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
(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 DisneyEnterprises, 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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 ?
More expensive doesn't always mean better service from the Mouse. Last fall, my family and I visited Disneyland and we opted to buy the Fantasmic Premium Viewing package. Unlike WDW's flavor of Fantasmic, Disneyland doesn't have a special performance area with seating for Fantasmic. Most people stake out their locations hours in advance. We opted for the Premium package because my hubby isn't able to stand for prolonged periods and it seemed like the dessert plus reserved seating would be an expensive treat for my daughter's b-day.
The seats were ok, the desserts yummy...but the view was badly obstructed for Fantasmic and worse for the fireworks that followed shortly thereafter. The package was not worth it for our group, or for the party sitting immediately in front of us.
I wrote Guest Relations shortly after our return and suggested that they send some decision makers to a show and have them sit in our seats before continuing to offer those for sale. I received the usual courteous-but-non-committal "thanks for your feedback" email and I assume nothing has changed.
Given this experience, I'm reluctant to trust the Mouse with another expensive "premium" experience.
In the big picture, I don't think Disney is trying to nab the high-price guest because they're going to make so much money on them. I think what they're trying to do is overcome an image among the upper crust that Disney is for unsophisticated rubes. They want the posh people to show up so that a Disney vacation becomes more aspirational for everybody.
I, for one, get tired of the snobs that react condescendingly everytime I talk about another Disney vacation. The funny thing is that when I actually get them to join me, they have a really good time.
Disney makes it more difficult for me to afford their vacation every year. The opportunity for me to get something special is becoming frusterating and often impossible due to all the optiional/additional cost required. My options are slowly dissappearing and so is my desire for the "magic". It's the way of the world more and more - sad.
I doubt this makes much difference except to the middle class, well informed Disney nerds (like me). If they sell the right number of these things, you won't know the difference if you know what you are doing. And if, the price is even vaguely reasonable, I can see it becoming quite popular.
Like someone else said, the goal is to cater to all levels of income levels in a way that we all feel like we get what we paid for. In my mind, if I can come to the park, ride the rides I want to in a reasonable amount of time (depends on the time of year, natch') eat a turkey leg and a marshmallow mikey, then I am always going to be happy.
Right now we are trying to save money while the wife works on her graduate degree, so our next trip is a patchwork of stops using hotel points I have saved up. Most times we go moderate, but I might bump up a level if I could get something like XPass in a way that didn't double my costs for moderate.
And to the person who was talking about the rich kid getting interacted with, how often will that happen? It is only bound to happen once in a blue moon, and when I watch the castle projection show I am not jealous of the other guests. So I would proably expect that the person who paid more to be there would get a few more perks. The real issue is what happens if > 1 kid with the special dolly rides in the same boat? Then I can see that person getting a bit miffed.
When I was a child I had a book about Disneyland that said "Where the Kings are commoners and the commoners are Kings." That idea must have died many long years ago. I'm sorry that it did.
People are comparing a paid VIP area to a wheelchair seating ares? Really?
All the wheelchair area does is give the disabled an equal chance as the able-bodied. It's not a perk. My sister would gladly stand and peek over somebody's shoulder at the parade if she could; her spinal injury isn't some kind of advantage. There's some real "Lucky Ducky" thinking going on here. Ooh, the lady in the wheelchair gets a bathroom stall her wheelchair will fit in - lucky ducky!
My family scrimped and saved to go to WDW in the 1980s...my parents didn't eat in the park so my two sisters and I could because food was higher than what we were used to paying. All I can think of is some ordinary kid from Nebraska whose dream is to go to WDW and shows up and their family either didn't realize - or couldn't afford - the super deluxe premium add-on experiences. It turns the park into a big group of have/have nots. Kind of a sad commentary on our culture and Disney as an increasingly heartless corporation more concerned about "enhancing shareholder value" than the actual UNIFORM, OVERALL guess experience.
I'm most appalled by the flatscreen in "...Small World."
Actually Jim, WDW was referred to as "Wallet Disney World" as far back as 1989. Just look at my video at www.youtube.com/watch for proof.
"All I can think of is some ordinary kid from Nebraska whose dream is to go to WDW and shows up and their family either didn't realize - or couldn't afford - the super deluxe premium add-on experiences. It turns the park into a big group of have/have nots. "
How is this not the case now? Disney World shouldn't be communist. The haves are going to have more than the have nots. The trick is to provide the right sort of entertaiment so that everyone gets what they paid for. When I see the plaid people taking around celebs, it doesn't ruin my time at the park, and more than it does to see people who are standing in line for 2 hours to ride something with a 45 minute wait via FastPass. And the more you spend, the more you get. It is true in all cases, whether you are talking dinner at Ruth's Chris versus Ihop, or the Lunching Pad or the Brown Derby.
Sure some kid with a doll that they spent 100 bucks on gets a thrill at Small World, but the number of people who buy those will be low enough that it probably won't seem obnoixious. I mean, that kid from Nebraska is probably going to be more torn up that they are eating a generic brand granola bar while they see 100s of people with Mickey Ice Cream. Or eating PB&Js that have become soggy while the other people around them have pizza.
In any case, as long as the premium experiences don't take up all of the good seating and make FastPass ineffectual, it won't bother me in the least. If it does, well we can always go somewhere else for vacation, now cant we.
can see where Disney is trying to make as much money with it parks by going after the big spenders. though the xpass is sounding so far till the bugs are worked out a mess for odds are some one who just went with the regular package with normal passes may wind up not wanting to come to the park after wards due to some one with xpass seeming to be singled out better by the hard working staff under orders of the brass. xpass itill fully in place is just asking for Disney to lose some of its customer base. and i would give it a try just to see what its like.
A little perspective from Jurassic Park:
And we can charge anything we want! Two thousand a day,
ten thousand a day - - people will pay it! And then
there's the merchandising - -
Donald, this park was not built to carter only to the
super rich. Everyone in the world's got a right to
enjoy these animals.
Vacations to Disneyland and WDW are middle class pastimes precisely because of their egalitarianism. Any blatant favoritism to the very wealthy will probably destroy that delicate image.
Are you kidding.. Doesn't anyone get it. Talk about taking away any spontaneity on vacation. All Disney wants to do is take away large sums of money from you, then direct you where and when you visit a ride or attraction, tell you when to eat, and oh by the way, have a very magical day... Wake up America. This is not a good thing. Where is the Imagination that Walt wanted in the Parks. Show up here, do this now, and I have your bank account number on your wrist band, so you won't even know I am picking your pocket...How does it feel to be a cow be herded to slaughter....
Clearly, as population grows overall, the pool of 'really rich folks' grows as well and there is, technically, nothing wrong with catering to it. Real key is making sure that enough magic is shared around. I date from the days when ticket books were sold. Did I realize 'some' folks could afford all the tickets they wanted and others could not...yes, but didn't matter as long as I had fun. No different than realizing some folks are at Grand Floridian and others are at less costly resorts...who cares, as long as you have a fun place to stay!
I would not bother to book a deluxe vacation package for the mere fact that I will not be using the resort property all that much when I will be in parks the majority of the time. It would be a waste for me if I plan on being out all day, which is what usually happens. The only way that I would buy an Xpass is if it were an add-on. My question is what about all the season pass holders.....do we get theXpass option as well?