A recent Disney Parks survey outlined a new idea that Disney World was considering for its theme park ticket prices. The new system assigned a color – bronze, silver, or gold – and a price to each day of the year, based on how crowded the park was likely to be that day. Here are sample prices for the Magic Kingdom for one adult, for one day, without park hopping:
- Bronze for below-average crowd days, at $105 per day
- Silver for average crowd days, at $115 per day
- Gold for above-average crowd days, at $125 per day
Like the current pricing structure, the proposal indicated that Disney would charge more for one-day admission to the Magic Kingdom than for Epcot, Animal Kingdom, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
In addition, the proposal specified discounts of 5% per extra day for multi-day tickets: a 2-day ticket costs 5% less than two separate 1-day tickets; a 3-day ticket costs 10% less than 3 separate 1-day tickets, and so on, up to a 45% discount for a 10-day ticket versus 10 separate 1-day tickets. Ticket prices for children ages 3-9 are 10% less than for adults, and park-hopping was also available.
After presenting the price calendar and table, Disney asked whether you would have:
- Visited on the same dates with the same ticket
- Changed the dates you visited or the number of days you bought
- Bought an annual pass
There are a few things to hate about the proposal; I’ll get to those shortly. But having thought about the proposal for a while, here are 3 things I like about it:
1. It’s more fair on days when a park closes for capacity constraints The Magic Kingdom reaches its peak capacity on a handful of days each year. When this happens, arriving guests are prohibited from entering the park until enough people leave the park, usually a few hours later.
A capacity closure represents less “supply” (the amount of people who can fit in the park) than “demand” (the number of people who want to get into the park).On these days, Disney isn’t making as much money as it could: There are people outside the Magic Kingdom who would probably pay $20 more in order to get into the park, for example.
There’s nothing wrong with Disney increasing its prices when demand exceeds supply. For one thing, Disney has an obligation to their stockholders to, if not make a profit, at least not leave money on the table.This also allows people who really want to get into the park, a way to do so.
Right now, admission to the Magic Kingdom is on a first-come, first-served basis. There are many admirable things about that scheme, such as rewarding people who are willing to get up early and hustle. However, families traveling from other time zones, or with many small children, are at a distinct disadvantage, and there’s not much they can do about it right now.
In similar situations, Americans have, with notable exceptions, generally agreed that you fix this kind of imbalance between supply and demand by increasing prices until they’re equal. (It’s worth mentioning that you can’t adjust the supply of the Magic Kingdom as easily as you can adjust the price of admission. An increase in the park’s capacity – building new rides or lands – represents a large and ongoing capital expense plus maintenance. It would be like buying an SUV for the one night a year you have to carry Christmas presents and drunk Aunt Lillian home from Grandma’s house.)
2. It’s more fair to people who visit on slower days On certain attractions, such as Space Mountain, Disney is able to adjust the ride capacity by adding or subtracting ride vehicles from the tracks, and by changing the time between each ride vehicle’s launch.
On a slow day at Space Mountain, for example, each track might run 7 space capsules, sent out 36 seconds apart, so the ride can handle around 1,200 people per hour. On a busy day, there might be 14 capsules on the track, each sent out 21 seconds apart, so more people can ride.
Here’s the thing: While each ride contributes the same amount to maintenance costs, running more cars on the track makes the track and cars wear out faster. That increases the number of times Disney has to perform maintenance on the track and cars, and more maintenance means more money.
Right now, Disney charges the same price for admission every day of the year, so Disney is spreading its total annual maintenance cost evenly on each day of the year. And that means that the people who visit during slower times of the year, are paying some of the higher maintenance costs incurred by people who visit when it’s busy. But that’s not fair to the people who visit when it’s less crowded. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that the people who cause the higher maintenance costs should pay for them.
3. It will probably help distribute crowds more evenly throughout the year If you’ve got older kids in school, you probably can’t take them out for a week to visit Disney World. For many families, that means the only time you can go is during holidays, when the park is packed.
However, a good chunk of people in the park during holidays don’t have kids, so their schedules aren’t tied to school calendars. At least some of those school-free people could presumably be convinced to visit the park at another time of year, by offering them lower ticket prices when school is in session. That would help spread out the holiday crowds, and leave more room for families with school-age children.
That said, there are many things to dislike about this pricing proposal:
1. It complicates an already complicated ticket-buying process You, dear reader, know that I love a good spreadsheet. I co-author an 860-page book about how to visit a theme park, so you know I’m not afraid of some details. So when I say something’s too complicated, sweet niblets!, it’s too complicated.
Consider, for a moment, the guest visiting for a week around Thanksgiving who wants to visit Blizzard Beach. What would you call their ticket? The name “Two Bronze, Four Silver, One Gold Adult Water Park Fun and More Hopper” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. And at some point, Bill Maher’s rule about long Starbucks orders becomes applicable to Disney ticket names. Heaven help the poor Disney castmembers who would have to explain the price breakdown to you. Even if you understood it all the first time it was explained, how long would that phone call take?
2. It’s a huge increase in ticket prices I know these are probably sample prices, but even if they’re a rough idea of what Disney wants to do, this ticket pricing scheme is a naked cash grab.Here’s a chart comparing the cost of today’s 1- to 10-day adult base tickets, with the bronze, silver, and gold admission prices:
Yeah, you’re reading that right: the proposed scheme is a 10 to 90% increase in admission costs for most tickets. If your first thought after reading that is not “You’ve got to be &^%#-ing kidding me,” congratulations – you’re a better person than I.
I did a comparison between our fabulous Disney World Crowd Calendar and Disney’s assignment of Bronze, Silver, and Gold based on crowd levels. Here’s a quick summary:
There are 140 days Disney has labeled as Bronze, 136 as Silver, and 89 as Gold. The average crowd level for all of WDW on a Bronze day was 3.9; at the Magic Kingdom it was 4.4, and so on.In general, Disney considers a day “Bronze” if the crowd levels is 4 or lower; it thinks a day is “Silver” if the crowd level is less than 7 to 7.5; and anything above that is “Gold.” However, there are a bunch of exceptions where Disney rates a day much higher than actual crowds. This is one way for Disney to raise prices – by saying a day is more crowded that it really is.
For example, there are 21 days in the past year that Disney has labeled “Gold” where the crowd level was 6 or below for the resort or the Magic Kingdom (July 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, and 27, 2014 are examples). And there are 39 days that Disney has labeled “Silver” where the crowd level was 4 or lower for the entire resort or the Magic Kingdom (Examples: November 1, 7, 8, 15, 16, 22, 30, 2014).
3. It doesn’t take in to account special events or the current state of the Hollywood Studios Disney’s Hollywood Studios isn’t worth $100 in admission. There – I said it. There are too many closed, cut-back, or outdated attractions to even pretend it’s in the same class as the other Disney or Universal parks.
If you’re going to adjust your price structure, Disney, then it’s time to put the Studios on par with a water park and charge sixty bucks for it. Remember, I’m perfectly willing to say the Magic Kingdom is worth more over Christmas. Fair is fair.
While we’re at it, those price increases don’t take in to consideration any of the special events, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Night of Joy. Together, those special events mean the Magic Kingdom closes early (7 pm) 46 days this year, or almost one day a week.
But I don’t see anything in this proposal that charges less for shorter days. Why does only 10 hours in the Magic Kingdom cost as much as 16? Yes, the park is open longer on other days during weeks with special events, but that doesn’t mean anything to families who only visit for one day. If we’re willing to complicate the pricing structure, where’s the discount for those people?