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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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  • Dude.  No need to get sarcastic about it.  Got anything constructive to add?

  • I was there in January, and it seemed to me that most people didn't even know about the whole event. Granted, it was one of the first parties this year, but there was hardly any marketing for it. I think I got a flyer for it when I checked in, and there was sign outside the entrance to MK which could easily be missed in someone's haste to get to the park, and that was all I noticed. In talking to other guests in the parks, most either hadn't heard of it, or if they had, had no idea what it was, and therefor were hesitant to spend any more money on some unknown after hour event. I would hope that in the past month, something has been done to raise awareness for it, otherwise you can't expect people to come to something they don't know about in the first place.

  • Not really... I was going to make that joke anyways, but you happened to mention Pixar, so I referenced your comment. No worries.

  • It seems to me that it would help if they had a hotel guest discount of some sort on the triple P, maybe dependent on staying x-number of nights on-property.

  • Quint is exactly right. On both coasts, the Halloween and Holiday parties are mostly about drawing LOCALS into the parks, not out-of-towners. In most cases, the locals are NOT buying a regular pass during the day and then returning for the special event, they're going ONLY to the event. That's why making a non-seasonal, pitched-at-all-guests party was a self-limiting proposition from the get-go. And by the way, by having too MANY night-time things for already-exhausted-in-both-feet-and-purse guests to choose between, from character dining to Cirque Du Soleil to P.I. to the various fireworks park-closing shows that MUST remain to keep 'em spending 'til closing time, they weaken the drawing potential of any ONE of these, especially in off-peak seasons and days of the week.

    The urge to keep adding "new!" things is strong in management circles, because nobody gets promoted for doing a great "refurbishment" and other grunt-work maintaining of existing hits. But that doesn't make it make financial sense, and this one didn't...ever.

  • *sigh* Why don't WE all work at Disney?  We have great ideas!  ;)  

    Really, though.  I don't think I've disagreed with a single comment here.

    Reading this article, I was like, "Oh man, no fair; I'd go to that."  I'm in Phoenix, so we make it through the 6 hour car ride as often as we can, as often as 5 times a year, and there are eight of us!  (That includes two kids!)  We actually did go to Mickey's Halloween Treat, and were so thrilled by it that we've decided to go every year until we can't or they stop doing it.  

    I agree with everyone else, I used to spend a fortune on souvenirs at Disney whenever I'd go.  Literally, a few years ago, my (extremely generous) grandmother would give me $500 spending money for a 3 day trip, and I would spend ALL of it.  On myself!  Now, I literally look and look in the stores and I just don't see anything I want.

    As a design student, I can say when I saw the first logo for the Pirate and Princess Party, I gagged a little.  It's hideous and cheap looking.  Especially if the ticket is expensive, I seriously wouldn't want to spend a lot of money to go to an event with that sort of graphic depiction.  

    The renamed ad, with Mickey and Minnie and the kids, is LOADS better and gives me more hope for it.

    But as soon as I heard that they got rid of the candy and the float (which sounded awesome!), I thought, "Screw that."  Why would I go now?  No reason to.

    I personally HOPE they run the Disney Princesses line into the ground, because, as a girl who isn't at all into housekeeping and being a slave to a man (as much as that saddens my boyfriend), I think it's an awful example to set for little girls.  

    Right, Disney; let's show how all those girls' favorite princesses, despite overcoming lots of obstacles and being unique in their respective films, at the end of the day are just dumb tarts who love the color pink and cooking and cleaning for their "men" while wearing their most impractical "princessy" clothing.  UGH.  Disgusting.

    Anyway, I have one thing to add.  I find it extremely weird to combine the pirate and princess parties into a joint event.  If I was into pirates, I certainly wouldn't want some stupid girls raining on my parade.  Likewise, if I was into princesses, I wouldn't want some stupid boys crashing MY party.  

    I remember being 10 and younger, too.  When you wanted to be girly, boys were annoying, and you didn't want them near you because they'd ruin your fun by ruining your game.  

    I'd assume a lot of people decide not to go to this event because it's combined.  If it was just a pirate party or just a princess party, I think it'd be more successful.  I can see how that might not be financially feasible, though.

  • Jess Q, if you think princesses are a bad role model for little girls, consider, outside of the 'pixie dust' of Disney, the inanity of suggesting to little boys that they should want to grow up to be PIRATES!

    Killers, rapists, robbers, drunks...and remember that when the WED folks originally started researching the REAL pirates of the bounding main for the original "Pirates" attraction, they realized they'd have to stray a ways from the real history because in historical point of fact the number ONE "cause of death" of the average real, historical pirate of the carribbean was not wounds from battle...but syphillis!  

    You're right-on about girls-vs-boys issues at that young age, though. But in our modern "politically correct" era, I guess the concept of, say, giving Adventureland over to the Pirates/boys and Fantasyland over to the Princesses/girls was deemed too....uh....sexist? (Smile)  After all "separate but equal" is so 1960's...even when it comes to kids' parties, it seems.

  • Jim Hill talks about the hyper-sensitive times that we live in. Where mothers lecture fast food employees about gender identification and people puzzle at WDW's motives for changing its "Pirate & Princess" promotional art

  • There's plenty of POTC-related info to be found in this week's column. Including the current status of "Pirates 4," news on Disney's "Legends of the Brethren Court" book series as well as a review of that I-Drive favorite, the Pirate's Dinner Adventur

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