There was a time where I was one of the biggest Disney Dorks known to man. Maybe not to the extent of George the Disney Tattoo Guy or the people who furnish every room of their house in Modern Disney (although when I lived with my parents in Staten Island, I had permission to re-do the guest bathroom – you know, the one in the high-ranch equivalent of the basement – the bathroom that nobody used – in a Mickey theme. The whole room was red, yellow, black and white. In retrospect, it was garishly hideous), but I was definitely “up” there…the aforementioned bathroom, the upwards of 6 trips to Walt Disney World every year, 1 or 2 visits to Disneyland every year or two, trips to Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland, I worked at The Disney Store in the Staten Island Mall for a year and a half, the ongoing purchasing of Disney-related shirts and collectibles, you get the picture. Sure, it was an expensive hobby but I was at a place and time where I could afford it and it made me happy, so as far as I was concerned, it was all good.

And then, in 1996, as part of the 18-month long WDW 25th anniversary celebration (because everybody celebrates their 25th birthday for a year and a half, right?), they turned Cinderella Castle into a pink birthday cake. And if I had to put a finger on it, that was the beginning of the end. The castle of WDW was THE thing of WDW for me. I thought it was beautiful and elegant and the epitome of WDW. Hell, it sometimes made me cry happy tears when I saw it (and yes, I’m embarrassed to say that now). And they turned it into this atrocious Pepto Bismol-colored thing that didn’t look like anything like a cake but very much like some LSD-induced fake plastic candy nightmare. It was horrible.

From that point on, I never got that “happy/excited I’m at WDW” feeling again and things just seemed to go downhill from there. I’m sure at least part of it was just my growing sense of cynicism but I started seeing more and more of what was wrong at WDW, rather than what was right with it. Kevin Yee, a writer at Mice Age, has even coined a phrase for it, calling it “decline by degrees” – usually as an excuse to save money, little things are slowly and quietly changed, downgraded or eliminated. Burned-out light bulbs on buildings, that used to be changed overnight, now stayed out for days or weeks on end until the powers that be decreed there are enough for the light bulb changer dude(s) to fix. Broken parts of attractions stayed broken for longer periods of time before they were fixed or removed, because they had less people on staff to fix the broken things. Trash was removed from public areas less often. Thinner towels. Crunchier toilet paper. Availability of hotel discounts were decreased in quantity and percentage. Menu options were streamlined and decreased. Shows that used to have 20 performers now had 16. Bars that used to have 4 or 5 servers now only had 1 or 2. Or sometimes even zero. Yet all the while, prices for everything – passes, hotel rooms, merchandise and food – kept going higher and higher.

All that notwithstanding, we kept going to WDW several times a year because, although things weren’t quite as good as they had been, there was still enough “good stuff” to keep us interested and happy. So we still bought Premium Annual Passes every year – they got us into the 4 major parks, plus Pleasure Island (the Adventurers Club, an interactive comedy club at PI, was our #1 favorite thing at WDW and we spent virtually every night of our vacation there), plus the water parks and DisneyQuest (think Dave & Buster’s on steroids). We longed for “the good old days” when there was more bang for our buck, but we still managed to have fun at Disney.

And then they ruined it all.

On Sept. 27, 2008, Walt Disney World permanently closed Pleasure Island and, with it, our beloved Adventurers Club. For me, that was really the straw that broke the camel’s back. They shuttered my most favorite place in the world and although I had been willing to overlook all of the things that had been declining by degrees over the years, I just could not forgive Disney for that.

Now, although our Annual Passes expired on our around Sept. 24th of that year, we still renewed them, simply because we still weren’t sure of what we would be doing with all of our free time with the impending Club closure. We still had a lot of friends through our (granted, waning) interest in Disney and would need a place to hang out and visit with them – and it might very well still be, despite my better judgment, at a Disney park. However we downgraded to regular APs, instead of Premium ones.

In 2009, in the height of the Recession, Disney, who traditionally only caters to the locals when they’re desperate, offered Florida Residents a “buy one year, get 3 months free” deal. Well, between all of the Disney Dollars we scrounged up in our home, plus the “get in for free (or get an equivalent voucher) on your birthday” promotion they were offering, I know that my 15-month pass cost somewhere around $75 – so again, I renewed. So did Joe.

And then, in mid-2010, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios Florida. It ROCKED. Still does. It proved what we knew from seeing the quality of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea – if you are willing to spend the money instead of resting on the laurels of your brand, you can create something truly imaginative and wonderful and people will come to see it as much as they possibly can. And boy, did we! With brand-new Universal APs in hand, I think we went to “Harry Potter Land” more times in previews than we went to the 4 WDW parks for all of 2010. We bought food and beverages there. We even bought souvenirs! And with that, when our WDW APs expired on Dec. 31, 2010, for the first time since the 1990s, we didn’t renew. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

Between our APs, food, beverage and souvenirs, we used to spend thousands of dollars per year at WDW. But their dining program locks us out of their overpriced, under-quality restaurants, they closed our favorite bar and their collectibles are so humdrum and/or cheaply made that there’s nothing we ever want to get, even if it were to be free. So, except for the rare special occasion or event, Disney now gets none of our money.

Long live The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Whatever Disney gets – or, more appropriately, doesn’t get – is their own fault. Screw you, Disney.

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