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Lately Walt Disney has introduced a number of offerings that result in extra expenses for guests who wish to take advantage of them. This includes (but is not limited to) private water taxis from the Grand Floridian, an ice cream social with parade viewing from the Liberty Belle, and now an express transportation ticket for park hopping — not to mention the unsightly $650+ cabanas in Tomorrowland. This has left many Disney fans asking, is it all too much?

We’ve been wondering the same thing, but some on our team don’t quite see things the same way. What follows is a debate between LaughingPlace Editorial Director Kyle Burbank taking the “pro” stance (defending these upcharges) and site co-founder Doobie Moseley opposing this trend:

Kyle

It is true that Disney — Walt Disney World, in particular — has been introducing a lot of upcharge experiences lately, ranging from dessert parties and experiences to extra convenience services. As these are trotted out one by one it’s easy to be overwhelmed and feel nickel and dimed to death. However it’s important to remember that not Disney or anyone else is forcing a single guest to purchase these extra services. In fact, if you didn’t read Disney fan blogs (thanks, by the way!), you might not even know that these add-ons existed.

That last point is the big one for me. Unlike at Universal where you will get a 15 minute spiel about their dining upgrade, two-park ticket, multi-day offer, etc. etc. etc. when trying to purchase your admission, in my experience Disney let’s you come to them instead of hounding you for more money. Additionally, while it may seem like the park is now catering to the elite who can afford these offerings, you could also say that these latest upgrades are just unbundling of the VIP tours and treatments that were likely always available to celebs and other important figures. In that way, Disney is actually allowing more people to experience the good life and not just putting a velvet rope in front of the park like many assume.

Doobie

Normally, I’m 100% on your side with an issue like this. As long as they don’t devalue the existing experience, upcharge away. But I think it’s reaching a point where I can’t say that anymore. Especially with so many being announced so close together, it seems to be a direction they’re heading towards full steam.

My argument is as much an emotional one as a logical one. And that’s ok, because the joy of Disney is an emotional one. I logically know there’s a woman inside that Mickey costume, but I get much joy out of meeting “Mickey Mouse” nonetheless. And these experiences are starting to affect me emotionally. Believe it or not, going to Walt Disney World is already a high end experience for most people. They save and save and finally are able to go on their dream vacation. And once they step into those gates, they’re arrived. Sure, you see the occasional person with a plaid who might be getting back door access, but you always assume they’re some kind of celebrity, even if you don’t recognize them. But now…

  • I drive up to the parking gate and realize only some people get to park in those great spots on the end.
  • I walk through Tomorrowland and realize only some people get a nice place to relax during their hot, sticky Disney day.
  • I watch the afternoon parade as, behind me, some people are enjoying it from the comfort of the Riverboat while enjoying ice cream and a meet and greet with Tiana.
  • I’m ready to park hop and head out front gate as some people get to go out a special gate and get whisked directly into another park while I’m waiting in another bag check line.

Each of these on its own wouldn’t bother me at all. But together, they start to have an affect. And based on the current pace, I suspect more will be coming.

Kyle

Oh, I’m well aware how much Disney vacations cost. I may not have kids to worry about paying for but I balk at nearly any hotel room more than $200 a night. Still my opinion remains unswayed.

Preferred parking might be an annoyance, but they do still offer tram service regardless so I don’t see that as being that as being a big deal. If anything I think it annoys APs than average day guests, especially since resort guests likely aren’t parking at the individual parks.

Admittedly the cabanas are a bit of a conundrum — not because of what they represent but just because they are ugly as sin. However, if they were to be built into something more discreet or at least more themed (or, ideally, move backstage), I think that’d be a massive improvement on what they’re testing now. But, remember, there are already plenty of DVC and Chase cardholder lounges that cause similar divisions and yet no one really complains about those. I don’t make enough to buy DVC and I’m sure those with poor credit wish they could get a Disney Chase Visa card but…

Perhaps this is naive — OK, it’s extremely naive — but is there even the slightest chance that these upgrades could actually prevent Disney from raising prices across the board? After all, if they can charge people more to get private cabanas with delivered food, take upgraded transportation, and pay a premium to eat ice cream with a princess, doesn’t that reduce the stress on the base level services since there will be less people in line for food, buses, and parade viewing? Like I said, naive for sure, but maybe this trend isn’t as one dimensional as you’d think.

Doobie

IF … IF this is intended to keep ticket prices from raising, great. But I wouldn’t bet on it. On their own, none of these changes bothers me. It’s the trend, the quantity, the constant reminder throughout my day that bothers me.

What bothers me even more is these do have an impact on my day as a normal guest. Not being able to get one of the best parking spots, a tiny impact, but I notice. Seeing some very unattractive tents in Tomorrowland definitely impact that experience. Not being able to ride the Liberty Belle for more than three hours a day — an attraction that already opens late and closes at dusk, really upsets me.

DVC, Chase Visa, etc… all valid points. But at least those cater to “their biggest fans”, not “their biggest spenders”. And they did not all appear with the span of a couple of months.

Another specific concerns is the new Express Bus. I think Disney should value the designed theme park experience more than to allow guests to choose to exit out a backstage area and enter another park through a backstage area. Disney is meant to be entered from the main entrance. Backstage is meant to remain out of view as much as possible. Disney choosing to change that for the sake of $25 is a concern.

Kyle

I hate to break it to you, but that backstage barrier is broken all of the time in the name of crowd control. Yes, they’ve tried to dress up certain areas for when it’s necessary for guests to pass through (like the corridors they built at Disneyland), but it still happens. This is just an extension of that crowd control. Lest we forget, they also give paid tours of the Magic Kingdom tunnels so…

I understand that it seems like these changes are coming fast and furious, but, again, I think that’s just because we have our fingers too close to the pulse. Do we really think most guests will see the tent in Tomorrowland and think “wow those are ugly and unfair — day: ruined!” I’m not sure that’s the case.

In my view, this is hardly different than my local mall. Let me explain: you have your Old Navy and your Banana Republic — both owned by Gap, incidentally. Personally, I shop at Old Navy because it’s the cheapest but it’s still good. The lines may be a little longer than the other two but it is what it is. I can see the fancy Banana Republic across the way with slightly better offering at higher prices, but that doesn’t upset me. Plus, if I did choose to splurge and shop at Banana, I don’t need to fill my entire wardrobe; I could just choose what items were most important to me and seemed worth the extra price.

Disney is doing the same thing with these upgrades. You can take them or leave them and that’s fine. Could it be a problem down the road? Absolutely. But right now I think the whole of us are overreacting.

Doobie

Thank you for using your points to make mine.

Yes, Disney breaks the backstage barrier in the name of crowd control. They do it only when necessary and I can sense their pain. It’s not what the want to do. They also do it for special backstage tours — peeks behind the curtain. That’s much different than “exit this way”.

My “fast and furious” comment is meant to indicate this is a direction Disney is clearly going. I know most guests won’t realize it. But as one that pays attention, it indicates to me that this is a direction Disney is very focused on this right now, it’s where they are headed.

And comparing a trip to Walt Disney World to a trip to the local mall… nuff said!

As I began, Disney is all about emotion and these experiences are giving me the wrong emotions. Maybe it shouldn’t maybe it’s not logical, but according to logic alone, perhaps I’m better off saving money and going to my local amusement park.