Monday, February 23, 2015

Death of the Family Vacation

Recently I took my family on a short trip to southern Utah and Las Vegas. It was the free National Park weekend and after visiting some of the historic sites in Saint George, Utah, we headed off for LasVegas.

While the sin is still plentiful there, the family based attractions have stagnated. You can't see a pirate battle at Treasure Island anymore because its now a bawdy show featuring a bevy of female pirates.

For family based fare, the only thing really outside anymore is the volcano at the Mirage, and the water fountain show outside the Belagio. This is good and bad.

The Good
 Lets admit it. When you have a family in Vegas, the first rule you teach your kids is, "DON'T LOOK AT THE SIDEWALK!"

The Bad
You're driven inside for the hotels individual attractions. Why is that bad? A revelation came to me while sitting in the Venetian waiting for my wife and I's gondola ride. We were enjoying a pricey scoop of gelato with our daughters when I began surveying the businesses located inside. Every one was a expensive item shop. You know, those ones where everything inside is going to cost you hundreds of dollars--minimum. I even saw a kiosk for Ferrari watches, and if the real estate is too expensive for a full Ferrari shop...

Las Vegas has become a destination for the wealthy or single child family
Prices have gone through the roof, making a majority of the activities in Vegas beyond the ability of many middle class families.

Take for instance the following per person prices:

New York New York Roller Coaster - $14
Rio Carnival World Buffet - $32
Venetian Gondola - $19

For an individual couple, the price may not be that big a deal. But add in two or more children, and one-day in Las Vegas quickly becomes unaffordable. Vegas has attempted to make up for this discrepancy by offering low room prices on off days, but even then, a family may be forced to skip the Vegas experience for cheaper fair.

Walt Disney's vision wasn't a theme park for the Ultra-Rich
Unfortunately, there is a rapidly diminishing supply of cheaper destinations for families. Take for instance, Disney theme parks. According to an Orlando Sentinel article, a one-day ticket price (one park, one day) at Disney World rose from $59.75 in 2005 to today's $105. For a family of six, a trip to Disney can get quickly out of hand. Disney World attempts to make up for this ridiculousness by offering their three-day park hopper + water park passes for $388.75 each. That means, for a family of 6 (2 adults, 4 children) you'll pay $2332.75 for three days in the magic kingdom.

Today, according to the same Orlando Sentinel article, the average median income of families visiting their parks are in excess of $95,000 (in 2013). And Disney literally doesn't give a flying fig about lower income families getting into their parks. Take the following quote from the Orlando Sentinel:
"I do think that Disney's perspective is they're a premium-priced, premium product," said Scott Sanders, a former vice president of pricing with the company. "They believe that … there are some people who can't afford it, but there are a lot of people who are willing to pay for the experience."
And the trend is continuing throughout other theme parks in the country. Again, from the Orlando Sentinel:
Typically when one park raises prices, others follow suit. Universal Orlando has charged $96 and SeaWorld $95 for base tickets at the gate. "The minute you stop keeping up with the Disney prices, you automatically tell the general public, `Hey, we're not as good as Disney,'" said Scott Smith, an assistant professor of hospitality at the University of South Carolina.
So where does that leave us?
Sadly I believe the family theme park experience is over--or at the very least--become a once in a lifetime opportunity. Management in these establishments have lost their minds, but fortunately for them, there are enough wealthy to keep them operating.

But for the family based crowd, we are forced--perhaps wisely--into other options. The National Parks still have many destinations throughout every nation in the world. And camping or visiting reasonably priced hotels with our kids offer more relationship building moments than you'd expect. Better still, we have the opportunity to teach our children about thrift and family.

And that is something Walt would be proud of.

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