28 March 2016

Main Gate

Why do we continue to visit Walt Disney World?

As the costs for everything from a ticket, to a room, to a meal, to after-hours events, and even to parking continue to skyrocket, we still continue to go. At some point you would think we would be priced out of the market. At some point we would all say enough is enough. We would take our hard-earned dollar, that doesn’t stretch as far as it used to outside the resort’s berm either, and visit somewhere else. After all, Walt Disney World is not the eighth wonder of the world.

The idea that the folks at Disney are grabbing at money while offering little in return has reared its head again. Between the premium parking spots that now cost an additional 75% above the already outrageous $20, the limited capacity three hour after hours Magic Kingdom event for $150, and the seasonally adjusted pricing for one day tickets, many guests have started to perceive that there is a pinch going on. Consider that what was the cost of an annual pass around six years ago has now double and that same amount from a 2010 annual pass will only provide for a week of admission in 2016. Add all of this to the boiling cauldron that already includes entertainment offerings that have been slashed to a shadow of their former glory or cut altogether, and you have the perfect potion for an explosive populace.

For the longest time, Walt Disney World could hang its hat on the fact that its parks and attractions created the most realistic environments and had storytelling that was above reproach. While it still may have the largest quantity of these theme environments, the details that we all love and adore, the environmental storytelling that we crave is beginning to become more and more prevalent at other theme parks. Universal, for one, has been ramping up its game for a long time and between the Wizarding World and Skull Island, appear to be nipping at the heels of Disney. So perhaps the product isn’t as unique as it once was.

Caught between competitors who are closing the storytelling gap and the need to continue to be seen as the most valuable ticket in town, and you can begin to see the quandary Walt Disney World has found itself in, and the precarious position it has put itself in with even some of its most loyal guests. So, why do we continue to go?

No matter who we all are in the real world, when it comes to Walt Disney World we are all unapologetic optimists. We may complain, but we still find some reason to hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Part of that comes from our memories, Walt Disney World is a place where we made memories as children or with our children, and that nostalgia brings us back time and again. Part of it comes from the knowledge that Walt wanted a park where everyone could go, but that was always changing, so we believe these ideals will once again align someday.

Think about how optimistic we all are. Some of us continue to think of Disney’s Hollywood Studios as our favorite park, even as more and more areas and attractions shutter to make way for the Star Wars and Toy Story expansions. It is perfectly okay to take a step back and say it was our favorite park, and that we believe it will be again, but with everything shuttered there we’re leaning more towards Epcot/Magic Kingdom/Animal Kingdom right now. And yet, there are those among us who absolutely refuse to budge on their favorite park. Talk about optimistic!

We remember simpler times. When Walt Disney World was smaller and our favorite moment from a trip was huddling under a poncho with our parents, waiting and hoping for fireworks. And, just when the rain was about to douse our last whisper of hope, the skies cleared, we were able to come out from underneath the smelly, opaque plastic poncho and watch the darkened sky become as bright as the midday with each burst of firework during Illuminations. We remember the first time our child was able to climb aboard Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the almost instantaneous love they had for the roller coaster. We reminisce about meeting Mickey for the first time, riding aboard a monorail, meeting the Ninja Turtles/Power Rangers/Anna and Elsa, taking a flight with Dumbo, putting on a pair of mouse ears, and all of our other memories that are just as unique as we are. We refuse to put a price on the memories we have, and therefore continue to pay whatever the price is so that we can continue to make these types of memories, or revisit the places where we made these memories to begin with.

The first spark of what would be Disneyland, and then a theme park empire, came to Walt Disney while he was out with his daughters one day. He dreamed of a place where all were welcome and that would continue to evolve and change. Those two items, to those of us who have spent our lives in and around the theme parks, are not mutually exclusive. How many stories have we heard about children who started out their lives with very limited income, but their parents would let them wander around Disneyland in the afternoons. Because they were safe there and it didn’t break the bank to be able to let them wander and dream, even if they couldn’t afford to jump on every attraction that they saw. These children are some of the very same individuals leading the company today. In our hearts, we believe that they remember what those days were like, what the heart of the parks have always been, and will turn the attention back to being a place for all someday soon.

Perhaps that belief is misguided, but so often with optimists, their beliefs cannot be swayed by even the most overwhelmingly logical argument. Where did we get that unbridled sense that the sun will come out tomorrow and not just that Disney will maybe one day have a “coupon day” to borrow from Jurassic Park? We got it from Walt Disney World.

We know that the future is bright for the parks, we’ve seen the renderings for new lands and attractions, and we’ve seen what has already come to pass with New Fantasyland and Disney Springs. We know that the future of Walt Disney World is secure in terms of their ability to tell stories in incredible environments, but will we all be able to see and experience them the way that we always have?

I don’t mind a scattering of ticketed events, but I think there has to be a better way than to be seen as ostracizing those who love you the most. Think about the International Flower and Garden Festival as an example. The majority of why guests come to this event, the topiaries and gardens, are included with admission to Epcot. There are some classes, extra merchandise, food offerings, etc. that have additional costs. Just because I don’t get to partake in these pieces doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do get to see. This is a model I’d love to see flourish more within Walt Disney World, and I don’t know if it will happen, but I hope that it can take root.

The cost of visiting Walt Disney World is always going to climb, there is never going to be a day when Disney announces that ticket prices are going to be going back down by 5, 10, 25 dollars. I think the realists inside all of us understand that. That doesn’t mean that it should grow exponentially, putting the burden of tomorrow’s dreams on the shoulders of those struggling to just step through the gates today. It may be misguided, and it may just be flat wrong, but I’m choosing to believe there is a brighter day coming or all of us that love Walt Disney World. I may only be seen for how fat my wallet is these days, but since it was Disney that thought me to believe in the impossible and take chances, I’m taking the chance that they will see there is a value, and one not tied to a dollar sign, in the guests that have loved Walt Disney World for their entire lives and want to share that with as many people as they can.

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