Disney offering free park admission on your birthday


I guess pipe dreams can come true, too. This afternoon, in a balloon-smothered luncheon at New York City's Times Square, Disney announced its big marketing push for 2009, and it has the Mouse doing something it almost never does. It's letting people into its parks for free.

The gist of its new ad campaign (mark your big anniversary or birthday with a "celebration vacation" at Walt Disney World or Disneyland) is nothing spectacular. But the centerpiece of the promotion is noteworthy: During 2009, you can get into its parks for free on your birthday.

And like Disney's previous push, the Year of a Million Dreams, implementing it won't cost the company much in the way of infrastructure. Next month at Disneyland, Disney property Miley Cyrus (pictured, with generous rodent) will have a 16th birthday party to help kick things off (she'll give the best present: the gift of P.R).

Mind you, this is a company that starts charging children the "adult" price at age 10, and at Walt Disney World in Florida, that freebie can mean a $75 savings on a one-day pass (Disneyland in California is $69). For kids under 10, the savings will be $63 in Florida and $59 in Anaheim. Disney's parks always did give a few extra gimmes to guests of all ages on their birthdays, including self-congratulatory buttons, balloons, and oozier-than-usual smiles from "cast members." But Disney's parks are notorious for rarely discounting tickets to the general public, and it almost never gives passes away. This economy, though, is seeing lots of stalwarts cave.

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    HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 18: Opera tenor Placido Domingo and actor Andy Garcia attend the after party for the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on September 18, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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    HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 18: Actor Andy Garcia, actress Jamie Lee Curtis and Disney's Oren Aviv attend the after party for the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on September 18, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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    HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 18: Recording artist Brian Littrell and son Baylee Littrell attend the after party for the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on September 18, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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    HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 18: Recording artist Brian Littrell, son Baylee Littrell and wife Leighanne Littrell attend the after party for the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on September 18, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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    HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 18: Actress Alyssa Milano and actor George Lopez attend the after party for the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on September 18, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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As families cut back on vacation expenses and Disney Parks stands to lose the profit edge it still currently holds, the freebie offer could prove to be a canny way to head off potential future troubles. After all, one thing we all have, boom or bust, is a birthday. And the parks still stand to make a pretty penny off even the Birthday Boy or Girl: almost everyone brings friends or family (who will have to pay if it's not their birthday), plus there's the one-day parking of around $12, the $11 counter-service meals, and the untold outlay for souvenirs.

Lots of people visiting the Florida resort are more likely to buy multi-day tickets, in which case the birthday celebrant won't get money back. Instead, they'll get things like a free "Fastpass" that can be used to cut long lines or another ticket that can be used on another day on a return visit. At the more neighborhoody California park, though, Disney guests are far more likely to stay for just a day, so there the deal may prove to be most handy.

The company wants guests to register their birthdays ahead of time on its website. Adults must register kids under 18 who, if they don't have a government-issued I.D. like a passport, must bring their birth certificates or a notarized copy of one.

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