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Monday Mouse Watch : Will a new name really be enough to boost ticket sales for WDW's "Pirate & Princess Party" ?

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Monday Mouse Watch : Will a new name really be enough to boost ticket sales for WDW's "Pirate & Princess Party" ?

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Do you remember how -- at the very start of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" -- the crew of the Black Pearl had spent months at seas without doing "… a speck of honest pirating"? Which is why they then asked Capt. Jack Sparrow when all this extra effort was going to translate into some tangible treasure.

 
Copyright 2006 Disney / Jerry Bruckheimer Films. All Rights Reserved

Well, if you listen closely, you'll hear the same sort of grumbling coming out of the Magic Kingdom these days. For WDW officials have spent more than a year now (and several million dollars) trying to turn that theme park's "Pirate & Princess Party" into a financial success. But - to date - they have little to show for all that extra effort.

On paper anyway, this after-hours event should have been a huge success. After all, it was modeled on the popular "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" and "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" hard tickets. More to the point, "Disney's Pirate & Princess Party" was tied to two highly successful Disney franchises (i.e. Pirates of the Caribbean and Disney Princess).

And given that Disney thought that it had a can't-miss proposition here, the company spared no expense when it came to getting "Pirate & Princess" off the ground back in January of 2007. They had a 39-foot-long pirate ship float built for "Disney's Enchanted Adventures Parade." Not to mention having a brand-new fireworks extravaganza - "Music, Magic and Mayhem" - created at a capper for this after-hours event.


 Copyright 2006 Disney. All Rights Reserved

So you're talking about Walt Disney Creative Entertainment pouring millions on the development & creation of this new hard ticket for the Magic Kingdom. All with the understanding that the company would then be able to make tens of millions off of the sales of admissions to this after-hours party.

But where 30,000 guests will sometimes crowd into that WDW theme park to experience "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" and/or "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" … When it comes to "Disney's Pirate & Princess Party," there have been nights when only 9,000 people have purchased tickets to this hard ticket. And given that Disney has to sell at least 10,000 admissions to each individual "Pirate & Princess Party" in order for this after-hours event to break even … Well, that's a problem.

Which is why - in order to contain costs (as well as lower the break-even point for this new Magic Kingdom hard ticket) - Mickey has begun making some trims. Cutting back on big stuff (i.e. Dropping that haunted river boat cruise around the Rivers of America. Not to mention cutting back "Disney's Enchanted Adventures Parade" from two runs through the park each night to just one) as well as some little things (i.e. Cast members no longer handing out Hershey's Treasures candies at the 14 "Treasure Spots" scattered around the park).

 
Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, WDW officials haven't given up on "Pirates & Princess." Not yet, anyway. With the hope that - with some minor adjustment - this after-hours Magic Kingdom event can still become a financial success … Well, Disney's done everything from shifting around the night that this hard ticket is typically held on (i.e. From Mondays to Tuesdays to Fridays to Saturdays) to even changing its name (Starting on April 1st, this after-hours events will then be known as "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party").

But at the same time, it's hard to ignore the handwriting on the wall. Given that sales of "Pirates of the Caribbean" -related merchandise are trending downward, it's obvious that the public's interest in Jack Sparrow & his pirate pals is waning. Which is why it may have been a mistake to build an entire hard ticket event around this particular set of characters.

Given Disney's on-going problem with moving tickets to the "Pirate & Princess Party" as well as eroding sales levels for "POTC" merch … Well, this may explain why the Magic Kingdom recently decided to table the "Tortuga" project.


 Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions
All Rights Reserved

For those of you who don't know … The "Tortuga" project was to have turned the old Adventureland Veranda space into a "Cinderella's Royal Table" - like dining experience. Only in this version - as you were tucking in to some authentic Caribbean cuisine - Capt. Jack Sparrow and his associates would have suddenly come bursting into that restaurant.

And as these rascally rogues slowly made their way through the hall looking for purses to pinch, they would have also signed autographs & posed for pictures with the patrons. Of course, once Capt. Jack determined that there was no rum to be had in the place, these pirates would have immediately vacated the premises … At least until the restaurant's next seating, that is.

Anyway … The "Tortuga" project actually made it pretty far along in WDW's development pipeline. The executives who were trying to get this new Magic Kingdom dining experience approved even went so far as to build a mock-up of the restaurant inside Disney World's test kitchen. Which is located in the space that Bonfamille's used to occupy in the French Quarter section of Disney's Port Orleans Resort.


Copyright 2005 Disney. All Rights Reserved

And from what I understand, the WDW execs who actually took part in this "Tortuga" test meal had a fine time. They loved being hassled by that Jack Sparrow face character who lurched up to their table in mid-meal. These suits agreed that the guests would probably get a kick out of a Disney World dining experience like this.

"So why didn't the 'Tortuga' project go forward?," you ask. Well, in addition to the problems associated with the "Pirates & Princess Party" and those declining "Pirates of the Caribbean" merchandise sales … There was the matter of what it would cost to change the Adventureland Veranda from a quick service facility to a full service restaurant.

Then when you factor in that the Magic Kingdom doesn't really need a brand-new full service restaurant right now (Why For? Well, while places like Liberty Tree Tavern and the Crystal Palace are typically running at 90 - 95% occupancy at lunch & dinner these days, there are still in-park facilities like Tony's Town Square that will have empty tables at various times of the day. So why should WDW officials spend the money necessary to add a brand-new dining facility to the Magic Kingdom when that theme park isn't really making full use of the restaurants that it already has?) … It just didn't make sense to spend the money now that would be necessary to turn the Adventureland Veranda into a "Pirates of the Caribbean" -themed dining experience.


Copyright 1973 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, this isn't to say that - at some point in the future - that WDW officials won't revisit this idea. Particularly if the Magic Kingdom sees a sudden surge in the occupancy rates for that theme park's full service restaurants. If that happens … Then it actually makes sense to add something like "Tortuga" to the MK's inventory.

But as of right now … What with "Pirate & Princess" still struggling to catch on with the public (I'm told that WDW management will be carefully monitoring this hard ticket event during the first two weeks of April. To see if its new name - i.e. "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party" - has any real impact on ticket sales) as well as those dwindling "POTC" merch sales … It just made more sense to table "Tortuga" 'til at least the summer of 2012. Which is when (in theory, anyway) "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" will come sailing into a multiplex near you.

If it's any consolation, while Disney theme park patrons appear to be losing their enthusiasm for Jack Sparrow and Co., I'm told that Best Buy sales associates still love the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. As one longtime employee of this retail chain recently explained it to me:


 Copyright 2007 Disney / Jerry Bruckheimer Films. All Rights Reserved

"These past three months, Best Buy has literally sold hundreds of Blu-Ray Hi-def disc players and flat screen HDTVs on the back of 'At World's End.' All we have to do is throw the Blu-Ray version of that movie into one of our in-store players and then select the Maelstrom sequence. And people will literally stop moving in the aisles. They'll just stand there and goggle up at the flat screens, marveling at how clear the visual effects are, how you can see every detail that Disney put up there on the screen. And soon as that scene in the movie is over, they then turn to the nearest sales associates and say 'Gimmee one of those.' "

So Jack Sparrow hasn't lost his touch. At least when it comes to the retail world. It's only when you get the theme park side of the equation that the wind seems to have gone out of the Black Pearl's sails.

But what do you folks think? Will changing this hard ticket's name to "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party" actuallly have an impact on ticket sales? Or do you think that - no matter what the Mouse does - that this after-hours event will never be as popular as "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" and/or "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party"?

Your thoughts?

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  • Yes, it's the Disney way for the new century: if we're not selling enough tickets, let's cut back on attractions and benefits and wait for the customers to start streaming in.

    Let's assume a discounted admission price of $40 for adults, and $35 for children (actual prices were higher) and a ratio of 1:2 adults:kids. At 9000 people thru the gates, that's 3000 adults and 6000 kids or $330,000. That's a slow night. If that doesn't cover your costs and provide a nice healthy profit, I don't see how cutting back on $200 of Hershey candy is gonna balance the books.

    So they're having a difficult time making money off a Princess Pirate Party, but they're going to spend a much bigger chunk of change on a Night Kingdom and that will be successful year round at a much higher ticket price?  ok,,,  It's gonna need lots and lots and lots of marketing, and much more pixie dust than what was leaked.

    The first Pirates movie came out in 2003, but the execs are still "testing" a Capt Jack's Crab Shack Restaurant? really? It's character dining with Capt Jack - pretty straightforward. If rehabbing is cost prohibitive, it can go many places besides Adventureland Veranda. One of the many award winning chefs on property can "create" a menu in a week. Execs from HR can scour the globe for suitable Capt Jacks that dont already work on property for two months. During those same two months, the construction crew can build or refurbish whatever location is chosen. You're open in three months. If it's a good idea, it should have been operational in 2004 when Pirates were the hottest thing, not still under consideration 4 years later.

    I am impressed with the mockups and testing and more testing for a restaurant that the accounteers took about 30 minutes to decide there was no need for.

  • IMO, I like the after hours idea for MK. However, the whole idea of "pirates & princess party" just seems like, well... something contrived from a super dorky suit sitting in a board room trying to figure out a way to capitilze on "what is hot" rather than something that is original and high quality. People see right through that. Come up with someting cool and original and more people will be willing to participate and get off the extra cash. P.S. I have 2 boys and they are rather "meh" about pirates. Not that they dont dress up and pretend to be pirates sometimes, but they are not obsessed about pirates as they are other things.

  • The reason the Holiday hard ticket events work so well is that they are planned around events that families are more out to do something related to. I plan and look forward to the Mickey's Christmas every year and have attended the Not So Scary event also. But the reason is that is envolved with something special. The issue with the Pirates and Princesses event is that is involved with an event. Seeing WDW during Christmas is a special time where everything is decorated. I used to love the Passholder hard ticket nights where for a few bucks only passholders were allowed in. But those events were more, "We dont have anything better to do lets go". The only event that I can think of that revolves around Pirates and Princess is the Annual Gasparilla Celebration in Tampa. I don't think Disney Corp. wants to be part of that celebration of pirates.

  • It's such a shame that the Tortuga Restaurant, which sounds like a great original, immersive experience, is getting shelved because the lame Pirates and Princess party is "failing", and the over-merchandising of Pirates has led to a bit of a backlash. Oh, and perhaps this is my opinion, but I totally disagree with the thought that MK doesn't need another full service restaurant.

  • Wow ... this article is just CHOCK full of reasons to be pessimistic about the morons who run WDW.

    #1, as curmudgeon already pointed out, ya gotta love Disney's "fix" ... People aren't coming to our P&P parties, so let's cut stuff out!! That'll definitely get them flocking in in droves!

    #2, I wonder if anyone has stopped to think about the fact that they could be "Millionairing" Pirates and Princess merchandise. I mean between the Princess breakfasts, and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and all the dresses, and meet and greets ... this Dad of a 5YO princess has had enough! And now they're looking for me to shell out an extra $200 or so to enter a park that I already purchased admission to?? Ummm ... no. Christmas? Sure. Halloween? Yeah. Those are real holidays and I expect special events. I do NOT, however, expect to have to pay extra money to get into Magic Kingdom just because Disney is looking for new ways to line their pockets.

    #3, WDWTITAN24 stole my thunder on a little ... So they don't need another sit-down restaurant because Tony's already has a few empty seats?? Maybe people just don't LIKE Tony's! Ever thought of that? If you could open a great new restaurant and fill it up, who the hell cares if Tony's has empty seats?? That doesn't even make any sense, except in bean counter land. Sigh ...

    People just get tired of Disney dipping into their wallets time and time again. I mean really ... the notion of charging me a couple hundred bucks for a couple days park admission and then closing the park I just bought admission to early and asking me to pay admission AGAIN to get in?? Think about that for a minute ... how RIDICULOUS is that?? I agree with zootube that people will stomach it for big events like holidays, but the average person is NOT going to turn around and shell out as much money for 3 hours in one park that they just paid for 5 DAYS in 4 parks!

  • I agree with what some others have said.  The problem with P&P is that it's a generic event not tied to a holiday that people are inclined to celebrate.  Everyone knows what Halloween and Christmas are all about.  Everything in our culture is already on overdrive promoting those holidays.  It seems like a great idea to create a hard ticket event NOT tied to a holiday so that it can be offered whenever, but that lack of specificity means people are not motivated to go.

    P&P is something that people aren't familiar with and don't understand.  There are constantly threads on the DISboards about will I, will my kids, will our group enjoy P&P?  Do people dress up?  What is there to do?  And these are people who know about DISboards.  Imagine the lack of comprehension among the general public.  Who just see it as, MK is closing early during my vacation & they're demanding more money.  

    We enjoyed P&P very much and would definitely go again.  I hope Disney finds a way to make it work.  

  • I agree with Pickstar.  Before these special parties, the parks used to be open late for no additional cost.  I understand Disney is in this to make a profit, but they continue to devalue their core product.

  • The Christmas and Halloween parties are holiday related events that probably draw in a large number of local residents and passholders, many of whom visit just for the nighttime party.  Parents may let their kids stay out late for such a special event.  The parties are offered only during certain times of year, so supply is limited.

    The Pirate and Princess parties are offered year round and are sold as a special holiday event and I suspect they must rely more upon vacationers who, during their visit, are likely at the parks all day.  After 8-10 hours in the parks, the young kids who are targetted by such an event are worn out.  Parents, whose budgets are already stressed by rising gas prices and having already broken the budget for a pricey Disney vacation, are going to be less likely to fork over more cash for an event their kids will be too tired/cranky to enjoy.

    I'm also not sure what the special 'draw' is for these events.  Vacationers staying at Disney resorts already get the extra magic hours for free,  I think Disney just doesn't offer a worthwhile reason for parents to pay extra to see princesses and pirates, when they've just spent the day eating character meals with the princesses and riding Pirates of the Carribbean.

  • Well, shock and surprise the Pirates merchandise sales are starting to slow down. I am sure no one saw that coming. As usual Disney over-merchandised something and now people are sick of it(i.e see-Pooh, Stitch, Millionaire, etc). Disney used to know how to properly take care of their franchises, now thanks to the accountants the only thing they know how to do now is run stuff into the ground. It is not hard to see that Pirates has run its course if you go online and see all the Pirates stuff marked down on DisneyShopping.com. I am sure it will start flooding the WDW outlets soon. Marketing has been a problem with Pirates and Princess. They have created what I think is the best fireworks show MK has ever had. It is almost worth the price of admission. I don't know how you can properly market that. Unfortunately, the parade sucks. The music is lame and boring and it just isn't as exciting as the Halloween or Christmas parades. It doesn't surprise me that Disney is cutting back on stuff at the party, that is what they do when they aren't making enough money. Unfortunately for them that probably isn't gonna help word of mouth.

    I think everyone has pointed out that since this party doesn't revolve around some holiday there just isn't that reason for people to go. I think WDW mgmt may have pushed it too far with a 3rd party.

  • So once again, we have 9 responses from 9 non-Disney World suits and once again everyone knows and agrees on what's wrong.

    So once again, I'll ask ... why are the Disney World suits too stupid to understand this??

    And another question that is starting to beg asking ... why doesn't Iger wonder why the Disney World suits are too stupid to understand their own guests??

  • Maybe P&P could be transformed into Mickey's Sweet and Saucy Valentine's Party.  Dates would be Jan & Feb.  

  • Pirates = boys

    Princesses = girls

    Just on name alone, a boy will have to like pirates an awful lot to stomach the princess part of the show, and vice versa for the girls. Yeah, I'm stereotyping, but I was 10 once, and I sure remember hating those commercials for Barbies in the middle of shows about superheroes. This just doesn't sound like a must-see to me.

  • I can remember back in 03 when the movie was in theaters. I went to MK. Rode POTC, got off the ride, was put in the gift shop and was ready to open my wallet to Jack Sparrow t-shirts, and merchandise.

    only... it wasnt there. And even when the DVD came out a year later. All they had for sale was the DVD. Finally when the 2nd came out, they had some merch. But right now? Short of a few tshirts, its the same merchandise theyve had. And even me, a big POTC fan, as only bought so much. The merchandise isnt that good....

    But the point is, Disney ALWAYS misses the boat on marketing their popular for the moment stuff. And on top of that they make it overkill and make you sick of it.

    Another table service would be a good option for MK, because ive eaten at each one, and short of a craving for Liberty Tree, or taking a friend to the castle, I dont have need to go back to them. And most of the other parks have more TS restaurant options.

    Looking beyond Pirates, Disney is doing the same thing again. Some suit said "Gee golly those kids love that american idol!" so now theyre building that, when in actuality, Idol is on the decline. And if they had asked us "kids" what we thought we all could have said that AI is a joke, and has been since the first one. And it will come in and go out like WWTBAM.

    GET WITH IT DISNEY SUITS.

  • I've heard Disney fired someone over POTC's lack of marketing the first time around. But it's not easy when the mass market toy companies take over a year to get stuff out there.

  • I'm disappointed that Disney would drop the Tortuga concept because there aren't enough people eating at Tony's. I ate there once and that was enough! The food was OK but nothing to write home about and there was nothing interesting going on. When I'm at MK on vacation, I'd rather eat at the Crystal Palace or Cinderella's Royal Table for much better food and atmosphere. Heck, I'd even go outside the park and run over to O'Hana rather than go back to Tony's.

    Maybe they should consider revamping Tony's or closing that establishment rather than dropping Tortuga.

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