Friends, Romans, and Walt Disney World veterans…lend me your ears. The time has come to make some momentous decisions regarding tickets and Walt Disney World. These are decisions that could change the course of your entire lives!
Okay, now that I have your attention, it’s time to talk about the recent increase in Walt Disney World ticket prices. Based on this price increase, my family and I are reevaluating how we visit our favorite place. What is it really worth to us? Our next trip is planned for January 1-5, so our question is: what is the best option for our family during that trip?
With the Disney Parks Blog announcing the price increase on June 3, I’m faced with the decision of what to do on whether to renew my Annual Pass or not. Sure, Disney increases prices every year, but what I have noticed is that they are slowly but surely decreasing the ease of making multiple visits.
The first step was making No Expiration an option when Magic Your Way came into existence in 2005 (prior to that, all standard tickets never expired!). That was a “hidden” price increase that discouraged people from using tickets over a long period of time. Now, as the price of 1-day or 2-day tickets keeps going up, the price of longer visits goes up at a much slower rate. For someone like me who would prefer to take trips of 2-3 days, it becomes prohibitively expensive. For two trips of 3 days each, I’d pay $484 just for two 3-day Magic Your Way tickets for myself. That’s nearly $2,000 for my entire family for our average trip of 3 days two times a year.
Meanwhile, if our family wanted to take a 10 day-trip (if only I had the time!), it would cost us $1,254 for 3 adult tickets and 1 child ticket. We would save money by going for more days, right? Not so fast.
Here is where the other “hidden” cost comes in: food. In case you haven’t noticed, food prices at Walt Disney World have been steadily on the rise. I’ve written here before about what a value the Disney Dining Plan is if you have children under the age of 10. For $15.99, you can feed them a Table Service meal, including the popular buffets, a Counter Service meal, and a snack. You couldn’t dream of doing this for the same amount of money out of pocket. It more than makes up for what you spend on your own Disney Dining Plan.
However, since my son is now 10 years old, he would have to buy the adult Dining Plan. For each day of our trip, that represents a cost of $169.64 for my wife, my son, my daughter, and myself, and that doesn’t include breakfast. So we are talking at least $180 a day for food with the Dining Plan. Factor that in, and the 10-day trip, despite the ticket savings, now costs $2,950 if you don’t add on the breakfast foods we would have to purchase. The 6-day trip that looked so expensive is now $2,922. So you can see that the price of food quickly becomes an equalizer.
With an Annual Pass, it quickly becomes even a worse comparison. Annual Passes for my whole family would run a whopping $2,296. That’s before we have set foot on property, eaten anything, or stayed in a resort. If we did the Dining Plan, that adds another $170 a day to each trip. Let’s say we didn’t do the Dining Plan but bought Tables In Wonderland, saving 20% on each Table Service meal. By my calculations, I’m still looking at around $112 a day if we went to the cheapest locations to dine in the Magic Kingdom (e.g., Pecos Bill’s and the Plaza Restaurant) and ordered our normal meals. If we wanted to have lunch at Crystal Palace, one of our favorites, then that number jumps to $134 a day. That’s still without the cost of Tables In Wonderland or adding breakfast to the mix.
So, looking at what we had planned to do for this January, which is to arrive on New Year’s Day and stay through January 5, here are the prices I came up with:
- New 5-day Magic Your Way tickets, Dining Plan: $1,902
- New 5-day Magic Your Way tickets, pay out of pocket for food: $1,724
- Annual Passes, pay out of pocket for food: $2,966
You can see why I may be leaning towards dropping my Annual Pass, right? There are two more points to consider, though. First is hotels – with an Annual Pass, you get room discounts that help pay for the cost of the pass, right? Wrong.
Looking at Disney’s recent sales and rates, a general consumer or a Disney Visa card holder can get very similar if not better rates than an Annual Passholder. As an example, I randomly picked five days this summer: June 25-30, a Monday-Saturday just as I will be doing in January. From both the Annual Passholder site and the Special Offers tab on the Disney website, I came up with $743 for Pop Century, $800 for All-Star Movies and $2,202 for Wilderness Lodge. So there is literally NO advantage to having an Annual Pass when it comes too room pricing.
Then there is the question of a return visit. By paying up front for an Annual Pass, I’ve already pre-paid for the return visit, right? If we return in 2013, it’s likely to be a trip in the summer or for Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. Either way, it looks to be a shorter trip of 5 days or less. For sake of argument, we’ll go with another 5 days with food out of pocket at the $134 a day cost I listed above. Look at the numbers now:
- Two trips – 5 day Magic Your Way Tickets, food out of pocket: total cost $3,448
- Two trips – Annual Passes, food out of pocket: total cost $3,636
I’ve actually saved money by buying two sets of 5-day tickets. Sure, there are disclaimers, like not including the Park Hopper option, etc., but you can see that there is a way to get by without the Annual Pass that makes a lot of sense.
Everyone has to run his or her own numbers, and my situation doesn’t apply to you, nor vice versa. But it sure seems to me that Disney, between the increases in the Dining Plan costs, the lack of hotel discounts, and the increases in Annual Pass and other costs, is looking to discourage Annual Pass visitors and get more 5-day or longer “new” ticket purchasers. That’s what I’ll be doing for my trips next year.
What about you? Has the change in ticket prices made you reevaluate how you’ll be visiting the parks?