Think We're in a Recession? Head to Disneyland.
By Donald Luskin Published: August 8, 2008
I'VE JUST SPENT two days with friends and family in Disneyland, "The happiest place on Earth." Based on what I've seen, it ought to be called "the most crowded place on Earth." It was mobbed. Packed beyond capacity.
There's simply no way this country is in a recession with people spending money like mad amusing themselves at Disneyland. I've been coming here frequently for years, during good times and bad, having grown up in Southern California. I've never seen crowds like this. Not here, not anywhere — not even on the Tokyo subways.
There were times when the streets of the Magic Kingdom were so thickly thronged with human bodies that one simply couldn't move. Rides were breaking down. Restaurants and snack vendors were running out of food. There wasn't enough staff to get people properly loaded onto the rides that were working. It was bedlam.
It actually would have been a miserable experience, if we hadn't lucked out and been given a rare and highly coveted "Dream Fastpass," a plastic badge you wear around your neck that lets you bypass the hours-long lines at the most popular rides.
Sure, when I wrote here several weeks ago that I didn't see any evidence of recession during my trip to a high-end Hawaii resort, I opened myself up for criticism that I wasn't really looking at the typical vacation experience of ordinary middle-class people. But this is different.
Disneyland is definitely a middle-class destination. People drive to it, paying high gasoline costs. They travel to it, paying high airfares. And park admission is costly. So is food in the parks. And all those souvenirs. If these were hard times, the park would be empty. I've seen it like that before. It's not like that now.
This isn't just a fluke of the couple days I happen to have been here. It's well reflected in Disney's (DIS: 32.50, +0.17, +0.52%) better-than-expected earnings this quarter.
You hear every day that the American consumer has been clobbered by high food and energy costs, and falling home prices. Some stores are reporting poor sales. The Bennigan's restaurant chain has declared bankruptcy and Starbucks (SBUX: 16.69, -0.23, -1.35%) is shutting 600 stores. There must be a recession in this country.
No, I don't think so. There's essentially no macroeconomic evidence for it. And while you can point to Bennigan's as an example of a victim of recession, I can point to Disney as an example of a beneficiary of a healthy economy.