Where to begin…
I have been a Disney fan in one form or another for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was introduced to Disney on classic animated films like Peter Pan, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella (still one of my favorites to this day), The Jungle Book, and others. Live action films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, and a host of Disney family films like Parent Trap, The Love Bug, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and many others. Then we had The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, hosted by Walt himself. The Mickey Mouse Club, and TV series, like Daniel Boone (which I own on DVD). I developed an emotional connection to all this material in my formative years and I still love it all today. As Disney’s entertainment products evolved, I was right there with it and have seen the creative evolution of the company and its progress into the digital realm with the acquisition of Pixar and have really loved the amazing content they have created. Disney Animation Studios has also created some amazing films like Wreck-It Ralph, Meet the Robinsons, and probably my favorite of theirs, Moana. Moana was a double whammy for me because it speaks to me on multiple levels, my love of Hawaii and Hawaiian culture and music, and great storytelling. Then came the acquisition of Marvel, which adds another dimension to Disney, which also speaks to my heart and my childhood. I read many Marvel comics during my teenage years and most of the titles I followed have been brought to the big screen using incredible special effects. The entirety of these volumes of entertainment keeps me emotionally connected to Disney.
My first visit to Disneyland was in July of 1977. It was a tiny part of a larger Southern California vacation with my family and a visiting relative (I was 16 at the time) and we spent only one day in the park. My parents were not really fans and to them it was just a visit to a crowded theme park, and if I’m being honest, I barely remember it. It was over 20 years before I would make it back, returning in 1998 with my partner at that time. For the first time I truly appreciated the “magic” of Disney and being fully immersed in The Happiest Place on Earth. I was present for that first walk down Main Street and soaked up the magic there. I visited at least once per year continuously from that point on until 2016 when my life circumstances changed, and I really couldn’t afford to sustain that. During that time, I came to appreciate the things that set Disney parks apart from, and above, everyone else. Yes, they have us all by our emotional heartstrings, but above and beyond that, Disney maintains a very clean house. I was amazed at how clean the parks really are. In the wake of a Disney parade, a squad of janitorial staff are right there cleaning up the discarded trash, spilled popcorn, gum, liquid spills, and all other manners of refuse in minutes and before you know it, it’s as if the parade never happened. I love that! I have always felt safe at a Disney Park. My children have practically grown up at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. We all know Disneyland and DCA like the backs of our hands. Just ask me where the nearest restroom is. Go ahead, ASK! I have been fortunate enough to also visit the Walt Disney World Resort multiple times. Both US resorts (and I’m counting the WDW resort as a resort and the DL/DCA complex as a resort) have unique appeal but…
My first confession is that I prefer Disneyland to “The World.” While Disneyland has the challenge of limited real estate, that has had mixed results. On the one hand, it’s difficult for them to expand and add new attractions without bulldozing old ones, or jackhammering existing asphalt being used for parking (and going vertical with parking structures). And on the other hand, this space limitation has resulted in a more cohesive park space and an easier-to-navigate experience for guests. So, I’d say I like Disneyland better because it is easier to get around in and to park hop back and forth to DCA, AND because I just have so many memories there.
After all the gushing I have done up to this point about how great the entertainment content is and how much I love the parks. This may be hard to believe, but for me, the magic is fading. It is doing so because the bean counters seem to be in charge at Disney (and this has been in-effect since before the brief Bob Chapek era during which things got even worse). Guests have seen park prices rise on an annual basis at all levels (single park tickets, hoppers, and annual passes) for many years now. I’m pretty sure it was Walt’s intention that Disneyland and WDW be an affordable vacation destination for middle income families. This is no longer the case. Before Disney did away with their Annual Pass program (at least by that name), the Premium level AP was around $2200.00 per person. Seriously! I recently (in December of this year) spent nearly $700 for a single day in one WDW park and an overnight hotel stay at a non-Disney property for two people. $159 per person for park admission. And that is without splurging on Lightning Lane (Disney’s relatively new pay-per-ride system to avoid waiting in long ride queues). This has turned “standby” lines into truly “stand by and wait” lines. Even in shorter standby queues, so many are paying for lightning lane access that the traditional standby waits have increased dramatically. Guests do not realize that in making this program such a financial success for Disney, they are guaranteeing that it will never go away. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a Capitalist. I completely understand that first and foremost, Disney is a business and must be profitable, but Disney has, in my opinion, crossed the line into the greedy zone. Everyone expects to pay more at resorts when on vacation, but I now feel gouged every time I visit a park.
Hope for a Better Tomorrow
With Chapek’s ouster and Bog Iger back at the helm of the massive Disney ship, and with his promise that control will be returned to the creatives at the company, I hold some hope that we will see paring back of the radical monetization that has occurred during the last nearly three years (under Chapek). I still expect that Disney Park ticket prices will continue to rise regularly (but maybe every other year instead of every year!). I’d love to see them return to the free FastPass program. It worked great and helped guests to get the most out of their park visit. I dearly want to hold onto the magic for as long as I can. Disney has been a huge part of my life to this point (I’m 61 as I write this), and I don’t want to lose that. Thanks for reading.