Here in part two, I will follow-up with a personal story about the rising cost of character dining, varying-price dinner shows, and the magnitudinous (yes it's a real word, look it up and use it — you'll always sound precocious) economic effect of the Magic Bands on the most important financial institution in America — your wallet... or purse. ("Uh, no, that's not a man-purse, it's a satchel. Indiana Jones has one.")
Why in the World (see what I did there?) is Disney upcharging the daylights out of everything? It's a fairly complicated answer that I will attempt to explain utilizing simple yet dynamic economic terminology, despite not having an MBA in business.... It's because, and try to follow me here, they want more money.
And probably more money than I or you personally might have, which is why they are repositioning themselves in their marketing strategy as a vacation destination for the rich.
Now I assume most of you are like me and not super-rich like the Thurston Howell the Third from Gilligan's Island (he was the millionaire) or you would be spending your time reading Money magazine, watching your stocks split, or picking out a new yacht, instead of say reading a Theme Park Insider article authored by its version of Gilligan. [Editor's note: But if you do read Money magazine, look whom they quote. Ha!]
IT'S JUST GOOFY HOW MUCH PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR THIS!
Remember when there were, like, two character meals in all of Disney? Yeah, me neither. It seems like there are now more character dining opportunities than actual Disney characters. Which is probably why the last character meal I attended featured the two crocodiles from The Rescuers (Bonus points if you remember who they are — Brutus and Nero) and the villain from Mulan whose name no one can quite recall.
Actually, I take that back. The last character meal I attended was the Star Wars Jedi Mickey Character Dining Meal in Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is because now I am so broke that this particular Jedi will not be able to attend another character dining experience until I am roughly the same age as Ben Kenobi when he was hiding out on Tatooine in Episode IV.
Now, don't get me wrong. You can call me a lot of things, but cheap isn't one of them. My family of four has attended more than its share of character meals, so I'm used to dropping some cash at these things. One of our favorites is the Garden Grill at The Land in EPCOT and even with the Tables in Wonderland Discount (20%), we spend around $130.
Okay, fine... So I sign us up for this Jedi Mickey Dinner at Hollywood and Vine and yes, my bad, I did not look into the pricing beforehand, figuring it would be about the same. I mean, we're getting pretty much the same thing, right? Characters and dinner.
To quote everyone's favorite Star Wars character, Jar Jar Binks: "Yousa in for a surprise, okeeday!"
But I digress.... We soon received visits from Goofy Darth Vader, Donald Stormtrooper, Chip and Dale Ewoks, and Minnie Leia. Awesome. But then again, not the best interactions we've ever experienced.
Then there was the food. May I remind you, this is a typical Disney buffet, with a food renamed with Star Wars puns, plus some specialized (wait for it) Star Wars Desserts. At Hollywood and Vine. Meatballs and roast beef stations and salad and pasta and kid choices. It wasn't like Don Shula was there, hand-carving steaks for us.
The only other thing included besides the food and the character interaction (such as it was) was a paper “lightsaber” you could roll up and fasten with provided rubber bands.
Then the bill arrives. My wife reaches for it to take a peek. You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they finally find the Well of Souls and Sallah drops the torch in amidst the roiling, coiling mass of snakes and looks at Indy? “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.” Yeah, that was the same look I got. Call me Dr. Jones, doll.
So I open the bill and it's just south (literally by a couple dollars) of $200 dollars. Yes. Two hundred dollars. American. I figure this must be a simple mix-up and the waiter accidentally gave us the bill for his eight-top table.
$57.99 per adult, and $34.99 per child. $198 with tax. Not including tip.
For meatballs and roast beef stations and salad and pasta and kid choices.
At Hollywood and Vine.
My daughter is literally the same width as a yardstick and could not consume $34.99 at a buffet unless she spent the better part of two weeks there, eating three meals a day. If your child can consume $34.99 worth of food, then congratulations on having a future NFL offensive lineman who can financially support you for the rest of your life with his pro salary, which will be a necessity since your 401k may not recover from the hit it took at Jedi Mickey's Dinner.
May the Force be with your wallet.
HOOP-DEE-DOO, WE SURE RIPPED OFF YOU!
Walt Disney World currently hosts two major dinner show experiences: the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness Resort and the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort.
I'm sure it will come as a surprise to no one that both of these are pretty expensive. In years past, however, there was only one price for the experience. But in the brave new world of Disney upcharging for considerations like what day you go or where you want to sit, both of these experiences now feature three-tier pricing categories, based on your chosen seating location.
The closer you choose to sit to the stage the more you pay, however you still get the exact same meal. At the Hoop Dee Doo, the three categories are priced as follows (tax and gratuity included):
Adult (10 and older) $67.99
Child (3-9) $39.99
Adult (10 and older) $67.99
Child (3-9) $38.99
Adult (10 and older) $61.99
Child (3-9) $36.99
If you can figure out any rhyme or reason to this pricing structure, you are better than me. As you can see, the difference in price from Category 1 to 2 amounts to a whole dollar and that's just off the children's price. And oddly enough, Category 3 sees the adult price plunge $6, yet the children's price only drops another $2 from Category 2, and $3 from Category 1.
Using Category 2 as a median example, a family of four will pay $213.95 to hoop, dee, and doo (not necessarily in that order.)
And what are you getting to eat for this outlay of cash? All-you-care-to-enjoy (I love this phrase, the Disney-fied version of all-you-can-eat) fried chicken, BBQ ribs, salad, baked beans, cornbread, and strawberry shortcake. Plus unlimited soft drinks, draft beer, wine, and sangria. That's an expensive picnic.
Moving on to the Spirit of Aloha show, again your pricing will be dependent on the proximity to the stage. The three categories are priced as follows (tax and gratuity included):
Adult (10 and older) $72.99
Child (3-9) $39.99
Adult (10 and older) $67.99
Child (3-9) $36.99
Adult (10 and older) $60.99
Child (3-9) $33.99
More Disney Algebra: The only pattern I can detect is that the kid price drops a consistent $3 per category, yet the adult price drops $5, and then $7, respectively. I'm not sure who Disney has put in charge of all these pricing structures, but they could be easily fired and replaced by Chip and Dale, who at least know how to properly count their nuts.
Now if your family of four elects to attend this show in Category 1 Seating, you will say Aloha to $225.96 of your money.
And for that price, you get to dine on pulled pork, BBQ ribs, roasted chicken, salad, slaw, pineapple-coconut bread, and pineapple bread pudding. Again, soft drinks, beer, and wine are included.
Now it doesn't exactly take the Great Mouse Detective to notice that the pricing structure of these two dinner shows are very similar to that of all those upsell dessert parties I covered on Part I. In my opinion though, if you're going to go ahead and splurge a little at Disney, then your money is better spent at the Hoop-Dee-Doo or the Spirit of Aloha, because at least you're getting a full meal (and dessert) plus a show instead of just a dessert party and "reserved seating."
As a parent, the main thing that irritates me about all these dining experiences is the pricing for children. I touched on this a bit in the character meal section, but when you fully break it down, it's ridiculous.
For starters, Disney considers kids to be 9 or under, anything 10 or above is an adult. Really? I could understand ages 13 or 14 years old, as teens (especially boys) start eating you out of house and home, but 10? A typical 10-year-old is not going to consume an equal amount of food as a grown adult, and should not be charged the same $60-70 rate.
Kids' meals typically cost $7-10 at most restaurants (including many Disney ones.) Which is why even the $30-40 they're actually charging for the under-10 set seems excessive. And kids tend to eat even less than they normally do while on vacation, particularly with all the excitement and snacking and different foods than they are used to... all the hallmarks of a theme park trip.
Ding-dong! A box arrives at my house from UPS.
My 7 year old son: What is that? Is that for me?
Me: No it's the box with our new Magic Bands. (Opening box) See?
Son (dubious): What's a Magic Band? It looks like a bracelet. I'm not wearing that.
Me: It's not a bracelet. It's a band. Here. Yours is blue.
Son: I don't want to wear that bracelet.
Me: Whatever. You have to wear it.
Me: Because Disney said so.
Son (considers that): Let's go to Universal.
Welcome to the new Disney Experience! Mandatory jewelry. Where else in life does that happen where you have to wear bracelets when you don't necessarily want to?
Oh yes, getting arrested. Disney Jail, the happiest prison on Earth.
I'll even start off by defending these bands a bit. What are the positives? Well, Magic Bands are easier to carry around than hotel room keys and park tickets; they are waterproof so you can wear it down to the pool without having to leave a room key on a pool chair, and they act as a payment system so you don't have to leave money or a credit card on that same chair if you want to get some ice cream after your swim.
And they act as your personal FastPass+ ticket too.
How about the negatives? Can you say Big Brother? Some consider Magic Bands to be a bit of an invasion of privacy, as they can track your every move and purchase as you travel throughout the parks, your on-site Disney hotel, and Disney Springs.
And if these things are so advanced then how come if you're a passholder you still need to lug around at least one old-style hard ticket pass to show cast members in order to get your discount at restaurants and shops? Funny how convenient these Bands are in facilitating you in spending your money, yet when it comes time to save a few bucks, they aren't capable of helping you out? Let me get this straight. This little technological marvel has the power to literally open doors, buy anything in Walt Disney World, defy water and liquid, get me onto a ride with little or no wait, but it can't save me 10% of my money?
That stuff is bad, but what's the worst thing about them?
Allow me to give you an analogy…
You know when you go on a cruise ship and you get your cruise card or pass or whatever they want to call it? Regardless of the name, what it amounts to is a "cashless" system, meaning your pass or card is used as a charge card instead of using cash or your own credit cards. It's used to make all onboard purchases, and it's connected to one of your own personal credit cards that you provided when you signed up.
Then a running tab of your purchases is kept under a folio, and the night before you disembark the ship, you get an itemized statement left in your stateroom. If there are no discrepancies, your credit card on file is charged the total amount to fund all your onboard purchases.
What is the beauty of that little idea for the customer? Well, it alleviates any stress you have on board the ship, so you can gamble, drink alcohol, buy souvenirs, and pay for your photos with a simple swipe of your card.
Yes, Disney has copied this idea wholesale with its Magic Band program. And everything else the band does, from opening hotel doors to storing Fastpass+ info, is purely and simply fluff. The meat of the magic, as it were, is it functions as a "cashless" system, operating just the same on dry land as it does upon the seven seas.
Now most businesses do not become financially successful enterprises based on selflessly and unilaterally taking care of the customer, so you better believe there's a benefit to the company.
What is the benefit? Well, you know when you're about to buy something, you take a moment to think, "Can I afford this?" And that second pause when you pull out your wallet or purse or money clip to decide how best to pay, whether using cash or which of your credit cards works best? Those two pauses give you a moment to change your mind before you buy.
A "cashless" system is built for one purpose and one purpose only, to remove those stumbling blocks that keep you the consumer from spending your money at the business, whether it's a cruise ship or a theme park empire.
Nothing to think about, just touch your Magic Band to the Mickey-head logo. It turns a lovely glowing green color (and we all know green always means good, right?) and that's it. You just keep touching that Band and after awhile it doesn't seem like you're spending real money.
And you know what else is no different in a theme park than in the cruising model? That moment of sticker shock when you get that staggering final bill and think, "Wow, I really drank that much?" or "Hey, did I break some furniture or something?"
That's what happens when you're no longer handing over your hard-earned cash and getting change back that dwindles in your wallet with each purchase. It removes that moment when you tally up what's left and think, "Okay we're going to need to eat counter service tonight."
You're no longer managing your money, your Band is. And whose side do you think it's on? Hint: It's got a Mickey head on it; not your face.
In Mickey we trust... But I'd rather pay cash.
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