At the Copa...

(get it, Copa Cabana!  I kill me!)

Want an escape from all the riff-raff in Tomorrowland?

Want an escape from all the riff-raff in Tomorrowland?

That's it.  I have nothing to say about this.  I just really wanted to use the Copa Cabana joke.

Oh, ok.  I guess I do have a little to say.  I wrote a bit earlier this year about something I thought Disney should be concerned about.  That the perception that Disney is squeezing every last inch of their parks for our money, that they are getting greedy, or that they are trying to nudge the lower-middle class out for wealthier clients.  This perception, once it becomes perpetuated, is a hard one to correct.  Once the public thinks that you are a "greedy" corporation, or that they are getting edged out of being involved, can be nearly impossible to correct.

This week, Disney announced a few more extra events/amenities that are raising more eyebrows.  First, let's talk about the obvious one, the one that is pictured above.  The new Tomorrowland Cabanas.

For just under $700 per day, you and your loved ones can escape the crowds into your own (rented) private cabana.  

Amenities in the Cabanas will include private, shaded seating (including a couch), snacks, a fruit basket, cold beverages, and reserved viewing for parades and fireworks. Cabanas also include a lockable storage trunk, charging stations, personalized Mickey ears, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and insect repellent, a small refrigerator, delivery of ice cream novelties (once), and food delivery service (for a price). -- Source TouringPlans

The cabanas can house up to 8 people, so at a little under $100/person per day (just about doubling your price of admission), you and Grandma and little Johnnie can have a place to store your things, take a break, clean your hands, pass up the crowds for the parade, and in general avoid the rest of the Magic Kingdom (and soon Epcot).  Oh, and personalized ears!  Don't forget those.  I believe next will be the ability to actually remove other customers from a ride and take their place, sending them to the back of the line.  Maybe they will eventually add (for an extra fee) a personal cast member who can run out and knock kids ice cream cones out of their hands so you all can have a hearty laugh at the child's tears!

See how I took that just a touch farther and turned it pretty nasty quickly?  It's an easy thing to do, and it's already happening in the Disney fan community.  I've already read the comments, the jokes, and had long discussions with those that (maybe not incorrectly) believe that Disney is specifically doing this because they want to increase the number of upper-middle-class visitors at the expense of lower-income visitors.  This perception change has already taken hold with some very smart and rational people.  Let me note, I do not know if Disney is or is not doing this on purpose.  I have my opinion that they are not, and I'll get into this a little later, but I could be very wrong and this could be their exact reasoning.

To see the shift in perception, look at the story that the Orlando Sentinel wrote on the cabanas.  No, I'm not just linking to them because they quoted me in another story yesterday.  I do appreciate that however!  Thanks Sandra Pedicini!

It's just the latest in big-tickets offerings at Disney World aimed at well-heeled tourists. Disney has also introduced dessert parties, extra costs for early race packet pickup, and preferred parking for its theme parks. It has also introduced costly early-morning and late night events, and this year it started offering nighttime Magic Kingdom weddings starting at $180,00 -- Source - Orlando Sentinel

Look at how that is worded.  "Well-heeled".  They even throw out the crazy number associated with the MK wedding, because $180,000 is going to leave quite a few readers with sticker shock.  That is some pretty inflammatory wording

This helps perpetuate the idea that Disney is looking to shift its clientele, or at the very least, get more money out of those who have more money to give.  Not that this isn't probably a decent strategy to run the business.  Businesses do well to cater to those who have extra money to spend, especially in the tourism industry!  

Still, look at this quote from Iger, kind of buried in that article after an ad, a little easy to miss:

Discussing earnings with analysts earlier this month, Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said "we believe that there are a number of tools we have available to us on the revenue yield management side, to create more revenue out of the attendance that we're getting."

Translation: Growing attendance is not the only way we can make more money.  There are a lot of things at the parks we can use to make more money from our visitors, and we'll keep doing that.

Let's talk about another extra offering that made news in the Disney circles this week.  Tiana's Riverboat Party is the latest in the Dessert Party line of offerings, allowing guests to pay a little extra to avoid the crowds for a popular event that might typically require waiting around to secure a good seat.   The details:

"Make the most of your next visit to Magic Kingdom park, where Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen are throwing an unforgettable party… and you’re invited! The occasion begins on the dock as your royal hosts welcome you and your sweet tooth to an ice cream social, complete with ice cream and toppings, drinks, and sweet treats.

Then board the Liberty Square Riverboat and relax while enjoying the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade—all from the comfort of your special viewing location!

After the parade, Tiana and Naveen will join you to continue the party as you all cruise around the Rivers of America, circling Tom Sawyer Island."

Translation: Pay more ($49 per adult, $29 per child) and you can have some ice cream and cookies in the shade instead of waiting on the side of the parade route, and then we'll take you on the riverboat so you can see over the crowd.

I know that this doesn't sound like a huge departure from what they have been doing for the past.  Heck, I've enjoyed and recommended the Wishes Dessert Party to friends.  

There is one tiny thing here that is different (I believe) than other things that have been done so far.  

The Riverboat will be closed to guests 2 hours before the parade begins, and for one after the parade.

Notice that an actual attraction will be closed for over 3 hours during the day, every day, in order to allow people who pay more to bypass crowds and get a good seat for the parade.

This feels different to me.  Tomorrowland Terrace isn't heavily used, and the views from there can be had from elsewhere in the park on most nights without having to camp out for hours in advance.  People are not clamoring to go hang out at Tomorrowland Terrace during that time of day normally, so offering this space for a dessert party does not impact other guests.

The new dessert party however impacts an attraction.  Not an E-ticket attraction mind you.  They have not (yet) shut down Tower of Terror so that a paid few people can sit at one of the open windows high-up over Hollywood Studios to enjoy the Star Wars fireworks from a elevated viewpoint.

Crap, did I just give them an idea?

Still, that is one of those things that helps the narrative that Disney cares more about those willing to pay more.  Narrative matters.  Even if it starts with turning off only the super-fans who are more apt to notice the glut of these extra offerings.  The mood of the super-fan can easily translate to the casual fan.  My friends know of my passion for the parks, and when they are looking to plan a vacation, they come to me for advice.  What I say and what I recommend to them has influence on their trip, even if just subliminally.  

No, I'm not alone going to turn the tide against Disney, but the online Disney community is a large one, stretching all over the globe.  They have friends that come to them for advice.  Their opinions matter on the larger scale.  

It's this community where I think that the narrative has already turned and taken hold.  Disney only cares about people who have more money.  Disney wants a different class of customer.  Disney will soon be where you will have to pay extra if you want to have an enjoyable experience.

What likely started as a way to prop up profit margins while the company waits for the attendance booms brought on by Pandora and Star Wars has turned into the perception that this is Disney's new modus operandi.  That Disney does not put out attractions anymore, they just add upcharge events to appeal to higher-income guests.   They build cabanas, bunglaos, dessert parties for those willing to pay more, but they do not add things that can be enjoyed by everyone.

I'd like to think that this is not the case.  That Disney is operating under a short-term / long-term strategy here.  In the short term, while some major initiatives to refresh and reinvent their parks are underway, they are looking to make sure they are hitting their profit expectations, and that once the crowds start really coming in at an elevated rate due to those transformation of the parks, they will be back focusing on everyone.

Here's hoping I'm not just snorting the pixie dust a little too hard.