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Responding to Rossen Report, Disney changes pass system

Jeff Rossen and Josh Davis, Today News
Wednesday, 9 Oct 2013 | 12:17 PM ET
Disney changes disabled pass rules after abuses
Wednesday, 9 Oct 2013 | 7:40 AM ET
Tour guides at Disneyland who have instant access passes for handicapped people are selling those passes to completely healthy families. And they're charging $50/hour or more for them. Jeff Rossen, NBC News reports.

Last May, a TODAY producer and his family went undercover at Disneyland. The hidden camera investigation found a shameful practice: Tour guides at Disney cheating the system. Some were getting special disabled passes, then profiting off it, helping completely healthy families, helping them cut to the front of the long lines.

Apparently Disney was watching: They are revamping the entire system to stop the abuse after TODAY's hidden cameras exposed outrageous abuses.

Fireworks at Disneyland
Getty Images
Fireworks at Disneyland

Last May's investigation began with ads found on Craigslist in which tour guides bragged about their "disabled passes": "Let's cut the Disney lines together," "access to special entrances." Going undercover at Disneyland, the TODAY producer and his family hired two of those guides, with home video cameras rolling.

"I'm here to make sure everyone has fun at Disneyland and we get on as many rides as possible," one of the guides, named Mara, told the producer and his family. "I have a special card that's going to help us beat the lines." And she charged $50 to do it, getting them straight past long lines at such attractions as the Mad Tea Party ride.

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The second disabled guide, Ryan, charged the family $200 and used his special pass to get them into Star Tours, a popular attraction inspired by "Star Wars." He took them through a side door, down a special hallway, and up a set of stairs to the ride. The same process happened at ride after ride after ride.

Afterward, when the investigation was revealed to her, Mara made no apologies. "We live in a capitalist country," she said. "And I don't feel like it's morally wrong."

And Ryan was downright defiant about the people in line he had helped the family cut in front of: "I couldn't care less."

After the investigation, Disney posted a letter to families, calling the system "abused and exploited" and announcing "we are modifying the current program."

As a result, starting today, there is no more unlimited instant access to rides at Disney. Disabled guests will have to make a reservation at a kiosk, go to the ride at the reserved time, then go back to the kiosk to make a reservation for the next ride.

In addition, the disabled passes won't last as long. Before, they were valid for months at a time. Now the period is only two weeks.

"There's no doubt that Disney knew they had a problem for quite some time, but it was truly the TODAY show investigation that caused them to take action," said Todd Regan, who operates a Disney fan site called MiceChat.com.

There's also another change: Disney actually found people selling those disabled passes online, so now the passes will have photos on them.

Disney says the new policy is a work in progress; they'll try it out for a while, and make adjustments based on customer feedback.

"The unscrupulous practices that were uncovered by your report will definitely be discouraged now by the new system," Regan said.

You can read the new Disney policy here.

By Jeff Rossen and Josh Davis, TODAY.com/money.

See more Money News from The TODAY Show at our Facebook and Twitter.

Editor's note: CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, which operates Universal theme parks.

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