Theme Park Insider

What theme park upcharge event most would tempt you?

December 14, 2016, 11:31 AM · If all you read about theme parks are message boards and fans' social media accounts, you'd think that Disney's upcharge events are just about the most unpopular things in the theme park industry. But a heck of a lot of people pay a lot of money to participate in events that so many others profess to hate.

I write about the disconnect between fan complaints and the proliferation of upcharge and hard ticket events in my Orange County Register column this week. My take? People who complain about one type of upcharge event sometimes are the first to put down their money for another.

We've all got something for which we'd be willing to pay extra to experience at a theme park, even if you can't imagine paying extra for another thing that other people like. With tens of millions of people visiting the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts each year, Disney needs to hit that target for a tiny fraction of its visitors to run a successful event. And the more upcharge and hard ticket events that Disney runs, the more people whose targets Disney hits. So what's the problem?

The big one is a lack of variety. If you're not interested in a fireworks dessert party at one Disney theme park, you're probably not going to be interested in one at another park. So you get frustrated when Disney keeps adding variations on its other upcharge events rather than program the unique event you'd actually like to save up to buy.

In my column, I list some of the upcharge event suggestions that Theme Park Insider followers shared on Twitter last week. Some are funny and others serious. But I probably shouldn't have been surprised to read that the most popular suggestion was any event that excluded children.

Yes, we think of parks as family destinations, but as countless holiday comedies have shown us... sometimes "family" gets on our nerves. Even theme park fans want to get away from the kids sometimes. I guess that's as fair as any of the other upcharge options that the parks offer. If you don't like one, ignore it and wait for another that does appeal.

So let's continue the conversation. What's the theme park upcharge or hard ticket event that would entice you to part with your hard-earned cash?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (19)

December 14, 2016 at 11:39 AM · I just posted a topic to the discussion boards about a new service I have seen WDW is offering that provides guests with paid direct express access between parks. The real benefit being that you are picked up and delivered from back of house locations at each park meaning you don't need to deal with all the hurdles of exiting and entering each park. For the reported price, I think it's a great idea IF the service is quick and easy. I'm looking forward to hearing other opinions.
December 14, 2016 at 11:54 AM · Well, the next two upcharge events for Disneyland are either to say good-bye to the Tower of Terror (which I'm nicknaming the Paper Bag Ride because it's covered in scaffolding right now) or say hello to a 45-year-old low-tech parade of lights (to which I thought I'd said my final good-byes 20 years ago during the "Farewell Season" of 1996). I have no doubt that both events will find their audience, but I really don't think either of them is worth the $95 for me, because I think the Main Street Electrical Parade is old and and ought to be retired already, and I still don't like the plans to convert Tower into a Guardians space fortress oil refinery looking thing. Things come and go all the time at Disney, whether I like it or not; why am I expected to pay more for that?
December 14, 2016 at 11:55 AM · Having just had a nice evening at Sea World ruined by screaming, badly behaved children (and their parents), I would gladly pay an upcharge for an event with no kiddies.

Those giant strollers have got to go.

December 14, 2016 at 12:11 PM · Well, hard ticketed events are not anything new for WDW. I mean, Epcots Food and Wine Festival is a hard ticketed smorgasbord.

My family's picks are Mickeys Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party, and Party of the Senses

December 14, 2016 at 2:16 PM · I'm ok with every after hour event. No mater how much money they charge, go ahead. I have a problem with stuff that happens during park hours because it looks Disney is using it as a solution and not to fix problem for all their guests.
Take the new hopper pass bus service (that Rob is excited about). The hopper pass is already more expensive than a regular pass. I understand that because you want to use Disney's Magical transportation, right? But that transport system is cumbersome to say it polite. Instead of fixing that with additional light rail systems or other fun options they sell an EXTRA option to overcome a problem that Disney needs to fix in the first place.
Another one are premium spots for parades and fireworks. A problem that already exists from as long as I visit WDW. Why not add multi level viewing areas at Epcot so we can all have a great view of the lake. Why not build extra levels on some of the area's in TomorrowLand for extra viewing area's for the castle show, parade and firework or second levels to the main street. No the problem is not solved to have people spent extra money for a roped area and in the process take that area away for their regular guests. And now the Liberty Square Riverboat is being hijacked by another pay-to-play option and meet a princess.

Universal could have done the same with the Ollivanders 'pick-a-wand' show, when you look at the demand. But they did build 3 additional theaters, payed 3 extra actors to give people a less frustrating wait without asking for extra money. Do these small shows produce great sales, sure, every amazing ride and show will produce sales in souvenirs but not if the experience is bad.
Again, after hours or behind the scenes tours, great. The rest, not so much.

December 14, 2016 at 3:10 PM · I would love a premium E-Ticket Fastpass and Showpass. The Showpass will give you a premium reserved viewing spot for all the popular parades and shows throughout the resort according to your preselected preferences.

The issue with parades and fireworks viewing is Disneyland has not yet been upgraded for premium viewing unlike the Magic Kingdom that completely rehabbed their hub. Disneyland needs to remove all those planters that keep people out of prime viewing spots. The trees need to be cut down. The restaurants around the hub perimeter need better placement of their tables and their umbrellas removed at night. The Tomorrowland rocks must go away. Increase the setback of the land gateways to increase guest space.

Premium Fastpass means every single popular E-Ticket attraction is available for the guest at any hour of the day. This is not unlimited, but it ensures you can avoid lines at least once an hour. If you skipped a ride for lunch, your Fastpass rolls over into the next hour.

A Meet and Greet Upcharge with Fastpass and instant photos or ready after the end of the day.

December 14, 2016 at 3:49 PM · I would happily pay extra to see Bob Iger and Bob Chapek get fired, and replaced with Matt Ouimet!
December 14, 2016 at 4:49 PM · I think a lot of people agree with upcharges they'd pay for and dislike anything they wouldn't. I personally don't care what a park decides to upcharge provided they aren't doing it in a way that it significantly disadvantages non-paying guests. As for me, if we assume the price is $100 it would take a 3+ hour ERT session on all the park's headliners, with a guest limit of no more than 10% the total hourly capacity of those attractions, before I'd be willing to pay for it. Alternatively, I'd also go for a lights-on mountain tour at Disneyland.
December 15, 2016 at 2:22 AM · While I roll my eyes every time I hear about a new upcharge event, I was at Disneyland alone this year in September. I paid for the World of Color Dessert Party. I thought the $79 was a better spend than spending maybe 90 minutes of time waiting alone for a good spot (even with fastpass last time I was not in the best spot). It was very nice actually, I met some very nice people at my table and got to have a great view for the show. I would probably do it again if I were solo.

Deep down I am fine with upcharges - you have the choice NOT to do them. But for me they have to be really worth it. The Tower of Terror thing recently in DCA, I would have done.
Those cabanas...no no no.
I'd be willing to pay for dinner in Haunted Mansion, ToT, maybe Jungle Cruise. And after 2015 at Spectromagic (fiasco for us) I think we are now willing to pay for that meal deal or whatever it is.
I think experience is a major factor. If you had a bad experience last time, you might throw money at it to make it better.
But that makes me think about first timers. Do they feel its their only chance to ever do these things and so they take the upcharge on everything?
I have opened a can of worms in my head.

December 15, 2016 at 2:25 AM · Oh and I would pay for Great Move Ride ANYTHING! I was so envious of the dinner that was held there. Imagine dressing up all retro glam and mingling around Gene Kelly with a cocktail.
Or pretending to rip out your parties hearts in the Indy section :-)
December 15, 2016 at 7:26 AM · A couple suggestions...

Dapper Nights. Like Dapper Days but a private event in the evening with fancy dress, cocktails, and finger foods.

Nintendo Night. Yeah I realize we have a few years but just an evening for Nintendo fans to geek out together about video games.


December 15, 2016 at 7:29 AM · Disney continues to cater to an upper class crowd, and look no further to the food options as to evidence of this. While many middle class citizens like myself are content with food that tastes good, upper class citizens want it presented well. In Disney terms, that means anything from the chef's table at Victoria and Albert's to fancy frosting on the overpriced cupcakes while watching fireworks. Of the theme park fans sites I frequent (including this one) many posts are about food, this one included.
But to answer the question, I have paid for the Fantasmic dinner package some would have to wait in line for 2 hours to see the show.
December 15, 2016 at 8:55 AM · Oh man, a Great Movie Ride dinner wearing 30s/40s dress... I would save for that. And Im one of those brole Millennial, too.
December 15, 2016 at 10:10 AM · OT - You really got me thinking on your comments. Typically I never complain about upcharge options but something was rubbing me wrong about the new express bus service and I couldn't quite place my finger on it. I do believe you have cleared it up for me!

The transportation system / park hopping process does leave much to be desired. "If you don't like our slow, cramped, time consuming option, join us for a much more magical experience!(at a cost of course)"

Why fix a problem when you can get guests to foot the bill for your improvements!? And long after you covered the cost of the improvement, let the guests keep paying for it..don't open it up for all to access.

I could really picture this...."Try our brand new MARK XI monorail we call "PLATINUM! For an additional $163.52 per day, per person, you can travel in style on the PLATINUM monorail. PLATINUM includes great additional features such as new tires that aren't worn out and shock absorbers that won't creak and moan around corners. PLATINUM is guaranteed to never have an electrical failure, but if it were to happen, on-board generators keep your AC on so you stay cool and comfortable. PLATINUM includes a driver trained especially to keep you informed in the event your trip is delayed. Yes, make sure your magicband is preloaded with PLATINUM access so you can access it by the special monorail shaped scanner. We vaccumed the carpets this morning JUST for you!"

yeah, I think I have resolved my internal upcharge conflict with the express service.

December 15, 2016 at 10:55 AM · The Halloween parties are a good value, but most upcharge events are blatant rip-offs. Definitely for people with too much money -- or no notion of value for money.

As others have noted above, the big problem comes when these events encroach on the experience of regular park guests. For example, all of these roped-off, reserved areas for dessert parties means less prime viewing spots for everyone else. That's when you're reminded that Disney is all about $$$$.

December 15, 2016 at 11:06 AM · Eh, they won't do something like that for the monorail... or at least I hope they wouldn't as the vehicles are all on the same rail. It's not exactly like an express bus where it takes you directly to your stop. I would pay for that if money wasn't an issue or if I really wanted to splurge.

It's like paying for a VIP guide... it's pretty much the Premium Pass that Anon Mouse speaks of above. Sure it lets you get on pretty much any attraction nearly instantly, but it costs about $3k for 8 hours for up to 8 people I think? Something like that. That's what kind of price people would have to pay to do so. It's what celebs use when they visit. If they lowered the price, then too many people would try to utilize it.

But anyway, to get back on topic, I do enjoy the additional events for after hours. Whether it's the Halloween ones at Disneyland, or the Halloween events at Universal/ Six Flags/ Knott's, they're all worth it now.

Honestly, I don't think I'd pay for an adults only day at Disneyland or Universal etc. Adults can just be as bad as children especially with alcohol involved. While strollers and crying children sometimes can be a pain, there are just as many adults who think they own the world and can break rules just because no one is there to enforce them. Yes this can apply to an event where the cost is an additional fee. Money doesn't make people have more respect for others.

I like being able to have a guaranteed spot for Fantasmic! or World of Color, so I'm a fan of those.

Yes it's relatively expensive to visit Disneyland especially without an AP. But like all entertainment, this is for those with disposable income... not a privilege. Save up if you want to go. If it was $40 to get in everyone would be complaining that it's too crowded even more than they do now.

December 15, 2016 at 11:28 AM · I would pay extra for an event with no children.
December 16, 2016 at 4:26 AM · I have just recently been to Mickeys very merry Christmas party. While the parade was magical the event is way over priced. There was a limited number of attractions open which huge crowds despite these events rumoured to have smaller crowds. Free offerings consisted of hot chocolate and cookies or eggnog. The price for a family of 5 almost 500 dollars. I won't be returning for this event anytime soon. Soon Disney will be charging you extra if a cast member smiles at you.
December 17, 2016 at 9:38 AM · I love the idea of grad nite reunions or any 21 and over nights. I love kids and I encourage people to bring them, but overtired children pushed by overtired parents are a nightmare. So a hard ticket event with people fresh and happy without strollers, or those motorized scooters that people use as human bulldozers, would actually be worth the money. The goal is too have a good time, right? Not to just consume as much as possible with no regard for the guests around you?

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