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Hey guys, it's Chelsea from The Financial Diet, and today we are going to be talking about something a little bit controversial, and that is Disney. And more specifically amongst that, Disney Adults - but we'll get into them a little later.

In general, though, I want to talk about Disney as an overall cultural marker, and, in many ways, symbol of a lot of more deep and endemic problems in American class and society.

I mentioned in a podcast a while back, with our guest Jennette McCurdy, my absolute love for the 2017 Sean Baker film The Florida Project, which, if you have not seen it, I could not recommend it more, it is one of the most exquisitely-done movies that I think really deals with poverty in a way that is neither sort of, like, overly infantilizing nor demonizing, it is incredible, beautifully shot, I love Sean Baker, mwah! And it speaks beautifully to the particular phenomenon of the deeply-impoverished communities that surround Disney World in Central Florida.

I'm actually, fun fact, someone who was born in Florida and then spent many years as a kid, especially during the summers, going to Florida to visit my late grandmother, and just spend time down there with all of the family I still had in the West Palm Beach area. But for all of that, I never ever went to Disney World. I've never been to a Disney theme park, and that is mostly because, when I was little, my family didn't have enough money for it.

But I remember very acutely how much not going to Disney World as a kid made me feel like a weirdo, like a loser, like someone who is missing out on an essential part of the experience of childhood.

And while one could say that it is largely harmless to plan a family vacation to Disney World, there is more danger than one would think in the whole "going to Disney World as a kid" rite of passage that so many of us are familiar with, because the reality is that these parks are incredibly expensive, and while they may be totally out of access to many families, they also lead other families to go into debt just for the experience that is viewed as so universal.

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And while in every way it is objectively a luxury, we have strangely in our American culture, reframed it as something that is essential to every child's experience.

And again, the feelings that I felt as a kid of being so left out of that experience, and in some ways, kind of, less of a kid for not having done it, lingered with me for a surprisingly long time. And beyond just the theme parks, the entire Disney vacation of our childhood in the US, right down to how much the parks can negatively impact the communities around them, à la The Florida Project, really speaks to how much we have let what is ultimately just another corporate behemoth, take over so much of what we think represents childhood, normalcy and magic.

Now, Disney Parks in particular do contribute to all kinds of economic disparities around the world, and can even strongly drive the homelessness in the surrounding areas, but for the sake of this just being one video, we're gonna focus on the very American phenomenon of Disney World and its community of Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Now, Disney World and the other Disney Parks have rightfully received plenty of criticism for tailoring their prices to the rich, and while there could be a long, drawn-out debate over the affordability of Disney, there really shouldn't be, as the numbers can speak for themselves in conveying how expensive vacationing at Walt Disney World is.

For admission off-season in Walt Disney World in Florida, you can expect to pay $419.85 per adult for entry into the four main parks. Now, mind you, Disney world defines "adult" as anyone aged 10 or above, which, uh, excuse?

And additionally, this number excludes the $85 per adult optional park hopper fee and optional Genie Plus Lightning Lane $15 per adult per day fee.

Now, for admission peak season at Walt Disney World, which includes going around Christmas, Halloween, the Fourth of July, or any other major holiday, entry into the four main parks will now cost $556.79 per adult, and in terms of lodging there, a stay at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, you can pay roughly $700 a night off-season - and that price escalates to at least $1,000 per night during peak season.

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But don't worry! There are "budget-friendly" options, like Disney's All-Star Sports Resort, where you can stay for the modest price of $159 per night, which is still, of course, well out of the price range of many travellers, and don't even talk about things like Disney's new Star Wars Galactic Cruiser, where, for one 2-night stay, you will pay $4,809 for two guests and $5,999 for four guests.

Now let's say you want to eat at Disney World, because you have to eat: restaurants will charge as high as $62 per adult, like at the Be Our Guest Restaurant or Cinderella's Royal Table, and if that's not high enough, Monsieur Paul in EPCOT is $175 per adult for their pre-fixed dinner.

Now, I'm sorry, I know we don't try to engage in, like... We try not to engage in spending shaming on this channel, but... if you're spending $175 for one person's dinner at Disney World, you should be shot.
[off-camera laughter]

Now, that is not to say that you can't find more affordable dining options at Disney, like at the Quickservice locations, which are basically Disney fast food, but be prepared for potentially long lines and difficulty finding seating, particularly during those peak months.

Now, again, of course, you can always be incredibly strategic in how you do it: you can pack snacks, you can lean into all the free water they're giving away - thanks, Disney! - and do everything you can to minimise cost along the way.

But for most families, a trip to Disney World with children is still going to represent an exorbitant expense well out of the range of most travel budgets, because don't forget: if you're going with some kids, they're definitely going to want to do things like get merchandise while you're there, which can easily run you hundreds of dollars.

And with all of these figures in mind, the stories that you're hearing - or may not be hearing - about families going into credit card debt from these vacations, aren't hard to believe. There is a heavy burden on families to spend this kind of money for their kids to have "the Disney experience" but it is definitely not at all worth going into credit card debt.

In 2020, the median personal income in the United States was $35,805, meaning that a trip with these components would, in any other circumstance, be considered categorically out of budget for the average earner.

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But again, because of these heavy associations that we place on Disney as being a childhood rite of passage and something that all children deserve to experience, and have put enormous social pressures and stigmas on providing to our children, we've basically made it something that families feel they can't afford not to do and, again, in many cases will go into credit card debt in order to pay for it.
But beyond that, how are parks like this actually affecting the communities where they're placed, especially the actual children who live in those surrounding communities, and in many cases are not even able to go to the parks themselves despite living down the street?

As I mentioned, the 2017 film The Florida Project dives into this beautifully and centers around a six-year-old girl and her young, single mom who live in a motel just outside of Disney World. And the filmmaker's choice to have a story about homelessness take place directly outside of the Disney World Campus, or, as we like to call it, the happiest place on Earth, is not a coincidence.

According to the Tampa Bay times Osceola County counted 888 students living in hotels and motels during the 2016 to 17 school year. By comparison, Pinellas County had 493 similarly housed students enrolled; and 256 in Hillsborough County. According to the Associated Press, there are approximately 1,700 homeless families in Osceola County, a neighboring County of Disney World.

Now, there are a lot of contributing factors leading to the spikes of things like poverty and homelessness around these parks, but a couple that are of particular note is that Disney amongst many other corporate offenders notoriously underpays a lot of their workers, including people who depend on these parks for jobs.

Similarly, the park's location raises the prices of almost everything around it, meaning that for the average family living in these areas, especially if they're relying on underpaid jobs at places like these parks, are not going to be able to access the same things at the same prices as families would in neighboring counties.

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But Disney's ability to cash in on its cachet with children, often to the exploitation and detriment of the communities around it, is not something that just ends with children.

Some of you may have recently seen in the news Disney's plan to open a planned community for its adult fans, because I assume children aren't getting mortgages. And this may seem a little strange if you're not familiar with the incredible digital phenomenon of the Disney adult or the Disfluencer.

Now, the Disney influencer community is larger than one might think, and it's become one of Disney World's most successful marketing tools. Disney influencers post images of picture-perfect Disney World vacations: with Instagram-worthy snacks, shots in front of Cinderella's castle or the EPCOT golf ball. On TikTok, they'll post tips and hacks on how to make the most of your vacation, which can be great and helpful. And let me say if you have a trip planned and are looking to maximize it, there's nothing wrong with consuming this content or, in some cases, creating it.

But what is most upsetting about this phenomenon is how it ultimately perpetuates a culture of pure consumerism. Like many other types of consumer-driven influencers, these accounts will often post hauls of all of the incredibly expensive merchandise they've gotten, or their custom costumes, which, of course, have to be adapted so as not to be confused with the actual park actors or daily trips around the various bars and restaurants and cafes that easily exceed the average daily take-home pay of an American worker. Now, this isn't anything new right so many sub-genres of influencers are all about that same level of consumerism.

But again, the Disney phenomenon has a really effective tendency to sort of 'whitewash' all of these aspects of the culture, whether it's the consumerism or the underpaid and exploitated workers or the fact that even accessing this experience leads many American families to put themselves into debt.

And although many of these Disfluencers are speaking to other adults in many cases, they're often being consumed by children who don't really understand that these people might be getting comped access to the parks in exchange for free advertising, or that they're making a pretty lucrative living having viral TikToks, and are therefore easily able to afford all of this merchandise and delicious-looking food.

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Ultimately, any adult should feel empowered to engage in whatever hobby brings them happiness, but the specific extent to which this marketing is leveraged to make Disney feel like an indispensable part of children's lives and therefore put enormous financial pressure on their parents makes it particularly insidious.

Again, I used to live in - and spent a good amount of time in - Florida as a child. West Palm Beach is actually pretty darn close to Disney World, and I never went, and although I was really sad about it as a kid looking back, I don't have any sadness about it now, and I don't think that I missed out on something that would have fundamentally changed my childhood for the better.

But I do wish that we could have a more candid conversation about what we're really talking about when we talk about Disney being an 'essential part' of children's experiences because ultimately, that only comes down to money. Whether or not you come back to school in the fall with those adorable pictures of you next to Cinderella, comes down to whether or not your parents could afford to do it.

And, moreover, although many corporations are guilty of similar practices and exploitation, the fact that Disney is able to skate by with this incredibly sunny reputation that is only heightened by the insane extent to which that Disfluencer content is so popular really reminds us that whether we're talking about Walmart or Amazon or the Disney parks that happen to displace thousands of families around them, while underpaying their breadwinners... deserve to be held to the same level of accountability.

I'm not saying you can't like Disney or can't even like going to Disney World. I've never tried Dole Whip, but it looks really yummy. I'm just saying, we need to be a little bit more thoughtful about what we're really buying when we buy it into these images and especially when we sell them to children. As always, guys, thanks for watching, and don't forget to hit the Subscribe button and to come back every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday for new and awesome videos. Goodbye!

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