Could Walt Disney World work as a local’s park?

Walt Disney World was built on the savings accounts of the middle class family willing to drop a couple G’s (or more) for that yearly week long trip. There’s a little bit for everyone and a place to stay that’s within the envelope of Disney magic. DVC is Disney’s play to catch the upper middle class and the retiring baby boomers who will be looking to spend their hard earned retirement dollars somewhere, if they still have them. And that’s the rub.

The gap between the haves and the havenots was already at its widest point ever before the recent econocalypse. The last three years have only exaggerated the difference. That means there are fewer of those middle class families who can afford to visit WDW for that week long experience. This has led to some recent softening of attendance at WDW.

The question in on the lips of Wall Street is if this will be a long term jobless recovery. If so, then WDW had better accept this new reality and find guests from elsewhere. I think they need to look to Disneyland for a working model. Draw the locals in.

What locals? You may ask. Well Florida is the 4th most populist state and Georgia the 9th. Together they still don’t match California, but I think it’s enough to bridge the gap. If I was in WDW Management, I would be lobbying DC to accelerate construction on that high speed train network that puts Orlando in the center of a hub that links Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. They’ve already convinced them to put a stop right at the doorstep to Disney World.

I would also focus on building the sort of in park experiences that you can refresh every year or so in order to draw your hard core fans back more frequently. This means more frequent updates to the parades and shows, new technology that hits one out of the park, and holiday experiences that change every year but are affordable enough the locals can attend at least one night.

What other changes do you think Walt Disney World needs to make to become more of a locals park? Or should they even try?

21 thoughts on “Could Walt Disney World work as a local’s park?”

  1. With Toy Story Midway Mania, they can easily make seasonal or annual updates at a relatively low cost. It seems that even Soarin’ could be updated relatively easily, although at a higher cost, if they so desired. Aren’t the die-hards already going to come down at least once-a-year anyways? To attract the locals, they would probably need to do more Food and Wine type of activities year-round. Would a frequent-visitor-card perhaps help with giving people incentives?

  2. What about extending the florida discounts into Georgia residents and letting them in on the yearlong payment plan for season passes. We live just over the border in Georgia and would be thrilled with some help in this lovely economy!

  3. California Adventure’s World of Color is an absolutely amazing show.. and it’s really what saved DCA from being the boringest place on earth.. Perhaps a show of its caliber (or an even bigger scale.. in epcot maybe?) could bring in not only more locals, but more tourists internationally.

    also, as the other commenter said, more food/wine/festivals.. the southern US has to have something like our DCA Food & Wine festival/etcs.. like mardi gras or the like? Or what about locals discounts on annual passes? Southern California residents get special AP discounts and specials. :)

  4. Modeling the resort’s attendance after Disneyland would be a good idea, since the latter has enjoyed high attendance numbers even in this economy. They ought to offer an inexpensive monthly pay plan at WDW, for the monthly plan at Disneyland is what is believed to have boosted that park’s attendance so much. (Or do they do this already?) They ought to consider offering annual overlays on some attractions, like offering a Small World Holiday or a Country Bear Jamboree Christmas Show, or even Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy or a special Halloween version of Tower of Terror. These overlays would bring the locals into the parks when they might otherwise avoid them. Changing up the Fireworks shows each season would also be effective for this. They also ought to change up the MK parades every year as well; hasn’t that one castle float been used since the 1970s? Locals also tend to come in only on the weekends, so to entice them to come in on other nights of the week, they ought to offer more nightly entertainment – running Fantasmic EVERY night would be a great start, as would adding some sort of night entertainment to Animal Kingdom. Just some ideas.

  5. I think they’ve recently taken the first step with the monthly payment plan. That’s a good start. But that still means it’s going to be close to $80 or $100 (don’t remember the math) for my family of 4 to have passes — seasonal passes at that if I remember right. They need to lower the price of the seasonal passes, but I don’t see that happening. Other than that, they could do more “celebrations” like what they did this week at Rafiki’s to celebrate the year of biodiversity. Every week and every day is the special day of something… maybe they could play up that kind of thing. You know… maybe some kind of chocolate tasting thing on the international day of chocolate or whatever.

    But I think it’d be hard. One of the things I’ve heard about Disneyland that makes it such a locals thing is it’s so intimate. I wonder if crowd levels are the same. I’ve heard of folks going out for dinner at Disneyland and doing an attraction or two. If you tried that here with the more popular attractions you’d be talking a 4 or 5 hour night, maybe. And that’s if you could get ADRs.

    Great question, though… great idea. I wonder if it would work.

  6. They would need to do something to make it quicker to get in and out. I haven’t been to Disneyland so I don’t know how things compare for locals there, but I know that once I arrive to the main gate I need to allow at least one hour to get into the park, especially the Magic Kingdom. A more streamlined and efficient approach to entering and exiting the parks would definitely make it more of an appeal to locals. We come from Tampa, but as much as we love to come, we hate to waste two hours a day on the park/tram/monorail bit, especially when things are hot & delayed. Maybe a park & ride shuttle system somewhere in the area for “locals”?

  7. Sure they could. As it is, I see a lot of people on my Twitter feed (mostly notable podcasters and bloggers) who visit very frequently because of proximity to WDW. The annual pass is a huge bargain if you’re going to go that frequently. And with rotating refurbs and closures, there’s always an excuse to return.

    But if Disney was concerned about attendance of a park that people STILL want to go to, they shouldn’t ignore those people. I should start that I can’t fault Disney for a crippled economy; it’s a nationwide thing that affects every corporation. That said, putting your time and energy (and cost) into idiotic concepts like Golden Oaks shows a total lack of vision and any amount of awareness of how bad the economy still is. Iger itching to get rid of discounts also shows some serious shortsightedness. Fantasyland expansion is the type of thing that will lure people back but to sustain, they’ll need to plus all the parks in a smart way and they’ll need to cater more towards the middle class guest. Far too much of Disney’s most appealing qualities are too pricey and keep increasing beyond what people can afford. We’re getting little to no raises at our jobs, everything around us increases (taxes, insurance, cost of living), and each time that happens, a trip to WDW becomes less and less conceivable. Again, I don’t BLAME Disney for that, but i don’t know that they care anymore about the problem. Certainly Golden Oaks and Iger’s anti-discount desires show some serious disconnect with the real world.

    1. I can see how Golden Oaks gives the perception that Disney no longer cares about the middle class family. However, I would rather they fix that by improving th affordability for families rather than canceling their high-end products. That is one of the unique aspects of this recession. It is affecting a much larger percentage of those earning under 100K a year than those earning over that amount. If anything, I think Disney World has been ignoring the ‘Whales’ (as they call them in Las Vegas) to their detriment. Having Four Seasons develop a high-end vacation home development was a good chance for Disney to see how that will work in Orlando without taking much of a risk themselves.

  8. trapped in the tourist zone

    Three things will make WDW a more pleasant and profitable place.

    1> Fix the counter service restaurants. Take out tacky, filthy decorations from Backlot Express, enclose the patio, provide air conditioned clean space. Open coffee/pastry/dessert bars at all the inside counter service places and gathering spots such as the Veranda, Odyssey, Pirata & Perigo. Dress up the insides of all the quick service restaurants with interactive video games, information kiosks, WiFi.

    2> Make it MUCH easier to get into and out of the parks. Provide shade shelters in the parking lot waiting areas. Supplement the monorail and ferry with bus service to the TTC from another exit on the backside of the park. Put air conditioned/heated concourses with refreshments at the TTC. Modernize and improve the monorail station.

    3> Bring back the emphasis on Courtesy and Show. They seem to have slipped away. Make your CMs happy by treating them well, creating a safe working environment, and giving them the ability to use judgement in their rotations through their work shift, rather than being told what to do by a computer. They hate it, and their irritation shows.

    Fix all these things, and the people and money will flow back into WDW.

  9. As a former local, I think that locals do show up, but not for what people expect. For us, Wednesday night was DisneyQuest for Pirates, Buzz, and Daytona. Thursday night was usually Pleasure Island night. Friday was pin trading. Saturday was hanging out at Downtown Disney for drinks. Sunday morning was brunch in Epcot. Sunday afternoon was ESPN club. So yes, locals were/are around, but they’re more into hanging out than doing theme park things. The only time to do things in the parks were special events (MNSSHP, F&W, F&G, Osborne, for instance).

    What would be nice for locals is better mass transit to the parks….going via Lynx is near-to-impossible!

  10. As a soCal local and WDW regular, I can say (high speed rail or not) WDW will never become a locals park. Between LA, San Diego, and the inland Empire, there are 15 million people within a 1 1/2 hour drive of Disneyland. There is no way high speed rail could even come close to approaching these numbers. Forget that Atlanta, Miami, and Jacksonville are far away, there is just not enough (Physical) capacity in a rail system to move the kind of numbers it would take to keep the parks full every day.

  11. I’d love it if the Florida Discounts and payment plans were extended to GA residents as well. We’re outside Atlanta and just over 8 hrs away door to door from the TTC via car and have had annual passes for the last year, but can’t justify spending the money all at once come September when its time to renew. We took every vacation time we had to Disney last year, and we’ll get back down there at least once in the next year, but no where near as much. Its too bad too, because we have successfully brainwashed our 2 year old into worshiping the Mouse and his wares. He just turned two and only one of his umpteen presents wasn’t related to Disney and there’s nothing like seeing his smile go from ear to ear when we see the Mouse in person.

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