Disney Parks seem to be on a mission. That mission? To make their Parks a playground for the rich and famous. At the very least, they seem determined to price out the middle class. We cannot completely blame Bob Chapek for it, either. This trajectory began under the watchful eye of former CEO Bob Iger.
In 2019, when Iger was still in charge, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was announced. At the time, everyone knew it would be exorbitantly expensive (though most guessed that meant something in the ballpark of $1,000/night). This was, I believe, the beginning of the end for the middle class at Disney. They were banking on rich people, bored with their normal vacations and wanting something different, being willing to fill vacancies.
When it opened in March this year (at an average price of $6,000 for a 2-night stay), it seemed as though they were onto something. Maybe enough über wealthy people were willing to keep Disney afloat (or at least enough Star Wars fans willing to dip into their savings for the experience). The one-of-a-kind resort had no trouble filling its rooms (and coffers) for the better part of this year. “Voyages” (what the resort calls its immersive 2-night stays) were filled to capacity as fans lived out their Star Wars dreams.
It’s a different story now, though. There are reports of voyages kicking off at only 25% capacity, and Cast Members have seen reduced hours to make up for the lack of guests. The news for next year isn’t much better so far. The resort that filled up in seconds when it first opened its doors is now struggling to fill enough rooms to make the experience even partially lucrative.
There are many theories about why this could be, and most center on money. With economic recession looming heavily over people’s heads, it could be that people are simply waiting for things to improve before splurging the rate of bookings in Disney’s other resort hotels, though do not reflect a change in the volume of guests they reviewed, which one would expect if Starcruiser’s decline were related to the economy.
Another theory, which I tend to agree with, is that this is a one-and-done experience for many, and while it was shiny and new, people wanted it, but the demand was limited, and they’ve reached the threshold of that demand…in that price range at least. A report on Insider gave a glowing review of the Star Wars themed hotel and the author loved every minute of the experience and still was not sure she would return, instead saying she would “even consider a return visit.”
As an avid Star Wars fan, I will admit I’d love to stay there but haven’t (and won’t) because of the pricing. I’ve been priced out of Galactic Starcruiser as have a multitude of Star Wars fans. If the pricing were lower, they would have no trouble filling their rooms. Rather than lower their price (or even include it in any discount), Disney would rather cut Cast Member hours.
This problem isn’t unique to this hotel either. Disney has been steadily raising prices and pricing out people who would otherwise go. It has been slower elsewhere, increases have been subtle rather than, like with the brand new hotel, a jaw-dropping price right away, but Bob Chapek has directly said prices will continue to rise until “the market lets them know they are too high” (meaning until people stop coming). The Parks and hotels have yet to see a significant drop like Starcruiser has, but I feel it is coming.
By catering to the rich and famous, I feel Disney has made one serious misstep: by and large, those people will go once or twice and then not again. They aren’t, in any significant volume, rabid Disney fans like many of us in the middle class are. When you can go to Disney’s Riviera or the French Riviera, you’re not going to spend every vacation at Disney World. Just as there was a limited demand for those who would pay the money and had an interest in Galactic Starcruiser, so is there a limited supply of the über wealthy who want to go to Disney World. It may not have happened yet, but if they continue this current trajectory, the drop-off will come.
What happens when the Parks and Resorts cannot fill themselves? Will Disney suddenly lower their prices? Doubtful. Would you? Who volunteers for a pay cut? I’d wager very few. The problem with that (understandable) line of thinking is that by refusing what seems on the surface to be a voluntary pay cut, they aren’t giving themselves a choice. A price tag is only as good as those willing to pay it. Your price could be $1,000,000 per night, but if no one shows up, you won’t make any money. Conversely, your price could be a mere $1, but if a million people show up, you’ve made a million dollars.
That is an oversimplification, of course. Staffing costs to cater to one person vs. a million people and the overhead involved do play a factor, but the point still stands. If no one is buying, no money is being made. We can only hope Disney realizes this before their loyal fans decide to take their loyalty elsewhere.