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Why WDW Cast Members aren't expecting to have a very Merry XPass in 2012

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Why WDW Cast Members aren't expecting to have a very Merry XPass in 2012

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It's the joke that senior members of Mouse House management have never found to be all that funny. That it now costs so much to vacation at the WDW Resort they should probably change the name of the place to Wallet Disney World.

(L to R) Larry Silverstein, president and CEO of Silverstein Properties;
Mickey Mouse; Meg Crofton, president, Walt Disney Parks and
Resorts Operations, U.S. and France; and Kathleen Taylor,
president and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But with last Tuesday's ground-breaking ceremony for the oft-delayed Four-Seasons-Resort-Orlando-at-Walt-Disney-World project - not to mention next year's roll-out of the XPass program (which - for a price -- will offer WDW Guests the opportunity to pre-book an entire vacation's worth of rides on the Resort's most popular attractions as well as guaranteeing these high-end customers a primo reserved viewing spot for theme park parades and/or nighttime extravaganzas like Epcot's "Illuminations" and DHS's "Fantasmic!") ... One wonders if the Mouse's increasingly obvious pursuit of the big-bucks bunch is going to have a negative impact on the way the general public views Walt Disney World vacations in the not-so-distant future.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like Mickey hasn't been paying attention to all of the other market segments that make up the potential WDW visitor pool. Take - for example -- Disney's Art of Animation Resort. With its 1,120 family suites, this soon-to-open complex is obviously targeting the likes-to-travel-together-as-a-large-group demographic (i.e. family reunions, little league teams, cheerleading squads et el).

Likewise those 25 acres of additional playing fields that are currently under construction at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. They aren't just being added due to increased demand. But - rather - because the Mouse's long-term goal here is to lure even more football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams down to Walt Disney World to take part in tournaments and training camps. Which will then help put heads-in-beds over at the Pop Century as well as at all three of Disney's All-Star Resorts.

Guests cross a rickety rope bridge as part of Wild Africa
Trek, the new add-on experience at Disney's Animal
Kingdom. Photo by Kent Phillips. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But when you take into consideration  the Golden-Oak-at-the-Walt-Disney-World-Resort project (i.e. that luxury real estate development that Mickey is building right next door to the Four Seasons which will feature custom-built, single family homes) as well as Wild Africa Trek (where visitors to Disney's Animal Kingdom - in addition to the usual theme park admission fee - pay $189 per person to take part in a VIP safari) ... It's pretty clear that - over the past five years or so - the WDW Resort has begun placing increased emphasis on catering to those visitors who are willing to pay top dollar for a premium vacation experience.

Now - to be fair - it's worth noting here that The Walt Disney Company isn't the only one who's doing this sort of thing these days. You only have to look at the number of professional sports teams who regularly retool the arenas they play in order to add even more Skyboxes and/or the hot Broadway shows like "Book of Mormon" that now charge $302 - $352 for premium seats to know that this offering-an-exclusive-upscale-experience-to-those-who-are-willing-to-pay-top-dollar-for-it trend is now a pretty common practice in the worlds of sports & entertainment.

But where this practice is potentially going to get problematic - at least as far as the Mouse is concerned - is with next year's roll-out of XPass. Which is basically going to stratify the Walt Disney World vacation experience in a fairly public way.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To explain: You may have heard about that restricted parade viewing area that was tested at the Magic Kingdom back in October. Well, that's actually supposed to be one of the bigger selling points of Walt Disney World's XPass system. That you and your family no longer have to stake out a spot an hour or more ahead of time in order to get a great viewing place for the 3 o'clock parade. If you've made XPass part of the WDW vacation package that you've booked, your perfect viewing spot (which will be right on the Hub, directly across from Cinderella Castle) is reserved in advance. All you have to do is show up 15 minutes before the parade steps off, allow the Cast Member who's controlling access to this roped-off area to scan your XPass wristband ... and then you're in.

Which - I have to admit - sounds like a really cool perk. But the downside of this aspect of XPass is that - in order to accommodate the 500+ Resort Guests who have booked this premium vacation package and thus will be expecting an exclusive parade viewing experience right in front of the Castle as part of their day at the Kingdom ... Well, that means that this portion of the Hub will then be strictly off-limits to the tens-of-thousands of theme park visitors who have also bought admission to the Magic Kingdom that day and will be looking for primo viewing spots along the parade route.

And given that roping off a huge section of the Hub on a daily basis and then restricting access to this area to only those Guests who have purchased a specific vacation package is kind of a significant departure from the way that the Walt Disney World Resort has done business for the past 40 years ... Those who handle Crowd Control at the Magic Kingdom are already allegedly mapping strategies about how to best manage the Guests. Especially those who are bound to be incensed when they learn that their family's favorite parade viewing spot is now only available to those who have paid for this privilege.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

That - in a nutshell - is what concerns many long-time WDW cast members about XPass. Some of the more in-your-face components of this new premium guest experience program.

Again - to be fair here - there will be entire aspects of  XPass that will basically be invisible to the average WDW visitor. Take - for example - those booked-in-advance rides on some of the most popular attractions at the theme parks. Given that these specific ride times will be culled out of the Resort's FASTPASS system, the people who are using this aspect of their XPass vacation package will just blend in with the rest of the other Guests. The only thing that might possibly give them away is their special XPass wristband.

That said, things might get a little awkward on attractions like "it's a small world" (where people who have booked the XPass vacation package will - prior to their arrival in Orlando - then be able to go online and build their very own customized Mary Blair-esque doll. Who will then appear on a flat screen in "it's a small world" 's finale sequence and dance for & wave to the Guest who actually created this doll). When there's a boatload of tourists experiencing this attraction together. And this CG "it's a small world" doll zeroes in on a single Guest and then only interacts with them.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Walt Disney World management does anticipate that there'll initially be some issues with XPass. Which is why - after this premium vacation package is officially announced after the first of the year - it'll then only be available for Guests who book stays at deluxe WDW resorts like Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Then - after they've worked all of the kinks out (More importantly, should there actually be sufficient Guest demand for this program. Let's remember that there have been other innovative uses of technology [EX: My Pal Mickey] previously introduced at the Parks that were then met with a collective shrug from WDW visitors. Which is why these other expensive-to-develop-and-maintain initiatives were eventually abandoned) - XPass will be made available to Guests who stay at the other WDW Resorts. Provided - of course - these people are willing to pay the high price tag associated with this premium vacation package.

Of course, the executives who spearheaded the development of XPass - who poured tens of millions into the creation of this NextGen project over the past 10 years - hope that Guests will gladly pay top dollar for this sort of vacation experience. But as for those frontline Cast Members who actually have to work in the theme parks while XPass is initially being rolled out and members of the general public then have to educated about things like that newly blocked-off parade-viewing-area in front of Cinderella Castle ... Well, all these folks can think about is what happened back in 1999 when FASTPASS was initially introduced. Which was when fistfights & screaming matches used to regularly erupt inside of WDW's theme parks. All because Guests waiting in the stand-by line couldn't understand why those people clutching those tiny pieces of paper were then being allowed to board Space Mountain ahead of them.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is why - to folks who'll actually be working at the theme parks in the late winter / early spring of next year (which is when the first Guests who have booked those XPass vacation packages are expected to start arriving at the Resort) - 2012 is looking a lot like 1999. Which is why these WDW veterans don't expect to have a very Merry XPass. At least not until all the kinks get worked out. More importantly, 'til Cast Members & the general public get educated about how this new premium vacation package is actually going to impact the theme-park-going experience of all of the other Guests in the Park.

But what do you folks think? Does a premium guest experience like XPass intrigue you enough that you'd actually be willing to book a top-dollar vacation package to stay at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa? Or would you be far more likely to pay for a premium guest experience like this if XPass were something that you could just "add-on" the very next time you visited Wallet ... er ... Walt Disney World ?

Your thoughts?



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  • I just want to know how this will work and how expensive it will be to the people that stay deluxe every trip (the DVC membership)?  We already stay "Deluxe" Technically.  You know if they rolled this out with the Fastpass technology that allowed you to schedule your rides in the room this would be great, or maybe this is exactly what that is.

  • I'm cool with it... if high paying pass holders are included in some aspects. I don't so much care about fast pass, but I am more concerned with restricted viewing areas.

  • Good!  Let the riff raff go to Universal and stay away from me and my family!

  • Besides, they already have restricted viewing areas for wheel chairs and their party.  what's the difference if it's free or if someone pays for it?  the space is still taken.

  • It's looking more and more as if my family might have taken our last trip to WDW.

  • I would be one that would like to have fastpasses booked out prior to my visit, but we typically don't stake out primo spots for parade viewing.  Most of the time we take advantage of the parade to get on some of the more popular rides.  One thing that I like at Universal is that guests that stay in their on-site hotels are able to use the room keys as express passes.  I know that would not work at WDW because of the number of people staying on-site.  Universal also offers the ability to buy the express passes either as a one time use per ride or a VIP for a full day use.  I think WDW would do well to offer something like that at less of a premium for those that may not be interested in the prime viewing spots for the parade.  

    Also, as a season pass holder, they should roll this out to passholders first. :-)

  • Geubux --

    The XPass viewing area will be in addition to the section that's now set aside for Guests in wheelchairs. Though -- to be fair here -- the Cast Members who will be setting up the ropes for the XPass viewing area will know, on a daily basis, how many Guests-and-their-family-members-who-bought-into-this-premium-WDW-vacation-package will actually be coming out to the Magic Kingdom that day to take part in this program. So they can then shrink or grow the size of that roped-off area on the Hub directly across from Cinderella Castle accordingly.

    This is another reason for making XPass a deluxe-resort-only perk. At least for a while. So that WDW Cast Members can then get a sense of what the real ebb-and-flo of this new Guest experience program will actually be. Will more people who have signed up for the premium vacation package opt to go to the Magic Kingdom on Monday than on -- say -- Tuesday or Wednesday? There's obviously going to be a learning curve here.

    As for letting " ...  the riff-raff go to Universal." Trust me, Geubux. That's actually a big concern of Disney's right now. Especially given the number of tourists from the U.K. who -- rather than starting their 3-week-long holiday in the States with their traditional visit to the Magic Kingdom -- are now opting to begin their vacation with a trip to Universal's Island of Adventure instead so that they can then see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    And given that the theme park which a Guest visits first is the one that gets a shot at you when your wallet is fullest ... Well, that's the Park and the Resort that then benefits the most with higher merchandise and food sales. So with tens of thousands of people now opting to start their vacations by visiting  with Harry rather than with Mickey ... That's already having an appreciable trickle-down effect on food & merch sales at Disney World. We're not talking about a truly huge number. Not yet, anyway. But it is noticeable. Or -- at the very least -- Disney's accountants have noticed this trend.

    More to the point, with Universal just last week announcing that not only is Harry Potter coming to their Hollywood studio theme park but that the Wizarding World is going to significantly expand its footprint at their Central Florida Resort (with the current scuttlebutt being that Potter will now actually be split across Universal's two Orlando parks, with a different aspect of the books and the films being built where Amity & the "Jaws" ride in USF are currently located) ... That's a genuine concern to Disney World officials. Which is why it's now important that the Fantasyland Forest area open on time, that XPass succeeds and that James Cameron's World of Avatar quickly move from its Blue Sky phase to tall blue people actually walking around and interacting with Guests.

    Because (and I know that this bit of news always makes the true Disney diehards crazy. Because -- in their minds, anyway -- the Mouse is always first) but the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has changed the center of gravity when it comes to tourism patterns in Central Florida. Universal Orlando is no longer that Resort which you go to have extra time on your vacation and/or extra money built into your budget. Now that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is there, people are now going out of their way to visit IOA as part of their family trips to Orlando. Even if it means -- in order to accommodate this trip over to Universal -- these Guests only get to do one day at Epcot and/or opt to skip out entirely on visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios.

    Which is another reason that James Cameron's World of Avatar is going in DAK. To give Guests a compelling reason to return to that theme park. More to the point, given that "Star Tours: The Adventures Continue" hasn't quite turned into the draw for DHS that the Imagineers had hoped it might be, they're now on the prowl for something of size to add to that theme park's assortment of rides, shows and attractions. Which might be the Studio's now-long-delayed "Monsters, Inc." coaster.

    Anyway ... Long story short, Geubux. You can maybe afford to be flip and dismissive when it comes to Universal. But Disney no longer can. Potter has really changed people's perceptions of Universal Orlando and transformed it (for a fair number of people, anyway) into a must-see. And Disney's now really got to step up their game a bit if the Magic Kingdom is going to go back to being EVERY tourists' first stop when they vacation in Central Florida.

  • I don´t like XPass at all. That is not what Disney envisioned. Catering for the rich is ok but it shouldn´t be that regular guests, who worked hard all year to visit the park get less favourable seats and experiances.

    People who think this is ok live in a very material, selfish world. Anyway, I won´t visit Disney anymore because this is not the kind of people I want to meet when I´m on vacation.

  • Catering to the rich is OK. Just as long as the rich understand that the rest of us don't give a damn about them nor how much money they have.

  • "It's looking more and more as if my family might have taken our last trip to WDW."

    So, the actions of 500 people AT MOST will "ruin" the Disney experience for you? Wow.

    "I don´t like XPass at all. That is not what Disney envisioned. "

    Have you ever heard of Club 33? The ultra-exclusive members-only restaurant in Disneyland that Walt envisioned as a way to entertain his special guests and sponsors. Yes, exclusive - and yes, Walt was the one that designed it.

  • This is TOTALLY what Walt had in mind... poorer folks could only buy a few physical E-Tickets.  Rich dudes could buy more.  It was never any kind of equal opportunity utopia.  That said, I much prefer the "closed to everyone but big spenders" early morning/late evening model.  With this model, I expect big logistical hassles, long lines, and even fewer FP's available (which means a lot of WDW n00bs will have such a bad experience they never come back).

  • Just so we're clear, Walt Disney World does already sort of offer a service just like this: disneyworld.disney.go.com/.../vip-services

    What's different about XPass is ... Well, to be blunt, it makes this sort of premium Guest experience affordable for a wider variety of folk. To be specific, those who aren't willing to spend $175 - $315 an hour to be escorted around the theme parks by someone wearing a plaid vest who knows all of the ins & outs of the place.

    Long story short: Disney sees XPass as a huge new potential revenue stream for the WDW Resort. They've poured tens of millions of dollars into its development which they're now hoping to recover. So -- like it or not -- these premium vacation packages are being rolled out in 2012.

    My only concern -- in regards to this program -- is the message that it sends to the family that has scrimped & saved to travel to Walt Disney World. How is that parent going to feel -- as he/she and their family are riding through "it's a small world" -- when that CG doll appears and then doesn't interact with their child, zeroing in on the other kid instead? That's going to be kind of an awkward conversation afterwards, don't you think? "Sorry that you didn't get the genuinely magical experience while we were riding through 'small world.' But Daddy & Mommy couldn't afford that particular vacation package."

    Which -- given that families already spend thousands of dollars to fly down to Orlando & then stay on property in Disney-designed hotels and buy Parkhopper tickets ... Well, I just think that this particular aspect of XPass (i.e. that those who paid extra will then get an extra-special Guest experience, while those who paid the usual fee to get into the Park now gets a less-magical experience) is going to stratify the Disney theme park-going experience in a very public way.

    Of course, I could be wrong here. There could be families who -- when they see the other family get a personal interaction with Tinker Bell while riding through "Peter Pan Flight"  -- will then think "Next time we come down here, we need to book an XPass package. Because that premium Guest experience stuff really looks cool."

    That could be what happens. But in this age of Occupy Wall Street, where there's all this talk in America of Haves & Have Nots, the 99 versus the 1% ... I just wonder if this is really the smartest time to be rolling out XPass. Given that these vacation packages are deliberately designed to appeal to the Company's high-end customers ... Well, is this really the message that the Mouse wants to be putting out there right now? That if you want the truly magical Disney theme park experience, you'd better be loaded?

    In this economy, heading into primary season with fiscal responsibility expected to be the key issues in the coming Presidential election -- not to mention everything that's going on over in Europe right now in regards to debt and finance ... The timing of all this sounds like a PR nightmare to me. I almost wish that Disney would wait to roll out XPass. Because -- in our age of the 30 second soundbite and/or the snarky internet story -- it's going to be relatively easy for the press to spin this complex new, technologically innovative vacation package as " ... Disney's expensive new offering that's aimed only at rich people who are willing to pay top dollar for special Guest experiences that the general public won't get."

    And that's the sort of soundbite that launches hundreds of hours of bad publicity on talk radio. Not to mention all sorts of negative posts on travel discussion boards. Which is why I think Disney's going to have a really interesting time when it comes to the official launch of XPass. As they struggle to keep the press focused on talking about all of the cool experiences that Guests can have after they book this particular vacation package, rather than writing and/or talking about how only wealthy people are going to get the truly magical Disney theme park experiences from here on in.

  • What I don't see is how XPass is not going to effect the park experience for the people that DON'T buy into it.  Fewer FastPasses, less parade viewing area... that all translates into a worse experience for my family.  I would hope that the NexGen project would ultimately result in improving my family's experience in the parks, not make it worse.  Given the investment they've made into it, and from the benefits I see and have heard about to date, I would have much preferred them spending the money on more attractions.  

    XPass isn't going to stop me from going to Universal.  In fact, it makes me want to go there INSTEAD!  It's more affordable, it's something new, and I think we can have a really nice experience there.  Our last couple of trips to WDW have been too expensive and too crowded.  That said, what will stop me from going to Universal are more attractions at WDW.  Fantasyland Forest, Avatarland, Carsland at DHS, something of size - anything really - for EPCOT, ... that's the stuff that makes Harry Potter land fade from the headlines and my memory when planning the next trip.  And that's the stuff that eats people and makes for a nicer experience.  Star Tours 2.0 is nice, but it's not enough to get me back into that shell-of-a -park.  Save  the money left on interactive queues and whatever RDIF stuff and build another unique E-ticket like Splash Mountain or Everest.  

    Jim, what I want to know is how, and when, will they measure the success of all of these NextGen initiatives?  Can Tom Staggs use this to ride into the CEO slot, or conversely pin it on Meg if it fails?  Or does this all rest on Tom and he's somehow already made sure there's no downside for him?

  • I agree stuff like this has been around for a long time, aside from the vested guides there is the desert party viewing area and other private expierences. There have always been ways to have a better WDW experience if u have more money to spend. However it has always been kinda hidden to the everyday guest, most people are oblivious to the vested guide slipping in front of them and most walk by the desert party area and say "wow how do u get to sit there" and then move on, after all there is  still lots of room for a good view. What makes me sad is that the actual rides will be more magical for these people mixed in with kids who don't have it. I think it will be so sad to hear a small child say something like "why didn't pooh bear talk/wave at me mommy?" it would break my heart. Disney has long been a place of classes, it starts right with which resort u can afford, but it has never mattered once u are there, every cast member at your resort is as nice as at a deluxe and u can forget those really expensive hotels even exist. Your bus still takes you to the same park with the same rides and no matter where u sit for the parade Cinderella might blow u a kiss. The ride aspect changes that in a way tht is completely inappropriate. No matter what else is enhanced the rides and meets should be the same for everyone. No sweet small child should be standing in line for repunzel and see that she knows the name of the girl in front of her and not her name. I would beg the imagineers to reconsider these aspects. What if that is the little girls only trip, what if there is no next time to upgrade to xpass. I just think there could be other special things scattered into the parks that would be less noticeable to others but special for xpass holders( Kim possible game type things).

  • While I doubt we will add any of our proceeds to the XPass program, I am always a fan of WDW finding news ways to make lots of money.  When WDW is successful, some of the capital will be eventually put into ideas/shows/rides that we will all enjoy.

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