Disney Tiered Pricing isn’t Bad, It’s Bad Timing

I’ve gotta be honest, I’ve toggled back and forth with writing this all week. I’ve written a little; composed my thoughts; scrapped the idea; returned to write more; scrapped it; wrote some more only to delete it; then finally decided to go through with it. The following piece is my opinion – and only my opinion – on Disney’s new tiered pricing system. It’s long and frankly after proofing it, it comes off biased in favor of Disney. That’s my opinion. At the risk of sounding brash, don’t read it if it’s going to anger you. Or do – I love a good debate. I’ve taken the time to read up on the price increase and let it marinate a bit before writing this. I written down all my thoughts. I can’t guarantee they’re right nor am I saying it’s the end all of opinions. Many will disagree with my stance, but I felt it needed to be said. 

Here goes…

I thought it was important to address the elephant in the room. Being a blog dedicated to vacationing in Disney during Christmas, the new pricing structure most likely affects many of my readers. For those that have been under a Spaceship-Earth-sized rock all week, here’s a quick update:

Orlando Sentinel – Starting next week, Disney World will move to a tiered pricing system for one-day tickets. Disney will divide the calendar into value, regular and peak periods. Peak season will include spring break, much of the summer and late December. Disney’s three other parks will cost $114 during those times — $10 less than the Magic Kingdom.

The news sent Disney fans into a frenzy. It was the main talking point on many podcasts, the source of countless forum threads and the focus of many blogs. It was front page news across many national newspapers and was met with a very disgruntled reaction from fans.

We deserve to feel upset. A price increase is never a good thing and is absolutely a sign of things to come. I highly doubt Disney stops at one-day passes . But perhaps the aggravation is a bit (a bit) misguided. Here are a few of the main arguments, along with my rebuttal:

What Would Walt Think?

This seems to be the most popular question and argument surrounding the price increase. Walt set out to build a family friendly park that everyone and anyone could attend.

It’s tough to know exactly what Walt would think, and thus, impossible to answer this hypothetical. It’s like asking how Babe Ruth would fare during modern-day baseball, or how Steph Curry would perform in the Oscar Robinson days (sports analogies.)

In the early days of Disneyland, guests didn’t just pay a general admission fee, they had to buy tickets, much like one would do at a fair or carnival. Ride coupons were required to go on most attractions. There were A, B, C, D and E tickets. Typically, the “A” ticket would be the least expensive, while the “E” would be the most expensive. In modern day, an “E” ticket would be used for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, while an “A” ticket would be used for the Walt Disney World Railroad. Using this fact alone, one would assume that Walt would stand behind a tiered system; but again, we’ll never know.

Disney is Pricing Out the Middle Class

I’m 50-50 on this. On one hand, yes, the prices are growing and it’s becoming harder and harder for the Middle Class to vacation at Disney. Yet, attendance is booming. The Middle Class holds a 50% share of adults in the United States. The main argument against the pricing tier is that Disney is pricing out the Middle Class, yet people continue to go.

Disney is a vacation. It’s not something you need, nor are you entitled to. It’s a luxury, like spending the weekend at the beach or traveling abroad. I come from a family that would be considered Middle Class and have been to Disney World more times than I can count. Now that my sister and I am older, we’re able to pay our own way to go to Disney. But growing up, my parents certainly went through difficult times, financially. During those times, we didn’t go on vacation. I always looked at my friends whose families had multiple houses or luxury cars and wondered how they did it. Their parents worked similar jobs as mine, yet they had nicer things. The fact was, rather than spend money on luxury cars or extravagant houses, my parents used that money to bring my sister and me on vacation. And I’m eternally grateful to them for that.

I think the price increases will deter many families, no doubt. But we have to keep in mind that going to Disney is a luxury. Next year, my family would like to stay at the Beach Club Resort. It’s much more expensive than staying at a moderate, but we’re taking the necessary cuts to save money for the trip. There may come a day that my family can’t go every year for Christmas – so be it. We’ll take “x” amount of years off, save up, and eventually make it back.

Disney Makes Enough Money

 

Disney is a business. While I’m sure there’s a mission statement out there that says its goal is to provide guests with the most magical experience ever, the main focus is to make money. Lots of it. The New York Yankees are one of the most successful sports franchises of all time. And still, when it came time to build a new stadium, they included luxury seats behind the plate. Sitting in those sections came at gargantuan prices. Prices that make a one-night stay at a Deluxe Resort sound like a Motel 6. The main argument up here in NY was that the Yankees were pricing out the average fan. Sound familiar? They were. The fans didn’t boycott the games due to the high-priced seating. Is attendance down? A little. But the Yanks still remain one of the most profitable sports teams in the world.

Another sports analogy – when a player accepts a huge contract. It happens all the time in New York and it’s usually followed by “what do they need all that money for?” They need that money because money is nice. Money buys nice things. And at the end of the day, that’s what they feel they deserve. If you got a call tomorrow from a rival company offering to double your salary, you’d jump at the opportunity. You’re lying if you say you wouldn’t.

Disney knows what it’s worth and they know just how long they could straddle the line of supply and demand. People will continue to go to Walt Disney World because it’s Walt Disney World, and they’ll continue to charge premium prices because they can.

And while we’re on the topic, many wonder what the motivation is behind the price increase. Is it to stagnant the crowds during peak times, thus lowering wait times and creating a better experience for guests? I’d love to think so, but no. Is it to push guests to purchase a 2-day ticket rather than a 1-day? Maybe. Ultimately, it’s to make money. Because they can do it.

But All Those Cuts…

Yes, we’ve come to the one place where we can all agree: the cuts. It’s utterly ridiculous and incredibly poor timing for Disney to make all these cuts. The decrease in character meet-and-greets, the fact that Hollywood Studios is a shell of itself and the amount of Cast Member jobs being cut isn’t just poor timing, it’s unfair and can damage guest experiences.

The biggest thing for my family is the Extra Magic Hours. The writing is on the wall: they’re on their way out. My family used to salivate at the late-night EMH’s. We used to plan our entire vacation around them. In past years, there were so many. We’d be running around Magic Kingdom at 2am hopping ride-to-ride and getting in everything we missed during the day. Those days are few and far between. It stinks, but we’ve come to accept it and tailor our plans because of it.

As fans – the fans who go to Disney regularly and have seen Disney at its best – we demand a certain level of service. We expect the Cast Members to be readily available and extremely cheerful (like, one their 6th cup of coffee cheerful), we expect intricate theming and to be immersed in the experience, and we believe that every trip should be sprinkled with pixie dust and leave us with the fondest of memories. The past few years, that hasn’t been the case. The level of service has dropped; the construction kills the ambiance; and the amount of planning and details that go into each and every trip is more of a headache than anything else.

Our love for Disney is dependent on our memories and nostalgia: our first trip down Main Street, the smell of the water at Small World, our favorite snacks and drinks, and the first time we met Mickey. The experiences are what instilled a love for Disney in us and the memories are what keep us coming back. As a result, we’re a stubborn bunch that resists change. Ultimately, I grew to love Starbucks being in Disney, but I’d be lying if I didn’t curse the change when I found out we’d be sacrificing the beloved Main Street Bakery. I loved Frozen and I’m all for Disney capitalizing on its success, but I can’t say it didn’t kill me to see the Norway pavilion all boarded up.

Things change, though. It stinks, but what’s new for us will be the norm for our kids and the next generation. Then they’ll be left to complain when Disney replaces the Frozen ride with some new movie, or closes part of Toy Story Land in favor of a “newly improved” experience.

And look – the Cast Member cuts are the biggest disappointment. I work for a fairly large retail company and they recently cut a ton of jobs. Your heart goes out to those that lost their job. It’s easy to become bitter toward the executives who have their eye on the bottom line. Disney showed the dark side of business, but that’s exactly what it is – a business. While Cast Members seem to have dream jobs, at the end of the day they’re just jobs – no matter how happy they seem to be at work. They assume the same risk each and every one of us do. At any given day you can be laid off or have your position replaced. It’s a sad and pessimistic way to think, but it’s the truth.

But in summation of the price increase…

For the time being, I can’t complain. I’ve only purchased a one-day ticket once: last year. Was I flawed by the price? Absolutely. Forking over $100 for one day at the park felt like highway robbery. Did I forget about it once I entered the park? Yeah. I ate overpriced food and drank expensive beer all the way around the Food and Wine Festival and you know what? I’m gonna do it again this year.

How many people truly go to Disney World for one day? Just one day. If you’re a local Disney fanatic, you most likely own an annual pass. If you’re on vacation, you’re probably going down for longer than one day. I understand if you’re down there for a cruise or something, you may wanna “stop by.” If that’s the case, it’s really up to you. I’d recommend weighing that extra $20-$30 against the grand total of your trip.

All in all, it’s poor timing. The construction and cuts don’t favor a price increase, but I do believe it’s for the greater good. In a few years we’ll look back and the price increase will be a moot point. I agree that it can be a slippery slope, but frankly, even if Disney increases all the prices tomorrow, I’ll be back. And many of you are lying if you say you wouldn’t be. It stinks, but Disney is just one of the many, many businesses taking advantage of supply and demand. And if you don’t like it, don’t go. But make sure you also boycott gas, airline tickets and many other vacation destinations while you’re at it.

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