According to several newspaper accounts, extremely rich people are spending their money on something that surprises me: theme parks. It just goes to show how out of touch I am with the ultra rich. I thought that they might treat themselves to things like putting an extra stamp on an envelope "just in case," showering for as long as they want, or splurging at the car wash and getting that carnuba wax. But I was wrong. Now the picture is more like this: After an executive receives his obscene bonus of tens of millions of dollars, he starts for the office door and is stopped by a colleague who asks, "Where are you going?" The guy with the big bucks looks at the camera and replies, "I'm going to Disneyland."
Theme parks are suffering financially these days. While so many people are struggling to pay their grocery bills, the last thing they are thinking about spending their money on is "The Mad Hatter's Tea Cups." However there is a niche market that is spending more than usual on things like Disneyland, Sea World, and Universal tours. That niche with a spending itch is the very rich.
For years, bored, rich people have gone on challenging and dangerous vacations. They've run with the bulls in Pamplona, hunted bears in Alaska, and even taken the ultimate risk by having their kitchens remodeled. So it's not surprising that Disney and the others have been trying to attract this kind of spending. Sea World plans on expanding their special "swim with the dolphins package" that starts at $199 per person now. Disney World has started to sell homes ranging up to $8 million with special access to the rides at the theme park. If I had $8 million to spend on a house, I'd want it to be as far as possible from a theme park. Once again, I'm just not thinking like the very rich.
How much money do you have to have to be considered "ultra rich," and how does anyone know how these people spend their money? American Express gathered the statistics and released them. (Isn't that nice to know that credit card companies can do things like that)? American Express classifies people as "ultra-affluent" if they charge at least $7,000 a month -- or $84,000 a year -- on their credit card. And someone at American Express noticed that these ultra-affluent cardholders spent 32% more on theme parks in the first quarter of this year than in 2009.
So how will theme parks cater to people who have all that money? I assume that they will have more and more adventurous and exclusive experiences. Sea World, for example, already has plans to expand its Discovery Cove. That's where admission is limited to just over 1,000 people a day who do things like hand-feed parrots. You can also pay $500 to be a trainer for a day at Sea world. I guess they think it's worth every penny to have their hands smell like fish for a week. A new addition will give rich visitors a chance to have "shark encounters." The only problem with having some of these Wall Street instant millionaires in that tank is that it'll be hard to tell which ones are the sharks.
There will be more exotic rides and attractions at all of the theme parks. Don't be surprised if a night at "Psycho's" Bates Motel includes being attacked when you take a shower. Isn't that just perfect for the wealthy honeymoon couple? At the "Dumbo, the Flying Elephant" ride, you'll be able to jump out of a plane while sitting on an elephant. I guess for a few bucks more the truly adventurous can do it the other way around - jumping out of a plane with the elephant sitting on them. And on the Jungle Cruise, the pampered but bored ultra-richie will be able to wrestle a python while getting a pedicure.
Maybe I should sign up for one of these exclusive adventures. I could meet somebody there who could help me in the business world. Who knows? I might be in line with a super billionaire who will want to go into business with me. It's possible. Let's face it: it's a small world after all.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.