Too busy to pick up your runner’s packet the day before Walt Disney World’s new Star Wars villain-themed half-marathon this weekend? You can retrieve it the day of the race, for a price: $39.
Want a shorter walk to the theme parks? If you’re willing to pay an extra $15, you can get a better spot.
Tired of long lines? Pay $69 more in the morning or $149 at night, and enjoy the Magic Kingdom when it’s a lot less crowded.
Disney’s introduction of the race-day packet pickup, the early-morning and late-night events, and the preferred-parking test have all happened within the past month.
They also come shortly after Disney surveyed guests about possible resort fees and introduced a new seasonal pricing structure that sent the cost of a Magic Kingdom one-day ticket to $124 during busy periods.
“We have long offered options such as backstage tours, ticketed events and other unique selections for guests who are looking for ways to further customize their visit based on their interests,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Disney did not make executives available for an interview.
Disney has long taken a different approach from other parks including rival Universal Orlando, which has add-on charges for parking at hotels, preferred parking for the theme parks and express front-of-the-line passes. Disney also allows visitors to bring their own picnic lunches, unlike Universal and SeaWorld.
Disney says there is guest demand for its new add-on services, but fans fear the all-inclusive philosophy is starting to erode.
“These are all new revenue sources for Disney, which the company has been toying with for years, after seeing its competitors make big money on all of these,” said David Koenig, author of several books about Disney theme parks, in an email. “But it’s been afraid of alienating guests (like me!) who don’t like the idea of someone else unfairly being able to upgrade at my expense (whether it results in a longer wait for me, worse parking, restricted access, bigger crowds, etc.).”
Meanwhile, Disney Dining Plan prices jumped an average of 9 percent for kids last month. Disney and Universal increased parking fees from $17 to $20 in November.
Late last year, James Chapman of Tallahassee discovered that Lilo’s Playhouse and Sandcastle Club, services at two Disney hotels that entertain kids while parents take a break, changed fee structures. They used to charge $15 an hour, so Chapman and his wife, Amy, would pay $30 for their 10-year-old daughter to stay there a while. The services have added new programs and now charge a flat $55 with a two-hour minimum.
“It’s really now an event that we have to pay an additional fee for,” Chapman said.
“All of the add-ons are really causing us to think … how many times are we going to go to Disney?”
The future of some ideas is uncertain. Popularity of the $39 race-day packet option, which must be purchased by 8 p.m. Monday, will determine whether it will be extended to other races. The preferred parking available at Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom is still in a test phase. Resort fees have not been implemented, and Disney wouldn’t say whether they will be. “We heard they were getting some pushback on the idea from the people that it was being presented to,” said Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services.
So what is driving this?
“I think it’s just a reaction to Wall Street,” said Duncan Dickson, a former Disney executive.
Despite record quarterly earnings last quarter, Disney’s stock has decreased more than 15 percent since November. Domestic theme parks’ numbers have been strong, but overseas resorts have underperformed . Shanghai Disney Resort is opening in June, a few months later than originally scheduled. Its U.S. theme parks are also making many capital expenditures, including adding new Star Wars and Toy Story lands at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disney’s cable networks, most notably ESPN, have lost subscribers.
The company’s succession plan is uncertain now that Disney announced Monday its second in command, Tom Staggs, is departing.
Staggs left his role as chairman of parks and resorts to become Disney’s chief operating officer early last year. He was replaced by Bob Chapek.
The combination of new up-charges and cuts the Disney parks have made is “exactly the sort of thing people see in any business when a new boss takes over the company,” said Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, in an email. “Bob Chapek wants to make the bottom line look good against fierce competition from Universal.”
Disney said the company is always exploring new ideas and that the changes aren’t a special initiative under Chapek.
Dickson said some strategies are smart, such as charging guests more to enter early or stay late.
Disney announced Early Morning Magic last week. On select dates, visitors can pay $69 extra to get into the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland at 7:45 a.m. on select dates. The price includes exclusive access to three popular Fantasyland rides for an hour and 15 minutes, along with breakfast.
Dickson questions the other initiatives, such as preferred parking and possible resort fees– practices that are common at other theme parks and the hotel industry.
“That bothers me, just going with the trends,” he said. “Disney used to set the trend, not follow.”
Source: Orlando Sentinel