I wonder how many of us there are now who are third-generation Disneylanders?
Have you also been to Disneyland or Disney World as a child, a parent, and a grandparent?
The first time I visited Disneyland, the park had been open about two months and much of Anaheim around it was still orange groves. I was almost 11 years old, and my mother took me there as a birthday gift. She knew how excited I was to see it. I had watched them build it. We were among the families in our neighborhood who did not have television yet, but kindly neighbors across the street let me come over on Wednesday night to watch Disneyland on their black and white console set. Through the skill of Disney filmmakers, I watched as gigantic earthmovers and construction machinery moving in fast motion transformed some of those orange groves into the Magic Kingdom, the Happiest Place on Earth. I heard Walt Disney talk about what the place was meant to be.
I had little idea at the time of how much the happiest place on earth cost. Considering what my widowed mother had available to support us each month back in 1955, I’m sure that birthday gift—the side trip across the desert to Southern California in our Plymouth station wagon, and the day in Disneyland—must have been a big sacrifice for her.
Through my teen years, I had the opportunity to visit Dineyland several times with my cousins, or others. As young parents, my wife and I managed to take our own children to Disneyland a few times. And just three years ago we managed to get there with two of our granddaughters. It was a treat to watch them enjoy the attractions and shows that probably seemed magical to them. As lovers of all the Disney princesses, they were awed by the opportunity to talk to Tinkerbelle and Sleeping Beauty.
I have to give the Disney company credit. In the parks, at least, they seem to have stuck with Walt’s vision. They do things right.
And yet the last few times I have visited Disneyland I have gone away with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. As a parent and grandparent, I go away feeling they’ve taken advantage of me and others. The Disney empire, with its theme parks, traveling shows, cruises, merchandise, and movies of course, seems to be doing very well. I suspect this is in part because there are huge profit margins in some of the items and experiences the Disney company sells.
It must be said in fairness that this is not true only of Disneyland. It is generally true of theme parks everywhere, and particularly those in Southern California—Legoland, Sea World, et al. Twenty or thirty dollars for a medium-sized stuffed animal? It’s hard to believe the cost of the item comes anywhere close to that figure. Eight dollars for a peanut butter sandwich for a child? (That is what we paid at one of those parks.) Outrageous! It’s a cliché, but true: in our neighborhood market we could easily buy a couple of jars of peanut butter and a loaf of bread for that price. It’s hard not to believe that visitors are being ripped off because they are a captive audience.
Yes, I understand there are costs in running a theme park—wages, maintenance, liability insurance, etc. But isn’t all that supposed to be covered by the continually rising admission costs? It looks like there could be a lot of profiteering in the exorbitant prices of peanut butter sandwiches, pizza, and a little bit of cloth and stuffing for an animal or a couple of yards of fabric for a T shirt.
Now the cost of a day in Disneyland is just under $100 per person. The prices at other theme parks are similarly eye-popping.
Our daughter and son-in-law are taking their three children to Disneyland this summer. They manage their money very well, and I don’t know anyone who plans ahead better than they do. Still, I wince when I think of the impact of admissions, souvenirs, and food on a family’s budget.
If the folks at Disneyland were to tell me that all those costs in the park are legitimate, I’m afraid I would look closely to see if Pinocchio’s nose is growing.