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Walt Disney World's Middle Class Problem

Image - Flickr, traveljunction

We’re Disney fans – at least, that’s how we identify. Those of us who love visiting Walt Disney World, or who surf the web looking for that one song from that attraction we love, or who cruise eBay waiting for that vintage piece of Disney memorabilia to pop up. We think we’re fans.

Unfortunately, we aren’t. We may have love for Disney – love borne out of nostalgia, fun, and family – but we aren’t really fans. Not to Disney. They call us guests, yes, but that’s not who we really are to them. We are their customers. Plain and simple. Because, despite acting like our friends, they aren’t – they’re a supermassive corporation.

And that’s not inherently a bad thing!

It may be a bit on-the-nose to put it so bluntly, yes, but it’s totally OK to like the products a corporation sells, and even to feel loyal to them. That relationship is part of the fundamental fabric of our country – supporting entities which give us the products we like. But it’s important to acknowledge that, beneath the pleasant and friendly exterior, there exists a machine designed to do one thing and one thing only: Separate you from your money as efficiently as possible. As long as you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, it’s a win-win for everyone.

But there is a negative to the kind of loyalty we’re all grown to have for Disney. As much as we may love them, they cannot love us back. “They” are really an “it” – a soulless entity that, officially, is only embodied by a sheet of paper registered in California. “It” has shareholders. “It” is judged not by the smiles that it creates, but by the increased revenue it generates. “It” cannot have friends. Cast Members can be your friend. Bus drivers, mousekeeping, and desk attendants can be your friends. Disney, however, cannot.

Because Disney isn’t your friend, it doesn’t feel the same loyalty to us as we do to it – it feels loyal only to its shareholders, who grow more demanding year after year. It’s not enough for the shareholders that Disney makes money – which it does – instead, they want the company to be making more money each consecutive year. That’s how corporations work. And now, to please those shareholders, Disney is adopting a new strategy – one which is pricing out a lot of people.

This is a gross simplification, but go with me here – there are two ways to build a business: The first is to price your product in such a way as to encourage the most amount of people possible to purchase it. This means you have a slightly lower pricing structure, but a broader consumer base. The second method is to charge higher prices – meaning you have a smaller consumer base, but that lesser number of people pay more and more.

For the longest time, Disney did business from that first group, as evidenced by its structure of “Deluxe, Moderate, and Value” resorts – they wanted everyone. But recently, they’ve begun the shift toward the latter group, opting for more private, luxurious experiences to a select few.

Why would they want to do that? What does it mean for those of us who love Disney? What will it mean for the future of the company? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s look at the one company Disney looks up to: Apple.

How Apple has Become America’s Most Valuable Brand, and Why Disney is Copying It

The common story of Apple Computers goes like this: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak invent the personal computer. After a few years of growth, Jobs gets pitched out on his own, where he starts his own company – building better computers – knowing that Apple would eventually have to buy his company and bring him back. They do, and his obsession to detail means that Apple creates the best (and, you know, most expensive) products on the market, pushing them to higher and higher heights.

It’s a good story, but here’s the thing: Why are Apple products are inherently better? They work with fewer applications. They are more expensive to repair. And, perhaps most importantly, they are vastly more expensive than their non-Apple competitors. Even if they are better, which is largely subjective, are they hundreds or even thousands of dollars better?

It doesn’t actually matter, because Apple isn’t selling you a laptop. Apple is selling you a piece of art that makes you feel a certain way when you look at it and use it. The guts of it aren’t worth the extra thousand dollars, but the feeling you get when you feel the cool metal in your hands might be.

That’s what made Steve Jobs a genius – he knew that what makes technology valuable isn’t necessarily what it can do, but how it makes you feel. Apple products make you feel like a cooler version of yourself, and people pay a premium to achieve that feeling.

Image: Apple

And that’s Apple’s business model: They aren’t trying to sell laptops to as many people as possible, they’re trying to sell expensive laptops to as many people as possible. That’s a unique thing in business, and it only really works when you have customers that are loyal – and Apple customers are as loyal as can be.

So, if you look at Apple’s valuation – which is over $700 Billion – it’s not hard to see why Disney might be envious. And it’s definitely not hard to see why Disney might try to follow in their footsteps and become, for all intents and purposes, a luxury brand. Disney already creates amazing experiences, and so they clearly think those experiences are worth more than what they’re currently getting for them.

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There are 40 comments.

I'd have to admit, I've always been an over the top disney fan in all my 32 years. My family has taken plenty of trips throughout my childhood to WDW and found myself making frequent trips with my friends as I got older. Not that it's locally convenient because it's not, I've always resided in the mid-Atlantic region. A few years ago I just started to realize that I'm making frequent trips every 2-3 years and nothing as changed (outside of a meet and greet) This is referencing all four of the major parks. Just mundane upgrades or packages that I've purchased but felt it was more otiose at best. I too can say that I've been coaxed into the Universal Studios revamp after Harry Potter. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of the movies, Universal has been pushing the envelope for new and creative experiences. This has resulted in me going every year, mostly twice with Halloween Horror Nights and avoiding Disney all together, more so for lack of excitement than financial purposes. Just like your article stated, I've decided to spend my Disney dollars on Caribbean & European vacations these pass years.

Excellent article! I started taking my daughter when she was 3 an did not go myself until I was an adult an we where that family that annually made the trek to Disney. However, we went this year with grandkids an the "magic" has definitely faded with the Disney greed. I remember before the ABC buy when Walt's dream was alive an greed was not the sole objective an exquisite face painting was free at the Marketplace an Disney was worthy of my money an annual visits, but that feeling an "magic" will never be instilled in my grandchildren because I have lost it. I have no desire to return to what has now just become about the bottom dollar an not Walt's dream for a place of "magic" any longer!

Absolutely correct. We used to go every year or other year but no longer, it has gotten too expensive. Now it will be every 5 years and wev will not go to the parks everyday and will go to universal instead. Sorry but even staying at a valued resort for a week and then tickets and food etc you are readily in the 3600 out higher for a family of four

I have to agree Disney has increase prices every year and basically if I don't get the free dining I don't book a trip (thats only way I see the value because of my kids age). When my children are alittle older I will skip Disney all together and attend Universal if the price is less. I went for a couple days this year and we stayed outside the park during Halloween. We actually did Mickey's not so Scary twice and way better value for your money. You might have to wait until the evening before you enter the park but you get everything done (because lines are short), cooler weather, lower ticket price and only buying 1 meal inside park. I attended Universal on horror night and I have to say I was impressed with all the upgrades they have done to the park. Saying that I haven't been there for a few years but I was impressed with Harry Potter and Simpson theme area.

I've had that nagging thought that we could be taking amazing vacations out of the country for what we're paying for a week at Disney. I love it there but the prices are quickly becoming too insane for an accountant and a nurse's salary.

I Say in the long run, The Six Flags, Hersheypark's, Dollywood's,Ceder Points,... RCI,NCL & Carnival Cruise lines etc will be the biggest winners from Disney's short term greedy move. (aside from a temporary few year STAR WARS LAND bump that's a guaranteed audience at any price.)

Why?,....Because these family's will now choose a week in Pigeon Forge, or Hershey Pa, etc for a 1/4th of the price of a Disney Vacation, or realize a Cruise Ship costs less per day per person than a ticket to WDW, yet includes the stateroom and food & shows for free instead of up-charges,.....and boom!, one generation,....Disney's yearly vacation tradition is a bust. (especially if these other park chain's start to add hotels, rides, and year round events to make them destination vacations.

It's no more expensive than going anywhere else nowadays. I am going in 3 weeks. Three admissions for my family, 7 days at Coronado Springs, 2 meals a day included, 2500. Not bad at all to go to a theme park for 7 days with overpriced food included. Cost the same to rent a condo at the beach in Destin for a week without food.

This is a well written article and states the facts very clearly. I wish every stock holder would read this and see the legacy as more important then the profit line. It is so sad to live in Florida and not be able to afford to take my family to the greatest place on earth! Thank you for taking the time to write this! May 2016 be a blessing to you!

I have been saying this for 15 years now.My income is at the bottom of middle class.I do not go to Disney .I have Universal Orlando Annual passes(renewal rate went up for them this year)and I just got Seaworld Annual Passes on Black Friday BOGO.I have a good inexpensive Hotel that I like. I drive every few months and can do 5 days (over a weekend) for under 500 bucks.I have stayed onsite at all 4 Universal Hotels when a good passholder rate was offered.

Wow. Spot on. Unfortunately, this made too much sense to me. It's really disheartening to see the price increases left and right and we're left to wonder how we will be able to afford it all the next time around. My husband and I have been annual passholders for the past 2 years and our passes are up for renewal this month- but it is very likely that we won't be able to renew them this time. We are looking at every option wondering how we can scrape together the money or even finance it on a credit card but it doesn't seem to be a feasible possibility anymore. I'm so excited to hear about the progress in the parks and things in the parks' future but it's unfortunate reality that a huge portion of the Disney "fan base" won't be able to continue their trips to see it all happen. As much as it kills me, I am probably in that category now. I can only hope that things will change in Disney's mind.. Or our personal financial situation. Sad truths.

Exactly what I've been thinking. You put it very well. I'm going this summer but only because I'm also on a Disney cruise, have DVC, and they offered 25%for Canadians.

i don't see us going back. they have priced where we can't do it being retired

I disagree with you. The last hotel Disney built was another VALUE hotel (Art of Animation). And if you go on Disney's site right now you can get a value room for under 100. That is would have to admit that. But, if 100 is too much you can stay at hotels outside of Disney for very reasonable prices. And lastly, the ticket prices are high for short stays...BUT, the per day price gets reasonable if you stay a bunch of days. One day is 105 but a four day ticket is 305. And all the other experiences you speak of are extras that aren't essential for a good Disney experience.

So, if you want to bash Disney, write about them laying off 200 plus IT workers and replacing them with foreign workers. That makes my blood boil.

I am so glad to see someone put my
feelings in print. I was so disappointed in my
Christmas visit this year. Where were the wonderful decorations? The Parks had minimal decorations. Segments of the Candlelight Processional were deleted. MVMCP Passholder pins were sold out. I have been to WDW 88 times. I never thought I could be disappointed. I can't say that anymore.

My family and I had been to Disney several times between 96 and 2008. Now it is just too expensive. One day at Magic Kingdom without buying any food or souvenirs or even a hotel will cost me 525 dollars a day.

Thank you for pointing out a sad reality for those of us who LOVE Disneyland, but simply can not afford to go as often anymore. I live in California and five years ago my husband and I bought annual passes. We always bought the cheapest So Cal Select option, with like 180 blackout days, but for us it was still a great deal at just under $200. Each year it went up a little, but now it is over $300 and the available days seem to keep shrinking. As huge Harry Potter fans, we opted this year to buy a pass to Universal with an availability of over 300 days, which is closer to our home, for LESS than the cheapest Disney pass. So far it is not the same experience as Disney, but we will see how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is and honestly it is more within our middle class budget.

I agree completely and it makes sad. As a child we used to go every year. I'm a true addict and want to pass on this tradition of magic to my kids. As our family has grown we have seen our trips become less frequent. Now every few years instead of every year. We have six kids and although I have a sentimental my oldest children don't. They are more interested in "teen" trips and shhhh...universal.

Totally agree... Walt would not be pleased!! Middle class made Disney great, now they are leaving us behind.. Sad

I really think you have hit it on the head I feel the same way it is getting just to crazy on prices!!

Those of you who ever wondered why math was important: the RATE of price increase is the "first derivative" (the slope of the graph); the ACCELERATION of price increase is the "second derivative." There. Calculus, seen through Disney parks :)

So true. My kids, who grew up going to Disney World almost every year, are telling me to stop going to Disney because it's so expensive. They are telling me to go on a European vacation for approximately the same money I'd spend at Disney. It's so sad. I was standing in line with a former Disney employee who said his department feared that someday the accountants would be running the company, and now that has come to pass. The shareholders rule - which is not only ruining Disney, but our entire country.

Well, like the rest of you I see wdw making their choices - now I will make mine. Doubt they'll miss me. Any hints on how to do universal? Is there a blog for the others like this is for wdw?

Glad it's not just me, thinking this way. I've seen people on these pages complain about the price before, only to be shutdown and told they're stupid for not knowing how to stay on the cheap. You shouldn't have to know! We've taken two family trips to WDW in the past few years, one with my wife's parents and one without. Between the two, we paid $19,000 beef the cost of driving 1/2 of the way across the country and associated lodging and meals. We stayed in the Poly once and the Contemporary the next time (Garden Wing!) and stuffed as many people in as few rooms as possible. We are, admittedly, pretty well-off. But even my eyes water when I start looking at the prices for the GF, much less the new villas and the like... We'll go back b/c we can. But I hate that others can't get the same experience b/c of the cost...

As DVC members we have invested a lot of money in Disney and as time has gone on we have seen DVC member perks all but go away. We did not renew our annual pass in 2015 and we aren't looking at buying them in 2016. I agree that there hasn't really been any new attractions worth the uptick in ticket prices. We were there 4 weeks ago and even though we had tickets we only spent about 45% of our time in the parks. Our next trip is planned for May, but I'm not sure we will even go to any of the Disney parks. We are thinking Universal, Sea World and Busch Gardens.

We would totally agree. We are in the middle class, and we typically went every year, then started going every other year. Six years ago we joined the Disney Vacation Club, and went on our first Disney cruse, and to a Disney resort all in one year. After a few years of going to the resorts again every year, we have now started spreading the time out between visits. Our last visit was just after Thanksgiving of last year, and we all came home feeling a little disappointed for the whole trip. Everybody felt like we saw less, and did less than ever before. We were also disappointed by the recent "improvements" (new castles, new rides). We are now looking in to other places we might go for vacation next. Problem is, what to do with our vacation points. It will be sad to see them expire, but this last trip was too expensive, and too much work to have everybody so disappointed. If we were offered membership in the vacation club now, after our last visit, we would pass on it and use the money somewhere else.

@Steve Taylor,

There are websites out there (like on you can rent your DVC points out. That way you're not losing out on the money you paid for them.

Have to agree. We would definitely go more often if prices were more reasonable.

I've visited Disney 3 times a year since I was 20. I now will only attend once this year, next year when prices go up, I will probably go once every two years and the year after that when they go up again, Disney will be a fond memory. It just doesn't make sense to me to takenthe same Disney vacations when I can travel the world at the same price. I enjoy Disney for its dining, entertainment and family fun but at the end of the day, it's the same place, same food, same rides. Doesn't make sense to keep doing the same thing for the same price that I can travel the world. I am middle class. But my very rich friends and family go to Disney every three years. Rich people are very smart with their money and they know Their kids get more out of vacations to Europe than the constant visits to Disney. I see Disney is a bad situation if this keeps up.

I believe dear ol' Walt is probably turning in his grave (his cryogenics tube, actually). I do not believe this is what he intended for his parks. His priority was to make the most people happy at a reasonable profit, not to make a few happy while making investors filthy rich.

My family has been coming to Disney World since 1991. It was every year or so. The kids got bigger, but we still made our trips. My grandson lives in Orlando and we have been coming down every other month for almost 8 years, but go to the park VERY infrequently. I can't justify the cost, especially since very little has changed. My grandson and family live right there and hardly ever go to Disney. We have annual passes for universal, however. Disney had priced me out, and my family and I are HUGE Disney fans. Very sad.

It is sad that prices keep going up but how else will they slow down attendance growth in the most popular vacation destination on earth? I do not want it to be so crowded when I go that I need to have reservation for everything. It is already too close to that now.

My family has also given up on Disney Vacations. Between the prices and the over planning for the dining reservations and fast passes and the same old rides we are definitely going to Universal for our next family vacation.

To think that Hollywood Studios is going to be under construction until at least 2021 and there is no end in sight to the Animal Kingdom construction is enough for us to realize that we are done with the price gouging, stagnant experiences and poor attitudes in evidence at Walt Disney World.

When people ask me about a Disney vacation I tell them that I can no longer recommend one. They look on in disbelief as I describe having to pay such high prices only to have to plan the vacation with all the precision of a highly regimented schedule and deal with long non-fast pass lines, poor quality theme park food and housekeeping that is hit or miss. I tell them that at some point, probably in the middle of their trip, they are going to realize that they spent thousands of dollars and that the "Disney Experience" is no longer magical.

Universal has been kicking Disney's keister in the pricing and showmanship areas. Our family has decided that Universal deserves our hard earned vacation dollars. We are no longer going to be one of Disney's mindless minions!

I have been a passholder since forever but I am beginning to see the end. Every year it costs more and you get less. Take the Candlelight Processional for example. They have 3 shows and you need a dinner package to get a seat. The program is played so fast it sounds like the Chipmunks singing and the Orchestra can barely keep up. They have ruined the program for us old timers who knew it when. Any one who has been going to Disney over the years can tell you it ain't as good as it used to be. This will probably be my last year as a passholder.

One of the things not addressed is the creeping nature of the exclusions to your Disney Experience. Slowly, general viewing areas are being shrunk and the premium experiences are not only rewarding the wealthy with uninhibited views of shows and experiences but forcing the rest of us into smaller and smaller pens where our views are restricted and our sightings compromised. Last year at Epcot a virtually empty premium viewing areas made a mockery of the system as hundreds of other visitors craned their necks or stooped to avoid the tree line hiding the action. Look also at the faces of those prematurely turfed out of the Magic Kingdom for an evening event. That day ticket cost the same as a full day yet the experience is devalued. Eventually, there will be few opportunities to view some ordinary events without committing to an extra buy-in.

Keep raising those prices Disney!!! Its fine by me, the parks are so busy now hopefully this will keep the crowds down. Enjoy your Six Flags and Universal, along with your Android phones.... #PriceOutThePoor

Spot on. If you are going to price your offerings based on an experience, there better be a darn good experience. And that's the part of the equation that Disney has been neglecting. Frequent minor annoyances throughout ones visit are what contribute negatively to the entire experience. For instance, putting RFID's on the bottom of drink cups to prevent "unlimited" refills from occurring too quickly just to squeeze a few more pennies of margin out of a product is corporate greed, a greed who's presence is only magnified when the experience costs more and more.

That's why websites like thrive offering tips and tricks to avoid being raped by a mouse.

Well times have changed since this story was written. Now Disney is going for the lowest common denominator by bringing back the SoCal AP's and letting people make interest free monthly payments!

Imagine you're a tourist that will drop thousands of dollars on a trip to Disneyland (even more if you stay in a Disney hotel) and when you get there it's shoulder to shoulder people with most of them only paying a few (yup, less than $5.00) buck to be there. You have to ask yourself is this worth it, since the only ones really making out on the deal is Iger and the other executive with their obscene bonuses...

This article says exactly what I have for quite some time now. I have been a Disney fan for more year than I'd like to admit to. I was a cast member for 9 years in various aspects of the company and loved every minute of it. My 3 boys and I looked forward to our trips there at least 5 to 6 times a year for at least 4 days at a time. My husband and I met up with some friends this past October and I couldn't believe what we paid even staying at a value resort for 4 days. This year we are taking a Caribbean cruise for 7 days all inclusive, for less than 4 days at Disney. They are definitely not for the middle class any longer, but what they forgot is that it was us people in the middle class that made Disney what it is today!!

I used to like going to Disney to escape form the outside world and relax. But now you have to do so much scheduling to even eat or be able to rided a ride upu like without waiting an hour in line. It is no longer relaxing. A Disney vacation is too much work now. And with the expodential cost increases, I can leave the country for that escape and relaxation that Disney lost for way less.


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