What’s Behind The Disney Parks Ticket Price Increase

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As they say on ABC’s hit show “Once Upon A Time,” magic has a price. If the magic you want to experience is one of Disney’s theme parks, that price has just increased… again. This time with tax and fees it now costs more than $101 to buy a one day, one park ticket to Disney World. Disneyland is a little cheaper at $92 (no sales tax on theme park tickets in California). With attendance at both resorts still very strong, I’m not surprised by the move.

At Disneyland the cost to buy a one park, one day adult admission is now $92 while 9 and under is $86. The adult price is a 5.7% increase. If you want to hop between the two gates at Disneyland you’ll have to pay $137 for an adult (a 9.7% increase) or $131 for a child. With a stiff increase like that, Disneyland must want to discourage park hopping.

At Walt Disney World an adult one day, one park admission is now $95 and 9 and under is $89. Disney World wants to encourage you to stay longer, so a 5 day one park per day pass only went up five dollars to $265 (9 and under is $244). That’s a much more reasonable $53 a day admission price.

Still, 5 years ago it was just $65 for an adult one park ticket. Compared to $95, that’s around a 33% increase. Other than the price of gas, can you think of anything else that has gone up 33% in cost the last three years? According to the Department or Labor’s consumer price index (CPI), the average price increase has been 9% in the last 5 years. So Disney is definitely way ahead of the normal pace of price increases.

Most of what I’ve read on the twitter-webz is that people think Disney is out of step with their daily reality. In addition to the CPI difference previously noted, it’s true that while Disney has been steadily raising their prices for the last 5 years, wages have remained stagnant and, by most measurements, earning power has decreased (as you might expect during a deep recession). Each increase in the cost of a vacation by Disney slices off another subsection of families who will now choose a cheaper vacation closer to home or are forced to save up longer for that one special trip (and boy, it better be amazing, or they’re going to be even more upset, so the pressure is really on for Disney to perform in the parks).

From Disney’s perspective they’re doing their best to maximized shareholder value. The parks have been experiencing new visitor patterns. In part due to Disney’s hotel expansion and smart marketing of discounts or “Free Dining”, there really is no off-season anymore. Additionally, the parks continue to see very high attendance levels and Disney has been investing heavily with its Next-Gen interactive elements, remaking California Adventure, and expanding Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.

Disney is also factoring perceived value into its decision to raise prices. The ‘brand’ of the Disney parks is that they’re the crown jewel of themeparks everywhere. So there is pressure to make sure your prices are higher than your competitors. This has created a bit of a pricing war between the three major theme parks in Orlando. Whenever SeaWorld or Universal raises their prices in order to say, “Hey look, we’re as good as Disney,” it forces Disney to raise theirs so they stay atop the perceived value pyramid.

The competition for your theme park dollar is more intense than ever. Both SeaWorld and Universal have rolled out major new attractions in the last few years and Universal is planning to add even more Harry Potter (on both coasts), a brand that already drove millions of new guests to their gates (smartly targeting the brits who love Central Florida). These parks know that Orlando is known worldwide as the place for family vacations.

I know this is a contrary view, but if raising ticket prices allow Disney, Universal, & SeaWorld to continue to invest in the theme parks and improving the vacation experience, then I’m on board. Yes, there is a limit to this dynamic. But as long as multi-day prices continue to be reasonable and it continues to cost more per hour to attend a concert, Broadway show, or see a 3D movie, then I think Disney is still providing a value that its fans will want to pay.

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20 Responses to What’s Behind The Disney Parks Ticket Price Increase

  1. Ashleigh says:

    I wouldn’t mind the price increase as much if it actually made the parks a little quieter. I also wouldn’t mind it if they offered a sort of reservation policy, in the sense that you have an option to buy a ticket to use on a certain day and that guarantees you’ll get into the park. I say this because I’ve been considering a Passport for a long time, but a friend of mine had hers for 2 years before recently not renewing, due to the fact that she showed up at the park at 3 pm on a random Wednesday and wasn’t allowed in due to capacity. I understand that would be very difficult to somehow manage, but I would willingly pay a little extra to know that I’ll get into the park, instead of panicking from the parking garage to the gates that I may be too late.

  2. Every year when the increase is put out there, it does feel counter to Walt’s idea of making his original park accessible to all families, but that was the 1950s and we can not sit around imagining things still work the same way. If the company is reinvesting the bigger profits back into the park, creating a new experience for returning guests and making sure the continuing elements/attractions all look new to first-time visitors, then that makes sense, too.

    Are they also investing in their hourly employees? I know an old joke has been that if the hourly employees did not get in free, they could not afford to get in. I don’t know the veracity of that.

    • John Frost says:

      I would definitely prefer it if they invested in their hourly employees with higher wages, more training, and more flexible scheduling… perhaps not in that order, but you get the picture.

  3. Will says:

    That’s not 33% more, it’s 30/65 which means the price is just shy of 50% more than it cost 5 years ago. (Or you could say tickets cost 33% less 5 years ago than they do now.) However you put it, that is a totally crazy 5-year jump.

  4. Mark says:

    Think you’ve made an error. It’s only Magic Kingdom that’s $95. The other 3 parks are $90. A fair price for Epcot, but Hollywood Studios? If I wasn’t a pass holder it would be hard to imagine HS being worth $50 for a day.

  5. Jim says:

    My thoughts: they are trying to find the “going rate” for their parks. It’s the law of supply and demand… if the parks were $50, they could double the number of people in the park, but that would make for a bad experience… they could raise it to $500, but there would be fewer people in the parks… so the effort is to find the right balance where they can get the most people for the most money.

    Capitalism at it’s finest. In truth, anyone that doesn’t like it can open their own park. :-)

    • 1967WEDway says:

      “In truth, anyone that doesn’t like it can open their own park.”
      Isn’t that sentiment kind of ridiculous? It’s just a variation on the whole concept of “my way or the highway.” It’s unproductive and does nothing to solve the issue.

  6. Justin Ridge says:

    I promise that Mr. Walt Disney is spinning in his grave right now. His original idea/ concept, was to have a place People could afford to visit and have a wonderful family experience. I hope people do what I am going to do; boycott! Then when attendance plumates, fire every single person responsible for the destruction of a wonderful and wimpsical Mans original dream.

    • J says:

      I’m not going to stop going over a measly $10 price increase. The value for my dollar is still there. And I doubt Disney is going to care of, nor will your stand alone boycott make any difference.

      I promise you this, Walt Disney is dead. D.E.A.D. No one knows what he would think of the company as it stands today. Everyone can have their opinion, but not a single person alive can say or know for certain. But I will give you a hard truth, when Walt first opened Disneyland, prices and attendance were strictly geared towards the halves. The park was designed to cater to middle and high income families, as decades pass that mantra has changed. Tiered Annual Passes, monthly payments, hell it was only 5 years ago we saw the price increases. You remember 5 years ago, the world was in economic crisis and attendance was booming, why? Because free dining came into existence. The first price increase was to offset that. Additionally, costs, labour and expansions have tripled due to keeping up with competition and demand.

      In the end, I’d love to see Disney put this increase back into its front line employees pockets. Will they? Not likely. Will this increase start to make people stay away. Aside from the few who promise you Disney’s turning in his grave. No. Disney still holds the gauntlet for best theme park experiences. And the value hasn’t declined. It’s only grown with new and future expansions. Disney will continue to get my money. And Walt Disney is dead, lying still, in his grave. Respectfully. I’m thankful for his existence high standards and contributions.

      • 1967WEDway says:

        >I promise you this, Walt Disney is dead. D.E.A.D.
        > And Walt Disney is dead, lying still, in his grave.

        Hey.
        Shut up.

      • Brat23 says:

        Free Dinning? What is this FREE dinning everyone talks about? You referring to the one that you have to stay in their resorts to even use? Sorry but that is not FREE. I could understand raising the prices to reinvent themselves creating new rides or what not but there has NOT been new creation in a good while.

  7. Todd says:

    I have to agree with J. And I tend to agree with the company statement that came along with the increases. The value is still there. The only thing that makes going to Disneyland a hassle sometimes are the crowds…and the fast passes and the like have made that fairly manageable. Otherwise, the quality of the entertain is ridiculously good. We were just at Disneyland in April…the new Fantasy Faire right next to the castle is fantastic. The show that we saw was top rate. If just that show alone appeared at a theatre near you it would probably cost $12-$15 for adults and $8 to $10 for kids. Just that show. Multiply that by all the other stuff going on and I do think there is value at Disneyland. There is nothing else like it.

    And Jim…agreed. This is business pure and simple.

    Anyway…my two cents.

    • Eric says:

      Todd, J, John, I don’t mean to take away from Disney’s value. It is the cream of the crop, but when you have a family to support there are certain things you have to justify. It is simply too expensive for a family of four to be able to go. I can’t afford it and my wife and I are doing okay. We’re on a payment plan this time around for annual passes we got in January, but it’s going to be a one time thing. At a cost of almost $400 dollars to take them to just one park, it’s back breaking. And how can any family who makes much less than we do ever be able to go? Disneyland will just be an untouchable dream for all but the fortunate…and those parents who feel guilty if they don’t let there kids experience it even once. My sister cancelled her trip here from Chicago because she simply could not afford to take both her kids to the park; and we couldn’t afford to cover her.

      There is a breaking point and I think we’ve made it there. Those who can afford it, will; those who can’t will dream of it, but for naught. Basic family crowds will dwindle and those without multiple kids, or those whose finances can absorb such costs, will inherit the park to themselves. Park management will be easier and shareholders richer, but for those of us who will have fallen off the Magic Cart…we will be the poorer for it. Rumpel was definitely right: “All magic comes at a price, deary!”

  8. Jamie says:

    I sincerely doubt that Walt Disney is turning over in his grave as he was, in fact, cremated… ;)

  9. DBenson says:

    One of the books that came out early in the Eisner years said that when WDW raised prices, they discovered traffic stayed about the same but spending per guest went up. That gave an added impetus to rate increases, perhaps at competing resorts as well.

    There are two ways you can interpret that: One, the higher price attracts bigger spenders to replace those who are priced out. Two, since the the experience is much more of a big ticket event, people save more and arrive inclined to spend more. Either way, the increases paid off beyond what they got at the ticket booth.

    It’s just another harsh fact of life, like movie theaters that don’t let latecomers stay for the next showing.

  10. Christopher T. Rhodes says:

    While I agree that the value is still very close to what we’re actually paying now to visit Disneyland and Walt Disney World, I must agree with Justin in the fact that Walt Disney was quoted in his lifetime expressing interest in working families to be able to visit his parks (at that time, only Disneyland), and kept the prices low as a reason. Yet, he still made oodles of money off the park. I understand the constant “need” for a price increase, but my argument is that Disney would make MORE money by LOWERING the ticket price. More people would be able to afford the trip, and therefore we’d see more people at the parks. However, that is not exactly a good thing for the always crowded Walt Disney World….

  11. Ryan says:

    I divide the cost of any high ticket item into the experience/time. Ski lift tickets? How many runs divided by the total cost. When I reach between 5-7 dollars a run, I’m happy. Disney, San Diego Zoo or African Wild Park? Stay long enough to divide per hour. Less than 10 bucks an hour? I’m happy. I’ll spend whatever they charge at the Arclight cinemas in Hollywood – the overall experience is that good compared to its competition. We all have our limits/price. I just adjust and move on…

  12. Mike Halding says:

    This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for our family. Disney is no longer the company it was 20 years prior and before. Where in the past, Disney was truly about family values…now, it only uses it as a wrapper to sell their product…. Disney’s income is astronomical, but, even in a middle-class suffering economy, they charge these prices. They don’t care anymore, it’s all about bringing in more and more cash.

    It’s no sin to want to bring in a profit, but they are a glutton for greed. Do you think their very own park employees benefit from the money they bring in? No. They don’t. Disney pays their park employees minimum wage, and some just slightly above. But, ask them to sometimes work on call, and work staggering hours in the heat. So, you see where their priorities really are, and it’s not family….

    The image of Disney, for many, have changed over the past few years. All we see is greed and long lines. Not exactly the thought of a picture perfect vacation. We won’t be coming back.

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