Celebrity Freebies in America’s Theme Parks

Love it or hate it, Americans have always been fascinated by celebrities. There are thousands of websites, hundreds of television shows and countless magazines that are devoted to famous people. We treat them like royalty and always have. One of the perks of being famous is getting “swag” just about everywhere you go and theme parks are no exception.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

Ever since Disneyland opened in 1955, the opening day special was broadcast with crammed with Hollywood like Fess Parker, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t a coincidence that they just happened to show up at Disneyland, but rather, they were invited guests. Having a celebrity visit your business will always draw extra buzz and drum up business. “Maybe I’ll get to drive the same Autopia car Frank Sinatra did!”

Copyright Universal Studios

Copyright Universal Studios

Even when Universal Studios Hollywood opened their backlot tour over 50 years ago, one of the major draws aside from the attractions along the route, was to “keep your eyes peeled, you never know when we might spot a celebrity.” Fifty years later, you can still ride that tram tour and every time the vehicle passes by actual filming, guests will lose their mind if they spot a celebrity.

Photo from LaughingPlace.com

Photo from LaughingPlace.com

When the Disney/MGM Studios opened in 1989, they started their “Star of the Day” program. Every single day, Disney flew in a celebrity from the movies or television (even better if they happened to be in town already on vacation or filming) and they had a small parade in their honor up Hollywood Boulevard.

Photo from LaughingPlace.com

Photo from LaughingPlace.com

Their chauffeured convertible would stop at Disney’s version of Grauman’s Chinese Theater for a small ceremony where they would lay their hand prints in cement. Those hand prints are still there today, even though the Star of the Day program was discontinued many years ago.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

Even over the past few years, Christmas morning’s broadcast of the “Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade” has become more of a focus on celebrity appearances, like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and Mariah Carey, than the parks or attractions. Which, for better or worse, is a bigger draw than just a show about Disney World or Disneyland.

Copyright Universal Orlando

Copyright Universal Orlando

In recent years, a fairly new trend has started where Disney and Universal give a free vacation to a celebrity in exchange for a photo shoot.

Copyright Universal Orlando

Copyright Universal Orlando

I’m not even talking about celebs like Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Felton who were in town to open Diagon Alley and do a media junket. Granted, those were paid vacations too, but they also had to do a press junket and multiple interviews and most likely, those celebrities got paid to actually work.

Copyright Getty Images

Copyright Getty Images

No, I am talking about celebrities like Katy Perry who just spent her birthday at Walt Disney World and didn’t have to do any official “press” aside from taking a few heavily staged photos with her and the characters that will then be used by Disney marketing and sent to celebrity magazines, television shows and bloggers around the world.

Copyright Universal Orlando

Copyright Universal Orlando

In exchange for a few photos, celebrities get an all-expenses paid trip to their favorite theme park complete with personal tour guide that will allow them to skip all the lines. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of Ariana Grande, who just celebrated her 21st birthday at Walt Disney World.

Did you happen to notice that she said “We rode Space Mountain about five times last night”? Unless she got extremely lucky and there was no wait for Space, she had a tour guide with her to escort her and her entire party through a backdoor entrance to ride over and over.

Copyright Walt Disney World

Copyright Walt Disney World

More importantly, it’s what she says at the end which is the most intriguing: “Thank you for having me!”  When was the last time you paid for something… anything… a hotel stay, a meal at a restaurant or a theme park ticket where you told someone as you left “Thanks for having me”?  You say that because you are a guest and someone has done something for you. In Ariana’s case, she got a free vacation for herself, family and friends in exchange for that video and some photos.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

What do you think? Should celebrities be given freebies in exchange for marketing to theme parks? Does it affect your decision to vacation at one park versus another? Are we too far gone in society that this kind of publicity actually works? Let me know in the comments section below.

Fabio At Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Fabio At Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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One Comment

  1. fan51
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Certainly celebrities should be given freebies for many reasons. Privacy is more valuable to them. Social media is invasive, but very lucrative. It can scratch both backs. They might expect VIP treatment anyways and they aren’t always camped. With a large entourage, why not exchange celebrity for benefits. I’m somewhat jealous. For a few photos, I’ll take the free trip worth thousands of dollars. Heck, I spent more than $4,000 on my last trip. Celebrities probably accept vacation packages worth tens of thousands of dollars.

    It doesn’t affect my decision to go, but could influence family and friends. Yes, it does work. You might not always realize it. Repetition wins in the end.

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