Theme Park Insider

Disney World looks upmarket with cabanas and (possibly) a new Club 33

November 21, 2016, 10:45 AM · Have you ever rented a cabana at a water park? For a (usually hefty) fee, you can book a private space in the park that allows you seats, shade, and often drinks and food, providing a place to retreat from the crowds and the hustle to find a place to lie down or sit among the masses.

But what if you could get something like that in a theme park? Now, you can.

Walt Disney World is now renting cabanas in the Magic Kingdom. (Now sit down while we tell you the price.) For $691 a day, after tax, you get a cabana located near Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, with lockable storage, charging stations, free sunscreen, drinks and food. For a family looking to take a rest break from the parks, but who don't want to spend the time to head all the way back to a hotel room, a cabana could provide a welcome solution — offering that private getaway space and a place to dump your stuff, without having to leave the park.

Of course, for $691 a day you could book yourself a darned nice hotel room in the Disney resort area. But let's face it. The market for these cabanas is people who already have booked one of those darned nice hotel rooms and who have the extra cash to drop on the added convenience of an in-park cabana, too. And cabanas are just the next step in Disney's emerging plan to make more money by selling visitors lounge access in its theme parks.

Disney and other theme parks long have provided pay-for-stay break rooms, so adding cabanas into that mix is more an extension of a well-established practice than any radical new way to squeeze extra money from park visitors. The Walt Disney World theme parks, Epcot especially, are littered with lounges built for the company's corporate partners and sponsors. Employees or guests of the sponsor were welcomed to use the lounges as people will use the cabanas — as a place to sit down, rest, enjoy a drink or snack, and maybe check a bag to pick up later in the day.

The big difference is that the people visiting the lounges weren't paying to use them — the sponsors were picking up the bill as part of their sponsorship package with the company.

Many of Disney's old corporate lounges have been converted to storage or cast break areas, as Disney books fewer direct sponsors for individual attractions as it once did. But now and then you can find some active lounges in the parks, such as the Chase lounge at Epcot, which Cecilia Bacca described for us last year.

At Universal Studios Florida, American Express card members can enjoy use of a private lounge near the Shrek theater. It's a simpler facility, but Universal offers a literal VIP experience to paying visitors on the west coast. Universal Studios Hollywood's VIP Experience includes the use of a well-appointed room above the Guest Service office near the park entrance, where participants will find a free supply of food and drinks.

Walt Disney World is taking the next step in that business model by offering spaces for the exclusive use of one family or party, rather than allowing them access to a larger, shared facility. But will people find it a good value?

Universal Studios Hollywood's VIP Experience costs between $359-399 per person, but also includes valet parking, park admission, front of line access to attractions and a private guided tour of the park's backlot, as well as lunch in the VIP lounge. Disney's in-park cabanas will accommodate up to eight people, making the per-person cost a little over $86 a day, if you put all eight people into the cabana. Will access to a glorified private tent (presumably without air conditioning) be enough for that price, without any of that special in-park access?

At this stage, Disney's looking as much for information here as it is seeking more money. If Disney find a demand for these cabanas, perhaps it decides to upgrade the experience by building permanent "cabana" facilities, with themed exterior decor, better appointments inside... and air conditioning. If Disney sees demand at lower price points, too, perhaps it will refurbish some of its old corporate lounges for pay-per-day use, allowing visitors access to these semi-private facilities for, say, $50-60 per person per day.

It's a badly kept secret among Disney World cast members that the company is looking to create a "Club 33"-style experience for free-spending theme park fans in Florida. But instead of building a single restaurant, like the original Club 33 at Disneyland in California, the Disney World Club 33 (or whatever it ends up being called), will be housed across a collection of smaller, in-park lounges at the resort. An announcement of the WDW Club 33 is expected by the end of the year, as people inside the company already are discussing pricing and the potential of financing plans.

So whether it's with a cabana, a club lounge, or a pay-per-use lounges in the park, Disney is looking for new ways to earn money from people who want to take a break for its crowds. Given the company's track record, here's betting that Disney will find more than enough visitors who are willing to pay for that.

Replies (24)

November 21, 2016 at 11:11 AM · Kind of an obscure amount of $691 per day. If it was $692 most folks would say no way too much… hahahaha – reminds me of the sighs for running a red light in Orlando. $218.25

To me this is another way of separating the Have’s and the Have not’s… Yes, we can afford a yearly vacation in Orlando for 8 days but there is no way I am adding $691.00 more dollars per day.

I understand this would give folks a nice break from the sun\heat\crowds\lines. But that is a lot of monies. Why not make it $300 and first come first serve reservations.

November 21, 2016 at 11:21 AM · A cabana should at minimum provide guaranteed viewing for parades and/or fireworks. Otherwise, it seems incomplete. It should provide bedding for a quick nap and a dining table with food wait service.
November 21, 2016 at 12:05 PM · For that price Disney might throw in an android robot from HBO's
Westworld... You get to pick anyone..

Anon: you can't get quiet for a Nap and a premium view at the same time. Unless they are build to have AC and go from the ground to 100 ft in the Air.. That would be something...

November 21, 2016 at 12:06 PM · Here's some additional context on the cabana price:

November 21, 2016 at 12:14 PM · The hotel chain I worked for has several large properties in Hawaii. They offer a special section of day use rooms for the arriving Japanese guests. This is because most of the flights to Hawaii from Japan arrive very early in the morning, hours and hours before guest rooms will be ready for check in. They give these jet-lagged folks a place to settle in while their rooms are prepared; day rooms were available limited in number and were always sold out. They are basically full rooms, with restrooms, but were not intended for overnight use.
The ability to retreat to a private, comfortable space during those hottest hours of the afternoon would be appealing to many, especially if there was a place to catch a nap and take a shower. If that space also offered food and beverage that was included in the price, the appeal would be even greater. At this point, it also has the feel of the pay-to-play lounges in international airports. During an especially long and difficult flight from San Diego to Paris, I ponied up the price to use a shower in a lounge in Heathrow. Best money I spent on that entire trip.
But the price! It seems like the target market for such places would also be able to pay for a room at one of the adjacent luxury hotels. Of course, for those of us who are not among the super-rich, it is hard to imagine what it must be like where money is no object…at all.
It will be interesting to see how this develops.

November 21, 2016 at 12:14 PM · This kind of thing is disappointing. If they want to do a luxury experience for the wealthy, then do that. Make it look really great from the outside, really comfortable on the inside, with a butler, and food & drink included. Do it right. Because just having some thrown-together tent that's testing the waters at a price point of $691 seems half-arsed and greedy on Disney's part.

As for $691, that's after tax. With that said, why not figure out how to price it before tax, so that after taxes, it's a nice even number like $700? Or $695? I never can understand that, but then again, I don't need to worry about that anymore because there is no sales tax here in Oregon. Something is listed at $5. It's $5. Meh.

I can understand VIP tours, and expensive suites. Not all that different from something like first class airfare. But for my money, I'd simply book a room at the Contemporary, where I can walk to the park in 15 minutes. For that kind of money in Tomorrowland, I'd rather just live in one of the Carousel of Progress rooms.

Maybe I'd feel different if I was a "single-digit millionaire". Lol.

November 27, 2016 at 4:47 PM · At first I thought the headline said cannabis. Cabanas make a lot more sense. Maybe Disney should just charge $691 for a one day ticket, and eliminate passes, park hoppers and mulitiday discounts. That would eliminate the need for cabanas or lounges as only a few people would ever be in one park per day. And for anyone that complains that that amount is too expensive, Disney could have a coupon day. Everyone knows Walt Disney built Disneyland and planned Disney World just for people like the Trumps, the Gates, the Buffets, and the (Steve) Jobs of the world, and of course the Eisners and Igers.

In all seriousness, Disney should be ashamed of themselves. They have increased prices much more than their operating costs have gone up. While it may be true Disney has enough customers willing to pay whatever they will charge, they're pricing out people that used to be loyal customers. At my local theater, the manager mentioned WB charged the theater less to show Fantastic Beasts on opening weekend then what Disney is charging them for Dr Strange, which they haven't had yet.

I'm not saying Disney shouldn't be profitable, I'm saying the people at Disney have decided making a profit is such a big priority they don't care how it affects anybody else. Disney keeps making it harder for middle class families to afford a theme park they once could easily afford. They demand such a high rate from movie theaters to show their movies, independent theaters have to wait over a month so they don't lose money by showing a movie made by Disney or one of its subsidies. Disney no longer cares about their biggest and most loyal customers, middle class Americans. They think nearly $700 to rent a tent a a theme park you also have to pay admission in order to get into is a good idea. I wish more people would say enough is enough, and let Disney know they're not going to remain loyal to Disney when they raise prices only to increase profit margins. Disney usually doesn't sell a bad product, they just want too much. And no Universal isn't much better.

November 21, 2016 at 12:26 PM · I can't wrap my mind around tents set out around Space Mountain. I would think Dumbo's circus area would make more sense, at least theme-wise. Tents would blend better over there.
November 21, 2016 at 1:04 PM · Maybe we can find a Groupon for this.... hahahahahaha

Save a few bucks if we get 5 other groups to do the Cabanas..

November 21, 2016 at 1:40 PM · Cabanas are an excellent idea for a waterpark, but I've got a feeling they'll be much less popular in a theme park. Now, if Disney ever manages to go lines-free like Volcano Bay, I could see the point of these, but until then I feel most guests will look at them as a waste of time and money. Plus, if you're able to afford a $700 cabana, you could also afford a room at one of the hotels directly on the monorail line, and I know which one I'd definitely prefer.
November 21, 2016 at 3:07 PM · As I understand it, these cabanas will be in what is basically dead space right now. They will have basically zero affect on my visits to the park.

Anon Mouse: Other websites are reporting that these cabanas come with reserved viewing for parades and fireworks.

November 21, 2016 at 7:55 PM · I'm all for 'taxing' the rich, if it will lower the 'taxes' for the poor, but hey, who am I kidding?

I don't mind as long as

A. It doesn't intrude on the experience of the average guest, and

B. It's not like the refurbished Club 33 in Disneyland which installed large windows that destroyed the scale of New Orleans Square, where the one percenters can look down on the peons.

November 21, 2016 at 10:43 PM · Some people have way too much money...

What's next? Exclusive "bed and breakfast" rooms in the Haunted Mansion? Or should that be "dead and breakfast"?

P.S.: My response to Randy's post: hear, hear!

November 22, 2016 at 1:53 AM · Not to be rude but my family and I can afford it. Would we do it? No way.

Moooooooooo - that's my impression of a cash cow.

November 22, 2016 at 9:39 AM · OK, I know "Still a fan" was being sarcastic, but I think adding an Air(is deathly still)BNB opportunity in The Haunted Mansion would be a fantastic idea.
We all know what a success the Disney Dream Suite was. How about the Haunted Mansion Nightmare suite!
Seriously...who here wouldn't love to spend the night with Master Gracey and the other 999 residents?
November 22, 2016 at 10:13 AM · I understand the upsell of a cabana at a waterpark. They are often in a premium location with a good view, have dedicated waiters, and may even include access to a private pool area. Very convenient if you don't have shoes or cash.

I don't understand the price or location of these WDW cabanas at all. For $700, I could post something on Craigslist paying someone to hold my umbrella, spritz water on my face, and do food and locker runs for me. But $700 for a tent on the backside of Space Mountain?

November 22, 2016 at 1:09 PM · I could see this being tried out for a month and then it will be gone. After what people are paying for hotels, the parks, I can't see people throwing away another $700 dollars on a cabanas.
November 23, 2016 at 12:13 AM · Rob, even Disney couldn't pull off my sarcastic idea. Let's not forget that the "Haunted Mansion" is just a fascade, and there are no rooms in that structure.

But the name of the game is definitely greed. They will pull out the most preposterous ideas, slap on a price straight out of science fiction, and put it up as a trial baloon, to see just how gullible the paying public can possibly be. Who knows, maybe these "cabanas" will actually sell out!

November 23, 2016 at 7:26 AM · I'm sure they are also factoring the per person cost. Most Disney guests have become experts at maximizing offerings. At $87 per person for a group of 8 people, the price is not bad at all, considering what is offered. Double that price for 4 people, $175 is still not that bad for a smaller group. When they move this concept from the testing phase to the production phase, I think it will be worth the price. I can imagine these being booked out far in advance. The look and feel of the testing cabanas are crap, but just imagine what a themed cabana in the cantina area of Star Wars land could be like? I would come dressed from a galaxy far, far, away, and pay the price to sit and people watch while being pampered in a themed cabana.
November 23, 2016 at 10:21 AM · It's another "frill" that will be popular to those people that have spare cash. Why do people spend so much money to stay at the Contemporary Resort or the Grand Floridian... How much time to they spend in the hotel area? I spend most of my time in the parks. I do know people that love the Animal Kingdom Lodge so much that they don't bother going into the parks. OK, some people (probably a lot of them) will spend the money for a cabana. For me... I'll pass.
November 23, 2016 at 7:50 PM · @George - When I do splurge for a deluxe hotel, I "bake in" times and plans to stay and enjoy the resort. I also am not the type to show up to the park early, sometimes not leaving the resort until 2 or 3pm. So much to enjoy and it makes the trip feel like a vacation versus a theme park trip. Disneyland on the other hand is when I stay at a low cost hotel and rarely see the hotel until it's time for bed or an afternoon nap.
November 26, 2016 at 12:21 AM · This is also an idea for people who have long since given up on the quaint notion of value for money...
November 24, 2016 at 8:45 PM · I don't really care as long as the cabanas don't take away from anything that's currently offered. On the other hand, that price seems insane given what's being offered. Maybe $200 would feel legitimate. That amount seems like it's for people with so much money they'll spend anything.
November 25, 2016 at 11:38 AM · @Brian Emery - The actual retail price is $650 a day. Robert included tax.

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