Chapek Addresses Disney Fan Outrage, Demand, Price Increases, Reservations & Reedy Creek
Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke today at the Wall Street Journal’s signature technology conference in Laguna Beach, California. The event is billed as the most exclusive technology “where headlines and deals are made.”
Chapek did exactly that during his interview with Matt Murray, Editor in Chief of the WSJ. During that, Chapek explained how the world’s largest entertainment company is doubling down on its streaming, film and theme park businesses. Chapek also outlined his vision for the future, including what to expect from Disney+ and the company’s film pipeline at the box office.
Most notable for our Walt Disney World and Disneyland-centric audience, Chapek discussed “how innovations inside its theme parks have enhanced the customer experience.” (Wall Street Journal’s words, not mine.) You can watch the full interview for yourself below–we’ll be covering the “highlights” that follow…
Most of the session focused on Disney+ and the company’s intellectual property, so not much of relevance there. (Chapek did seem to suggest that Disney will refocus on creating content in-house rather than leaning on acquisitions, so that’s good!)
One of the big non-parks things that has overlapping relevance with Walt Disney World came when Chapek was asked about controversial content that was banned in some markets. He noted that “We live in a world now where everything seems to be polarized, but we want Disney to stand for bringing people together.”
Chapek pushed back on the notion that Disney is ‘too woke’ by saying that “Disney is a company that has survived 100 years by catering to its audience, and it will survive another 100 years by catering to its audience.”
Turning to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, there were questions about how the company has successfully navigated reopening. When asked about high demand for the theme parks, and whether that meant Disney would build more parks, Chapek said that “parks were very successful before the pandemic, as you know, and we shut them down for a year or two years in some parts of the world.
Chapek said the company was “very pleased” by how consumers came back to its theme parks, attributing that to “trust” people had in the brand–consumers knew Disney would open in a responsible way. “Things like the NBA bubble…brought us a lot of confidence in people’s minds.” He indicated that since then, “business has been strong,” and that as long as Disney continues to do things the way it does, it will have robust demand.
When it comes to price increases, the interviewer noted that there were online debates among “passionate” Disney fans about price increases, with some that love them and some who hate the ever-increasing costs. The interviewer asked how to balance this without alienating Disney’s passionate fans.
Chapek answered, “we want to guarantee a great guest experience no matter when people come. If they come the second week of September, we want them to have a great experience. Maybe that’s not so hard then, but it is [during the week of] Thanksgiving.” He further said that the primary goal is ensuring guests have a magical experience and memories that last a lifetime.
“In a world where we don’t control demand, we’re left with one of two situations. You either let way too many people into the park, where they don’t have a great experience, or you manage it by turning people away at the gate.”
With that in mind, Chapek explained that the the reservation system was developed to make things predictable for “families from Seattle” that might have previously come to Disneyland around Thanksgiving at 10 am and previously been turned away. He indicated that this was done in a way similar to other businesses around the world, including airlines. (Note: airlines still overbook and bump people from flights, and do not require a separate airline reservation to be booked after airfare is purchased. Probably a bad example.)
Chapek struck a defiant tone, which is pretty consistent with past interviews I’ve seen where this comes up. He noted that the reservation system is “heresy” to some Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans, but not unlike anything other businesses do. He also stated that yield management is something all good businesses do, and it’s something analysts and investors expect. Chapek indicated that, essentially, pricing is a reflection of demand–a good business practice and good for the guest experience.
Moreover, he reiterated that it’s done to protect the guest experience to guarantee admission on busy days and ensure that the parks are not too crowded. He steadfastly stuck to the script that would sound familiar to anyone who read our recent post, Disney Doesn’t Want Lower Crowds. In fact, much of the commentary there could serve as a direct rebuttal to Chapek’s contentions throughout the WSJ interview.
Towards the end of the interview, Chapek was asked to reflect upon the Reedy Creek controversy and fallout between the company and the State of Florida “with a little time and distance” about what he did right and wrong, whether he’d do anything differently in retrospect, and what lessons he learned.
Presumably not wanting to stick his head back into that particular hornet’s nest, Chapek gave a relatively diplomatic non-answer. He did not say the governor’s name nor did he mention the piece of legislation. There were a lot of specific “red flag” words–and he didn’t utter any of them. So at the very least, his new corporate comms team has coached him on what not to say.
Instead, Chapek said that “the lesson, and what we always should’ve known, is that Disney is all about the Cast.” He noted that people might remember the castle and churros, but the reason people have magical memories that last a lifetime is the guest-cast interactions. He called Cast Members the “secret sauce” and the key to a great guest experience at Walt Disney World.
He said that the vast majority–around 99%–of the positive guest feedback he received when running Parks & Resorts was about Cast Members. Chapek said that he was “reminded” about the sentiment of Cast Members and the importance of them feeling valued and as if they could relate to the company. “You have to make sure the Cast is at the center of everything you do,” Chapek concluded.
Chapek was also asked about the personal criticism and attacks he’s received from outraged fans, with the interviewer mentioning forums and the online community. Chapek mostly brushing this off, saying that he ran parks for about a decade, and knew just how “passionate” Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans can be. He mentioned decisions that were unpopular with fans, saying “if we move a churro cart 10 feet, it’s a big deal.”
Chapek also mentioned the reimagining Tower of Terror into Mission Breakout, “while the lines went from 30 minutes long to 6 hours long.” (He was interrupted at this point by the interviewer, but the implication was that it was an unpopular decision with fans, but vindicated by the general park-going public.)
Either way, Chapek previously had this to say about long lines when Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opened: “The deep secret is that we don’t intend to have lines. If you build in enough capacity, the rides don’t go down and it operates at 99% efficiency, you shouldn’t have 10-hour lines…So, 10-hour lines are not a sign of success,” he said. “It should be seen as a sign of, frankly, failure.”
It’s also a bit amusing that earlier in the same interview, Chapek talked up the importance of a guaranteeing a good experience for guests who are “actually inside the parks.” It’s like he forgot all about that when boasting about the decision to transform Tower of Terror into Mission Breakout. To his credit, that reimagining was the right call–and I can admit being wrong about it in hindsight. But I’m not sure how 6-hour long lines and a good experience experience are consistent messaging.
One of the things I find interesting about hearing Chapek speak is how he oscillates between sticking to the script and candid comments. When it comes to Disney’s “passionate” fans, he often has a glib and almost defensive tone with an “I’m right, you’re wrong…and here’s why” subtext. With other more mainstream topics and controversies, he’s much more diplomatic and deferential, carefully choosing his words in a way that’s (wisely) evasive.
I can’t say I necessarily blame him, and honestly, I appreciate Chapek speaking his mind even when he has something negative to say about fans like us. It’s just such a stark contrast to Iger, who was meticulous and purposeful with each word he chose–even though he probably thought a lot of the same things as Chapek. (Even though I’m personally fine with this, I don’t think this standoffish tone is savvy or plays well with most fans.)
To his credit, Chapek also indicated that he can shoulder the criticism if it meant doing the right thing for the Walt Disney Company and its long-term reputation. “We all want to make everyone happy all the time. I’m not sure that’s possible in this world. So again, we have to distill this down and say, ‘Who do we want to be? Who do we want the company to be?’ By the way, my own persona feelings aren’t really important. What’s important is how people feel about the company.”
Chapek closed by saying that “he takes himself out of it, and that sort of surprises…Everyone wants to be loved and to like them, but in this world, that’s not always necessary. I wash all of that away and say, ‘what do we want the capital ‘D’ Disney company to stand for?’ If we’re doing right by the company and can sleep at night, then…I can be teflon and know we’re doing the right thing.”
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Did you watch Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s interview during the Wall Street Journal technology conference? Thoughts on anything he said–or didn’t say? Thoughts on his comments about crowds, price increases, high demand, reservations, Cast Members, or anything else? Are you worried about the future of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or the company in general? Think things will improve or get worse throughout this year? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Sold 100% of my Disney stock after this interview.
Good for you
We are fl residents and annual pass holders . Recently I have noticed some different things going on with cast members . Most are same as always – friendly , happy, well groomed . But some seem bored , surly, poorly groomed and rough around the edges . Like they hired them from Walmart and just slapped a pinnochio village haus uniform
For the day with no training or expectations. Some
To be in poor health . I saw one poor old lady wearing compression stockings sitting down on the job looking exhausted. I don’t know why Disney isn’t paying employees more so they can afford a better quality of life and better healthcare ? It’s sad but I guess it’s also reflecting the current state of the country . It just made me feel sad . The other thing which was interesting is that I have seen other groups of cast members just hanging around , laughing , giggling and talking . That doesn’t bother me , but I never used to see that either . Hmmm… something is going on and not sure it’s just Disney….
We’ve visited Disney World more than a dozen times in the last 10 years, most recently over the busy Columbus day week (7 days in the parks). We’ve visited before during busy times but the magical way Disney has always handled crowds wasn’t present. This was a terribly deteriorated experience. Reduced capacity at restaurants (1/2 the tables were being filled at Garden Grill) and no Dining Plan means the people that would have been sitting in restaurants are doing something else. Ditto missing shows or attractions going down. The park reservation system meant we couldn’t hop to EPCOT for lunch. Never mind a plan change on our last day to catch a few things we missed couldn’t start until 2:00 and required a stop first at H.S. because no park reservations were available at EPCOT. And while mobile food order is generally an upgrade to the experience, spotty wifi creates further aggravation and makes me less inclined to try genie+. The stress of having to be on the phone even more to get ride reservations (and maybe not get the rides we want anyway) isn’t appealing in the least. The one virtual line conflicted with a dining reservation IN ANOTHER PARK which required us to stand in line TWICE with guest services because they wouldn’t modify the ride reservation until closer to the ADR time when we waited the first time. We purchased one LL to avoid a 90-120 minute wait and still waited 20 minutes. A 20-30 minute wait used to be our limit and was pretty manageable with FP, early entry, and shows or breaks during peak times, but not now. 30 minutes of early entry is still 1/2 the time we used to have whether it’s at all the parks or not. Oh, and I keep reading online that the All Star Resorts have ALL been refurbished. Caution: they have not. We stayed in the Tennis area at Sports and it is NOT renovated. Construction is in process in the surf area. Disney can charge whatever they want if people will pay, but we have many choices and some things will have to change before we do another week at Disney.
Planning a Disney vacation is AWFUL. This CEO needs to go! No one can just jump in a car without planning and drive hundreds of miles to enjoy the parks. The character dining reservation system is broken where no one can make any reservations because of the bots that snatch all reservations up and then “sell” the reservations for a “membership fee”
The “ordinary” family can’t just go to make lifetime memories any longer at the spur of the moment.
This CEO doesn’t care and actually some of my family members work under him and what does it say when he walked out on a stage to address his “cast members” that he didn’t get applause, HE GOT BOOED FROM ALL OF THEM IN ATTENDANCE!
If his “cast members” are not happy what does one think of the opinion of the general public? HE NEEDS TO GO0 BECAUSE HE IS NOT A GOOD ROLE MODEL FOR DISNEY!
Chapek is no different to any CEO of any Company anywhere in the world
Spin and more spin
No one ever believes any of them
We a family group of 15 have been regularly visiting from down under for in excess of 40 years and will continue whoever is CEO and continue to hold our stock owned for more than 20 years
I think he should go on that show, Undercover Boss. Then he would get an idea of what people really think and what his employees really think of the madness.
100% agree with you on this!! Pay the employees a decent wage and LISTEN TO THEM!!
He needs to wake up and eat the lousy sandwich at the Boardwalk Deli. Tell me why I live in Celebration and don’t go to the Parks? They are so out of touch and not listening to what we are asking, as their loyal members. Unfortunately the false increase in their earnings (based on increased park pass costs) and ignoring the information being told to them to live in a Dream World. That can only last so long before the bubble bursts–and it sounds like the Disney bubble is starting to go POP
Plain and simple … Chapek sucks!!! He has ruined the Walt Disney World Company for his own greedy gain!! The excessive price increases with the excessive decrease in service and experience is what Disney is known for now. Chapek does NOT value the cast. Just ask most cast members off the record and they will tell you how the cast feels about Chapek. Interestingly, the world as a whole has been in financial disarray for many years (long before Covid). Most people simply do not know how to manage their personal finances properly. To see so many people pay the outrageous prices of going to Disney World with a subpar experience in return, shows that most people REALLY DO NOT know how to manage their money wisely. Yep, it is everyone’s right to choose where they spend their dollars. In reality, it is to their own detriment, whether they realize it or not. I am a DVC member and now enjoy Disney resort only vacations. Chapek does not want DVC members even going to the theme parks any more. DVC members are no longer allowed to purchase annual passes. Hillarious!!! I am also a Disney stockholder. While the investment gains are nice, I was once a Disney Loyal Fan FIRST!!!!! I became a stockholder because of my passionate love for Disney. I am NO LONGER a Disney Loyal Fan. So, I will just coast on my Disney stock gains and use that money to fund my vacations with Disney’s competition. HA! HA!
We are leaving to go home today,and I couldn’t be more happy than to thumb my nose to Disney on the way out the door. This was our first vacation in 10 years and my daughter’s first WDW trip. It was supposed to be special. Instead, we got unimaginable crowd levels, could barely get lightning lanes with our paid genie plus, so frustrating that we actually canceled our MNSSHP party and I went to the park to get a refund. I’ll gladly tell anyone who wants to listen what a miserable vacation it has been. Broken down rides (Spaceship Earth, Space Ranger Spin, Frozen, Splash Mountain, Liberty Belle Riverboat, Haunted Mansion, etc). I’ve never seen so many attractions down in a 6 day vacation. Plus some cast members were rude, guests of course are rude, bathrooms were filthy. Price gouging for beverages, the list goes on and on. The only bright side was our stay at AKL. For a family that once went every year before this trip, I honestly don’t care if we return for at least another 10 years. I used to actually enjoy our Disney trips.
Our vacation which officially ends today, has been miserable. For many different reasons.
For all the money they make, we couldn’t even get a first visit celebration pin for my daughter because there is a ‘pin shortage’ at all the resorts and parks. Tell me that’s a big expense for Disney and I’ll tell you that is B.S.
Disney is supposed to be special and different. He’s homogenizing it with his “like other businesses” remarks. Money-grubber, double-talker, zero creative vision. Empty spaces in parks push crowds too close together. Make a decision on EPCOT spaces, please…. Park space that’s being used helps spread people out. Chapek is woefully out of touch. Bye…
I honestly didn’t expect much from this appearance or interview. Obviously, everything he says is going to be carefully crafted and I certainly don’t envy his position of having to do the business side of something that for many is a sacred place and experience. That being said, I wish they would just admit fault in some way. Obviously the things they’re trying are not perfect. Sure, they may have good intentions but a lot is going wrong more than going right. The crowd control reservation system is a bold faced lie. They need the reservation system for one reason or another but it’s not for crowd control…I mean come on!
As for the price increases and the new fast pass system which feels like a rip off and for me it kinda is…I get the value of having to monetize popular products. I definitely would not want Disney to make a decision between firing employees or monetizing products for ROI. I’d rather have the cast members have a paycheck then free fast pass. It just makes me a little red that for years that choice didn’t have to be made and all of a sudden it does So where is this money going? Is it just from the shutdown and covid procedures? Or is it because there’s a mismanagement of money coming from the top and trickling down? I wish they’d conduct more surveys of park goers to get a feel of what people are saying.
On a positive note…I love that he gave a shout out to the cast members because he is right in a lot of way…I love Disney Customer Service inside and outside the parks and it makes me want to come back because I trust that they’ll take care of me if they can. (and they have in the past)
I have a feeling that extra money is lining the pockets of the upper level management much like with other large corporations. If the execs took a pay cut then they probably could pay their employees more.
The magic is leaving Disney World and being replaced with a profit and woke driven agenda. On our last trip I rented 3 rooms at Pop Century and our view was the housekeeping carts parked outside our window Last trip I missed the traditional Disney characters and shows that made Disney. I know I am probably a minority when I say that Star Wars needs it’s own park separate from Disney attractions.
Why doesn’t Disney just make a new Future World park and put all these Star Wars, Marvel, etc stuff over there?
I personally think at some point they’ll build a fifth park. Competition from Universal as well as continued building of hotels. Just my opinion
There’s not one human alive that would say they “love” the price increases. And Iger’s disdain for the lifelong Disney fans is only proof that his interest lies not in Disney as an ideal but in Disney as a cash cow. As long as folks are throwing their money at this talking head, he will continue to exploit the masses. Walt’s Disney is dead and my family has poured money into their greedy purses for far too long. Bye bye. Enjoy being exploited and robbed.
Correction: Chapel not Iger. But both are just as guilty.
Sadly, I am in agreement with you! I was so excited to share the amazing Disney experience with my son and originally booked a trip for his birthday. We have since cancelled the trip because I refuse to pay a ridiculous amount of money to be angered and frustrated by excessive crowds, scheduling, and limited options. Having been a die hard Disney fan for most of my life, I am saddened my son will not experience what I did previously. We will be making the shift to Universal because they at least have reasonable prices for a positive experience. I can only hope the Disney corporation has a reality check and returns to focus and values of Walt sooner rather than later!
I think Chapek is a double talker. In one breath, he says he doesn’t care what others think, because he is right. Then in the next breath, he says he takes his thoughts out of it. Also, how cast members are the gold of Disney, but he trashed on them & didn’t bring many back (ex. actors in Hollywood Studios). He only cares about how much money he can make. He is charging more & giving less.
The reservation system is not being used to control crowds. We just got back from WDW and the parks were as crowded as we have ever seen, outside of Christmas. This is also costing them money. For the first time ever, we didn’t pay for park hoppers. Also, first time ever, we left property for our anniversary dinner. It used to be easy to stay in the “Disney bubble”. They’ve made the whole experience more difficult than necessary. Our annual passes lapsed during covid and we might not renew even if we could get them. In the past, we visited WDW multiple times a year, not now. We’ve visited Universal more times in the last 2 years than we had in the previous 20.
I will say that our interactions with cast members this trip were all excellent. The cast members are trying to enhance the guest experience, but it’s obvious that management isn’t.
so he completely dodged the price increase question
This is the quote that stuck out to me the most. “In a world where we don’t control demand, we’re left with one of two situations. You either let way too many people into the park, where they don’t have a great experience, or you manage it by turning people away at the gate.”
There is a third option. You increase capacity by building new rides as a way to help spread that demand out and give the people in the park a better experience. But that would require spending more money and investing in the park, which is something Disney doesn’t seem too interested in doing right now. Re-theming rides isn’t the answer, even if rides are in a bad state and need a long refurbishment, because it doesn’t ultimately increase park capacity. Demolishing or closing rides that are not heavily used is a good step, but not when you do nothing to replace it. Stitch’s great escape is still empty with nothing to replace it. No sign in sight for when the train will be coming back. Demolishing things in Dinoland is a good start but not when you have nothing to replace it and have no set plans for the near future.
What is wrong with adding smaller rides? All rides don’t need to be E-ticket rides. Just some small boat rides or dark rides would help with capacity. Why not add a few more small rides in the different countries in EPCOT? If they truly valued the guest experience, they would do these things to help capacity and lower the wait times/crowded feeling. I know if that happened I would feel better about the increasing prices. But if the waits and crowds stay as is, I will not be paying those increased prices.
I agree that Disney should be embarrassed by Dinoland (it was bad from day 1 IMO).
I’m surprised Stitch has sat empty for so long, it seems it would be cost and capacity effective to turn it into a meet & greet with the characters from that area like Buzz/Zurg, Sully, Stitch, maybe even a magic shot thing that puts you in a Tron suit.
But good news…the RR is supposed to return soon; hopefully next month!
I wholeheartedly agree with your third option. Instead of building more RESORTS which in turn puts mounting pressure on the parks and crowds, perhaps they should focus on building a new PARK to increase capacity and spread crowds. Seems like a no-brained to me.
we have been to Disney 16 times and we can’t afford to vacation at Disney due to the cost & there being fewer perks like the end of the magical express. the impression we get is Bob Chapek is just interested in making money at the expense of the customer. a co worker of mine who’s daughter use to work for Disney calls it “slaved labor”
I just got back from WDW on 10/24. I had a great experience. I went with 7 other family members ranging from ages 75 to 7. Everyone stated how they had a blast. I
I just came back from an 8 day trip (first since early 2019) and it was as amazing as ever. Maybe we got lucky, but I didn’t witness any of the alleged issues (overcrowding, under staffing, etc) that I continuously read about. While I’m sure there are some legitimate complaints out there, I have to wonder how many are just anti-Disney propaganda (especially any review that complains about “wokeness”).
It’s not anti Disney propaganda. Tell that to my wallet. It will sure disagree with you. I must have been seeing things with all the attractions that were down during our vacation and the crowd levels. If I could give minus ratings for this trip I would.
So, you didn’t experience any crowding, long ride waits?? How did you manage that? Seems you are the only family that didn’t.
You must be a corporate Disney bot. I go weekly and have pics and screenshots of down rides to back up the degradation of the parks. The filth as well, and compared to 10 years ago there are many more rude and disinterested cast members. Our trip last week Frozen broke down 35 minutes into us waiting in line. We came back 2 hours later and it was open again but the ride was clearly still having issues as it was violently clunky and stopped mid ride several times and then whiplash inducing restarted. The week before, Ratatouille broke down 2x while we were there…..Test Track, same thing. I’m AP and DVC so when you say you had a great experience then you don’t know what it was like under Walt’s vision. Walt created the magic and that created a cult like following. Here in Florida you don’t see Universal AP stickers on people’s cars or people buying Busch Garden limited edition license plates, like we do for Disney. And yes, I have both custom Disney license plate and AP on my car. That cult like devotion was created by Walt’s vision, but with Iger and Chapek’s leadership Disney will be nothing but a subpar version of Universal soon. That is the complaint.
People I know it’s taboo to say anything bad about someone who always seemed like such a great guy, but he cut his teeth in Parks directly under Iger. Chapek is just the latest ‘man behind the mouse’. All Iger stories are glowing and he had a larger than life personality. But even before Iger you had what was almost like the first coming of Chapek when you had Michael Eisner. Eisner may have been shrewd and disliked by many but he made the company money and stayed in his position for 20 years. Get ready for a long ride. This is a company that has stability at the top consistently. They’re like a QB in Green Bay or a head coach in Pittsburgh, not going anywhere.
I loved what Elsiner did for the parks.
Having just returned from Disney I was left disappointed. After finally returning after almost 8 years this was work. I could not have done it without a “younger” tech savvy person. Everything needs to be booked on the app and monitored. It seems impossible to just go and enjoy. I ALWAYS had planned. All my meals, the parks, time to visit etc. Now it just seems too much work to enjoy a vacation. The cost is not worth the experience. So disappointed.
We did Universal 2 years ago. Much easier to know what you get for your ticket price, you pay for it and and it’s done. Perks for on property are like Disney “used to be”. Things are included as advertised.
I agree with every point you made. This was our first Disney vacation in 10 years. Next time it will be Universal.