EDITORIAL: Increases, Cuts and The Feeling of Empty Pockets at Disney Parks

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Since the announcement in February, many people have spoken up and out either for or against (but mostly against) the cost cutting measures that were announced at both Disney World and Disneyland regarding the over budgeted and delayed Shanghai Disneyland. I for one had held out speaking about this regard, partially to see how this situation played out, but mostly because of initial anger.

When the announcement came, the statement described having to scale back the payroll of cast members both in Florida and California, as well as cancelling the 2nd showings of both Fantasmic and Main Street Electrical. The thought of that brought me back to memories of lining up three hours before a Fantasmic showing, because tourists were always told that the show would fill to capacity. There has been a statement made by the AEA stating that some cast members in acting roles will not have their contracts renewed. This is in addition to the CM’s whose attractions will be closing in April for the demolition of much of the rear of Hollywood Studios.

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While this sparked anger from CMs and Disney Park regulars, the proof of such issues is beginning to be evident in terms of what is passed on to the guests. Disney has, as is true every year, raised ticket prices. A one day ticket to Magic Kingdom now costs $105, however Disney has now also tiered the ticket prices. This means that a ticket to the park from the end of May until the end of July will cost $114, but the same ticket in late August will cost $97. Magic Kingdom has magically transformed into a baseball stadium, with ticket prices varying depending on who the home team is playing. They have also surveyed about adding a $15 per night fee for staying in a Disney Resort. Though this has not become reality yet, the fact that they are surveying means they must be toying with the idea. Couple this with the raises in Annual Passes, as well as raising parking fees to $20 per day and testing a Preferred parking fee of $35, (which will probably rarely be used by guests) it appears that the domestic guest is beginning to feel the pressure financially.

Here becomes the issue: why does the domestic Disney guest have to feel the pressure alone? Why has it not been spread around the entire Parks division? And most importantly, how did Shanghai get this out of control in both budgetary and timeline without anyone taking the reins in? I have to believe that the upper management at the Walt Disney Company was aware for quite a while that Shanghai was running late and expensive, because if not, that becomes a very bad sign. Considering reports were coming out last January that the Park was over budget, it seems clear that it was a long reality. The big concern I have is this, look at the following list of things Disney is in the process of beginning, completing, or working on right now. (Forgive me if I miss any)

· Star Wars Land in both CA and FL

· Toy Story Land in HS

· Rivers of Light in AK

· Pandora in AK

· “Frozen Ever After” attraction in EPCOT

· 3rd Soarin’ theater in EPCOT

· 3rd track in Toy Story Mania in HS

· Disney Springs

· Shanghai Resort

· Refurbishments of attractions

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Now the list is impressive, and I believe that when completed it will revitalize both coasts (but mostly FL) however it seems as though there are cuts right now, and prices increasing to allow for this to become a reality in the future. The sad truth seems to be that Disney, as well as many other resorts in the area, are pricing much of the middle class out of their parks. The wonder becomes this: are all of the increases and cuts a result of the issues in Shanghai, or is Shanghai being used as the rationale for increases that were already planned? In other words, is it more of a PR move? Could it be possible that Disney is able to absorb the Shanghai problems, but planned to use it as a reason why these cuts and price hikes had to happen? Either way it does not look favorable for the Parks Division, and it will be a hot topic moving forward. Let’s just hope that Imagineering continues its streak of great attractions and theming, because we are learning that they “spare no expense” in new construction.

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About the author

Joe Notaro

Joe has been traveling to Walt Disney World since 1992 as a 7 year old youngster. Ever since that point he has been fascinated with not only the parks but also the inner workings of the Walt Disney Company. Many of Joe's trips have included varieties of experiences and memories.

29 Comments

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  • Fantastic article! With all the increases and cuts, I have naturally been upset with what the effects could be. This is a great way of summing up what is going on in the Parks Division.

  • I actually was set to take my son and my parents at the end of this year (I last took my son in early 2015), but with all the stuff going on with WDW we will probably go elsewhere this year.

  • I really don’t understand the strategic commitment to Shanghai.

    Tokyo (Disney) is only a few hours away by flight, which means that building a park in Shanghai is the equivalent of having Disney World in Orlando and deciding to expand with a new park in either Philadelphia or Chicago.

    Plus, the Chinese government is the result of a violent communist revolution that killed an estimated 30 million people. It’s hostile to neighboring nations — in addition to the United States — and is reportedly still abusing human rights today.

    • Forget about Disneyland Tokyo, Disneyland in Hong Kong is closer and newer and it’s going to suffer from have a new park literally in its backyard

    • And let´s not forget the occupation of Tibet and the ongoing opression of the Tibetan people. The list is very, very long… I am not naive, Disney cannot ignore the huge Chinese market – but the Chinese government (and Shendi is state owned) is quite possibly the worst business partner imaginable…

  • Yes, it’s all PR. I didn’t buy the Shanghai story from the very beginning. Disney, being minority owner, is responsible for only a portion of the alleged cost overruns. Having been on the inside for the past 20 years, I’ve heard the same tired excuses over, and over again. Every time new suits are brought in, the first thing they do to make themselves appear to be important is to trim what they believe to be the fat. Hey, Board of Directors, look at what we’re doing? WDW is going to be mean and lean now that we’re in charge.
    Baloney, in three or four years, things will be back to where they were before the geniuses took over. Meanwhile, this batch of geniuses will have been promoted with a new batch taking their places. Here we go again, cut that parade, fire that street actor. WDW is a living breathing entity, and just like our bodies, it decides what it needs to operate efficiently and some Harvard business graduate wearing a bow tie is not going to override it’s natural equilibrium. Meanwhile, I’ll still be there making the magic.

  • “Since the announcement in February”

    Can you please link to this announcement from Disney?

    • The announcement I am referring to is when Disney announced the staffing reductions and limiting the amount of shows per night. The Shanghai connection comes from a few CM sources and what insiders have said…

  • “…it appears that the domestic guest is beginning to feel the pressure financially.”

    ??? Disney as of the last decade has been inventing new ways to stick it to the consumer, and it’s not just the parks that are feeling it. You can see it in their product offerings in the Disney Store, when buying DVDs and Blu-Rays, in their points stores, on the menus, and every single discount you can think of that used to be offered has been reduced by some percentage.

    The game is not new, but they have had to get more creative in finding places to hit us as all the easy ways are used. Parking, even the rumored resort fees are all signs of this.

    What should be done is Disney Leadership needs to be able to sit back and take a financial hit for improving the brand. I’d respect that, even as a stock holder, if I knew it meant more good things were to come.

  • It is just the leaders trying to make more money for themselves just like all big bisness

  • I think it has more to do with Disney stock than anything else. By shifting costs from international overruns to domestic price increases and cuts in staff, they can maintain what appears to be growth on the stock.

    Did Disney know this was going to happen? Yes I’m sure, although they didn’t want it to happen they probably expected it at least a year ago. But instead of taking the hit, they need to maintain the aura around Shanghai Disney Resort…. being successful in China is CRITICAL for the company from a business growth perspective. So shifting costs just helps investors think that the ship is sailing smoothly.

    I think in the end it will pay off in the long run for the domestic parks and I think these cuts are just temporary until all of the new stuff opens a few years from now. The increases in prices though will continue to go up until demand slows…. either by pricing people out or by an economic changes, regardless of Shanghai.

  • I don’t recall having seen anything official from Disney stating that Shanghai is the reason for the recent cuts in the US. The internet is filled with rumor blogs, all claiming to have the most credible sources for their speculation…

    Stop blaming Shanghai. It’s all starting to look and sound like that South Park episode: “they took our jobs!”, or in this instance, “they took our attractions/cast members/imagineers!” Laughable.

    Disney is in the business of making money, and has been choking out CMs for decades in order to maintain a certain profit margin. (Just look at how heavily they rely on the college program for staffing, rather than giving jobs to permanent local residents.) They’ve also been slowly chipping away at the guest experience because we poor suckers keep coughing up our hard earned dollars to go back again and again, despite how much we complain about this or that problem.

    Shanghai ain’t the problem, it’s us who keep giving them our money no matter how dissatisfied we are with the company.

  • It comes down to supply and demand. Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

  • As a Seasonal (or Casual Time or newly renamed Temporary Recurring Cast Member) in the past 7 weeks I have been scheduled one shift. The managers are blaming Shanghai. I don’t buy it.

  • Perhaps it is a good time to do a few Universal episodes for those of your fans who will be spending money more wisely the next few years by staying at/going to Universal Studios. Seriously.. you know a lot of the fans of your show go there and more will be going there while disney is in a rebuilding/ripping off phase.. so why not have fun and give your fans some great shows on where they will be in the mean time a bit.

    • Universal isn’t much better anymore. Where I used to be able to do a day in Universal during my Disney trip, they’ve pretty much priced me out of that. The lose of non-expiring tickets there killed it for me. Because I don’t find it more than a 2-day park right now (at lower season) I can’t justify doing more.

    • Yup – Disney has gone the way of baseball games (which I’ve been comparing it to for years). What was once a great outing for a family with kids has turned into something that most families can no longer afford to do. I understand economics but what we’re seeing is yet another result of tremendous income inequality. These business can cater to those who can pay and those who can pay have so much more than the rest that more and more people are cut out entirely. I suspect a very common reaction will be the one I have now – that I love Disney and will keep going but it is no longer an every year trip for me. I can do so many other great vacations for the same or less than Disney (which didn’t use to be the case). And I get it – if Disney can charge twice as much and cause people to come half as often, they still come out way ahead with their attendance statistics.

  • Never heard about any costs cutback at any other Disney property like ABC, ESPN, Marvel, Cruise lines, just the parks that make me think we gonna shoulder the increase / low quality for a long time.

  • “The sad truth seems to be that Disney, as well as many other resorts in the area, are pricing much of the middle class out of their parks.” — This is so true and reminds me of a line in Jurassic Park… “We can charge whatever we want. $2000 day, $10000 a day and people will pay it.”

  • With your photos filled with construciton walls, there seems little point to even one day at a Disney park in the future…

  • I cut out plans to visit Disney World from my middle-class family budget. The cost now far exceeds the entertainment value. Until attendance numbers fall, Disney will not learn that they are now elitist.

  • As a hardworking middle class mom I’m tired of always being the one shoved out of various things.it seems like it is always the middle class and the poor who have the least,when in reality these people typically work the hardest.

  • ESPN brings in 45% of Disney’s revenue and their subscriber rate is falling fast. Instead of hiring independent minded radio sports commentators like Steve Czaban they hire guys like Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic who kiss up to the major sports league executives. So instead of fixing the problems to stem subscriber loss, Disney puts pressure on the Parks unit to drum up new revenue streams like the $150 for 3 hours in the Magic Kingdom, $129 Villan Party tickets, and $99 dessert fireworks viewing, and $50 deluxe parking. If ESPN put out better products and lessened thier fees, they might get smaller revenue amount from larger numbers of viewers. Instead they want to squeeze more money from fewer guests.

  • Don’t forget the eliminated the non-expiring ticket which saved me money. As a Disney time-share owner, we would go down for 3 or 4 days at a time. This would save use money since we would buy 10 day tickets. We will not be going down as much anymore

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