Disney Dollars have been a part of the Disneyland experience for nearly 30 years, and for many they are part of the magic that turned Disney's theme parks into a world of their own.
But Disney has hailed the end of an era by dropping the official currency of its Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort and Disney Store locations in the United States. Disney Dollars will no longer be sold at the company's theme parks. Chalk up another win for credit cards, gift cards and mobile wallets.
Disney Dollars have been a staple of Disney theme parks since 1987. Guests could buy them in various denominations on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Many visitors kept samples as collectors' items. Mickey Mouse adorned the front of each bill, while the back of each denomination featured a Disney attraction.
The reasons given by Disney for discontinuing its currency is that visitors increasing use credit cards, digital currency and gift cards. That's obviously sad news for many Disney lovers, but the good news is that if you have any remaining Disney Dollars, you can continue to spend them at various Disney locales, where you can also exchange them back into U.S. dollars.
The Disney Dollars might have looked goofy (pardon the pun), but they were actually imbued with security features to defeat counterfeiters, including serial numbers, microprinting, intaglio ink printing for a textured feel and special reflective material imprinting. Visitors to Disney attractions can still buy gift cards, but these are not redeemable for cash.
The discontinuation of Disney Dollars raises a number of questions about the growing domination of cashless transactions. It's hard to imagine that the Dollars were all that expensive to produce, even with their security features.
Yet their appealing, whimsical designs were apparently not sufficient reason for visitors to prefer using them over credit cards and gift cards. No figures are available that would shed light on the declining popularity of Disney Dollars.
Another question arises: Are young people today simply unaccustomed to using currency? It used to be that credit cards were reserved for larger purchases, but those days are long gone. It's not unusual to see someone whip out a credit or debit card to pay for a pack of gum.
Proprietary crypto currencies, such as points from Starbucks, have become so popular that some credit cards offer them as rewards. In fact, Starbucks touts itself as the world's leading purveyor of mobile transactions. Starbucks recently infuriated its customers by making its rewards program stingier.
The new program rewards 2 stars for each dollar spent and requires customers to spend about $150 a year to reach "gold" status, when extra bonuses kick in. Under the old program, you could go gold by spending only $63 a year.
The moves by Disney and Starbucks tell me that cash is continuing to lose its cache, and that folks increasingly prefer paying with plastic and smartphones. It also suggests that people are keenly aware of the rewards available by purchasing items with credit cards.
Credit card issuers and airline reward programs are constantly rejiggering their systems to help motivate consumers, and the current generation, already addicted to smartphones, has grown ever more comfortable with electronic wallets and mobile payment systems.
America's adoption of social media and smartphones have changed the way that we emotionally engage with experiences, products and even people. Items that can be touched, felt and handled in the real world no longer hold the emotional bond that they may have in years past.
Is it fathomable that someday U.S. dollars might loose their luster in the same way that Disney fans lost their emotional connection to Disney Dollars? It seems difficult to believe, but the story of Disney Dollars tells us that old habits don't necessarily die hard in a digitally controlled world.
Do you need a credit card? It pays to shop around using a credit card website like GET.com.
Image courtesy of Disney