ThemePark Recession Cuts – Fat or Bone?

The Orlando Sentinel has turned it’s industry observer eye on the local economy drivers — the theme parks. The question is with all the cuts going on at the theme parks have they gone too far, cut bone instead of fat?

At Disney two of the parks (DAK and DHS) are regularly closing before 7pm during the summer hours. That’s quite unusual. But the parks, of course, insist they’re maintaining the guest experience.

My personal experience is that the cuts have begun to just slightly dig into the bone. But nothing is beyond repair, yet. The recession could make the Disney World do crazy things, but so far everything has been pretty much by the book. Cut labor and labor hours by reducing attraction and park hours.

It does hurt that they have been cutting so much to generate sometimes obscene profits the last decade or so. In the past they might have saved money by trimming the casts of the parades or shows. (BTW, if you remember the 1st to go at WDW in this recession was some of the pre-show and atmosphere entertainment.) But they can’t do that now because the shows are already running at minimal cast levels to maximize profit. The only thing left was to cut actual whole days worth of shows, which is what they did at DHS dropping Fantasmic! to three nights a week.

Would an observant guest notice the difference between their last vacation 3-5 years ago and their vacation this summer? Definitely. Do they expect it due to the recession? Probably. Can Disney recover its old guest service standards when the economy picks up? You bet.

That’s what I’ll be looking for. When the sweepers come back, Fantasmic! returns to 7 nights a week, and we finally get a new promotion/parade worth writing home about at the Magic Kingdom. Then the question will be how much fun can Disney graft back onto those bones they’ve been scraping down to?

What do you think? Have you felt the effect of recession related cuts at the theme parks? Do you think the observant guest has noticed them too?

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11 Responses to ThemePark Recession Cuts – Fat or Bone?

  1. Jeffrey Venner says:

    I think our family has timed it right this year. Our last visit, mid-September ’08, things seemed to be business as usual. We had a wonderful time and everything seemed as wonderful as the previous several years. This year, sadly, we have too much going on and figured this would be the first time in 7 yrs we would not be able to visit. Hopefully, ’10 will be great again and we will be back, with 1 extra little guest (our daughter, Caitlyn, who we will going to China next month to get) Emelia, 4, is also from China and has a few visits to DIsney already, including her first at the age of 18 mos.

  2. Paul M says:

    We just returned from a visit there. We visited in early 2008 and it was about the same this time. It was our first visit to the DAK and we loved it. I don’t like DHS much so I never go there. The last time I was there was in 1998 and I don’t remember much about it so I can’t really compare since I tend to vacation with Disney differently now that I have a family of my own. I do hope they manage to maintain that Disney magic, especially during these trying times since it serves as a great escape from reality and Lord knows we all need that right now.

  3. Valerie says:

    we spoke to a cast member when we were there the other day and she said that Disney is keeping with the free birthdays promotion through 2010 and that in 2011 they are changing things up big time for the 40th anniversary and she said to expect a LOT of hullabaloo for 2011, so I would expect that is what they are aiming for at this point. ;)

  4. Today on The Disney Blog we ask; Theme Park Cuts? Fat or Bone? – http://is.gd/2DT2e

  5. Matt says:

    Cuts are bound to happen in a recession like this, but it’s the constant increase in admission prices that is a slap in the face for guests. Essentially, we’re paying more for less, which is always considered a bad deal. I’m a fan and I love visiting the parks, so I’ll continue to pay. But eventually Disney is going to hit a point where people start looking elsewhere for vacation ideas because it’s just too expensive to go to Walt Disney World. End rant. :)

  6. Danielle says:

    I went to Disney in February ’09 and I noticed a big difference. My hotel was not clean and I think the parks lacked a bit in guest experiences and cleansliness. For instance, did they really have to get rid of the wristbands for EMH? Now you have to show your resort card which most people keep tucked away. I am a samll time consultant for recreation facilites. There are positive places to cut a budget and some negative places to cut a budget. Disney is doing a little of both but mainly negative. I hope to have a better experience when I return in October 2009.

  7. Gary says:

    I’m a castmember at Disney World in Orlando, and the mass public has no idea how much it’s been cut. Food quality, food portions, safety, shows, how often they are fun, number of lines open, everything is cut. As long as people come, WDW management could care less! Bring on the sheep!

  8. chris says:

    I’m not sure I agree that the average guest expects these cutbacks or understands them. I think the average guest expects the same type of service they received 3-5 years ago, particularly since they are also paying more than they did 3-5 years ago. In addition, Disney’s reputation for giving good value for the dollar fights against it here. If your expectations of Disney are high, recent cutbacks are going to be more noticeable.

    Personally, the only thing I’ve truly noticed recently were the bathrooms–many of them were filthy. I’d never seen that before.

  9. Matt says:

    I live close enough to Disney to visit it often…and my family usually goes there once a month…probably more often than people who live in Orlando/Kissimee.

    Gary, the castmember, is correct. We’ve probably only noticed a very small bit of their cuts.

    Though, unlike Danielle, I believe cutting the wristbands not to be a negative cut. I’d much rather they do cuts like that than cutting their staff. Not like you save those wristbands anyway.

    I think the most disappointing budget cut was cutting the Fantasmic! show down to 3 nights a week. I have to say…that is my family’s favorite night show there and we tell all the families we run into on the bus and monorail rides not to miss that show. It’s sad that people coming to visit for their first time may miss the best night show Disney has to offer if they don’t plan their days perfectly. In my opinion, THAT was the most negative cut they’ve done.

  10. Patrick, Toronto, Canada says:

    Yes I have to agree; Fantasmic! cuts are the worst. I had to plan everything around the show to see it during my next vacations in October. I will be at Disney World for 10 nights and Fantasmic! will show only 4 times… An that’s only if it’s not cancelled due to thunderstorms. I usually go in January and there are always less lines open anyway. As for the food portions, well I have to say that I could never finish any dish plate served to me. So if it’s less food, that will impact me in a positive way!

    When I go at Disney, it is for a full experience. I just hope that cast members will still have a smile hen I’m there.

  11. John Frost says:

    I have to give it up for the cast members. The vast majority of them have taken the cuts in stride. Rather than appear demoralized by them, I’ve noticed that the folks at WDW have redoubled their efforts to make every interaction magical. That almost makes up for the more behind the scenes belt tightening.

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