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Today’s update is meant to be a clear-eyed examination of the Walt Disney World prices. I’m not going to be comprehensive, but it can be worthwhile to choose some representative prices. What’s motivating this is not yet another price hike (though there was the usual one when the summer ended), but rather the re-appearance of the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. I’m not trying to imply the prices are out of control at F&W. In many cases, the prices didn’t budge compared to last year. But that realization led me to see that I haven’t put together a compilation of prices in some time, and yet we talk about “value” in this space quite a lot. Obviously, value has something to do with price, so it’s helpful to return to price every so often.

Let’s start with Food and Wine. It was insanely crowded this past weekend, as it’s opening weekend. But let’s not dismiss with a wave of the hand the crowds. Just because it’s opening weekend does not mean that it should be crowded. Clearly, some folks are finding value in this event to crowd it so much, year after year.


Celebrating 15 years.

Here are some prices:

  • New England Lobster Roll - $7.25
  • Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup - $3.75
  • Crème Brulee au chocolat au lait - $3.75
  • Steamed Mussels with roasted garlic cream - $3.75
  • Kielbasa and potato pierogi - $5.00


The logo this year.

But the raw prices don’t speak the whole truth. Sometimes, portions are reduced. The ultra-rich chocolate lava cake in Ireland seems to be about half the size as last year – but it’s not half the price. Other items stay the same size, but go up in price. The spanakopitta (spinach pastry) at Greece was $3.00 in 2007, but is now $4.00. So price alone is not a good indicator of how good a value the item may be.

The booths continue to be made nicer—it seems like they make a permanent one for a new country every year. And have they always put the year on the signs to indicate when the country booth first joined this festival? They probably did it at least last year—the Mexico booth stayed here this whole time, and it’s got the date—but for reason it caught my eye this year. I like this touch. Disney should always nod to its history when it can.

But beyond food, which I have pretty well documented in prior articles and books, what I really wanted to do was benchmark merchandise. I resolved to spend the entire day in MouseGear, the “emporium” of Epcot, and document everything. After two hours, though, I abandoned the comprehensiveness of the project as too ambitious, so again we have a sampling rather than everything.


MouseGear

I did want to take pictures of the TYPE of merchandise offered, though, as a way to perhaps prepare people about to go on vacation. They can have a glimpse of the variety of merch and perhaps even make tentative plans for their souvenirs. If this is wishful thinking, we can chalk up my attempt as just experimentation and never repeat it. But if there’s value in this, let me know and I’ll see if I can’t return to it from time to time.

Here are some sample prices:

Buzz Lightyear costume - $46 Oversized Mickey hands - $18 2010 WDW baseball cap - $14 Disney Candyland - $15
Cinderella costume - $60 Goofy hat - $20 2010 WDW bus matchbox - $10 Pirate fake hook - $3
Epcot 5x7 frame - $12 10 oz twirl lollipop - $5 WDW decorative plate - $25 WDW garden-scale train set - $65
Epcot coffee mug - $15 Sour balls (6 oz) - $3 Castle fridge magnet (not flat) - $7 Monorail playset - $73
Mickey sorcerer hat - $25 Bulk candy (pound) - $13 WDW flat fridge magnet - $5 Classic Mickey t-shirt - $20
EPCOT Center t-shirts - $22-$30 Bulk candy (quarter pound) - $3 Mickey ice cube tray - $6 Disney pins (green) - $7
2010 WDW sweatshirt - $37 Pucker powder (6 inch tube) - $3 Antenna topper - $5 Disney pins (blue) - $10
2010 Mickey hoodie sweatshirt - $55 Pucker powder (30 inch tube) - $6 Stitch plush - $12 Disney pins (lavender) - $16

If that taste has you wanting more, you’ll be glad to know I took lots more photos in MouseGear that day in September, and I’ve put representative selections onto my account in flickr for you to peruse at your leisure.

Of course, no discussion of prices is complete without mentioning the park admission prices. Disney is still very expensive, obviously, but then again, most entertainment is. Seeing a professional sport in a new stadium is probably cheaper for most seats (but not all?) than visiting Disney World. But is a day of snowboarding any cheaper than Epcot? How about parasailing? Disney may not be down on the spectrum of cost with your local Six Flags, but then again, the quality is higher at Disney, so maybe the value meter evens out.


Prices as of October 3, 2010.

One reader wrote to me, upset about some recent changes to DVC. To quote from the DVC newsletter: “Note that, effective Oct. 14, the new system will require a one-night room and tax deposit for cash reservations, and payment for the Disney Dining Plan will be required at the time it’s added to a reservation. (As a reminder, Members may add the Disney Dining Plan to their reservation as many as 48 hours prior to their check-in date.)” The reader continued in his email to me:

My wife and I are celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary and are staying at Bay Lake Towers (4 nights) and Animal Kingdom Lodge (3 nights). I can only imagine what DVC is doing to cheapen out my experience.

When we first bought in and for several years afterward, we were like one of the families on the DVC channel in the hotel room. We were thrilled. Little by little......they chipped away. Cash night discounts are never available, however, I can call CRO and get a room through that side and cheaper than what the members discount should be. 3 days prior to cancellation, Now 7 days plus a charge card to guarantee it and in a few weeks cash up front for the first night. The valet service at Beach Club and Boardwalk gone. I will bet in 4 years internet will have to be paid by the DVC members.

I guess I should have known when they took away the beach towels at OKW and changed them into hotel towels that it was going to go downhill from there. I wonder how much stuff they have taken away just at OKW to make it feel “at home” and now it is gone for one reason or another. I talked to a DVC rep a few months ago about the horrible meal we had at Rose and Crown and he told me how a bunch of new items were coming online and he inferred ticket media being discounted by the end of the year. I don’t see that happening.

A second email from a pin trader from the UK painted another picture of Declining by Degrees:

I have been going to WDW for the last 29 years annually and got into pin trading ten years ago like so many others. Frankly I adore it. I have made so many friends through the hobby on both sides of the USA, not to mention Paris. I have been attending the Epcot three day pin event since its inception, which I think was 2002 although it may be a year either side of that.

To say that this year has been different has been an understatement and as just one example the amount of merchandise still available on the shelves is one indication of it. However let’s start with a comparison. Up until this year the following has happened …

  • The event costs around $100 although there has always been a discount for early registration plus entry in Epcot needed. As a part of this $30 dollars in gift cards was returned with the suggestion that this covered food. Of course it could be sued for any purpose.
  • The event was three days in merchandise was picked up the day before via a resort and then all day Friday and Saturday and Sunday morning took place in world showplace exclusively for event registrants the Sunday afternoon was run as a open house and anyone in epoch could come in.
  • There was a live and silent auction
  • Characters appeared
  • A kids zone provided a space for the young people at the event to not only trade with CMS but also color etc
  • At some previous events although not recently we were given vouchers to play games free for pins
  • Pin trading boards existed and included artist proof and other unobtainable pins to be traded for
  • World showplace had a high level of decoration to the year’s theme
  • In recent years people got free pins and some people got called to the office for framed sets and jumbos etc free
  • There were trivia games on stage
  • Pin partners from around the world had stands showcasing upcoming pins all parks around the world excluding Tokyo and including disneyshopping and the cruise line were represented and often sat and traded pins
  • We received early registration, welcome, and a pin partners pin plus leaving gifts the latter a jumbo and a pin set
  • On the Saturday afternoon a free reception of soft drinks, and either cake, ice-cream or rice crispy treats for all participants.
  • A large trading area

I have probably forgotten some things but as you can see it was fabulous value for money. Then we get to 2010!

  • This year the event cost $115 reduced to $100 for early registration, and the $30 back so it looked on the face of it that the value was there
  • The event was reduced by half a day as the Sunday morning was devoted to a vinylmation event which cost a further $25 per person. Thus people like me who don’t get it (I know you do) lost trading time which was strictly enforced.
  • Only a silent auction. I don’t know how this affected people as I have never participated in either, as prices are crazy
  • No characters
  • No kids zone. This was a real issue for people with children as there was nothing for them to do but the parents had to pay full price for them
  • No free games
  • No pin partners from Hong Kong, or disneyshopping and those that were there were not trading and no pin partners pin
  • No Saturday afternoon reception (in fact two new extra money events were introduced a breakfast and desert reception at $40 each). I attended the evening reception and got essentially what I got free before. It was poor to say the least. I am told the breakfast was the same. We did get a pin so it actually meant I paid $40 for it. The number of trading boards were reduced by half there were very few staff about and the food was poor.
  • Trading area was spacious (there has to be something good)
  • Leaving gift became one pin
  • The welcome package caused the most frustration in that we were given a tee-shirt (Did I really want this?) plus a pin gift which in fact on one or at least only 100 people out of 1400 can complete. One of the features of trade city were pins in the form of pin trading road signs. One set of these came via mystery boxes and the other off the trading boards. There was no indication at the time of the RSVP that these mystery packages had significance. The other set of the pins came from the trading boards. A chaser pin LE100 was in 100 mystery boxes thus you get my point. The gift was a place to put all of the pins and thus as far as I am concerned useless and frustrating. I was not alone in this view.
  • Trading boards did not contain the usual goodies; just ordinary lanyard pins plus the road signs.
  • The set dressing was best described as tin and poor mostly recycled form previous years.
  • The actual pins. As you probably know these pin events have exclusive pins for sale via a random selection process which I think works very well especially given that in the last two years I actually get the results by email not snail mail! This year as usual I probably spent somewhere between $1000 - $2000 … remember I am trading year round on line. The price of pins has gone through the roof and people were not buying … hence what’s left over. I accept the cost; that’s not an issue, however the size of the pins certainly was. Value for money - not!! They were far smaller than normal and things that were described as super jumbos or indeed jumbo pins full stop were a third of the size and quality but more money.

Is this declining by degrees - well for me it certainly was. Would I go again? At least the next time it won’t be with such high expectations.

Up, Up, and Away

While we’re speaking of the value/price scale, I should mention a story I’ve delayed for months while waiting for the right moment. It’s hugely expensive (in fact, the price is “sky high” shall we say), but the value might be there nonetheless. Way back in April, I fielded an inquiry from the editorial staff at Orlando Attractions Magazine, where I write the occasional article. Would I be free two days hence for a parabolic (zero-gravity) flight? This is the “vomit comet” where astronauts train and where they filmed parts of movies like Apollo 13. Faster than you could say “astronaut wannabe,” I all but shouted my willingness to go. The result of that trip formed the basis of an article in OAM in the July issue, but I thought it’s worthwhile to spread this word as far as I can. Let me not leave you in suspense: this is a phenomenal, once in a lifetime type of experience. For me, it was pretty much a “bucket list” item (you know, things to do before you die). It truly is out of this world.

First, the costs. Full disclosure: since I was traveling for a magazine write up, I did not pay for this experience. Most others around me did (though there were other members of the press as well), and they paid $5,000 per person. I hear your thoughts. Forget Disney. We’re in a whole new level here. That sounds pretty darn steep for something that is measured in seconds and minutes, not even hours, but consider: weightlessness. Real weightlessness. And not strapped down to a coaster or machine, but free to move around. Honest to goodness astronaut stuff, not some simulation, workaround, or approximation. It was a full-bodied experience that is exactly what you’d undergo in orbit of the planet or on your way to the moon. There are several companies promising sub-orbital flights in the years and decades to come, but you’ll shell out $100,000 or so for that sort of thing. Given that comparison, $5,000 for six minutes of weightlessness sounds like a bargain.


Every which way!

Those six minutes are broken down into 12 parts, each lasting about 30 seconds. The plane flies a steep parabola – think of giant roller coaster hills in airspace – and the physics of it dictates that everything in the cabin floats for 30 seconds after you crest each hill. It’s not scary in the least, and not a soul aboard my plane got sick (or reported feeling sick). In fact, the sensation is not one of queasiness, it’s of elation. I can’t think of another way to describe it. It’s almost as though your poetic, metaphysical mind wakes up upon being unshackled from the pull of gravity. It made me understand why astronauts – even atheists – report that spaceflight is a mystical, even religious experience. The lack of gravity honestly must have something to do with that. Or at least it did in my case.

When you do this experience with the company called Zero-G (they travel the country each year with opportunities, especially in California and Florida; http://www.gozerog.com/), they put you through several activities while weightless: toss the human cannonball, catch water globulets, chase M&Ms, play Superman, perform impossible one-arm spinning pushups, etc. But there’s nothing like executing a freeform quadruple tuck, diagonal and sideways, as if you were the world’s most graceful athlete. You cannot begin to imagine the grin of ecstasy plastered on my face.


Superman!

When all is said and done, I can think of thousands (nay, millions) of things to do that would be a more wasteful use of $5,000. Clearly this is not a cheap way to spend your afternoon. But if you’ve got the money, it’s a way to give you a glimpse into something so unique, it’s unlikely any of your acquaintances have done anything approaching this. You’ll have something to talk about for years to come. And, if your trip is anything like mine was, you’ll have memories that you know really will last your whole lifetime. And that’s not some marketing bromide, just a fact.

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

2010 Kevin Yee


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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is a full-color, hardcover interactive children's book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.

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