For as long as I can remember, Disney Parks has held a themed promotion celebrating everything from the Magic Kingdom’s 25th anniversary (think “Pepto Bismol” pink castle) to the Year of a Million Dreams. More and more, park goers have come to expect unique offerings resulting from these promotions. Specialty merchandise, free treats, golden Fast Passes, and invitations to stay overnight in Cinderella Castle or the Mickey Mouse Penthouse were surprises guests enjoyed. This winter though, Disney Parks announced its newest promotion, Limited Time Magic (LTM). Even though we are only two months in, I can’t help but find myself disappointed by what has been offered so far and this has me pondering a few very important questions:
- Has Disney Parks trained us to expect bigger and better each year?
- Did the Year of a Million Dreams promotion reach a level that can not be competed with in future promotions?
- Are the specially planned weeks being offered in Limited Time Magic really that unique or things that should already be offered on a regular basis?
Let’s take a look at each of these questions and decide if this year’s promotion is sprinkled with pixie dust or a complete bust.
Image: Is Disney’s Limited Time Magic promo a complete let down?
Limited Time Magic – A Brief Primer
“Imagine an Independence Day celebration – only it lasts an entire week…Main Street mainstays the Dapper Dans rocking out with boy band hits in barbershop style…a Valentine’s Day that becomes Valentine’s Week with Disney castles blushing pink, surprise meet-and-greets with Disney princes and princesses, and candlelit dinners for couples in love.”
Image: The Main Street Dapper Dans Entertain Guests at the Magic Kingdom
So, basically Disney is going to look at the calendar, create a theme for each week of the year, and then decorate the parks, plan extra activities, and sell new merchandise related to that week’s focus. Sound exciting? Well, yes and no. Sure, if you have the chance to visit a Disney park you are in for an amazing vacation filled with memories that will last you a lifetime. However, LTM is being marketed as this grandiose celebration with “limited time” and “exclusive” experiences like none other. That is where I have a problem with this year’s promotion.
We all have expectations. We expect certain things, have specific tastes, and know what we like and don’t like. But with this being said, has Disney trained us to expect the bigger and better every year? Could this be why there is an abundance of criticism for LTM? I’d have to say a profound “yes.”
Disney is known around the world for its excellent customer service and unique vacation experiences. Ask almost anyone on the street today what makes a Disney theme park stand out from its competitors and you’ll hear just that. As guests, we expect cast members to act a certain way and provide a specific level of service that would lead to an outstanding trip. Similarly, people from all over expect the parks to be immaculately clean and filled with opportunities to escape from the pressures of the everyday world. Disney advertises the concept of “making memories” with families and friends. The company is also quick to point out what it is doing each year to improve its vacation destinations.
Just think back to the Fantasyland Expansion in Walt Disney World. The very word “expansion” tells guests that the area is growing and will be better than ever before. With this and similar announcements, our expectations go up, and we are trained to expect something new in order to bring us back for more. This “bigger and better” mantra that Disney has ingrained in our minds could be leading to so many individuals feeling disappointed about LTM.
Disney has created this image of itself as being the #1 in theme park experiences. Could it be that the company is now beginning to struggle with maintaining that image? Has it outdone itself? On the contrary, has the company become somewhat complacent and is relying on its positive reputation to promote sales moving forward?
A Year of a Million Dreams
Beginning in the fall of 2006, the Year of a Million Dreams promotion focused on making Disney park guests’ dreams come true in more ways than ever. Along with new shows and attractions, visitors were treated to a million specialty experiences that were awarded by the now infamous cast member “Dream Team” who scoured the park granting wishes everyday. Guests were rewarded with everything from Fast Passes, free cruises or Adventures by Disney trips, premiere seating at shows, admission to events such as Party for the Senses or the Pirate and Princess Party, shopping sprees, and more. Perhaps the most coveted “dream” was a one night stay in the royal bedchamber of Cinderella herself at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Image: Dream Along with Mickey, a New Show during the Year of a Million Dreams
This truly was an outstanding year of surprises for Disney guests. I remember finding myself even more excited than usual when vacationing during this time. Whenever I saw a cast member curiously walking around observing guests, my heart raced and my palms became sweaty. Would I be the next to win a Disney dream? Could I be sleeping in the castle tonight? Are those members of the Disney Dream Team? These questions saturated my thoughts each day while I was on vacation. Although I never had my chance at such an opportunity, it really made visiting the parks more special.
Now that the Year of a Million Dreams has ended and some time has passed, it has me wondering if a promotion as thrilling as it could ever be duplicated or even surpassed. After all, who wouldn’t want to win something so special? With the announcement of LTM, I initially thought that maybe Disney was heading for a light version of the Dreams promo, but this has definitely proven not to be the case. Could it be that nothing will ever top the Year of a Million Dreams? Is this leading to Disney’s fanbase becoming so disappointed with LTM?
Limited Time Magic – Celebrating Disney’s Bringing Back the Norm?
Without a doubt, I think the biggest issue I have with LTM is what exactly Disney is offering as unique “limited time” experiences. Things like decorations being put up for Valentine’s Day, character meet-and-greets, new food offerings, limited edition merchandise, etc. Wasn’t there a time when Disney Parks offered these things repeatedly and regardless of what “week” it was? Why are we celebrating things that Disney used to do on a regular basis? Has Disney sat back that far on its proverbial laurels that now they expect guests to “celebrate” when they offer things that used to be the norm?
Image: Love is in the air at Disney Parks, but isn’t it always?
Now, before I get blasted for being so “down” on Disney, let me emphasize the fact that I absolutely adore the parks – their attractions, cast members, food, and merchandise. They’re my “go to” vacation destinations and ones I visit several times a year. However, cut backs in cast member training and categorized budgets (decorations, entertainment, merchandise – both quality and type) have really changed things over the past several years. Disney should have its parks adorned for the various holidays and seasons. Character meet-and-greets should have a combination of classic Disney characters and those that are new. Food and merchandise should be fresh, trendy, and different. And most important of all, Disney should and must pay attention to the presentation it is giving to its product on a daily basis – for, if it goes stale enough that guests are expected to do cartwheels over some of the events its been offering during LTM, I fear for its future.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m being a pessimist? Take a look at what themed weeks we’ve seen so far:
- Bling in the New Year – December 30, 2012-January 5, 2013 (Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom): There will be live entertainment on Rockettower Plaza Stage, including music and Disney characters! Count down to New Year’s every hour up until midnight!
- Winter Wonderland – January 14-20, 2013 (Canada Pavilion, Epcot): There will be falling snow and a photo meet and greet with Disney Characters daily from 10:30am – 2:10pm and 3:05pm – 5:45pm.
- Long-Lost Friends Week – January 21-27, 2013 (Magic Kingdom): Classic Disney characters will be out at the Magic Kingdom! The list will include such favorites as Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, and even The Three Little Pigs! Keep your eyes peeled, because you never know who could show up!
- Choose 2014 Disney Art Design - January 25-31, 2013: The Disney Parks Blog has asked readers to vote on one of three art designs for 2014 merchandise. Once chosen, the design will put on select limited-edition merchandise at both Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort.
- Super Bowl Celebrations - February 1-4, 2013 (Magic Kingdom): To celebrate this weekend’s Super Bowl, a pre-parade celebration will take place just before the daily “Celebrate A Dream Come True” parade. The parade will include Central Florida youth football champions, Goofy the football star, Walt Disney World Resort cheerleaders and Referees Chip and Dale. After Sunday’s big game, a special ticker-tape parade will take place down Main Street, U.S.A. Cosmic Ray’s will serve special food from February 1-9 in honor of the Super Bowl. ”Soup-er Bowls” representing the opposing teams will be available, as well as a special Lobster Bisque and Tomato Basil Bisque.
- True Love Week – February 11-17, 2013 (Magic Kingdom): It’s Valentine’s at Disney! The park will be decorated with hearts and True Love banners and Cinderella Castle will “blush pink and red” with lighting synced with romantic music. The Prince and Princess pairs will be out for meet and greets around the park. Cinderella’s Glass Coach will be by the new Castle wall in New Fantasyland. Cinderella’s Wishing Well and the Rose Garden in Central Plaza will be decorated with hearts and flowers. Special candlelit prix fixe meals for two will be offered at Artist Point, The Wave…of American Flavors, Hollywood Brown Derby, and Yachtsman Steakhouse. Limited-edition Disney Valentine collectibles will be available for sale as well.
A special photo-op in Canada and a bit of fabricated snow? Having more characters out than usual? Celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic meal at a great resort (as if this can’t be done at other times of the year)? Oh, and voting on a graphic that will be plastered all over merchandise for the next year – really, Disney? I think you can do better. In fact, I know you can.
Even though I’ve been disappointed with Limited Time Magic so far, I’m going to remain hopeful that Disney is going to step things up a bit as the year continues. There’s a lot of talent in the staff Disney employs. Let’s tap into what they can do. The company need not duplicate the over-the-top grandeur of the Year of a Million Dreams. Instead, it needs to strengthen what it does best with or without a promotion and provide a solid product filled with memories, magic, and joy.
What do you think about the new Limited Time Magic promotion? Share your comments here and let us know what you would like to see in the upcoming months.