I was updating the park hours last week for September 2009 and noticed something that I hadn't picked up on regarding the park hours for this September versus all the previous Septembers, going back to 2003. Along with posting the park hours for each month, we keep the old hours so you can always look back on previous years. The idea behind keeping it was mostly to allow those who want to get an idea of what park hours have been in the past to get an idea of what to expect. Instead, I found the hours useful in another way and that was to see how the economy has impacted the park hours and I made a rather interesting discovery.
Fans of Walt Disney World know that September is one of the slowest months of the year when it comes to attendance. Combining the fact kids just got back into school and so it's hard to rationalize pulling school age children out of school to go on vacation just a few weeks into the calendar, along with the threat of hurricanes make for some sparse attendance. So I kind of expected the park hours to be low for September. What I found was a month where on 20 out of the 30 days of the month, Hollywood Studios closes at 7pm (with two additional days where it closes at 6 because of Night of Joy
That alone may not be surprising because as I mentioned, September is a slow month. But the shocking thing was I looked back to every September between 2008 and 2003 and found in those six years, just TWO days where the Studios closed before 8pm. And those two days were for two days last September for when Night of Joy came to the Studios. This really amazed me because even last year, the economy wasn't doing so hot and yet the park never closed before 8pm with the exception of days when Night of Joy occurred (and in reality, the park was technically operating well into the night those days). This left me wondering how does Disney go from essentially never closing before 8pm in the last six years, to having two thirds of the nights closing before 8pm this year.
I understand times are tough and perhaps the expectations aren't so great in terms of crowds expected for this September, but if you want to make the most money possible, you have to leave the park open for guests to come spend their money! This is essentialy the same thinking with Fantasmic! being cut
. Disney rationalizes that Fantasmic! must be cut to save money, yet on days where there is no show, guests leave in droves after Block Party Bash
is over and thus, lose out on revenue that the guests would have been spending in the park had they had reason to stay around. The same holds true when you cut park hours to try to save money. In the end you just give guests less opportunity to spend their money.
This got me thinking, "Maybe September isn't the only month to see this drastic cut in hours". I picked a month at random and chose June 2009. June is the gateway to summer and certainly the month where park hours ramp up to accomodate the mega crowds that descend on Walt Disney World. In 2007, there were 29 days where the Studios closed at 10:00pm and in June 2008, another 29 days of the park closing at 10:00pm, yet in June 2009 there was just six days where the park closed at 10:00pm. Moreover, the park usually closed at either 8:00 or 9:00. Let me reitterate that June is a summer month and yet Disney opted to go from all but 1 day where the park closed before 10 to where just 20% of the time the park closed at 10:00pm.
The reduction in park hours that we're seeing means a few things. First, those of us vacationing at Walt Disney World will find a much more inconvenient situation to deal with. There will be less time to do the things we want in the parks and for more money (ticket prices and hotel rates have obviously gone up this year). Increasing cost combined with less opportunity leaves guests in a rather unfortunate situation. Second, if there are less hours for me to spend in the park, I know that I'm less likely to spend my time shopping or in a restaurant (the cash chows for Disney) and instead going to want to maximize my time experiencing attractions. The result is less of my money being spent where the large profit margins are.
I haven't researched the other parks, but I'm sure what's happening at Hollywood Studios is likely occuring at some of the other parks and as much as I want to support Disney and show them I value their product, it's hard to to say "I'm going to Walt Disney World" in September knowing that they're offering me the least opportunity this decade to enjoy their product for the highest cost. I recognize a tough economy is tough on everyone and money has to be watched more closely, but this isn't the way and like the cut in Fantasmic!, it's another cut that impacts the guest and leaves them in a more inconvenient situation with little recourse.