06 October 2015

Magic Your Way

The news is out, and unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that Disney has changed the structure and price points for its annual pass offerings at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about the change, other than I know that it will make it more difficult for my family to visit domestic Disney theme parks. Perhaps the best way to sort through our feelings on the issue is to look at some of the common concerns the price hike raises.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland provide the most entertainment value for your dollar and therefore should be the highest ticket on the block. I don’t disagree with this thought. I do believe that other theme venues have been making substantial progress, but the leader of the pack is still Disney. There are two problems here as I see it however. Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie and are going to continue to raise their prices to outlandish rates to keep up, and while families will be able to afford fewer and fewer trips there will still be plenty of people paying the prices to keep up with the Joneses, Universals, and Disneys. All of that said this is still an argument that I understand and see from Disney’s side of the fence.

The cost of construction for Star Wars Land, Pandora, Toy Story Land, and Disney Springs needs to be paid somewhere. Absolutely. But don’t for one second try to persuade me that the moment these areas are open Disney won’t be raising prices again because the value has gone up due to the new offerings. Look no further than the price of a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket increase that popped up right after the completion of New Fantasyland. Guests are not getting a discount for living with parks under construction with cranes visible all throughout the area and a gauntlet of refurbishment walls that have to be negotiated. Not to mention the fact that parks like Disney’s Hollywood Studios are losing more and more attractions and entertainment options as a part of the expansion, but the ticket prices required to gain entrance to a park on the mend are increasing along with every other park.

There was a strange bit of conversation I saw over the weekend as well where one acquaintance of mine argued that locals should be thankful they can still go to Walt Disney World as there are families that will only get there once in their lives, if they’re lucky. Sure, Florida and California residents have the luxury of proximity to visit the parks and resorts and they do have a wider variety of pass options. The question to me isn’t whether you live close or far away, the further you are away from something there is always going to be more expenses associated with visiting, from travel and lodging, to the basic needs of food. The heart of the matter is should it be this expensive at all?

I’m not going to quote entrance and ticket book prices for opening day at Disneyland or Walt Disney World and then compare the costs of today to what they should be by inflationary rules. We all know the comparison looks preposterous when we consider what guest should be paying. What I am going to quote is Walt Disney on his dream and belief for Disneyland, “It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them to different places and as I’d sit there while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things – sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts – I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together… But it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too.

I can remember going to Fort Wilderness with my family as a child. We’d set up a tent and use the Comfort Stations because we couldn’t afford the cost of a night at the Polynesian or Contemporary. We had season passes that blocked out the peak times of year because we couldn’t afford full passes. And you know what? My sister and I never knew the difference. Walt Disney World was a magical place that we could, and would, pop over to on a Saturday with our parents just to watch some fireworks. To me, in hindsight, we were living the dream Walt Disney had all those many years ago. Passes costing what they do now, and families being supported by single working parents, or even two working parents, just wanting that place to connect with their children face a very different reality. It isn’t the entertainment enterprise that Walt dreamed up, and it isn’t even what I found as a child several decades ago.

I don’t know what the answer is for Disney and its prices. The driving force behind change for any commodity is what people are willing to pay, and there will always be people willing to pay to visit the dreams of Disney. The past few years have shown that Disney is looking to cater to the high-end experience, but there should still be a Walt Disney World and Disneyland for everyone, shouldn’t there? Trips are going to be a bit more sporadic for my family and I assume many of yours out there too, but that isn’t just from this one increase, and we wouldn’t give up on Disney regardless. It would, however, be nice to know that we all still have a place in the Mickey Mouse Club.


Unknown said...

I appreciate the thought you put into this post. It doesn't come off as a rant, which so many of these do. I still think there are a wide variety of pass options in Florida. I personally feel like I got upgraded. The limit of my previous seasonal pass was the expense of parking. To me, the cost of my pass went up a relatively small amount, while I gained the benefit of free parking. The blackout dates are largely the same for the new silver pass, it is marginally more expensive, and I save 20 bucks a trip? This pass ends up being cheaper for me.

That said, I wouldn't get my wife there in the summertime even if I weren't blacked out. I get to see all of the holiday trimmings, despite my two week banishment from Christmas to New Years. And why would I want to wait in the spring break lines?

I also realize that my wife and I don't have any children and my perspective on the pass may be different if I had any concern for school schedules...

Jeff said...

I also noticed that the new Silver pass is something of a sweet spot for anyone who doesn't want to go during peak periods.

But to answer the question, Disney will keep raising prices until the attendance drops. If the parks are full, why not try to get as much money from the crowd as possible?

AMK said...

So why not offer the Silver pass to anyone, regardless of where they live? Would Disney really lose that much money from out-of-state guests who like to come during off peak times?

Unknown said...

It's been a bit of a tradition for our family to visit Walt Disney World every three years for a one week stay on property. The first time we ventured to the House of Mouse as a family was in 2005. At that time, our children were aged 6, 10, and 12; and they had an absolute blast - almost as much as I did. I recall jokingly saying to my wife that the parks were so well staffed and spotless that you could practically eat off the washroom floors... any of them. I've never repeated that statement. With each subsequent visit, my overall rating for our trips has gone down. For our 2008 visit: 9 out of 10, 2011: 8 out of 10, 2014: 7 out of 10. Notice a pattern developing here? If we go again, will 2017 result in 6 out of 10? It's heading in that direction, and for me, it's not primarily because of the never ending price increases that I'm willing to pay - even with the low Canadian dollar we Canucks have to contend with when visiting the U.S. - it's because of the never ending construction, the cordoned off areas, and the crushing crowds. As new attractions are introduced, the crowds just become larger and larger because everyone wants to see them. I get that. That's just the way it is and it's not going to change anytime soon. The only way to avoid it is to simply not go. That's our dilemma now. Do we want to put up with even larger crowds in 2017 for what is shaping up to be a 6 out of 10 experience if our history of trips is any indication? At what point do you just say 6 out of 10 is just not worth returning for? Don't get me wrong, I still love Walt Disney World, and chances are, we will return in 2017. But... and I never thought I'd say this, our primary destination will most likely be Universal Studios instead. We've never been there, and I'm already starting to look into it. Yes, we will probably stay at WDW as well, but only for 2 or 3 days next time, not the usual 6 or 7 - if only to see the latest attractions. I'm sure the Disney folks would prefer us to stay with them for the entire week so they can clean out my wallet as much as possible via their Magicbands, but I'm afraid that ship has sailed. I just don't think I can take a full week of increasing crowds and longer wait times for everything from meals to It's a Small World. I guess that's the problem now; it's not a small Disney World anymore. Is it getting too big? It's not that I'm saying "no more" to WDW, from now on it will probably just be "not as much" and I can see our trips going from every 3 years to maybe every 4 or 5, or maybe even longer. I wonder what Walt would think of a guest's experience dropping a little bit with each subsequent visit... instead of the opposite occurring. Anyway, that's my 2 cents worth. Have a Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah day everyone.

Mini-V said...

Yes, it would appear that living in FL gives locals a leg up on going to Disney. My eyes were opened when I moved to FL and started volunteering in my community school. There is a very small percentage of local children that have ever been to Disney, and fewer still who have annual passes. With prices going up, those numbers will definitely not be increasing. Cast members are going to be under the gun to make guest satisfaction a priority as guests expect more bang for the buck. Just like the man who put his empty glass on a food trolley even after he was told it wasn't a trash can, guests are going to expect to be waited on and given special treatment.