REVIEW: Disney’s Controversial $299 Pixar Pier Premiere Event at Disney California Adventure
Pixar Pier Premiere
Back in May, Disney announced a special hard-ticketed event to celebrate the opening of Pixar Pier. Dubbed the “Pixar Pier Premiere,” this event took place on Friday June 22, the day before Pixar Pier officially opened to the public. Of course, WDWNT was there to cover this event and get you the first reviews of the attractions and eateries. This review won’t focus on the attractions, food, or shops specifically, but will rather provide an overview of the event and an analysis of the value for the $299 ticket price.
Advertising and Benefits
The Pixar Pier Premiere event was billed as a “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” where guests could experience all of the attractions, shops, and eateries before the land opens to the public. What one needs to remember is that this isn’t actually a new land with new attractions. It’s just one big overlay, so of the three attractions guests could experience, two of them (Pixar Pal-A-Round and Toy Story Midway Mania) are exactly the same experience as before, while the third (Incredicoaster) is the same exact ride with some new show scenes. The Disney Parks Blog post went to great lengths to emphasize the exclusivity of the event, advertising that tickets were “very limited” and that you would be one of the “first few” to explore the new area.
So was the Pixar Pier Premiere event worth $299? That was the question on everyone’s mind. Tickets for the event went on sale May 16th, and did not sell out online at all. This can only mean one thing: plenty of people answered the “is it worth the money” question with a resounding NO. For many Disney park events, tickets to these types of events sell out fast. The morning of the event, tickets were still available, as was evident by the numerous signs at the Disney hotels, Downtown Disney, and the Esplanade advertising the fact.
As is typical for any Disney-run event, there was plenty of miscommunication that day. Guests were told to check in for the Pixar Pier Premiere event in front of the Little Mermaid attraction. There was a queue set up there but we were told that check-in wouldn’t begin until 2:30 PM. With the event beginning at 3:00 PM, that’s not a lot of time to process check-ins for that many people. What we didn’t realize (and weren’t told) was that there was an additional check-in location at the front of the park. We were about the 70th guest in line at the Little Mermaid location, but by the time we were checked in, it was about 2:50 PM, and there was a line of about 800 people (who had checked in at the front of the park) already waiting at the bridge to enter the Pixar Pier area. We were getting slightly annoyed at this point.
Our best estimate of the attendance (based on the crowds waiting to enter Pixar Pier when the event began) is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 guests. Not exactly the “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” where tickets were “very limited” and we would be one of the “first few” to explore the new area. With these crowds, it was much more like a hard-ticketed Halloween or Christmas party than any sort of exclusive event.
Once we were finally admitted to the event, we decided to ride Incredicoaster first. The wait time was minimal, not more than 5 minutes. If you want to see more, check out our video, which includes the queue area and a ride-through.
So, within the first 15 minutes of the six-hour event, we had already finished what was likely to be the most anticipated experience of the evening. What could we possibly spend the next 5+ hours doing? Waiting in line, mostly, as it turns out.
Here’s where things start to get really frustrating. The Pixar Pier Premiere event credential contained seven (yeah, seven) tabs that could be redeemed throughout the evening. As was advertised, the event included the opportunity to “taste your way through Pixar Pier with a sample of one item from Poultry Palace, Angry Dogs, Jack-Jack’s Cookie Num Nums, Senor Buzz Churros and Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats.”
So that means each of the counter-service locations had to process around 1000 orders during the event, which equates to about 1 order every 21 seconds. Although the Cast Members didn’t have to process the transaction on the register, they still had to collect the tab, take the order, assemble the order, and hand it to the customer. As anyone who has been to a food and wine event on either coast can tell you, that process takes more than 21 seconds after you get to the kiosk window with your paid receipt. And remember, these food locations were all new and had never been operated in a guest-facing capacity before. What does this all mean? LINES. Long ones. Over 25 minutes for a cookie, and over 35 minutes for some chicken legs. Longer than the line for Dole Whips on the hottest days of the year.
Now we’re beginning to understand why Disney needed to give guests 6 hours in Pixar Pier. It would take the average guest over 2 hours just to redeem the six food tabs. But for a $299 “VIP-style premiere event,” I’m not expecting to be forced to stand in line for 30 minutes for food. At a “VIP-style premiere event” there are white-gloved servers bringing you food on silver platters, or at the very least, some sort of buffet table.
At this point I should probably mention that the night before the Pixar Pier Premiere, Disney hosted a media event for invited members of the media to experience the attractions and food. Although there weren’t 1000 media representatives at that event, those that were there sure didn’t have to wait in lines to redeem coupons for food items. They were served samples of the different foods and treats as you would expect for a media event, or for a “VIP-style premiere event.” What was further insulting about the juxtaposition of these two events was that the decorations, tables, photo ops, etc. were simply reused from the media event for the $299 hard ticketed event. It really seemed like those of us paying $299 were subsidizing the cost of the media event the night before.
Let’s take a moment to have a look at the strict monetary value of this event. The ticket price included parking and park admission. For those without an annual pass that includes parking, parking costs $20 per car. A one-day ticket to Disney California Adventure was priced at $117. The food items included in the event price were the $10 chicken drumstick box from Poultry Palace, an $8 spicy hot dog with hot fried from Angry Dogs, a $6 cookie from Jack Jack’s Cookie Num Nums, a $5.25 churro from Senor Buzz, any of the offerings at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats, which max out at $6, and anything from one of the ice cream carts, which run $4-$6. So in total, the food included would cost about $42 on its own. Although park admission is included in the $299 price, it’s really worthless to the many event attendees who already own an annual pass. I’d much rather them charge $117 less for the event ticket and not include park admission. So even if you include parking, which again is a useless perk for those staying in a nearby hotel or those with the higher level annual passes, we’re looking at a benefit value of $62. (We’ll talk about the gift bag later.)
I want you to think about the absurdity of paying $299 for six hours of access to Pixar Pier and then spend half an hour to stand in line for a $10 chicken box. You’d be way better off just coming the next day and get your chicken with almost no line. Actually, you’d be better off not buying the chicken at all. To redeem all six of the food tabs, you’d spend at least 2 hours in line, fully one-third of the event. That’s right, you spent $100 for those two hours of event time just to stand in line for $42 worth of free food.
Another of the offerings at this event that was very popular were the character meet and greets. There were definitely some of the more uncommon characters here, but again, the lines for these were very long. It reminded me of the Villains Unleashed event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2014, where many guests waited in hour-long lines for one character meet. In comparison, that 5-hour event was only $71. And unlike Villains Unleashed, the Pixar characters were not exclusive to the event; they will be appearing in Pixar Pier for the foreseeable future, and likely with shorter lines.
Beyond Incredicoaster, the event offered the Toy Story Midway Mania and Pixar Pal-A-Round attractions. These attractions are virtually identical to the incarnations prior to Pixar Pier, and unsurprisingly they were literally walk-on the entire night. It would be difficult even for the most hardcore gamer to value 6 hours of access to Toy Story Midway Mania at $299. Actually, it appeared that Disney was somewhat embarrassed to charge $299 for access to only three attractions, so the event credentials actually went so far as to list the Games of Pixar Pier (formerly Games of the Boardwalk) as an attraction just so they could list 4 attractions instead of 3.
Speaking of the Games of Pixar Pier, this was another disappointment for the night. The games were open but only for free play with no prizes. I don’t know about you, but fishing a star out of some water and not getting a prize is only something I’ll do once before I get completely bored of it. Many guests actually wished the games charged money and gave prizes, because some of the prizes (like the Heimlich plush) were very sought after.
We were also looking forward to being able to experience Lamplight Lounge (see our review here), which looked to be a very cool location. Unfortunately, the entire downstairs was inaccessible because it was reserved for Club 33 members attending the event. So basically, they got to eat good food without standing in ridiculous lines, while the rest of us who paid $299 were relegated to 30-minute waits for some bad chicken. Luckily we were able to snag a spot at the upstairs bar for some good appetizers and drinks. (One more rather offensive decision by Disney: patrons upstairs were not allowed to go downstairs even just to go to the bathroom, so we actually had to leave the building to use public restrooms, the closest of which were way down near Grizzly Peak.) Did I also mention that the Club 33 members got into the event at 2:30 PM without waiting in line, while the rest of us had to wait until 3:00 PM?
The last thing to mention about this event is the “amenity” as they called it, or the goody bag as most normal people would call it. Guests picked these up near the front gates as they were leaving the park. Each guest received a drawstring bag of a rather high quality with the Pixar Pier Premiere event logo printed on it. Inside the bag was a baseball cap with the event logo, a lithograph of the artwork created for the Incredicoaster load platform, one random plush from the games (of the boardwalk), an Incredibles 2 reusable water bottle, and a pair of Incredibles 2 sunglasses. I’d value the drawstring bag at $20 (there is currently a similar quality Alice in Wonderland anniversary drawstring bag on sale at that price), the baseball cap at $20, the lithograph at $20 (it was nice but I couldn’t see them selling it for much more than that), and plush at $4 (The price to play a game). The water bottle and sunglasses were clearly tie-ins with the movie, not Pixar Pier or even Pixar Fest, so they were probably giveaways at movie theaters, and thus I wouldn’t value them at all. So the gifts come to a total of about $65 worth of gifts (at Disney theme park prices).
This was actually quite a nice gift bag. I was thankful to get some Pixar Pier logo merchandise. You may remember that the event was advertised as providing first opportunities to shop for Pixar Pier-specific merchandise.
Unfortunately, there was actually no merchandise available with the new Pixar Pier logo or artwork on it. The only merchandise available that was specific to Pixar Pier was an Incredicoaster shirt, pin, and ornament (which were rush-ordered, soft-line items that usually show up when the merchandise department doesn’t have enough time to develop “real” items). So the only Pixar Pier logo merchandise I came home with was the gift bag and hat from the event.
Conclusion and Analysis
So, did I have fun? Well, of course! Was it $299 worth of fun? Not at all. But one of the things I hate are complainers that don’t offer a better solution to what they’re complaining about. Therefore, I’ve put together a number of ideas to make events like this much better in the future.
As I think is fairly obvious by now, this event was priced much too high for what it was. Excluding the food and gifts, the benefits roughly compare to a hard-ticketed Halloween event and should be priced similarly.
As I mentioned, waiting in line for food was absurd. They should have simply set up tables near each of the counter-service locations where guests could pick up a small sample of the food offered at that location. We really didn’t need three chicken legs from the Poultry Palace; one would have been more than sufficient. Small sample-size cups of the soft serve from the Adorable Snowman would be fine. Half or a quarter of an Angry Dog and Incredicookie would be fine too. By the end of the night we were rather full anyway, so it’s not like they saved money or food by using the tickets instead of just offering what would essentially be a buffet.
The beverage situation, which I didn’t mention yet, could also be vastly improved. Your ice cream cart ticket could be redeemed for any available frozen treat (like a Mickey bar or frozen lemonade) or a bottle of soda. Six hours is a pretty long time to last on one soda. Thankfully, although it was not advertised, Cast Members at the ice cream carts were giving bottles of water for free to those who asked.
The situation with the games is probably a no-win. Free play with no prizes was disappointing to those who wanted to win prizes. But charging $4 to play a carnival game at a $299 event seems like it would draw a lot of complaints too. I’m thinking they could have given every attendee a coupon for one free game, in which you could win a prize. That would have been the best scenario, but with the limited capacity of most of the games, it would have also led to long lines. This issue was somewhat mitigated by including one of the plush prizes in the event goody bag.
One final disappointment was that in order to see Paint the Night, which ran at 8:50 PM that night, I had to leave the event a bit early. I would have liked for Paint the Night to be somehow included in the event.
In my ideal world (where Disney consults me when planning these events), here’s what I would have liked:
Event check-in happens all day. Because park admission would not be included with the event ticket, people would enter the park early and could receive event credentials early in the day.
The event would start around 8:00 PM with a reserved viewing area for the Paint the Night parade. If this included a dessert party that would be even better, but I realize space constraints may make the dessert party impossible.
After Paint the Night, event attendees would be admitted to Pixar Pier. All three attractions would be open, and all of the counter service locations would have tables set up providing a sampling of their offerings to guests. Guests could choose what they want and go back for more if they so desired. And each location would also offer beverages.
Attractions and food would be available until 12:00 AM, making this a 4-hour event overall. With no waits for food and minimal waits for attractions, I’d happily give up two hours of event time (the two hours that people spent waiting in food lines).
Each guest would receive one ticket to play a game and be eligible to win a prize.
In summary, I think overall the event was nice, and I enjoyed it, but not worth the $299 pricetag. Figuring $65 worth of event gifts and $40 worth of food, and a comparable hard-ticketed Halloween event at $105, I could see this event being a reasonable value at $199. However, it is worth nothing that the typical Halloween or Christmas hard-ticketed events offer much more entertainment than the Pixar Pier Premiere offered, and on top of that they usually offer exclusive fireworks or another nighttime spectacular. So at a $199 price point, I’d at least expect reserved viewing of Paint the Night, or, even better, a custom showing of World of Color, to be included for event attendees.
It’s clear that the $299 price for the Pixar Pier Premiere was rather high based on comments on the Disney Parks Blog, but we surmise that this event and its pricing was just the beginning of a test of a new pricing model. Although the event was well-attended, and clearly provided around $300,000 of revenue to Disney, there were significant operational issues that diminished the guest experience, as well as a lack of actual things to do at the event. I wouldn’t be opposed to paying $299 for an event in the future, but it had really better be an “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” and not 1000 people in line to get free food and ride a couple of attractions that are just overlays.