Are Walt Disney World ticket prices about to go up again?

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Forget the Star Wars land rumor, we’re hearing that the price of a one-day admission ticket to the Magic Kingdom may soon rise from $99 to $105 and the other parks will rise from $94 to $99. It seems amazing that tickets are that expensive. But let’s put it in some context.

When the park opened in 1971, the price of admission was just $3.50, of course you then had to buy a ticket book of A-E tickets in order to on rides, so it really cost more than that. In the late 1970’s this process was phased out and by 1982 were replaced completely with a main gate admission system, where attractions were free after you paid to get in. The price at that point was $13.25 a day.

In 1997 when I made my first visit to Walt Disney World, it was $39.75 a day. 10 years ago it was $59.75. It’s now $99 for the Magic Kingdom and $94 for other theme parks.

The last time there was no increase was in 1988. Every year since then there has been one and sometimes two price increases a year. There’s no reason to expect 2015 to be the first year with no increase in 27 years.

In many ways a Disney theme park trip is still a good deal. Almost every visitor buys a multi-day pass where the real cost is as low as half the full price per day (lower if you buy an AP and visit more than 12 times a year). because of that, the high one-day price is really just a banner stuck in the ground saying, this is what we believe our value to be.

For $99, you can get in 10-12 rides, take in some world class entertainment, enjoy the benefit of MyMagic+ and Fastpass+, experience Disney’s one of a kind themed experience, and joy the unique brand of customer service you won’t find anywhere else. Plus, there’s that extra magic that Disney is so famous for.

Concerts, Broadway Musicals, good seats at the NBA or NFL, all cost as much, if not more than a Disney ticket and those experiences only last a few hours. At Disney you get 12+ hours.

Of course, Walt Disney World really isn’t in competition with your local NFL team or Katy Perry. They only have 8 home games and that super big concert only comes to town once or twice a year. Disney is destination entertainment. Their real competition is a trip to Paris, Cabo San Lucas, or the Virgin Islands. A family who decides their teenagers would rather visit Universal Studios for 4 days and Disney for just 1 or a family with young kids who decides to visit SeaWorld and Legoland instead of Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

This is the area of competition that has me worried. $100+ a day is a large enough amount that it will have families rethinking their choices and make those alternatives that much more attractive.

The story Disney wants to be picked up by the media is that the investment in MyMagic+ and Magicbands will help overcome any trepidation to opening that checkbook for the next family trip. I have no doubt, Disney’s internal numbers tell them this is true. In my circles, however, there is a significant group of guests who are upset with the changes and don’t like this more regimented Fastpass+ experience. These are repeat visitors upset that the Disney they came to love has been discarded for this new version.

The supply of first time visitors is not endless. Eventually Walt Disney World will have to do more to really capture the repeat visitor. Those families who may have visited once or twice in the last 5 to 10 years will need a reason to choose WDW on their next Orlando trip. Universal Orlando has made its argument with Harry Potter & Transformers (and soon King Kong). Right now Disney only has Avatar-land in the works.

They could open more of the MyMagic+ bag of tricks for sure, and I hope they do, but I think most people are expecting something huge related to Star Wars, a real presence from Pixar in the parks, and lots of new shows and entertainment that Disney is famous for. Technical wizbangs are cool, but they are not Disney magic, and they’re easily replicable. Unlike an E-Ticket ride, the capital improvements aren’t seen by the guest. They just see a cheap plastic wristband. Immersive Imagineering at its best is seldom matched (save by former Imagineers as it turns out) and is at the core of the Disney experience. Would I pay $105 a day to see it? That’s the big question.

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6 thoughts on “Are Walt Disney World ticket prices about to go up again?

  1. Bill Groves

    I think it is too expensive to begin with, they offer many great things but I can’t justify that cost. I have four kids and we try to go once a year usually Christmas time or at Easter, we make the trip from Michigan and usually drive and make a couple days of it. With the hotel, food and the tickets for two days it’s a good chunk of money, I have a better cost just a few hours from me called Cedar Point, $40.00 a person with some of the best rides you will ever come across!

  2. Christopher Rhodes

    According to the AECOM Theme Index Report, Hollywood Studios is the least attended WDW park of 2013. And yet, it’s the eighth most attending theme park in the WORLD. Magic Kingdom takes the top spot. Islands of Adventure gets two million less visitors than Studios. And if the trend continues, all these numbers will grow when we hear the results of 2014. Even if Walt Disney World does lose some of their visitors because of the $100+ price mark, chances are that they’ll still be making more money than before. And basic economics will show you that the more something is in demand, the more expensive it will be. So if these numbers continue to grow, even with the repeat guests choosing to go elsewhere, they don’t have a logical business sense reason to stop increasing prices.

    But then there’s the fact that the biggest complaint about Walt Disney World is crowds. How many of us go and complain about it? How many people can’t enjoy Wishes because they’re too claustrophobic? How many little kids have terrible views of Festival of Fantasy because they simply can’t see through the see of people? How many of us have all but given up on riding attractions like Toy Story Mania, Soarin or Peter Pan’s Flight? These are reasons why we’re seeing such a big undertaking in Magic Kingdom’s hub. One could argue that a higher price that drives guests away is NOT a bad thing, but instead an indirect form of crowd control.

    The point I’m trying to get at is that no matter how much people complain, or dislike the ticket prices, the fact is someone is STILL going to buy it. The parks are not thirsty for guests, but instead overflowing, hardly able to handle the capacity in some times of the year. The prices are will continue to rise until it starts seriously affecting the attendance, and that honestly isn’t going to happen for a long, long time.
    Personally, I think it’s sad that it keeps increasing but I can understand all the reasons why they do it. But it won’t seriously change until people stop buying the tickets.

    1. John Frost Post author

      I understand the economics of supply & demand. The issue here is that while Disney has been doing a good job building demand via its marketing strategies, it hasn’t built enough additional capacity to match.

      This is a huge topic I hope to address more fully later,

      1. Christopher Rhodes

        That definitely is true! I look forward to seeing you discuss this more in the future. :)
        Love the blog, and apologize if it sounded like I thought you didn’t understand the economics; that certainly wasn’t my intention.

  3. Diane

    Actually, I was just discussing the challenges we have selling high theme park prices today. The problem is just as you stated: value. How do you measure value of a theme park experience? The analogy I used was buying a diamond ring. I can value whether the price I paid for the diamond was a value based on physical characteristics of the diamond: clarity, color, cut, size, etc. Of course, there are emotional attributes that contribute to value as well, such as occasion or heritage, but for the most part I will judge price/value based on whether the ring lives up to expected levels of quality.
    But how do you value an experience? There’s nothing tangible to measure, per se. Food or merchandise might be tangible items, but they really hold no value except in how they contribute to my overall experience. I may feel that the price is acceptable for the value I receive from my experience, but how much fun is “enough.” The kids may have enjoyed their visit, but how do you value their enjoyment on a monetary scale? How do you quantify whether the rides were engaging enough or the theme interactive enough? It’s difficult for some people to justify the higher price because they just can’t put their finger of what kind of value they get out of it. It’s a bit different when the price is low since we judge value less harshly when our out-of-pocket is within reason. Now that destination theme parks are much more expensive, it’s harder to judge value, at least for some people.

  4. Disney Mike

    I get why people complain about the cost of WDW, but, seriously, what is the alternative to raising prices? Parks that are packed to capacity 365 days a year? Even if they dramatically expanded capacity, lower admission costs would lead to severe overcrowding.

    Part of what you get for the high price of admission is the Disney brand. Part of what you get is the level of quality we’ve come to expect. But part of what you get is the ability to navigate the parks all year ’round without them being as crowded as Christmas week.

    And, honestly, who is paying $100 for one day at the Magic Kingdom? WDW isn’t a one-day activity. Disney prices itself for what it wants to sell — multi-day passes. As a business owner, I know the economics of pricing. You overprice those things you don’t really want people to buy — single items, small items, etc. You price things to sell that which you want to sell the most, which in Disney’s case is a full week on property. It’s quite the bargain, compared to the single park, single day price.

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