Okay, we’ve always known that VIPs get a higher level of service at the theme parks. It’s as much for their protection, as it is for the smooth operations of the park. It’s also so the celebrity doesn’t become part of of the show.
However, now Disney has admitted on the record that there really are two tiers of guests. Those who stay on the resort and those who visit from the outside.
Walt Disney World spokeswoman Lissette Campos said the Disney parks were crowded but did not reach capacity. "It’s been very, very busy," Campos said. "We’ve watched the numbers
closely. There is no need to close it to that second tier of guests." (via)
This second tier are the ones who are barred from park entry when theoretical capacity is reached. So far there are few other differences. Guests staying on property get admission to a park early or extra hours at night every day of the week. This sort of perk is okay, because if you’re a non-resort guest, you can play the system by going to one of the parks that doesn’t have extended hours to escape the resort crowds.
In California they’ve experimented with giving Disney Resort Guests extra fastpasses. That’s where I think this trend starts to go too far. This creates a second tier of guests inside the park. Where some guests get a better experience because they’re paying Disney additional money for it (in this case, resort room charges). I think it is crucial to the Disney themepark experience that guests not be made to feel that if they had just spent more they could have had a better time as a family. This will lead to many guests deciding to spent a whole lot less and just vacation at the theme park or amusement park closer to home. This is especially true since guests often save up for years to visit Walt Disney World; to show up and feel that your $3000 vacation isn’t enough to get you the same treatment that Disney Resort Guests pay for, really sucks. Disney should want this guest to return home and tell all their friends how magical that $3000 vacation was, not that if you can’t afford to stay on property you shouldn’t go.
This doesn’t even begin to discuss the third tier of Disney guests – locals. Each Disney park around the globe has a unique mix of locals and tourists. But programs like fastpass or advanced dining reservations make locals a third tier of guests. Dropping in during the evening hours to ride a few rides and eat dinner is not as enjoyable because all the fastpasses are gone for the best rides many of the good restaurants are all booked and not accepting walk-ups. Yet, locals help keep the park busy during the off season and act as ambassadors to potential guests. More needs to be done to adjudicate the uneven experience locals sometimes get.
I think Disney needs to continue fine-tuning these tiers, eliminating the barriers between them. At a minimum they should be careful not to do what Lissette Campos did and out-right tell the world that they exist. Guests who are planning to visit the theme parks don’t want to feel like second class citizens just because they chose to stay at a non-Disney hotel or live close to the parks. In-park programs that serve one tier disproportionately to another should be rethought so everyone can share in them equally. If you can’t do it right for all guests, then maybe you shouldn’t do it at all.