The world's most-visited theme park resort kicked off 2021 with an interesting twist last week. Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is now letting Disney World visitors with multipark admissions check out more than one of its gated attractions on any given day. You have to go back to mid-March of last year -- when Disney shuttered its domestic parks -- to find the last time that it allowed what it calls park-hopping. 

This is a pretty big deal for Disney, especially given three of its other resorts worldwide are currently shuttered in an effort to contain the COVID-19 crisis. It's a financial game changer for the entertainment giant for some obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, and it comes at a time when its struggling theme park segment could use a boost. 

Mickey Mouse wearing a holiday sweater and cap at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Image source: Disney.

A whole new world

Disney World is still keeping a close eye on its turnstiles. It is limiting the number of guests its parks can safely hold, requiring park reservations in advance to make sure it doesn't have to turn guests away at the gate. It revealed in November that it had recently bumped its capacity from 25% to 35%, and it may or may not be slightly higher now.

The rub with the park reservations system is that until last Friday you were limited to only visiting the one park you were able to secure ahead of arrival. Disney stopped selling its pricier park-hopper tickets with multipark access, but that admission media is now available. Resort guests naturally will have to pay more for vacation packages in 2021 that include park-hopper access. 

Higher ticket prices is a fairly obvious reason to bring back park-hopping, and for now it's only available after 2 p.m. after visiting your reserved park first. Guests can also be denied entry at subsequent parks if they are at capacity at the time. It's not perfect, but it's one important step on the long way back to normalcy.

A perhaps not-so-obvious benefit of the return of park-hopping is that folks are now encouraged to stay at the parks longer. Spending a day wearing a mask at a theme park can be taxing, and it's not a bad idea to leave the park for a break. Last year your only option was to return to the same park you were at before, but now you have the option to visit an entirely different park with expanded riding and dining options.

You don't have to go out on much of a limb to propose that the average stay at Disney World this past week is longer than in the six prior months. The increase in demand will likely lead to longer operating hours at the resort, and that will mean more jobs for a company that has to lay off or furlough tens of thousands of employees last year. 

Disney's theme parks business still has a long way to go to return to its peak performance level. There's a pandemic. There's a recession. You may not hear "I'm going to Disney World" belted out by the Super Bowl MVP next month. However, every step back to how things used to be benefits Disney's shareholders, visitors, and cast members. Opening up to park-hoppers is a good thing.

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