D23 is the official Disney Fan Club. It costs $75 to join as a Gold Member or $35 as a Silver Member in 2014, before discounts. At present, there are three levels of D23 memberships: the above-mentioned Silver and Gold Memberships, plus a Free Membership. The difference between Gold and Silver is the quarterly magazine, while the Free Membership only really has access to online articles, an e-newsletter, the ability to purchase merchandise, and the ability to purchase tickets to some events (for higher prices and after they’ve been on sale for Gold and Silver Members for a while).
It would not surprise me at all if Disney marketing brass predicated their marketing strategy for D23 on wanting to convince Disney fans that they could not be “true” or “loyal” Disney supporters if they weren’t members of D23. The marketing tacitly implies as much. Yet oddly, it seems that the more sanctimonious group has been non-members, rather than members of D23. With ardent opposition to D23 in the Disney fan community, you’re unlikely to earn the adulation of many by stating that you’re a member of D23. So, I guess, if that’s your principle reason for joining, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Luckily, there are other reasons for joining D23. Membership offers some cognizable benefits and perks. Currently, there are two levels of membership, Gold and Silver. A few of the perks for each level are discussed in turn below.
Disney “Twenty-Three” Quarterly Publication: Gold Membership includes a one-year subscription (four issues) to D23′s collectible magazine. When I say collectible, I really mean it. Twenty-Three is printed on nice and thick paper, and has a great glossy look. Slightly oversized, it is the perfect “Coffee Table” magazine. If you’re a fan of all things Disney, and not just the theme parks, this is a pretty compelling justification to get the Gold Membership. If you’re primarily a fan of the theme parks, check out “Celebrations” or “Orlando Attractions” magazines, instead and get the Silver Membership. In addition to the quality of the magazine itself, the D23 magazines frequently include little gifts with each issue that are also pretty nice (although way too many are patches).
This magazine is the only thing that distinguishes the Gold Membership ($75) from the Silver Membership ($35), the Silver obviously being the Membership that does not receive the Magazine subscription.
Membership Card and Certificate: Your membership card, which you will need for events, and a certificate that could only appeal to children. Disney describes it as “suitable-for-framing.” I can’t imagine anyone on earth actually framing this thing.
Surprise Collectible Gift: Usually a D23 watch. The watch is fine, but it’s cheap quality. I wouldn’t wear it.
Exclusive Special Events and Merchandise: If you live in California or Florida, or make regular trips to either coast, this is a big draw. While many Walt Disney World regulars complain that “all of the events are in California” that simply is not the case. We live in Indiana, yet there have been several events for which we’ve purchased tickets. Were we to live closer, there would have been three other events we would have liked to attend. D23 has started to address this by offering more regional events and events outside the parks. Kudos to D23 for responding to fan complaints on that one.
There is no way to purchase tickets to most events without being a paid member (most events sell out before being available for the Free Members), so if you want to attend any of them, you’re basically forced into buying at least the Silver Membership.
Additionally, in years when the D23 Expo is held, members receive a discount to the Expo. D23 Expo returns in 2015; this is considered the flagship D23 event, as announcements are often made at the D23 Expo. Here’s hoping Cars Land and Star Wars Land are announced for Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and Disneyland in the case of Star Wars Land) at the 2015 D23 Expo!
The greatest of these perks, for most, is the Twenty-Three magazine. Some argue that all of the information available from D23 is available for free, online. This is undoubtedly true, but for me, “information” isn’t the only reason to buy something. There is something to be said for the tangible feel of a magazine. Sitting outdoors with a cold beer on a summer day, I don’t want to be squinting as I try to view the poorly illuminated text on an iPad or similar device. But that’s just me. I am a fan of printed publications. Your mileage may vary on that one.
The second perk, and if you can avail yourself of this one it’s likely the greatest, is the opportunity to purchase admission to the events. While I was not overly impressed with the first Magic & Merriment we attended, we had an absolute blast at the second Magic & Merriment, and even more fun at the D23 EPCOT Center 30th Anniversary events! I have heard great reviews of most other D23 events, too.
It can stink that most of these events are in California, but there are plenty in Florida, and it makes the most sense to have them in the parks, where the experiences are most relevant. To expect D23 events to be held in non-major cities (where’s my Plainwell, Michigan, event?!) is a tad unrealistic. If you’re unable to plan your trips around these events or take weekend jaunts when they’re offered, you might be disappointed with the event schedule. However, if you can attend even an event or two per year, Membership quickly becomes worth the while for you. If you cannot or will not attend any events, I do not see a lot of intrinsic value in the membership, and I wouldn’t recommend becoming a member, unless you’re interested in the magazine.
With that said, the question is whether the magazine is worth your money. Like I stated above, if you’re a fan of the whole company, most likely yes. If you’re a fan of just the theme parks, it’s questionable. When presented with the question of whether I should become a Silver or Gold Member, I opted for Gold after looking at the prices of used magazines on eBay. Most were selling in the $10 range, meaning the magazines roughly paid for themselves. Most magazines also include a collectible gift of some sort (I sold my Horizons patch that I received with one issue last year for $12 by itself!) that also have some value. So as long as you don’t mind dealing with eBay, the subscription is probably worth it as an upgrade from Silver to Gold. From a pure value perspective, I would have a hard time justifying the cost of the subscription if I only wanted the magazine, but I am primarily a fan of the theme parks.
Also worth noting for those reading this who are contemplating renewal is that you’re better off purchasing a new subscription with a discount code than you are renewing! From time to time, Disney has a discount code that is only valid for new members. Try code: D23DVC for 10% off either a Gold or Silver Membership. This code doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot.
With that code, the price is slightly more palatable, but I think overall it’s still a little overpriced for most people. Obviously, the membership benefits vary widely: a SoCal local AP holder may be able to attend 10 D23 events in one year and have membership be well worth the price whereas someone in Topeka, Kansas may never be able to attend an event, and may not care about the watch or magazine. That being said, while it’s really a personal decision, it’s neither a “terrible” or “great” club. Right now it’s just sort of mediocre. What Disney does with it in the next few years will determine its ultimate fate. On the plus side, D23 is actually run by passionate Disney fans (we’ve met them at a few D23 events, and they really seem to care about Disney and the Club), but it doesn’t seem like they’re the ones making the high level decisions concerning the direction of the club.
What do you think of D23? Is it worth the money, or have you let your subscription lapse? Have you attended any D23 events? Share your thoughts in the comments!