Disney parks were already facing heat from fans. Then an AWS outage came along

As Disney increasingly leans on apps for almost every facet of guest experience, tech problems have a wide-reaching impact on expensive days in the theme parks.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
Expertise News, mobile, broadband, 5G, home tech, streaming services, entertainment, AI, policy, business, politics Credentials
  • I've been covering technology and mobile for 12 years, first as a telecommunications reporter and assistant editor at ZDNet in Australia, then as CNET's West Coast head of breaking news, and now in the Thought Leadership team.
Corinne Reichert
4 min read
Disneyland Sleeping Beauty castle

More and more Disneyland services require a mobile app.

Disney Parks

Not even Disney's vaunted magic could save its Disneyland park app from a widespread Amazon Web Services outage temporarily wrecking the day for its guests this week. But for fans of "the happiest place on Earth," this was just the latest in a string of problems. 

Disney has been increasingly pushing its theme park guests to use their mobile devices to do everything from ordering food to accessing tickets and park reservations. It has also put a new paid version of its FastPass system, now re-branded Genie Plus, into the app. That means outages, including one that hit Walt Disney World last week, can bring enjoyment in the parks to a screeching halt.

Disneyland AWS outage tweet

The outages underscore the kind of risk a company like Disney, which boasts an extremely loyal fanbase, faces with its embrace of technology. They're also just the latest issue to rankle Disney devotees, some of whom have lamented rising prices, the costly Genie Plus system that includes extra fees for specific rides like Star Wars Rise of the Resistance, and, over the last week, an early glimpse of the Galactic Starcruiser experience that critics lambasted as cheap and tacky. 

For Disney and Amazon, the outages also drive home just how much of an impact AWS has on the real world and daily lives beyond just "computer stuff," said Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group and an AWS expert.

"[It's] a hard-hitting wakeup call that maybe this could be a problem in ways it wasn't before," he said in an interview, as more services go mobile and rely on AWS.

Disney didn't respond to multiple requests for comment. AWS pointed to its service outage information without referencing the impact on Disneyland apps.

While not necessarily AWS-related, Disney's Genie Plus service already has a mixed track record in its limited run. Genie Plus suffered from issues when it launched at Disneyland on Dec. 8, leaving it down until late in the afternoon. The incident echoed a similar outage when the service launched at Disney World on Oct. 19. Fans have since also complained about Genie not displaying the right wait times for rides and about their reservations disappearing from the app.

The less-than-smooth rollout is harder to accept considering guests need to shell out $20 per person per day (it's $15 at Disney World) for the feature. Before the pandemic closed down Disney parks, the prior iteration, FastPass, was free.

"I cannot afford all of these add-ons, nor would I want to pay for things that were free if I could afford it," one fan said on Disney Food Blog. "Bob Chapek is an elitist who is making Disney World only for the rich. He has taken Walt Disney's idea of a park where the whole family can enjoy and thrown it into the trash. This constant nickel and diming is ridiculous."

That "nickel and diming" is seemingly increasing under Chapek, which helped lead to a recent petition seeking to remove the new Disney CEO from his role. More than 80,000 people have signed.

Then there was the capped entry for season pass holders who had so-called Magic Keys (even those who paid for the high-end $1,400 Dream Key with no blockout dates, which led to a $5 million lawsuit revealed Thursday).

So it hasn't been an entirely magical time for Disney or its fans.

Disney's Galactic Starcruiser

This week's outage came on top of the recent controversy over Disney's Galactic Starcruiser. The impending launch of the Star Wars-themed immersive resort at Walt Disney World in Florida has garnered tremendous intrigue and excitement, damped slightly by an eye-watering $6,000 rate for four guests to spend two nights at the hotel. The Galactic Starcruiser opens on March 1, but is priced out of many families' reach.

Despite the sticker shock, the experience was fully booked for its first three months when reservations opened in October. But the pendulum started swinging the other way last week when Disney released a video peek at the resort, after which there was an uptick in cancellations. As of Friday, there were 13 voyages with cabins available.

The promotional video was deleted by Disney after backlash from fans who criticized the look of the hotel and the activities included. It had been originally billed as featuring lightsaber training and one-on-one immersive role-playing experiences with characters on board the ship. But the looks of these activities underwhelmed many fans, as did the "story moments," some of which are now listed on the official sample itinerary as being just 20 minutes in length.

Some fans explained on Reddit that they canceled because "the trailer didn't show me any reason to spend $6000 for 2 nights."

"I can't fathom where all my money is going for what's included," another user said.

Others said in a Reddit thread that the lightsaber training "looked rather like a mall laser tag experience," or even "something I'd pay not to do." More complained that the rooms looked tiny and the theming was more Fisher Price than Millennium Falcon, while others pointed out that they could spend more time in the Disney theme parks for far less money -- or even go to Universal Studios instead.

One person said they're holding onto their reservation because "If this thing is an absolute train wreck then I can see myself having just as much fun as if it was the home run I was hoping it would be."

What every complaint about app outages, rising prices and unfavorable experiences has in common is that fans are holding onto hope that Disney can do better. They want to continue going to the parks, staying at the resorts and enjoying magical experiences -- as long as they're not priced out of the magic, or have their entire day reliant on apps that force them to keep a mobile screen permanently in their faces.