Disney has two monorail loops near the Magic Kingdom – the inner loop serves three hotels plus the parking lot; the outer loop makes only two stops: the parking lot and the park. Disney could decide to keep the hotel monorail open, but nothing would stop some people from riding the hotel monorail in order to forego the bus service, even if it makes a few intermediary stops before getting to their car. For that reason, a monorail shutdown is an all-or-nothing option
1. If enough people complain, Disney will change.
2. The monorail schedule could change daily. Disney monitors busses and sends extra ones to areas of high demand. If one manager says, “Say, there are still a lot of people inside the park,” he or she could decide to keep the monorail running a bit longer. If the monorail has high demand thanks to extra magic hours, special events, or really anything, expect Disney to keep it running.