REVIEW: Disney’s Controversial $299 Pixar Pier Premiere Event at Disney California Adventure

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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.

Pixar Pier Premiere logo

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.

 

Ticket Sales

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.

Pixar Pier Premiere ticket sales on the day of the event

 

Check-in

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.

Crowd waiting to check in at Pixar Pier Premiere

Crowds

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.

Crowd waiting to enter Pixar Pier Premiere

Rides

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.

Incredicoaster entrance at Pixar Pier Premiere

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.

 

Food

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.”

Pixar Pier Premiere event credential

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.

Pixar Pier Premiere event credential back

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.

Value

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.

Pixar Pier Premiere event credential map

Games

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.

Pixar Pier Premiere Games of Pixar Pier

Lamplight Lounge

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?

Pixar Pier Premiere Lamplight Lounge

Event Gift

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).

Pixar Pier Premiere Event Amenity Gift Bag

Merchandise

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.

Later this week, I’ll have a review of the $75 Pixar Pier event that D23 put on for Gold Members (and which unsurprisingly sold out within seconds).

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About the author

Jason Diffendal

Jason has been a lifelong fan of the Disney parks since his first visit at age 2. His biennial pilgrimages during his childhood accelerated into semi-annual visits by the year 2000, when he also Joined the Disney Vacation Club. Luckily, Jason’s bride-to-be was also a Disney fan, which allowed his infatuation with the Disney parks to continue, and ultimately culminated in their wedding at Disney's Wedding Pavilion in September 2003. Early in 2007, Jason began his involvement with the planning for what became Celebration 25, the unofficial fan gathering to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Epcot®. Soon thereafter, Jason met Tom Corless at a pin trading meet in New Jersey, and became part of the WDW News Today podcast starting with Episode 17. Jason has been involved with the WDWNT Network ever since, and can't seem to escape no matter how hard he tries.
Contact Jason at [email protected]

16 Comments

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  • That’s really disappointing to hear. I think you’re really paying for the exclusivity of the event, not so much for the value of it. Still, I definitely think they should have had some sort of buffet setup and Paint the Night viewing for sure.

    Also, speaking personally, Pixar Pier really doesn’t excite me. It’s basically just a cheap overlay of an existing land. There’s new food, but nothing crazy out of the box. There’s technically a new ride, but it’s essentially the same thing it was before. There’s Lamplight Lounge, but it’s not like you got to eat there for free. I wouldn’t pay $299 for an event here, or Toy Story Land at DHS, but I would DEFINITELY shell out that much or more for an event like this when a brand new, immersive land, like Galaxy’s Edge opens. I’d pay for it just to get in and get on the rides with minimal wait, I’d be happy even if they stuck me with tabs for food and an annoying check in process.

  • Maybe the issue is that you weren’t a VIP at all. You were a cash grab. If you’re a VIP, you don’t pay $300 to wait in lines and get minimal crap out of it.

    You and 1000 people got taken, thinking they were VIP’s. You were only a wallet. Lesson learned.

  • Unfortunately people pay and go to events like this without thinking through the cost and what they could do with that money if, for example, they went the next day (or got a So Cal annual pass for not much more than that 5 hour event). For an “overlay” like this I think most intelligent fans are able to recognize when Disney is “gouging” their customers to see what the market will bear vs. trying to offer them something unique. I’m glad to hear the event was NOT sold out (maybe Disney will get the message, but probably not).

  • The concept of creating a “special event” is the process of creating an additional way to create revenue income. Take the same thing you can do during regular operation, and call it a special event…!! And there are 1000 idiots who will shell out $299.00 because they got to see it 1 day before average people… Oh, call it VIP and now these people are special. All these “events” are bunk. Anything special like Halloween or Christmas for example, should be part of the seasonal activities at the Parks for ALL GUESTS. Call it an event and it is only a way to repackage what you already paid for and charge people again. As long as people are stupid enough to pay for it, and the rest of the people are stupid enough to stand for their experiences to be cut back, so that there can be an added charge for something which should have been included with their admission anyway, then “special events” will become more available.

    • You are correct about “special events”.

      It’s like when Disney Corporate invites you to come to the parks and “celebrate” a special promotion of theirs. “Celebrate” is Disney Corporate’s code word for “open your wallet wider”.

  • Very nice reports, about one of the many Disney co. Scam-sales …
    Scammers know how to pick their victims, otherwise, scamming would stop… :-)

  • I”d say it should have been $150 or $175 per person and include all the things you suggested but also be more exclusive by only selling a certain number of tickets, definitely less than 1000. World of Color is currently broken but Paint the night viewing should have been included.

  • UGH, And a big thank you to all 1000 people who went showing Disney exactly what they can get away with.. Video’s, pictures and reviews of Everything on the pier were posted the day before this $300 “vip” event , nothing anyone posted on their IG was in attendance wasn’t anything we hadn’t already seen.. I saw this coming a mile away, Ya’ll got duped and kicked the bar sky high for future events… thanks a lot

  • Yikes… $299 to see some paint and stickers slapped onto things that’ve been there for years? I can’t wait to see what the price of the Galaxy’s Edge “exclusive” event will be!

  • Sad but not surprising. My husband and I are passhokders (I have the premium coast-to-coast pass and his is signature plus so we are already paying a LOT to enjoy the park) and we will no longer be attending any after-hours or “exclusive” ticketed events with the exception of Mickey’s Halloween Party, which is fun and something we make a day of every Halloween. We recently attended the first Star Wars night and it was like all the worst elements of D23 amplified. The event was four hours long and the lines for character photos or merchandise took 1-2 hours to move through, which meant you got to experience very little for the $100 price tag over and above what we pay for our expensive passes. We had encounters with rude cast members, issues with our food and ultimately left early feeling very disappointed. We certainly couldn’t afford to attend the Pixar Pier event at that price tag and I’m sorry that it was just another example of a poorly managed event that could have been cool.

  • Honestly, I don’t get why people think it’s sad they are doing this. The company is spending massive amounts of money on lavish expansions and things that create additional revenue help make it possible. This event wasn’t aimed at the average person, the average person can’t afford this. This is for people who have a lot of money and that $299 for seeing something a day early without insane crowds is worth it. Disney will keep doing this and stop being upset, it’s worth it for the people who aren’t expecting additional “value” like amazing swag. Realize the other reason these events are so expensive is because of the immense cost of operating a theme park. Staffing everything is what most of your $299 dollars goes too. If you’re upset about the experience it’s because you really couldn’t afford to be there in the first place.

  • Hi there-

    We went to the event, granted as club 33 members and had an awesome experience. While we had a wonderful meal inside Lamplight lounge, I do agree with the chicken not being good at all at Poultry Palace and yes the lines for the “free” food were annoying and took away from the guest experience.

    However, the C33 members pay a premium (we pay tons of additional
    Money for the experience) and believe we should have, and received an elevated experience to a regular VIP guest.

    I can absolutely see where you may have wanted a better experience, but it’s all relative. We had to pay $400 PP and believe that was a fair exchange for the experience we did indeed receive.

    The value is truly relative and can be compared in relationship with your income – if your income is there this is a great value.

    I am a firm believer that these kinds of experiences are pay to play- and we believe it was worth it. I am looking forward to more events like this, especially in Star Wars land when it opens.

    • I mean, I have some disposable income and I still feel it wasn’t a tremendous value, but I’m also trying to judge it for everyone. I had no idea it was $400 for Club 33, which I think is insane given the shrinking benefits and rising costs of a California membership. But hey, to each their own.

  • Gee… remember the days when AP holders were invited to preview new attractions (like Star Tours V2) for free? Me, too.

    When I first read the event was $299, I figured a typo had been made. But Disney Corporate knows there are enough Disney Lemmings out there willing jump off the cliff.

    I like the column’s comment that it appears event attendees were actually subsidizing the previous night’s Media event. $299,000.00 is a nice chunk of change for what the Disney Corporate had to invest.

    It’s very hard not to be a cynical Disneyland goer these days.

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