Disney is Available to the Middle Class – A Rebuttal to the Washington Post

On Saturday, Drew Harwell of the Washington Post wrote an article discussing how theme parks, using Walt Disney World as the prime example, have left the middle class behind.  My article, today, is a rebuttal to his arguments.  I found his article and arguments flawed in a number of areas and will flesh out those flaws in the rebuttal.

1) Stop Sticker Shocking People

Mr. Harwell did this on a number of occasions in this article.  He mentioned “dine on a $115 steak, enjoy a $53-per-person dessert party and sleep in a bungalow overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon starting at $2100 a night.”  I love when people mention the $2100/night bungalows at the Polynesian Village Resort.  Those bungalows are part of the Disney Vacation Club which, yes, you need to be a member to join and, yes, it costs a lot of money to join the Disney Vacation Club (trust me as a member, I know).  But as part of the Disney Vacation Club, these villas are rarely, if ever, available to the general public.  But journalists like to trot out how much they cost per night like any member of the general public can book those rooms.  They can’t but the writer mentions the cost per night of the bungalows twice: “starting at $2100 a night…..stilted Bora Bora Bungalow that can cost up to $3400 a night.”  Which is it?  Do they cost $2100 a night or $3400 a night?  Like I mentioned earlier, they cost a Disney Vacation Club member anywhere from 115 to 227 points per night.  How many people can afford these?  Very, very, very few.  But please don’t talk about these rooms like they are available to everyone with just a phone call to Walt Disney World.

Mr. Harwell also brings up the “$195 pampering for little girls that includes a makeover, hair-styling, a costume, and a princess sash,” which one can get at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  The writer fails to mention that packages start at a more affordable $55 and that girls AND boys (there is a Knight package for $19), as old as 12, go the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for these events.  Ask any 12-year old and they will emphatically tell you they are NOT a little girl or boy.

2) No mention of budgeting for Disney or how affordable Disney can be

As an independent travel agent, I work with people who have a variety of budgets.  Walt Disney World is able to accommodate people with a wide variety of budgets.  Rooms can start as low as $95 per night during the off-peak seasons at Walt Disney World’s value resorts.  Where was this mentioned in the article?  Nowhere.  Walt Disney World can be done on a budget that a “middle class” family can afford.  Steaks can be had, at some restaurants, for as low as $26.  Will that $26 steak be off the same quality and the restaurant of the same ambiance as the $115 steak?  No.  Will the guest, at Walt Disney World, enjoy the experience any less at the more affordable restaurant?  No, they could have a similar if not better experience. Walt Disney World Imagineers put as much thought into the themeing of the more value resorts and restaurants as they do in the deluxe resorts and restaurants.  That part of the Magic of Disney.  Guests from many classes and income backgrounds can have a wonderful experience.  But this article is so focused on the 1%, that they lose the 99% who go to Disney on a budget and have a wonderful time.  Would everybody love to be able to go to Walt Disney World without a budget and not worry about the costs?  Of course.  But most people do have budgets and Disney is able accommodate a variety of budgets.

This brings to the $53-per-night dessert party.  Most of these dessert parties have a few desserts and guests have an “up-close view of the night-time fireworks shows.”  Some of these dessert parties have character interactions but most do not.  But like the cost of the rooms and the cost of steak, there is no mention that there are plenty of places where guests can watch the fireworks for free especially the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios fireworks.  The Wishes fireworks show at Magic Kingdom has great free viewing areas just outside The Contemporary Resort and along the beach at The Polynesian Village Resort.  The Hollywood Studios fireworks show can easily be seen just outside Hollywood Studios.  Guests can take the boat to the theme park, not enter, and get a great view (if not better view) than those guests inside Hollywood Studios and it does not cost them anything.  This strategy works well for guests who have not bought theme park tickets for the day or park hoppers for their tickets and have already visited another park earlier in the day.

3) Is Tiered Pricing Expected or Just Survey?

At the beginning of the article, the writer mentions, “the theme-park giant’s prices are expected to climb even more through a surge-pricing system that could value a summer’s day of rides and lines $125.”  The writer back-pedals from this (probably after most people have stopped reading) to, “Disney surveys sent last month to guests suggested the giant was considering a tiered pricing structure that clock peak-time “Gold” tickets, during summer and winter holidays, at $125.”  Which is it, Mr. Harwell?  Is the surge-ticket pricing expected or just a trial balloon survey?  Mentioning that the ticket price increase is expected in the beginning of the article and then back-pedaling to considering later in the article is shock-value journalism at its finest.  Don’t scare people into thinking another ticket increase is expected.

A survey sent to guests does not mean that another ticket price increase is coming.  Disney has been sending out similar surveys for years.  With the advent of social media and the ability to take a screen shot of the survey with a cell phone which can be posted for everyone to see.  This has caused rumors like this to fly around the internet.  Will Disney implement surge/tiered pricing?  It’s difficult to say.  A trip to Walt Disney World is more than a one-day event for most people which is where tiered pricing is easiest to implement.  A multi-day vacation to Walt Disney World will have a lot of people crossing over into different tiers and how does the cost of the ticket get calculated over multiple tiers?  Disney has a lot of questions that they need to answer before they roll out a tiered/surge pricing scale.  That will take years not months or days to answer.

4) Pulling On Heart Strings Using Walt Disney’s Name

“If Walt [Disney] were alive today, he would probably be uncomfortable with the prices they’re charging right now.”  Statements, like this one, made by Scott Smith, assistant professor of hospitality at the University of South Carolina, have always bothered me.  How do we know what Walt Disney would think of Walt Disney World today?  Walt Disney had dreams for Disneyland and for Walt Disney World.  He got to see and experience his dreams for Disneyland.  He never got to experience those dreams at Walt Disney World.  Walt Disney liked to make money.  He did not like making money for the sake of making money.  He liked making money because it allowed funding for bigger dreams.  Making money made him less dependent on outside funding for his dreams.  Some could argue that he would be comfortable with the current ticket prices.  Why?  Because he could now fund bigger dreams.  This is no different from the Walt Disney Corporation using the profits from theme park ticket prices and resort stays to fund new movies and new theme park attractions to drive people into the parks and keeping the cycle going with “bigger dreams.”

Walt Disney believed that everyone was a VIP.  Disney cast members are expected to treat everyone like a VIP whether they are staying at the Pop Century Resort or staying at the Four Seasons Orlando (not a Walt Disney World property) with, “rooms starting at $449 a night.”  For the most part, cast members, in the parks and resorts, treat everyone like a VIP.  Like any large industry, there will be exceptions to the rule.  Whether you spend $2000 or $20,000 on your Disney vacations, Disney cast members will treat you like a VIP.

A short story to close: A friend of mine was staying at one of Disney’s Moderate Level resorts.  One of her sons lost his autograph book during their day in the theme parks.  She went to the front desk of the resort and told them what had happened, which characters had signed the book and what could be done to find the lost autograph book.  When they returned from dinner, there was a brand new autograph book with signatures from all the characters they had seen during the day plus a few extra.  Did the cast member have to go to that length to make the customer happy?  No, but Disney treats everyone like a VIP no matter who you are or how big you pocket book may be.


Frozen Ever After – The Attraction

Last year, there was a lot of discussion involving Disney and Norway about the Norway pavilion.  In the end, the Maelstrom attraction was closed by Disney and it was announced that a Frozen-style attraction would be taking its place.  At the time, no details about the attraction were released.  This week, Disney released a tentative opening date (May 1, 2016) and some of the details of the attraction.  As usual, I spent a couple of days reading articles about the  new attraction before forming my opinion on what will be coming to the Norway pavilion.  More to follow after the jump.

Continue reading Frozen Ever After – The Attraction

The Everyday Modes of Transportation at WDW

This week’s Wordless Wednesday theme is transportation.   Everybody knows about the traditional modes of Disney Transportation: Bus, Boat, Monorail.  I’m going to focus on different modes of transportation that we don’t even think about when we are at Walt Disney World….strollers, carriages, parade floats, clam-mobiles, jungle cruise ships, and even our feet.

Wordless Wednesday - Transportation


Thanks for reading!


Focused on the Magic

Upgrading The Liberty Inn

photo from allergy free mouse
photo from allergy free mouse

The Liberty Inn in EPCOT is, in my opinion, one of the most disappointing and under-utilized restaurant in EPCOT if not all of Walt Disney World.  The food, at the Liberty Inn, is poor.  It’s the type of quick service that you go to when you are hungry but don’t want to walk to Germany/Italy or Japan/Morocco/France to get better food.  As a friend of mine puts it, “well…..we weren’t hungry afterwards.”  Hardly a glowing review.  But what could be done to improve this restaurant and make it a destination restaurant at EPCOT.

Continue reading Upgrading The Liberty Inn

December 2015 Planning Guide

FTJ Cover Photo

Here’s what to expect in December 2015 at Walt Disney World

The Weather

December is the first full month of the dry season at Walt Disney World.  It only rains, on average, on six days during the month of December in Orlando.  The average high temperature dips down to 72.8 degrees and average low temperature reaches a “chilly” 52.4 degrees.  The record low temperature in Orlando was reached in December when the thermometer got all the way down to 18 back in 1894.  The best way to dress for the parks is to dress in layers.  Most days, you will need a sweatshirt or light jacket in the parks during the morning but get down to a short sleeve shirt by mid-afternoon.  Then, you need the sweatshirt or light jacket when the sun goes down.   If you leave the winter hat and gloves at home, Disney shops will sell hats and gloves to keep warm.

Average Day-by-Day December Temperatures in Orlando

The Crowds

Early December has some of the lightest crowds during the year at Walt Disney World.  Almost everyone has just finished up Thanksgiving break and it’s only a few weeks away to Christmas/New Year’s Break at the end of December.  As a result, the parks are not very crowded and shorter wait times can be expected even for the more popular attractions.

As the month goes and Christmas/New Year’s Break gets closer, the crowds start to build as more and more schools let out for the break.  The crowds reach their peak between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Some parks, especially Magic Kingdom, will close to guests during the day because they reach capacity.  If you are in Disney World on these days, it is best to get to the parks early.

Crowds (out of 10)

December 1-10: 3.4

December 11-18: 4.6

December 19-31: 9.6

Special Events 

Christmas is in full swing at Walt Disney World during December.  Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party takes place on select nights (1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18).  After the 18th, the Christmas parades that take place during the parties become the night-time parades through Christmas time.  EPCOT’s World Showcase gets on the Christmas action.  Each nation in the World Showcase has a Santa which tells the story of Christmas in their nation.  Times for these Christmas stories vary (check the times guide in the park).  The Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights take place every night in Hollywood Studios.  Each of the resorts gets the Christmas spirit as well with resort-themed Christmas decorations.

The taping of the Walt Disney Christmas Day Parade typically takes place on the first weekend of December which would be December 5th and 6th.

Outside of the Christmas, the Pop Warner Super Bowl takes place from December 5th through December 12th.  Most of the teams are housed in the value resorts, specifically, All-Star Sports.

General Park Hours:

Magic Kingdom: December 1st-18th – Typically opens at 9 am and closes at 10 pm.  Will close at 7 pm on Christmas Party nights as the park is only available to Christmas Party ticket holders from 7 pm until Midnight.  December 19th-31st: Opens at 9 am and closes at 11 pm or midnight.

EPCOT: December 1st-18th – Typically opens at 9 am and closes 9:30 pm.  December 19th-31st – Typically opens at 9 am and closes at 10:30 pm or 12:30 am.  Closes at 1 am on New Year’s Eve

Hollywood Studios: December 1st-18th – Typically opens at 9 am and closes at 8 pm.  December 19th-31st – Typically opens at 9 am and closes at 8 pm.  Closes at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Animal Kingdom: December 1st-18th – Typically opens at 9 am and closes at 5 or 6 pm.  December 19th-31st – Typically opens at 9 am and closes at 7 pm.

Extra Magic Hours either in morning or evening take place at select parks every day during the month of December.  Parks with morning magic hours will open an hour earlier and parks with evening magic hours will close two hours later.

December Refurbishment Schedule

Magic Kingdom:

  • Monorail System will be undergoing ongoing maintenance through December 2015 and may be running on limited hours



Hollywood Studios:


Animal Kingdom:


Polynesian Resort

  • General Construction through Early 2016
  • East Pool Renovation through Late Spring 2016

Walt Disney World Swan Resort

  • Guest Room Renovation August 20, 2014 – TBD

Disney Springs

  • Roadwork on Buena Vista Drive through March 2016
  • Parking Lots – Entrance 2 – Lots A-G December 1, 2014 through August 1, 2016

Top Date: 180-day mark for advanced dining reservations

Middle Date:  60-day mark for Fastpass+ reservations for on-site guests

Bottom Date: 30-day mark for Fastpass+ reservations for off-site guests

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