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Mike Scopa

Uncle Al Wants You

How Walt Disney World tries to capture your whole vacation

Friday, June 17, 2005
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Have you ever seen those World War II recruiting posters? You know, the ones with Uncle Sam pointing at you with the words, “Uncle Sam Wants You!” blasted at the bottom? I'm thinking that these days we should be seeing a similar poster with Al Weis and the words, “Uncle Al wants You!” at the bottom.

At least it would be a not-so-subtle hint that the Walt Disney World Resort desperately wants to make sure that it has an opportunity to lure you to the World early and often, with an assortment of carrots in place to lead you to the promised land.

In this session, let's look first at what Walt Disney World has, is, and will be doing get you to the Walt Disney World Resort, then to keep you there, and finally, what subtle approaches they use to make you reach for your wallet.

In the Beginning: Magic Your Way

It's nice to be wanted, right? Just think: Your presence is so valued and treasured that a place like Walt Disney World will do just about anything to make you feel wanted and, oh by the way, do whatever it can to convince you that they are offering you the best deal in Central Florida.

I'm sure you are familiar with the Magic Your Way ticket program launched in January. It's still confusing to some who have never walked through a WDW turnstile but when you break it down, it's very simple.

You have a base ticket good for whatever number of days you intend to visit the theme parks. This base ticket is good for one park visit per day and expires 14 days after it is first used.

What is appealing about the cost of this ticket is how the per-day cost decreases as you increase the number of days. In “Magic Your Way,” my article from this past February, I showed you how this per-day cost works. In a nutshell, one-day adult admission can be as high as $63.63, with the cost going down to only $22.15 if you purchased a 10-day ticket.

Even a four-day ticket (at $49.26) provides substantial savings over a three-day ticket priced at $60.71, at 19 percent. There must be some significance there. My guess is that some bean counter did a study and found that the amount of money a guest drops at WDW goes up significantly starting on day four… hence the need to lure guests to go beyond that third day.

Now these numbers show the price for a one-park-per-day base ticket. Add around $37 per ticket to allow you to park-hop and another $48 or so to each ticket if you want the Magic Plus Pack option that adds admission to Disney's Blizzard Beach water park, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon water park, DisneyQuest, Pleasure Island or Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

Actually… if you want all the flexibility that comes with the Park Hopper and Magic Plus Pack options, then you might just buy a Premium Magic Your Way ticket. That adds $85 to the base price, so you'd save a few dollars.

The no-expiration option is a bit trickier. It adds anywhere from $10 to $100 per ticket, depending on the number of days on the ticket.

But let's get back to the matter of cost per day. Obviously it's very appealing for many people to see the cost per day go down—“Gee honey; let's stay for seven days. We'll save all kinds of money.”

Well, you would think.

Of course Disney is hoping that you are not just adding days in the park but also days in one of their on-property resort hotels. The need to put, as Disney expert Jim Hill would say, “Heads in the beds” was never stated more often than the year after September 11, 2001.

Prior to that day, the profile of the average WDW guest was of someone who most likely flew into Orlando and stayed on the property for an average of seven to 10 days.

The aftermath of 9/11 and the poor economy changed that profile in several ways. Instead of flying to see Mickey, guests were now taking to the roads. Guests were now choosing to lodge somewhere on International Boulevard, and their lengths of stay had dropped to between five and seven days.

Disney has to solve its puzzle returning to its pre-9/11 profile by first convincing potential guests on the merits of staying longer. The new and more flexible Magic Your Way ticket program serves as the first piece of this puzzle.

Let's move on to the second piece.

Magical Express… or is it Capture Express?

This past May, we saw another piece of the puzzle introduced to the public. Called “Magical Express,” it offers a unique convenience to the WDW-bound traveler.

This exclusive complimentary shuttle and luggage delivery service conveniently takes you from the airport directly to your Walt Disney World Resort.

You check your luggage in at your departing airport. When you arrive in Orlando, you are whisked away to your resort, and Disney delivers your luggage right to your hotel room. At the end of your stay, you check your luggage in at your hotel, and the shuttle returns you to Orlando International Airport.

Pretty neat, huh? It's like playing Walt Disney World monopoly… do not stop at any shopping center en route to the WDW property, do not make any quick shopping trips at an outlet or two, do not pass Go, etc.

“No sir!” says Uncle Al, “We want to make sure we have FULL CONTROL over your whereabouts as you head for the resort.”

Remember some 10 years back when we heard noise about a possible huge project involving bringing the monorail all the way to Orlando International Airport?

Fiscally responsible minds prevailed and it was quashed, but the main reason it was even discussed was to enable Disney to take their guests from the plane and transport them directly to WDW as quickly as possible and without stopping off anywhere in between.

That's what tragical… erh Magical Express was all about.

And if you use Magical Express, you most likely won't be renting a car. That means you probably won't be leaving the WDW resort during your stay, and all your Central Florida vacation budget goes into the Disney coffers.

The Magical Express service is Disney's way of investing some capital in the hope of getting 100 percent of your time on the property. After all, the more of your vacation time you spend at the resort, the more likelihood you will spend money.

The service is actually a win-win situation for those who prefer not to drive when in Orlando and are only there to visit WDW… no trip to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens, or Sea World.

And although the program experienced various hiccups and problems during its introduction (and we've reported on those problems here at MousePlanet), it's another piece of the puzzle Disney uses, not only to bring people to the resort, but to maximize the amount of time they spend on property.

Stay, Play, and Dine

Earlier this month, the Walt Disney World added another piece of the puzzle. It's a special package that sort of caught me off guard because I am NOT one to say great things about vacation packages… until now.

This package is a specially priced five-night, six-day Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining offer that includes accommodations for five nights, a six-day Magic Your Way base ticket (extra charge to add any options like the park hopper option), and most importantly a special dining plan.

You have to book this package before July 3, 2005 and the travel between August 21 and October 4, 2005. As I understand it guests can book a minimum of 3 nights and a maximum of 10. Also the nights booked do not have to match the number of days on the Magic Your Way tickets. Of course, it's best to verify these details with your travel agent.

The key is the package is that you get your meals for free! Each person on the plan gets one counter-service meal, a select snack, and one meal at a table-service restaurant, per night on this package.

Let's look at the numbers first before we go any further.

Since the example given is for a value resort like Pop Century, let's compare an a la carte vacation for 5 nights and 6 days versus this package.

Rack rates between August 21 and October 4 for a value resort are about $85 per night including tax. That amounts to $429 for the five-night stay.

Let's add two 6-day base tickets and add the hopper option. That's another $500.

Let's assume $40 per person per day for food. That means another $480 for a total of $1409.

This package goes for $425 per person based on double occupancy. That's $850, but let's add the cost of the park hopper option to the tickets. The total is $925 or at least $484 less than our a la carte deal, depending on where you elect to use your sit-down option on your dining plan.

Obviously the value of that meal is greater if you have dinner in Le Cellier at Epcot as opposed to the Plaza Restaurant in Magic Kingdom.

The resort makes out on this by bringing in some guests who normally would not come at this slow time of the year (remember the “putting heads in beds” concept).

Second, it gives a boost to the restaurants. Let's say you own a theme park and have four restaurants in the theme park. Two of these restaurants are somewhat pricey but the other two are not.

A meal at the pricey restaurant costs about $35 per person but a meal at the not-so-pricey restaurant is only $17.95 per person. During a slow period like August to October, those pricey restaurants may not get much business, since those who travel from mid-August to mid-October are traditionally looking for a very economical vacation and thus do not frequent the higher-priced restaurants. So the two less pricey restaurants are getting the business while the pricey one's have empty tables.

With a dining plan, guests may try the more expensive restaurant. This way, Disney can balance the traffic in the restaurants and take some of the overflow from the less expensive eateries.

Disney does this with its resort room bookings regularly. When they have abundant room left in the deluxe resorts but are filling to capacity on the moderate and value resorts, guests are offered free upgrades on their reservations.

This would frees up the cheaper rooms. Better to generate a little revenue than no revenue at all. The airline industry is probably a master at this (often upgrading their very frequent flyers to business or first class seats so they can fill the coach seats with regular paying customers who would never pay for first class seats).

The same holds for this dining plan.

This package is such a deal that I am taking them up on their offer and giving it a try… my first package in 30 years of visiting Orlando. Yes, it's worth a try.

Fastpass and Extra Magic Hours

Not to be overlooked in this formula is the continual success of both the Fastpass and Extra Magic Hours programs in the parks. The Fastpass ticket system allows guests to reduce the idle time of waiting in long queues for their favorite attraction, since if they are just waiting in line, their wallets are idle. Instead, guests can do a little shopping or purchase that cool drink. It's a win-win situation because not only do guests prefer to not stand in line for hours, but the resort enjoys some added revenue.

The Extra Magic Hours program for the mornings and the evenings in the parks is yet another carrot to not only convince potential visitors on the merits of staying on-property but most likely will work towards keeping guests on the property with the lure of easier access to their favorite attractions.

Good or Bad?

I think that all these promotions are actually in the best interest of the WDW guest. It has to be pointed out, however, that proper planning is still key to getting the most out of your vacation dollar. Understand exactly what you want out of your vacation. Recognize what your vacation needs are. How many days will you will be visiting the theme parks? What are your eating habits? How will you tour the parks?

If you do your homework, not only will you have a great time, you will get great value for your vacation dollar.

You may find that not only does Uncle Al want you but you may want what Uncle Al has waiting for you…. something that will help you…

…Remember the Magic!

A Special Welcome

This personal note makes me sound like Kris Kringle in A Miracle on 34th Street by sending Macy's customers to Gimble's, but I'd like to send a congratulatory note to a friend of mine, Amy Stoll, who has joined Deb Wills' AllEarsNet team.

I am a fan of Amy's writing style and I invite you to check out Amy's next column. Don't blame me if you get hooked. Amy's talent for weaving wit and humor into her very insightful thoughts on WDW will make you a fan as well.

I know she's a devoted Mouseplanet reader and I just want to publicly wish her the best of luck with AllEarsNetƒ so good luck Amy.

Next Time

Attention dog owners. You may want to bring man's best friend to our next session. I have a certain bone to pick with Disney's Animal Kingdom.


Send Mike your thoughts, questions, or comments here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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MousePlanet® is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company, its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available at www.disney.com. This MousePlanet Web site provides independent news articles, commentary, editorials, reviews, and guides primarily about the theme park resorts of the Walt Disney Co. All information on this site is subject to change. Please call destinations in advance to confirm the most up-to-date information.