Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Week on the Disney Magic: Part 1 – Privilege Status

Last week my husband and I honeymooned on the Disney Magic, the first Disney Cruise Line ship, and took a 7-night trip around the Western Caribbean.  This was our first cruise, so I have nothing to base the Disney Cruise Line on or compare it to, but I’m excited to present my psychosocial analysis of our trip.  Please note these are my own social observations and I do not expect everyone to agree with my commentary on the subjects.  There are many elements that I could dissect and explore but the first I will direct your attention to is the evidence of privilege status on a Disney Cruise ship. 

We as humans experience privilege, or lack thereof, all the time in our everyday life.  When someone is wearing a clothing brand we could only dream of affording or we notice someone else wearing the same few outfits over and over we understand where they fall in the rank of privilege.  We all have experienced both sides and when we are on the lower side of it, to be honest we know it doesn’t feel great.

The beginnings of Disney vacations, those that have roots in the first “theme park,” Disneyland, have an equalizing theme.  Walt wanted to create a park where adults could have as much fun as the kids, to make an even playing field, if you will, that made the same experiences available to everyone.  But even then, privilege existed in the different quantities of attraction tickets one could purchase, or souvenirs one could buy.  The more tickets you could afford, the more rides and attractions you would see.  However, unless you asked around or looked through shopping bags, it was not as apparent who was privileged and who was less so.  There were not specific souvenirs that proclaimed how many times you had visited the Park or how many tickets you had purchased.  There weren’t “members” of any special clubs or groups that differentiated them from other Disney vacationers.  There was still a general feeling of equality.

These days there’s a little thing called the DVC, or Disney Vacation Club, which is an elite group of people who earn “vacation points” based on a purchased real estate interest at a DVC resort.  These points earn you other Disney vacations and benefits such as savings and discounts on merchandise, dining, etc.  In addition is the Castaway Club, which means you have sailed with DCL before.  Depending on how many cruises you have taken with Disney in the past you can be a silver or gold member.  But if someone is a member of the DVC or Castaway Club, boy do you know it.  My observation was about half those sailing with us sported hats, lanyards, and shirts proclaiming their member status at one point or another.  The cabin doors of those in these clubs were constantly decorated or somehow acknowledging that family and their children for their membership. 

I understand that it is a club, and not everyone can be in every club.  But I do wonder the psychological effect these special treatments have on little ones who have no understanding of why their neighbor’s cabin door has tons of awesome stickers on it or a letter addressed to them and theirs doesn’t, or why their friend they play with in the kid-specific zone has a shiny gold member lanyard but they don’t.  I know it’s not scarring but can be confusing to a child.

And it’s not only about clubs.  You purchase your cruise and the activities you do while on land separately.  So one can’t help but overhear families raving about their snorkeling, dolphin swimming, and submarine riding-filled days.  I am happy for those lucky children, but also feel for that child asking her mom why they didn’t get to swim with dolphins like her new friend did.  I even overheard families discussing last year’s cruise, and what they plan to do on next year’s cruise, which kind of brings one back down to earth from the magic when someone has scrimped and saved for this once in a lifetime opportunity to give their family.

A (blurry) pic of the pins we received from our wine tasting, in case we wanted to let everyone know we tasted wine.

I don’t mean to condemn those in the DVC or Castaway Club, or who are able to treat themselves to multiple Disney vacations.  There is nothing wrong with giving your family a fantastic vacation life if you are able.  There is nothing wrong with including your children in your membership.  I am merely remarking on the obviousness these practices have on a cruise, where you are in close proximity with the same people for an extended amount of time.  It starts to become noticeable who has and who has not and may be on the only cruise their family will ever be able to afford.  I try to see this phenomenon through the psychological minds and eyes of children, and know if I have experienced it as an adult then I can speculate that their honest little minds will wonder too.

“The wonderful thing about Disney Vacation Club is knowing there's always another vacation in the near future.” – Member quote taken from the DVC site


  1. Congrats on your wedding!

    I know what you mean about this weird stratification of guest experiences. There has been talk of being able to buy "front of the line" passes at Disney parks, which of course would be very expensive. Are you an ordinary person? Sorry, you have to wait in line. Do you have lots of extra cash? You get to cut in front of everyone else. Disney stands to make lots of money, though they will claim that they would only offer such a plan to "benefit the guest experience".

    They did a similar thing at the last D-23 Expo... people would could afford a $1500 ticket were guaranteed entrance to every panel, while everyone else just had to take their chances (and many didn't get in at all). The $1500 tickets sold out immediately!

    1. Thank you! :)
      Yes it really is such a grey marketing area for Disney... it is profitable as something the super-fans will eat up, getting "special treatment" for a price, but it puts such a barrier between people with different financial situations. To me it just seems to not fit in the "Disney way" of connecting with the everyman.
      I hadn't heard about these front of the line passes you mentioned... it makes my gut hurt :(