By Amanda Krause
I was approximately 18 months old the first time I visited Disney World.
I don’t remember anything from that trip, but old photographs lead me to believe I loved just about every second of it — that is if you don’t count pictures that show me crying next to Pooh and Tigger at breakfast.
From that point on, my parents took my sister and me to Disney World as often as they could afford it. We’d make the drive from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida, every two or three years, and spend a week riding roller coasters, taking pictures with princesses, and eating countless Mickey Mouse ice-cream bars.
It’s been more than five years since I last visited, and a lot has changed at the theme parks. Ticket prices have been raised, classic attractions have been replaced with new ones, and beloved cast members have lost their jobs.
Now, no matter how far I look into the future, I’m worried that the Disney World I grew up loving won’t be there when I return.
The rising prices of Disney World vacations have made it difficult for fans like myself to afford trips to the theme park
When I first visited Disney World in 1997, single-day tickets for adults cost approximately $39, and single-day children’s tickets cost around $32, according to the Disney-planning website AllEars. Ten years later, in 2007, single-day adult tickets had risen to prices between $67 and $71, and single-day children’s tickets cost between $56 and $60.
As a result of consistent price increases, single-day Disney World tickets for both adults and children now cost more than $100, according to AllEars. That price increases even more if you choose to visit during a “peak” season, or if you purchase a Park Hopper pass that allows you to go back and forth between Disney World’s four parks.
And it’s not just tickets that have risen in price. Food, souvenirs, holiday events, and more have also become increasingly expensive. In an article about price increases at the park between 2019 and the start of last year, The Disney Food Blog’s Courtney Willingham wrote: “It seems like Walt Disney World and the phrase ‘price changes’ are attached at the hip.”
Of course, price increases at any theme park — and most other businesses — are bound to happen. But over the years, it’s become clear that Disney World’s rising prices are the result of more than inflation.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Disney World increased ticket prices at roughly double the rate of inflation throughout the 2010s, and the theme park’s reasons for doing so vary, as reported by Reader’s Digest.
Disney World’s seasonal ticket prices, for example, encourage Disney fans to plan their vacations far in advance, and therefore spend more money. The introduction of luxury hotels, VIP tours, and other high-end services, on the other hand, has attracted wealthy travelers.
The earnings from these expensive tickets and in-park amenities have helped Disney World install major attractions — including Pandora in Animal Kingdom and Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios — and compete with surrounding theme parks, like the nearby Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
As Robert Niles, the editor of Theme Park Insider previously told Business Insider: “Disney does not like to lose — not just lose, Disney doesn’t even like to compete. Disney wants to dominate its competition.”
When you visit Disney World, your favorite attractions just might be gone
When Disney World opened in 1971, only a handful of its original rides were inspired by the company’s movies, shows, and other intellectual property (IP). Today, however, Disney World’s IP attractions — like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the entirety of Toy Story Land — outnumber attractions like Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise.
That’s partly because many of these newer, IP-themed rides have replaced classic and beloved attractions. The Maelstrom in Epcot was revamped with a “Frozen” theme in 2014, similar to how “Finding Nemo” characters were added to The Living Seas attraction in 2006.
Hollywood Studios has also faced major changes in recent years, as The Great Movie Ride, Studio Backlot Tour, Streets of America, and more were removed to make room for IP attractions including Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge. As a result, the movie-making aesthetic of Hollywood Studios has almost entirely disappeared.
Though I have yet to experience many of the newer IP attractions for myself, I have thoroughly enjoyed others. The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends is cute, in my opinion, and newer additions to Fantasyland are magical. So I have no doubt that Disney World’s other IP-themed attractions — and those to come in the future — will be any different.
Still, nostalgia is what often tempts me to plan a Disney World vacation. When I’m stressed or having a bad day, I daydream of running around the parks without a care in the world. But knowing that the destination I’m nostalgic for isn’t the same — and is changing more each day — makes me less inclined to fork over hundreds of dollars for a trip.
Overall, it was Disney World’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that really made me lose faith in my favorite theme park
In mid-March 2020, Disney World temporarily closed its doors to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But even on its final day open that month, Disney World made a risky move by gathering Mickey Mouse, his friends, and numerous cast members for a goodbye send-off in front of hundreds of parkgoers.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Disney World reopened in mid-July despite a surge of COVID-19 cases in Florida and other parts of the world. Though some people criticized Disney’s decision, hundreds of others flocked to the destination on its opening day, and even more have visited since.
Personally, I was disheartened by the entire situation. While I knew that many Disney World cast members would struggle financially if the parks stayed closed, it didn’t seem like a much better option to have them work around thousands of travelers during a pandemic, therefore putting them at risk of getting sick.
But that’s when Disney World began to lay off thousands of its employees.
By Thanksgiving, according to The Washington Post, the theme-park giant planned to remove 32,000 of its workers. Almost immediately after the layoffs began, accounts of former employees struggling to pay their bills and relying on food banks for meals emerged.
And as I read story after heartbreaking story from those affected, I couldn’t help but wonder how the vacation destination with sky-high ticket prices and constant renovations couldn’t afford to help those who create its magic.
Now I worry that the magic won’t be there when I return to Disney World
After a long time away, I planned to visit Disney World with my best friend in May 2020. While I knew some of my favorite spots like the Great Movie Ride would no longer be there, I was still excited to experience Disney World’s newest attractions.
Of course, those plans were quickly canceled, and to be honest, I’m not eager to reschedule them.
The expensive park tickets don’t seem worth it now that shows, parades, fireworks, and more have been halted, and I’m not sure I’d want to experience new attractions for the first time while wearing a mask. But most importantly, I can’t imagine visiting Disney World without the cast members who have always helped to make my vacations and millions of others so special.
I still love Disney World, and I know that one day when it’s entirely safe to do so, I’ll return. But right now, I can’t say that I have much faith in the future of the most magical place on Earth.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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