Golden Mouse: Disney's most expensive park experiences
Drawing in over a billion visitors since Disneyland's opening in 1955 in California, theme parks have grown into a key part of Disney's business. Turning around $17 billion every year, these employ over 130,000 people.
Eager to draw in a high-end clientele, Disney has in recent years built up its offerings on the luxury side through bespoke services and exclusive accommodation such as exclusive clubs and even a private yacht.
Historically, Disney's first attempt at creating a luxurious experience for high-spending clients came with Club 33 at its first location in Anaheim, California. Meant as a private members' club discretely concealed within the park, it was introduced in 1967 with Walt Disney's wife, Lilly being responsible for its interior design.
The only restaurant in Disneyland to sell alcohol, Club 33 reportedly has a decade-long waiting list with a $25,000 joining fee and a yearly membership cost of $12,000 after that. Originally filled with memorabilia from Disney films, the clubhouse was recently fully redesigned to adhere to more modern expectations of luxury.
With the opening of Tokyo's Disneyland, Club 33 expanded to Japan before also getting a location in Shanghai. Earlier this year it was announced that Disney World would also welcome Club 33 outposts in the near future.
Club 33 is however no longer the only location aimed at high-spending visitors. In what was once planned as a secretive retreat for Walt Disney and his family, now stands 21 Royal, a New Orleans-themed apartment located right above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, overlooking New Orleans Square.
In this setting, Disney is offering to host up to 12 guests at a time for dinner at a total price of $15,000. Starting off with cocktails, guests are later offered a five-course meal prepared by a dedicated chef, before being taken to a private patio that offers a direct, unobstructed view of the evening show. Despite the high price tag, reservations for the 21 Royal experience are made up to 6 months in advance according to Disney.
Disney's most popular luxury service in recent years has, however, become its VIP tour services. Booked for a minimum of 6 hours at a time for $600/h, the tour services operated by Disney assign a private guide to clients that walks and sometimes drives them around the park, skipping queues at any attraction.
In essence, Disney's VIP guides sell time more than anything else, allowing high-paying customers to potentially visit all four of Disney World's theme parks inside one day. Available for specific itineraries, these can also be hired for bespoke days at a premium.
The increase in high-end offerings has already started to bring in a high-end clientele to Disney parks, with the need of an infrastructure for luxury accommodation rapidly rising as a result. Famed Canadian hotel operator, Four Seasons has, in fact, opened its largest hotel ever with 444 rooms inside Disney World in 2014.
Featuring a private waterpark for kids, a swimming pool reserved for adults, a rooftop restaurant and bar as well as an Italian restaurant, the Four Seasons Orlando became the first non-Disney hotel brand to open within the park area. With room rates starting at $645 per night, the hotel aims precisely to capture the high-end clientele that Disney is developing whilst staying on brand.
We are complementing the Disney resorts, giving guests a new option. Four Seasons Orlando offers a tranquil setting, with the option of Disney integration, but it is not themed.
With families making up over half of its customer base, the hotel has built the largest kid's center ever operated by Four Seasons. In addition to standard rooms, many of which can be connected amongst themselves for flexibility, the hotel features a number of luxurious suites.
The Royal Suite, located on the hotel's top floor, spans 306 square meters and comes complete with an office and cinema room. The suite has eight connecting rooms, giving the option to rent out the whole 16th floor with one suite and creating a nine-bedroom residence with a view over Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks display.
Disney's draw, however, goes even further than luxury hotels, VIP tour guides and five-figure dining experiences in its parks. As some guests felt the need to spend longer amounts of time at its resorts, Disney developed a whole elite residential area near its Disney World resort called Golden Oak.
Structured into five neighborhoods, Golden Oak has just under 300 homes from 280sqm to 650sqm. With prices ranging from $1.8m to $7 million, near 30% of residents live in Golden Oak year-round. On top of the purchase price, residents pay a $25,000 maintenance fee each year that includes access to a clubhouse dedicated to the community.
The luxury homes come complete with yearly passes to Disney World and access to a Disney concierge that can book private tours, restaurants and more. Developed with a high-end audience in mind, Golden Oak homes have extensive outdoor and indoor space, high ceilings and even outdoor pools.
Despite the high level of interest from Disney fans for these properties, at least 9 houses are currently listed on the open market. Located right next to the Four Seasons, the hotel operator decided to also build even larger, serviced residences on its property in Golden Oak, which are now under construction.
With Four Seasons, Golden Oak and its VIP tour guides, Disney World has become the flagship of Disney's luxury ecosystem that the company has shown its keen to expand into other areas. Surprisingly, one of these in recent months has become yachting.
To act as a viewing platform for its nightly fireworks display, Disney has launched a 52ft Sea Ray yacht into its artificial lagoon between Magic Kingdom and the Floridian hotel. Capable of accommodating up to 18 people (17 if you hire a butler), the "Grand 1" is chartering at $399 per hour.
Unique experiences have also become a key area of focus for Disney. For instance, Disney will now let you rent out its wave pool at its Typhoon Lagoon water park so that you can surf in it for $1,200 per 100 waves sessions. When renting out the pool, guests will be able to bring up to 25 guests with them.
In the same spirit, Disney created a wedding planning department to book ceremonies in its park after hours. The park created a dedicated wedding pavilion for this very activity with Cinderella's coach being the most popular feature of the weddings that took place at Disney so far.
With theme parks now the fastest growing department for Disney by revenue, the company is visibly eager to increase its high-end offering, creating more magic for everyone in the process.