Does Disney actually value their Annual Passholders? Do they value any kind of loyalty to their parks that have over a million people shelling out up to $1200 per year for their parks (at Disneyland)? Or is each person who walks through that turnstile just another dollar sign that Disney can tout to it's shareholders? We'll try and figure that out.
Written by Gregg Condon
Like so many of these opinion pieces this came about through an interaction on Twitter, so shout out to Matthew Gottula (@DLThings on Twitter) for starting off this great conversation.
And the way this came about was a new Disney survey that asks about "would having blackout days around the opening of new attractions impact you getting an Annual Pass".
An obvious reaction to the Frozen debacle at EPCOT earlier this year, but possibly more for the potential opening of the new Guardians of the Galaxy Tower of Terror and Avatarland (whenever that actually opens).
But to be fair, with the amount of online anger surrounding Frozen at EPCOT (and now surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy) you could probably forgive Disney for being surprised that so many people who hated the idea showed up to ride it on opening day.
And there will be 4-5 hour long waits when Guardians of the Galaxy opens at DCA as well ... don't let the online hate fool you.
As a long time Annual Passholder (1998 to 2013) I always felt that I didn't need anything "extra" from Disneyland in order to make what I paid for my Annual Pass worth it. The joy of being able to go to Disneyland (and later DCA) was all I needed. But our first AP cost $199, and that pass had zero blackout days. And there was probably under 100,000 of us at the time.
That was a different time, a different social environment, a different Disneyland.
Not to say that Disneyland was better or worse, that's a topic for an entirely different article, but it was different. You could go on the first Sunday in November and have the park pretty much to yourself. The year at Disneyland wasn't filled with special event after special event designed to get people to use their AP's and more importantly, spend their money.
You came to the park, you rode some attractions, had a meal or two, maybe bought some beanie babies and then headed home.
Today's Disney designs events specifically geared towards AP's, which makes AP's expect more than they did even 10 years ago. And when Disney doesn't deliver on those things? Watch out Social media (which also didn't really exist 10 years ago).
Here's the thing, Disney has tried everything it can think of to reduce the amount of Annual Passholders over the past few years.
Raising prices. Check.
Taking away AP privileges. Check.
Increasing blackout days. Check.
Taking away fan favorite rides. Check.
The problem? It hasn't helped. Because people can defer their AP's by using payment plans it makes it easier for people to justify keeping their AP's even though they've seen benefits change and even though they take to social media to make their displeasure known.
It hasn't helped so much that in a big slap in the face to many Annual Passholders they've thrown in the towel and brought back the Southern California AP which will once again make Sunday's pretty much unbearable.
You aren't going to hurt Disney by going on Social Media and bad mouthing a change. Their fanbase is too large!!
You see Disneyland post a video about Tower of Terror closing or the band leaving ... you go on that status and complain about the change or you make an "angry" face instead of liking it. Guess what ... Disney doesn't care. Why? Because you've already given them your money, and you are continuing to do so.
Going to tell a sad truth here:
Disney, as it exists today, doesn't value your patronage. They don't value the "casual" visitor either, so we're both screwed.
Sure, they value your money, but you are a faceless Annual Pass number. They are in the business of making money. They don't need to add anything new. They don't need to give you any extra benefit for your patronage. They've already got your money.
And look, I'm not saying I don't love Disney, I'm not saying I don't love visiting once every few years (been almost 2 years since we've been to Disneyland as of this writing) and I'm not saying I'm not going to enjoy spending time at WDW when we go next year. I'm saying that the desire I once had to spend a significant amount of time at Disney Parks is gone. And it's not ALL me.
The ONLY way Disney is going to change is to see a SIGNIFICANT decrease in the amount of annual passholders. And by significant, we're probably talking half for it to make any difference and change the current model that Disney is using.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't complain if you have an AP, by all means, you have more right than I do since I don't give money to the mouse anymore. I'm saying that instead of complaining with your fingers on social media, complain with your wallet.
And maybe then Disney will notice you.
As always, the opinions of RD do not always reflect the opinions of this website as a whole, this is only the opinion of one person in the Park Journey family, and such is the case here. But we always have and always will give a voice for a difference of opinion. We've never been about appeasing any parks we have working relationships with. That being said, we do have working relationships with parks, we don't all hold the same opinion as RD does in this particular instance although we will defend his opinion vigorously.
So again, the opinions here do not generally reflect the opinions of Park Journey as a whole.
Lastly, this article is most definitely PG-13, so please, proceed with caution.
BOHICA (bend over, here it comes again)
It's that special day once a year where SixFlags reveals their new for 20XX attractions in mass announcements across the country. And in true, typical corporate fashion, they are marketed out to the masses in spoon-fed bites of typical overbloated promotion for what is essentially a case of the masses eating up regurgitated shit.
And you know what, the majority of the public will eat their spoon-fed crap and think it's the greatest thing in the history of EVAR, and it's the best thing since wonder bread, and it will save the world from the political turmoil and bullshit that are currently dogging the USA. It's a saving salvation of paradise in a world lacking in that aspect of civility. The media outlets will spew for these great new things, pushing the hyperbole and the bullshit further, exonerating on the press releases and massive blitz of crap that the new SixFlags CEO has put forth.
Here's the thing. If you look at the majority of enthusiasts, park fans, websites, countless pages that are dedicated to the world of the theme park, the opinions are just about unanimous. Other than a few teat-sucking sites which relish in the fact that SF is paying attention to their scroungy little pages, the opinion is clear. SixFlags Corporate bought the world's largest Xerox machine - and has hit the copy button one too many times. They say disasters and deaths come in threes... and today proved it in spades.
I honestly have lost all respect for the SF brand, the SF corporate staff, and for the most part their policies of "More of the Same."
Now why am I so damn angry right now? I ask you this: Why are YOU not angry? Why are YOU not as frustrated as I am? Simply put: The SF chain, a company that took pride in their parks having a good and solid feel to them has turned to the LOWEST form of mediocrity in the world: Duplication. Not just the rides themselves, but the name, the colors, the themes, the areas in the parks. All cloned. One by one. And like clones, they have no soul, no spirit, no emotions.
Duplication is the loser's way of drawing attention to themselves. I'm not talking about the ride builders per se (Yes, Vekoma has made an art out of duplication - as did Arrow & Schwarzkopf as well...) but rather, why is the second largest theme park operator in the world basically assuming their guests are mentally challenged and memory-failed automatons who won't notice that every park looks EXACTLY alike? And why are you, the guests, settling for such nonsense? Because. SF has trained you to do so. Because SF is letting you down. Because SF is able to. Because SF is happy on settling for second, third or even fourth best. Because you're letting them.
Humans as a whole thrive on creativity, they grow on thought, and are inherently curious creatures which learn best by acknowledging the differences in between things. We are imaginative and explorative. It is human nature to do this. And yet, Sixflags has decided that you don't need creativity, imagination or originality to run a theme park company. SixFlags is mocking you my friends. They're making sure you are satisfied with recycled attractions, duplication of every key attention point in a park, and ensuring you're lulled into a false sense of happiness.
Why am I going after SixFlags so badly? Because they deserve it. The high and the mighty they are not - and they are painting themselves into a corner that will be 10x more expensive to get out of than to stop the illogical and patently bad behavior of cloning their parks up the wazoo until they are all alike.
Let's compare for a second CF's parks and Disneyland/Magic Kingdom. Cedar Fair's parks have some VERY similar rides, and even some key duplication (Huss Troikas, NoWindSeekers, Morgan Hypercoasters.) And yet: You can go to Kings Dominion, and ride I-305, a wicked beast of a gigatwister. Or you can go to Kings Island, and ride the Beast - the world's longest wooden mine train. Or I can fly out to Knott's and experience Silver Bullet - an inverted coaster on stilts. Or I can head to Worlds of Fun & experience Prowler, a ground-hugging terrain twister. And yet: CF annual passes are more expensive to purchase, cost a LOT more to go up to Platinum status, and don't have all the frills that SF's passes have... and they have a continuity factor of nearly 50% - that is - 50% of ticket revenue is now derived from Season Pass sales & park pass sales. And their stock price is happy at the same time.
Thus the difference in CF from SF: They duplicate some things, but the coasters are almost universally different park to park. You don’t see 5 of the same exact coaster layout & style. (Yes, I'm pointing to Joker & to BatClone: THE RIDE). And by charging more, they are able to invest in more - and better, original attractions. Which keeps guests happy.
Now let's turn to Disneyland & the Magic Kingdom: Laid out similarly, with identical names on attractions, hell, even down to the style of each ride and to the ride's general purpose. Yet... Space Mountain is different. As is Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Rivers of America, Big Thunder Mountain...
Thus the difference between Disney & SF: Disney uses the same name & themes, but the rides themselves are changed & altered to avoid duplication - a rule Walt himself once talked about. "You can't beat pigs with pigs."
So let's get back to Six Flags Over Duplication... or the future generic parks of the Six Flags Chain of Six Flags Parks. As it stands, the Six Flags corporate offices don't see that originality spurs sales... which spurs revenue increases... which makes the stockholders happy. In turn, they see cheap cloning and repeating over and over to make the parks work... at the same time, it's pushing guests away from visiting other SF parks. And this my friends is something they're pushing to INCREASE year over year: To get more SixFlags season passholders to visit other SF parks throughout the country.
But wait... why should I (Or any intelligent person for that matter) choose to visit another SixFlags park if they've got identical attractions? The answer: You won't. You'll spend your vacation money and go to another park or another original adventure... and not to visit another cloned park.
So way to go SixFlags. You're duplicating yourself into mediocracy and at the same time, you're ensuring that your future sales, growth & financial stability are in jeopardy by placating things with cheap, knockoff duplication of the attractions you're "investing" in. Way to go. Pat yourselves on the back. You're destroying what Angus Wynne worked so hard to build from scratch in 1960. Instead of looking new, contemporary & creative, you're looking old, stodgy and bland. Instead of investing in the new future and more original attractions, you're seeking refuge behind tired, old ideas. And meanwhile, Cedar Fair and other are not only gaining ground on you - they're passing you - both in revenue, ticket sales, operational strengths and many other financial factors. And you're not looking at CF through your rear-view mirror... they're looking at YOU through theirs. Wake up Six Flags Corporate. Before you become more of an obsolete dinosaur than you already are.
(As an aside, and as a shareholder in SFInc, I will be voting my shares in trust to the activist shareholder group currently building up pressure from outside. I stand with them and support the overthrow of the current CEO, President & entire board of directors. It's time to clean house up there - and I have -zero- confidence in their future with the SF Corporation in its entirety.)