You’ve probably heard by now that Disney recently raised the price of one-day adult admission to the Magic Kingdom to a whopping $99. Add the tax and that puts the ticket price inarguably over the $100 mark. My first reaction to this, and likely yours as well, was, “OUCH! That’s a hefty chunk of change.” And yes, $100+ dollars is a significant sum, but I’m here to perhaps put this all in a bit of perspective.
When I was fresh out of college (back in the dark ages, aka 1987), I did a lot of mental calculation about whether various entertainment options made financial sense. The benchmark I used was the price of a movie ticket, which was at the time about $4.00. For $4.00 I could get two hours of entertainment. Thus, using my Movie Ticket Metric, I valued entertainment at $2.00 per hour. ($4.00 price divided by two hours.) Entertainment that cost less than $2.00 per hour was, to me at the time, a good value and usually a no-brainer purchase. Entertainment that cost more than $2.00 per hour merited serious thought and consideration before buying.
With this methodology, purchasing a book for $5.00 was a relative bargain, because I could get perhaps 10 hours of reading enjoyment from this, giving me an entertainment cost of $.50 per hour. (Forget for a moment that I could have borrowed the book for free from the library. Those were my English major book-hoarder days.)
Conversely, a ticket to a Genesis concert (I am sooo old) ran $18.00 for about a three hour show. This form of entertainment cost $6.00 per hour. Before buying the concert ticket, I’d have to think about whether it was worth three times my normal entertainment cost. Was it special? What else would I have to forgo? Will I remember the experience fondly? For how long?
So what does all this have to do with Disney ticket prices?
Well, the little voice in the back of my head still uses the Movie Ticket Metric to assess the relative value of entertainment. Prices have gone up. Here in my New York area hamlet, a trip to the movies now runs about $16.00, meaning that entertainment costs $8.00 per hour. So let’s use that to put Disney ticket prices in perspective.
We know that the one-day Magic Kingdom admission ticket costs $99 (really $105.43 with tax), which we’re going to call $100 to make the math easier. That means in order for the Disney ticket to beat the Movie Ticket Metric, the ticket would have to provide at least 12.5 hours of entertainment.
While I don’t always spend an entire day at the park, assuming the park operation hours are sufficient, it certainly is possible to go from 9:00am until 9:30pm and be busy and entertained at the Magic Kingdom for the “break even” 12.5 hours. In fact, there are hard-core fans who have done significantly more than this and completed 80+ attractions in 24 fun-filled hours in Magic Kingdom as part of an Ultimate Touring Plan challenge.
Even if you don’t go absolutely crazy staying in the park from sunup to sundown, it’s easy to see that Disney tickets are priced at least in the ballpark of other entertainment options, when looked at on a price per hour basis. For example, if you put in a reasonable 8 hours in the park, your entertainment cost is going to be about $12.50 per hour. This is just over 50% more than the Movie Ticket Metric, whereas the concert mentioned above was 300% more than the Metric.
And let’s compare the hourly Disney cost to other potential uses of your entertainment dollar:
Sure, you can sit in your jammies in your living room and mainline back episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix for pennies per hour, but event entertainment – memorable entertainment – is going to cost you much more than that. Broadway show tickets, professional sporting events, and name brand concerts of almost any sort will cost orders of magnitude more than the Movie Ticket Metric. Headliner entertainment out in the real world often commands an hourly rate of $50.00+ per hour. Even modest entertainment investments such a bleacher seats or a day at the museum are not far from the baseline Movie Ticket Metric mark.
Even more to think about
When calculating the real hourly cost of Disney admission, you’ll also have to consider that the $99 one-day Magic Kingdom admission is the pinnacle of pricing. You can use the Touring Plans Ticket Price Comparison Tool to shop for price breaks on park admission, which will decrease your hourly expense.
Even more significantly, the daily (and thus hourly) rate for park admission drastically decreases as you buy more admission days. For example, a 10-day adult park admission costs approximately $354. Assume that you spend even six hours per day in the parks during those 10 days, then your hourly entertainment cost is about $5.90. If you bump up your park touring time to ten hours per day for those ten days, then you’re looking at just $3.54 per entertainment hour – significantly less than my current Movie Ticket Metric of $8.00 per hour.
If you’re in naysayer mode, you’re sure to point out that there are other costs associated with a Disney visit beyond ticket pricing. Of course this is true, but you have a fair amount of control over many of those factors – shop for a discount package, stay off site, bring your own food into the parks, or forgo souvenirs and you’re trimming expenses in a considerable way.
Also remember that you’ll have ancillary expenses associated with almost any other entertainment option as well. Maybe there are babysitter fees, or transportation and parking fees, or food costs. If you’re coming to New York to see Book of Mormon, your food and hotel costs will likely far exceed those you can expect to find at Disney World.
A further consideration is that while the entertainment harvest from your Netflix subscription (or even your movie ticket purchase) may quickly fade from memory, a day at a Disney park will likely stick with you for quite some time. If you factor your time spent reminiscing or remembering your vacation into your entertainment cost, then the hourly expense may plummet to nearly nothing. Recent studies have shown that purchasing experiences such as vacations are the closest thing we have to buying happiness. You may want to consider whether a contribution to your happiness is worth a few more dollars of entertainment expense.
On the other hand, I haven’t factored in the opportunity cost of Disney ticket expense versus other non-entertainment expenditures. Of course no theme park ticket purchase is prudent if it cuts into non-discretionary spending such as housing or food, or other less frivolous experiential expense such as education. Only you can make the determination about what’s right for your family.
I’m certainly not saying that a day at Disney World is cheap, but given the comparisons here, it doesn’t seem unreasonably expensive overall.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Have you ever considered something like the Movie Theater Metric when evaluating your entertainment expenses? Do you still consider a park ticket to be a good value? Let us know in the comments below.