Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Greediest Place on Earth

Some of my fondest memories with Tyler occurred during our visits to Disney World.  A big reason that these trips were even possible, was the kindness and expertise by which the family was handled.  Of course Disney was expensive, but it was manageable for our little group.  

We started going in the year 2000 during their millennial celebration.  It was just Robin and I that year, but we learned that Disney might just be possible for Tyler, and we took a chance in 2001.  Over the last 20 years we may have done Disney nearly a dozen times.  The great memories are endless for all of us, Samantha included.  Tyler screeching in delight on the Tower of Terror, Samantha being picked to be Belle for the Beauty and the Beast show, giving Robin her 25th anniversary ring in front of the castle, meeting the cast of the Nemo musical, and on and on.  Perhaps the most special part was being able to enjoy many trips with my in-laws, and seeing them having the greatest time with their kids and grandkids.  We used to take these trips in May, right around Mother's Day, to avoid the crowds and stifling heat (although we often had 90 degree weather anyway).  

As the years continued on, and the trips continued, we started to feel a little less of the "magic".  A recent trip in particular we experienced that feeling of questioning the cost versus the experience.  Subtle changes made me wonder if I was their focus, or the money was the focus.  A park ticket that cost $50 per day now costs over $100.  Food experiences are easily reaching $50 per person at every meal.  An estimate on the cost for a family of 4 is now $4500 to $7000.  I'm not a baby, I understand they are their to make money, but they always did a good job of balancing that with giving a forever experience too.  That was changing...

The cost isn't the only negative thing happening at Disney World.  Fast Pass is now completely gone which was a HUGE planning tool that I needed in our situation.  Fast Pass was a system which allowed you to plan 60 days in advance for reserving 3 rides.  For us, we could decide the 3 rides that Tyler would enjoy the most, and would also have the worst lines or handicap access, and insure we could get those done without fail.  The remainder of the rides and experiences would be those that would be less difficult to manage lines, or less impactful if we had to skip them altogether.   Now there is a new system, no longer free ($15 per person per day) that allows you to try and schedule rides on the day of your visit.  So instead of having the times figured out months in advance, and sticking your phone in your pocket on the day of you visit and having fun, you now have to be ON YOUR PHONE during the day trying to schedule your next activity.  There is also strong conjecture that Disney uses their app to manipulate where the guests go so they can maximize their dollars (not yours).  Do the math...$15x4=$60x7=$420 additional bucks onto the family cost.  NOW...if anyone wants to ride the premier rides without waiting in line for hours, they need to pay $7 to $15 dollars EXTRA for that ride. Say the same family does both rides for an average of $10 per ride...$40x2=$80x7=$560.  In theory, if your family wanted to do every ride and wanted to skip the line for the busiest ones, it will now cost you nearly $1000 to do so.  Before this year the cost was $0.  

So how about handicap access?  When we took Tyler with us, we were able to get a card which allowed him to go to special access areas of most rides.  During the short wait, we were merged in as the accommodation was possible.  Usually within a few cars or boats we were able to load him on.  Some cast members even asked us if we wanted to ride a second time if things weren't crowded.  This was also a good way for us to get our fill of the experience and not need loaded and unloaded a second time later.  One thing to point out here...we never tried to take advantage of any service at Disney.  We were always treated generously and in return we made sure not to be unreasonable with our requests.  NOW, according to Disney's website, you pre-register for handicap access and you pick 2 experiences to get fast passes for, and then you get the regular program the day you go.  This may be helpful, but will certainly not be as guest-friendly as before.  Its great to have 2 additional ride passes, however, to think a special-needs parent can spend large amounts of time on their phones plotting the next activity is not reasonable.

So what does all this mean?  I used to recommend Disney for special needs families.  I won't do that anymore.  They have shown now that families are NOT their target audience.  Young, tech-minded people without young kids are the target audience.  The new system once you enter the park has been described by techies as confusing and complicated, so how is a non-tech-savy family ever going to get their value out of the visit.  Or perhaps the family needs to have their phones in their pocket, their eyes up, and enjoy what's around them. I thought Disney was where you went to escape?  I thought Disney was about family time and sharing experiences?  Those days are gone and they aren't coming back.

Unfortunately for young families, and special needs families, the "Happiest Place on Earth" has become the "Greediest Place on Earth".  And I, for one, pass.

Be well and God bless.


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