Home » 4 Easy Ways to Upset a Theme Park Fan

4 Easy Ways to Upset a Theme Park Fan

People love to argue, especially about the subjects that are dearest to them. And since most people love all things Disney, it has become fodder for internet discussions (i.e. fights i.e. flame wars). Many arguments are quite silly, as every group has that one person whose “hot takes” are intentionally inflammatory and wholly insipid. Some topics blur the lines a bit, though. Here are some other touchy subjects at Disney theme parks.

Theme park upsells

Image: DisneyHave you attended Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party? How about Disney After Hours? Did you know that Disney offers tours like the Keys to the Kingdom Tour or The Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour? Remember those short-lived cabanas at Magic Kingdom?

The Walt Disney Company has leveled up in their pursuit of extra park revenue. They’ve emphasized upsells in recent years. All of these products target wealthier customers, ones who don’t mind paying a bit more to have a better experience at Walt Disney World.

Image: DisneyThe debate lies in whether a Disney park is the right place to have pay-to-play options. Some people understand that a major corporation must seek new ways to increase profit. Others worry that Disney has grown cynical in its attempts to cater to the wealthy.

Both sides have a point, and it’s something we’ll touch on in a second topic here. From my perspective, people shouldn’t care what Disney does during non-park hours. When executives choose to open the parks for special events at higher prices, it doesn’t impact the experience of standard customers. Things like the cabanas, on the other hand, create an imbalance between regular guests and wealthy ones. As such, I’m not convinced that such things honor the Disney spirit.

The new emphasis on themed intellectual properties

Image: DisneyThis particular subject is one of the touchiest in Disney circles right now. Over the past quarter-century, the corporation has acquired high-end media properties like ESPN, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. Understandably, executives want to monetize these purchases whenever possible. The trick is to integrate the intellectual properties (IPs) organically.

The debate turns on whether you believe Disney is approaching this initiative the right way. For example, the repurposing of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission: BREAKOUT! became a divisive topic when it was announced. Today, I think most theme park tourists would acknowledge that the Guardians attraction is terrific. Sure, purists may prefer the Twilight Zone version, but some change is good. Walt Disney himself believed in daring tactics like this one.

The isolated instance of a new Marvel attraction at Disney California Adventure is justifiable for sure. Even the re-theming of Paradise Pier to Pixar Pier, complete with a modified roller coaster is a smart business decision. It’s some of the other changes that cross a line to some.

Image: DisneyDisney is famously changing Tomorrowland right now in anticipation of the park’s 50th anniversary in 2021. They’re adding a Tron roller coaster, and the building’s structure dictates changes to the overall architecture of the iconic themed land.

Over at Epcot, rumors persist that the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster is the first step toward throwing out the underlying premise of Future World. Disney allegedly will add more themed IP-based attractions at the expense of infotainment.

Loyalists bristle at this notion. Their irritation is rational since Epcot matters most to Walt Disney’s legacy. It was the place where he had the greatest ambitions. Many loathe the idea of it becoming another Disney’s Hollywood Studios, ride-focused to the exclusion of everything else.

Image: DisneyI appreciate Disney’s tricky position here. The harsh reality is that many of the infotainment concepts at Epcot quickly grew dated. A business needs to drive demand to its products. That’s harder to do with a stale Figment ride than it is with a shiny, new Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. It’s not respectful to Uncle Walt’s final wishes, though. How much should that matter to Disney execs? I don’t have a good answer to this one.

The politics of Disney

Image: DisneyThe last thing Theme Park Tourist wants is to get into a political discussion. In fact, that’s the last thing that anybody wants these days. The internet has a toxic climate with regards to politics. You’re either red or blue, conservative or progressive. Nobody seems to want to meet in the middle now.

In broadcast media, Fox is notoriously red while Disney is blue. What happens when a Fox fan is a Disney lover, too? Well, some of them feel irritable about various positions taken by the company. In 2017, Disney closed down the Hall of Presidents for updates including the addition of President Trump.

Rumors suggested that Disney had no intention of re-opening the attraction with him in office. Obviously, these rumors were wholly unfounded, but they got spread as truth. It’s the problem the company faces due to its perception in certain circles.

Image: DisneyOne of the touchiest subjects along these lines is the recent update to Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney took out the infamous auction scene, which is pretty tasteless albeit at least somewhat historically accurate.

Cynics decried the move, espousing their belief that it’s political correctness run amok. They maintained that the original version of Pirates of the Caribbean was sacrosanct.

Disney fanatics pointed out to them that this wasn’t the first change in the attraction stemming from its non-familial tone. A prior scene showed a terrified woman hiding from a would-be assailant. Disney modified it when the cultural zeitgeist indicated that they should.

Image: DisneyIn a way, it’s the same issue that The Simpsons has faced due to the “Problem with Apu”. Something may seem fine for years before suddenly becoming awkward and uncomfortable…like a Jello Pudding Pops commercial from the 1980s. Disney isn’t being politically correct to remove something tasteless and replace it with more appropriate subject matter. They’re being socially responsible…but they take a PR hit for it anyway. The social media era is rife with unreasonable backlash.

Price increases

Image: DisneyThis topic falls into the same category as upsells. Disney fans love their park visits and resent anything that threatens them. One of the biggest challenges is inflationary pricing at Disney theme parks.

While the cost of living for American citizens has remained stagnant for the body of 30 years, Disney prices have increased at a fairly constant rate. In recent years, annual price rises have become almost automatic.

The raised prices aren’t just for admission tickets, either. The most recent example is a shocking spike in the cost of many Disney snacks and beverages. In an extreme example, the price of a churro went up 17 percent overnight. During a three-year period, Mickey Ice Cream Bars increased 33 percent. And a bottle of water at Walt Disney World now costs more than a 12-pack at your local grocery store.

Image: DisneyAgain, Disney is a business that must turn a profit. Customers are really feeling the squeeze, though. When I started writing for Theme Park Tourist in 2014, the Parks & Resorts division earned $15 billion with a net income of $2.7 billion. By 2018, those numbers had increased to $20.3 billion and $4.5 billion. Yes, Disney’s theme parks are making 35 percent more (or $5.3 billion more!) than just four years ago.

Are theme park tourists footing the bill? In a literal sense, the answer is yes. Has Disney raised prices too often in recent years? I guess that answer depends on whether you are a Disney stockholder. The corporation is undeniably earning much more money today, especially in their Parks & Resorts division.

Are park officials right to raise the cost of all phases of Disney vacations on a regular basis? I guess that answer depends on the size of your wallet. No matter how you feel about this, the touchiest of all Disney subjects, the sad truth is that it’s not going to change anytime soon.