Hardscrabble Times in a Hard-Ticket (Disney) World

I really do love Walt Disney World. Although there are times when I seem a bit negative on the topic, it really is the main reason I am willing to remain a resident of Florida. I spent four years living in Tennessee, and I found that living so far from WDW was much like rehabbing through a 12-step program! As much as I dream of returning home to Texas, that charismatic giant mouse has me hooked. Realistically, it’s quite possible that I’m here for the long haul… and I suppose I can accept that… because I love Walt Disney World.

When I tend to get opinionated on WDW, my criticisms stem from an understanding and genuine respect for Walt Disney himself. Yep, I’m one of those WWWD (“What Would Walt Do”) types. If you have a grasp on the history of the parks, you know that Walt had certain ideals and goals. He also had pretty rigid concepts of what he did not want for his parks, his company, and his guests. Though I do understand inflation and successful business practices, I also absolutely believe that some current practices at WDW have gone a bit too far. 

To illustrate my point… let’s take a quick glance at a few numbers:

  1. In 1971, the general admission price to the Magic Kingdom was $3.50 (before individual attraction tickets, which still did not amount to much).

  2. By 2002 (when I started working as a Cast Member), the cost of a one-day, one-park admission was around $50.

  3. Today, a one-day, one-park admission will cost you just over $100 (with tax).

We could spend a while getting technical, and covering more years… and I understand that you can save a bit by getting multi-day, multi-park tickets (the goal), but let’s not pick nits. You see the point I’m demonstrating – yes? 

As Florida residents, WDW becomes a lot more “possible” with the options of seasonal passes, annual passes, and of course – the monthly payment options! With the annuals, parking is free, too… and of course, we’re not paying plane fare, etc. If I didn’t live here, I doubt I’d ever be here. I could not afford it! When I consider friends and family who have spent years saving fortunes for just a few days here, I have to admit… I think it’s rather sad. And anyone I know who is at all on a budget, always seems to be getting nervous by the last couple of days of their stay. Everything is more than they expected when planning. The dining plan options are dandy, and I propose them to anyone who will listen. BUT…

Is it just me, or does it seem that every time they find a way to offer us a deal, they come up with a way to get that savings back out of our wallet? Oh yes… I’m referring to the recent expansion of hard-ticket event offerings. 

What is a “hard-ticket event”? By honest definition, these are events that often require the parks to close earlier than usual (cutting the regular visitor day, but offering no discount for the cut). These events then require paying for a SECOND admission cost to be allowed entry during the event hours (usually 4-5 hours of time). At one time, this was pretty much limited to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) – and both events promised limited ticket sales for a lower-capacity event. 

When I worked MVMCP in 2002, tickets to that event were around $34 (advance purchase, ages 10 and up). I worked every night of the event, and the crowds were so low that I really did envy every guest I encountered. This year, ticket prices are not only higher ($67 on the lowest end), but as someone who has watched these events every year, I promise you… they raise that ticket limit every year. It’s no longer the “exclusive” event it once was. Increase the cap, and raise the price? Double ouch… am I right? 

A few years ago, my family made a unanimous decision that we were not about to keep paying added costs for these events for no real justification of that cost. We will never do another MNSSHP or MVMCP, and none of us feel we’re missing anything. Yes, they like to bring out more “rare” characters for these events, or characters in costume – and there are special parades and fireworks. Well… the fireworks, I can easily see around property, and I never see a hint of the parades through the heavy crowds of people much taller than my kids and I, anyway. For Halloween, they do give out candy, but let’s be honest here… wouldn’t you be expecting Disney candy? Nope… you’re waiting in long lines so a Cast Member can hand your kid a tiny Tootsie Roll or a roll of Smarties. I’m sorry… this is just foolish spending, and I don’t like to be taken for a fool. 

As AP/DVC, don’t we get discounts? Sure, we do!! MNSSHP begins tonight. Ticket prices range from $62-$77, depending on when you’re attending, and when you purchase your tickets. If you are a DVC member or Passholder, you can get them for $5-$10 less!! What a discount, eh? *Sarcasm mode turned off*

From time to time, I do get tempted. The “dessert parties” at Magic Kingdom ($28) and Epcot ($50) are intriguing, and I can almost appreciate the value in the fact that you are at least paying for something different… and for an honestly limited event. Recently, the villain events have been picking up steam. I do love me some villains, and you don’t see most of them often around the parks… BUT… if you follow social media, you probably already know that the recent hard-ticket villain party at Hollywood Studios was widely viewed as a complete fiasco. The complaints primarily centered on insane lines, intolerable crowds, and food/merchandise shortages. The result? Many refunds… and Disney just does not do that en masse so readily, so take that as their acknowledgment of an oops! Personally, as cool as Jafar is, I’m not spending almost $100 to stand in a two hour line to see him. I could hit a convention and meet true celebrities for less. Where is this logical?

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the recent announcement of the Villains’ Sinister Soiree – a dessert party event at MNSSHP. With this, we’ve now started the ball rolling on the true trifecta of profit for the greedy little mouse. To spend a full day at the Magic Kingdom, and take advantage of the daytime, MNSSHP, and VSS, you’ll pay THREE separate admissions!! You’ll pay your daily admission for the regular, daytime hours plus $62-$77 for MNSSHP, and $99 for VSS. For one poor schlep, before any meals, drinks, souvenirs etc. – you’ll be in nearly $300!!! 

I don’t consider myself to exceptionally tight with money. I’m also not counting pennies for a cheeseburger, but I don’t drive a Ferrari either. My position is – whether I have it or not, I’ll be damned if I’m parting with it like that! And, no offense meant to anyone, but I cannot imagine who can see that as a smart, and necessary thing to do. Frankly, I’d love to hear the flip-side, and try to gain some understanding of the perspective that views this as fair and acceptable. Do you honestly feel like you get your money’s worth for these events? Can you honestly accept the “hard-ticket within a hard-ticket” idea?

I think what scares me the most is the potential for how far this could go. I’ve heard many people saying that they don’t see it stopping because people still come out and pay in droves. If the economy is so bad, how can so many keep coming, with the prices and separate tickets rising exponentially? The other point many keep making is that someday, people will simply have to close up their wallets and say “enough”. I agree, but when? With crowds any given day only growing… when do you say “enough”? What would it take for you to refuse? 

I will forever love Walt Disney World, and I will probably forever be a Passholder. I will forever own a ridiculous amount of official, limited edition merchandise and an endless supply of Disney attire. I will forever stay at the hotels (even though I live 5 minutes away), and I will forever pay inflated prices for a hot dog at Casey’s simply because it’s Casey’s. I’ll probably forever go to The Contemporary just to buy my shampoo and conditioner!! AND, I will forever swear off being duped into paying to enter the same place twice or thrice in one day under the inaccurate guise of being exclusive. This year, my favorite WDW event, Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, is now featuring a separately priced event themed around Puerto Rico. This one will cost ya $100 as well. I shudder to think of where we may progress to by the time next year’s Food and Wine event rolls around. I’m already wondering why they don’t offer a pre-paid package for food and wine purchases during the event, but at this point, quite honestly… I’m just hoping there won’t be a separate admission at each country! 

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