Disney World Ticket Price Increases: An In-Depth Analysis

by on April 6, 2016 34 Comments

Filed under: Money Matters, Walt Disney World (FL)

Castle (11)

This is a guest post by the fabulous Jennifer Heymont.

The muttering has been going on for years. With every price increase, the rumbling was louder.  In 2015, when news that tiered pricing might be coming to Disney World, it got louder still. Blog posts (like this one from Frommers) and newspaper articles (such as this one in the Washington Post) led with references to $115 steaks and $50 a plate dessert parties, claiming that a Disney World vacation was now only affordable for the top 10% — and worse, that this was a conscious decision on the part of Disney management to aim at that target market. People posted their indignation on Disney forums, expressing their outrage that Walt’s dream of a place that all could enjoy was being so casually ignored.  In the spirit of Touring Plans, let’s take a data-driven look at some of the assumptions that underlie all this indignation:

  1. Disney is outrageously priced for what it is selling.
  2. Disney World has recently become inaccessible to the poor and the middle class.
  3. The Disney World of today does not fulfill “Walt’s Dream”.

Assumption 1: Disney is outrageously priced for what it is selling

Although this sentiment is as commonly associated with an entire Disney vacation as it is with just the ticket prices, I’m going to limit myself to the tickets for this analysis.  Here’s my reasoning: aspects of a Disney vacation such as transportation, lodging and food costs are as highly variable as any other vacation, with many adjustments that can be made to suit the desired budget and vacation experience.  However, if we consider that the focus of a Disney World vacation is to spend time in the parks, then the cost of getting through the tapstiles is inescapable.  

The price Disney is charging for a day in the parks is only excessive if it is significantly more than the price of a comparable product.  Since the per-day price of Disney’s tickets varies depending on how many days you buy, there is a bit of a problem deciding what the price you’re going to compare actually is, especially since many of the competitor tickets also have a sliding scale.  I’ll use two methods to compare the prices.  The first approach is to use the number of days necessary to visit each park in a complex once – for a standalone park that would be one day, for Disney World that would be four days – and use the ticket price associated with that number of days.  Using the website prices available for adult tickets for a sampling of amusement and theme park attractions we get the following table.  

ParkPrice # Days Price per dayTicket Type
Florida Legoland$941$941-day, 7-day advance purchase
Universal$1702$852-day 1 park ticket
WDW$3244$814-day Magic Your Way base ticket
Busch Gardens Tampa$801$801-day
Busch Gardens Williamsburg$771$771-day
Sesame Place$651$651-day
Hershey Park$631$631-day
Six Flags New England$621$621-day
Water Country New England

$40

1

$40

1-day

 

WDW falls third on this list, but less than $10 separates spots 2-5. By this measure, it seems reasonable to say that Disney World’s tickets are priced comparably to its competitors.  

2015-06-21 at 04-36-46 (1)A second method looks at the break-even price per day for a season pass or extended multi-day ticket. The cost of a single-day ticket to Six Flags is $62, a season pass is $92. Therefore anyone planning to go for two or more days on a single vacation should buy a season pass, even if they will only be in the area for a week and won’t use it for the rest of the year.  

This price is useful because it is the best reflection of the market tolerance for an extended visit. The majority of people vacationing near Six Flags New England [who like amusement parks and chose that area with Six Flags as part of the draw] will consider the one-day ticket price to be well spent. They probably wouldn’t pay the same price for a second day, but a significant number will return for a discount. Pretty much nobody would come back for a third day at any cost above free, and might not even come back then. Put differently, you could vacation for a week near Six Flags New England, buy a season pass, and go for 7 days for a significantly lower per-day ticket cost than 7 days of Disney World admissions. However, the fact that a season pass becomes the best price option on the second day that you visit shows that not that many people think it’s appealing to go to Six Flags every day for a week.  

Looking at the number of days to break even on a multi-day ticket or season pass, we can think of this as the amount of time that is required to fully experience an attraction. After visiting for this number of days, vacationers may choose to hang by the pool and do nothing, or they may choose to go to another attraction and pay for it, but they are not likely to go back to the attraction that is now “free”.  Conversely, when making vacation plans this represents a number of days that people who are cost-conscious would allow to spend at the attraction. They would milk a single attraction until the entertainment value bottoms out, rather than paying more per day to experience a wider variety of attractions. If we use this number of days and the price of the multi-day ticket to generate the average price per day, this figure represents the daily price for the minimum amount of acceptable entertainment value from an attraction. Let’s call that the Bottom Out price, the cost of a day when the entertainment value per day has reached its minimum. This Bottom Out price can be used to compare ticket prices that have a sliding adjustment across a range of attraction sizes, as shown in the following table.

ParkPrice of Ticket# Days that justifies valueBottom Out priceBottom-Out Ticket Type
Busch Gardens Tampa$1392$7014-day unlimited, includes additional parks
Universal

$335

5

$67

Season Pass
Sesame Place$1132$57Season Pass
WDW$74914$54Platinum Annual Pass
WDW$3707$537-day Magic Your Way base ticket
Florida Legoland$992$50Season Pass
Six Flags New England$922$46Season Pass
Busch Gardens Williamsburg$872$447-day unlimited, includes second park
WDW$40010$4010-day Magic Your Way base ticket
Hershey Park$1604$40Season Pass
Hershey Park$1123$373-day pass
Water Country New England$662$33Season Pass

 

Discovery Island (4)WDW appears three times on this list.  The 7-day ticket is listed because many families are limited to a week’s vacation, and even if another ticket is more cost effective that option is not available to them, so it’s important to recognize that price. The 10-day ticket is listed because the per-day price for 11, 12, or 13 days’ worth of tickets is higher than the 10-day ticket, and so families on a two-week vacation are likely to choose this ticket and simply take some rest days. The fact that Disney’s breakeven for the Annual Pass is around 14 days is an incredible outlier, and is a reflection of the large amount of time it takes to cover any significant portion of the parks. I think it’s fairly reasonable to conclude from these numbers that the Bottom Out price for Disney World is quite comparable to that of its competitors and in the case of a 10-day ticket it is even a notable value.  

Overall conclusion: this assumption is false.  By either measure used, if you can afford the cost of the ticket in the first place then Disney tickets are reasonably priced in comparison to entertainment value received for similar offerings.

Assumption 2: Disney World has recently become inaccessible to the poor and the middle class

Personally, I think it’s a myth that Disney was accessible to the poor in recent history. We’d like to show that with data though, so let’s take a look. When reviewing historical ticket prices, we immediately encounter a stumbling block: the changes in Disney’s pricing that occurred in the early 1980s. Prior to 1983 the ticket structure included a base admission to the park and ticket books that covered rides on higher value attractions. It wasn’t free to ride Space Mountain once you got in the park. I’m far from convinced that Disney World was accessible to the poor prior to 1983, but even if it was then they were certainly not having the same Disney World experience as the middle class or the affluent. To look at this question, I’m going to start with ticket prices in 1984 so that the actual experience received for a ticket is consistent. I’m also going to exclude the one-day ticket; since we’re considering ticket prices in the context of a Disney vacation it’s reasonable to assume that vacationers intend to spend at least one day in each park.

Given those parameters, we’ll look at prices for the following brackets of tickets purchased by some fictional families:

  • The Entry Level (EL) ticket price.  This ticket represents the number of days of admission required to visit each park for one day, and would be purchased by a vacationing family that is able to afford to come to Disney World, but had made a real stretch to do it and may never return.
  • The Comfortable Family (CF) ticket price.  This ticket represents the number of days that would be purchased by a family that could comfortably afford a vacation to Disney World, but not so comfortably that they wouldn’t be cost-conscious when buying the tickets.
  • The “we can go All Out” family (AO) ticket prices. This ticket represents the number of days that would be purchased by a family that wants to make sure they don’t miss anything, and can well afford to buy the ticket necessary to support that goal. This is the family that may go to the parks almost every day of their vacation, even if just for dinner or to catch the fireworks. This family might make WDW a routine vacation destination and may likely spend more than a week, but we’ll assume they do not go more than once per year.  

Obviously, the descriptors are not exact and there may be lots of exceptions based on individual preference. Nonetheless, this gives us some idealized demographics and ticket classes to hang our analysis hats on. Since the number of days and type of ticket are going to vary for each class depending on the year, I’ll use the average price per day for the ticket, and I’ll sample in three-year intervals for simplicity. I also need to adjust for inflation, and in fact looking at the effects of inflation is the very first thing I’m going to do. If ticket prices have really only increased with inflation over time (hint: they didn’t), then a change in the availability of Disney tickets to certain demographics wouldn’t be Disney’s fault as they’d be just keeping up with the times (hint: they’re not). Let’s start by looking at the amount of increase in an individual year that’s due to inflation. We don’t really care about the total amount of the increase, just about comparing the amount that tracks with inflation to the rest of the increase. Therefore the data has been normalized to 100% in this chart.

TicketInflation

We can immediately see that something big happened between 1984 and 1987 across all ticket classes, because the blue segment that represents the portion of the increase that comes from Disney’s management decision is huge across each category. That something was a 55% increase in the Entry Level ticket price, and an even higher increase of 83% in the Comfortable Family class. To give an idea of the magnitude of this three-year jump, it is another 12 years until 1999 to see these same percentage increases over the 1987 price. If the poor were able to afford the tickets prior to 1983, and if Disney tried to keep the same level of accessibility in some tickets when they switched to the single entry fee in 1983 – and those are big ifs – then I feel confident in saying that by 1987 Disney was no longer concerned with keeping this demographic in their business model.

The introduction of Magic Your Way tickets in 2005 also makes an impressive splash. In each category, the per-day price of the ticket goes down compared to the previous year’s price. Remember that 2005 is in the period immediately after the Early 2000s Recession, when the economy was still recovering, and it’s easy to see how Disney had an incentive to make tickets more affordable.  

Overall, we can see that the tickets almost always increase in price faster than inflation, but the pattern is not the same between the different classes. The Entry Level ticket increases at the same rate compared to inflation through most of the 90s, but for the Comfortable Family the WDW component of the ticket increase is going up relative to inflation every year in this period. We don’t really know what Disney’s rationale is when they set these prices, but this difference suggests that there might be some consideration of what the target demographic can bear during this period. In the early 2000s and continuing into the Magic Your Way era, this distinction is lost and the price of the EL and CF tickets is generally an increasing multiplier of inflation. Since these demographics are presumably the lowest income and therefore are the least able to tolerate increases that outpace inflation, it’s a reasonable interpretation that Disney has decreased the importance of these segments in their target market.   

Another way to look at the ticket increase over time is to calculate the projected value of the 1984 ticket based on inflation and compare that to the actual ticket increase.

TicketInflation2

The reason this chart is interesting is that it clearly shows the targeting of MYW to the Comfortable Family and All Out demographics. The Entry Level ticket goes down in 2005, but it doesn’t take anywhere near the dip that the other classes do and by 2008 it’s already exceeded the cost from 2002 before MYW was introduced. By contrast, the per day cost of the tickets for the Comfortable Family and All Out brackets hasn’t returned to the 2002 benchmark as of 2014. Part of this is that both of these brackets are getting more days on the assigned ticket than they were prior to MYW, but even if you hold the number of days the same then the total cost still takes until beyond 2011 to recover to pre-MYW levels.

One thing I haven’t discussed is how the defined ticket purchase brackets used above correspond to the terms “middle class”, “second quintile of income”, “10-percenters”, etc.   That’s because so many of these terms don’t describe what we’re really interested in: the buying power or lifestyle associated with the individuals who make up Disney’s target market.   Some people say middle class and they mean a family that makes the median income +/- a certain range.  Some people say middle class and they mean a family that is able to eat out at least once or twice a month and take a vacation every year.   Unfortunately, these two definitions may not correlate well over time, or even over different periods of an individual’s life.  As an example, consider a young couple with two kids in the 2nd quintile of income.  Housing costs of 25-35% are a common benchmark, so if this couple has inherited a house that is free and clear from a relative, they will have considerably more discretionary income than a similar family that is paying a mortgage.  Certainly the discretionary income of my own family would be significantly higher if we didn’t have three children, although it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to go to Disney without them.

Sunset Blvd (1)When people say that Disney is pricing out the middle class, what they are really expressing is the following sentiment: “My uncle was a plumber and his wife stayed at home to raise their two kids, and when he was in his thirties and the kids were young they could afford to go to Disney World every year.  But my best friend’s husband is a plumber and she stays at home to raise their two kids, and they’re in their thirties and they’re trying to figure out how they can possibly save enough money to get to Disney World before the kids are teenagers.”  There are two variables in play here: we have already seen that with the rate of increase in ticket prices then if the two families have the same percentage of their income as discretionary funds the contemporary plumber’s family will have to spend a much higher fraction of that of available cash to get the same tickets. The second variable is how much of the contemporary plumber’s income is actually discretionary.

It’s common to see inflation-adjusted charts of median income over time, but for a variety of reasons those aren’t very informative towards this question.  With only the income figure to look at there’s nothing to indicate how that amount actually stacks up in terms of discretionary income.  Also, the most common method of adjusting for inflation using the CPI might not be the best measure to capture changes in buying power; even if the price of goods stays the same, the average basic needs of families change over time.  It’s for certain that nobody was expected to buy or lease a laptop for school when I went to high school, nor did the set of standard monthly utilities to be paid include a bill for mobile phones.  The Measuring Worth website offers a calculator for comparing the economic status of two incomes over time with respect to buying power.  The following chart shows the ratio of the actual quintile incomes from 1984 through 2014 to the projected income needed to maintain the same economic status over time as the starting income in 1984.

Income

(Quintile income information from the US Census Bureau, Table H-1 All Races.)

The trend is pretty clear.  Taking just a single point to make a statement, in 2014 the actual income of a family at the top of the third quintile is just 78% of the income needed to maintain the same economic status as an equivalent family in 1984. Compared to the plumber uncle, the contemporary plumber’s family has 22% less real income.  It is not hard to imagine that 22% comprises the bulk of the discretionary income for this family, if not all of it.

It has been suggested that one of the drivers for this decrease in real income and buying power of the majority of the population of America is a change beginning in the 1980s from a stakeholder model of capitalism, which considered the benefit of all stakeholders in a company when distributing profits including employees at every level, to a shareholder model of capitalism which only prioritizes returning the maximum possible amount to shareholders. Others have noted that perhaps we should not blame Disney for abandoning the lower quintiles as a target market when the majority of that economic segment can no longer give Disney the market share it once supported.  There is some merit to this position, but I do think Disney is clearly practicing shareholder capitalism.  Even if this business model is not the cause of the oversized increases in ticket price, Cast Member salary has been a contentious issue, as have incidents where Disney replaced local workers with contractors working in the US on H1-B visas.   

Overall conclusion:  The sentiment expressed here is true, although there are issues with the use of the word recently in the initial statement and a failure to clarify what is meant by middle class. The data support a statement that Disney has not been accessible to the poor for at least the last 30 years – since 1987, if it ever was. Trends in Disney’s ticket price increases indicate that Disney has reduced its focus on the market currently representing middle-income America. However, these are not recent trends and are visible for at least a decade since the Magic Your Way ticket structure was introduced – and possibly even before that. The issue is complicated by the observation that middle income America no longer has access to the discretionary income that it once enjoyed and might not be able to afford the costs of Disney even if Disney’s prices were simply tracking inflation.

Assumption 3: The Disney World of today does not fulfill “Walt’s Dream”

I’ll admit, it was kind of depressing writing the second section above. We love Disney, and while I don’t suggest the use of blinders nobody likes to look at the feet of clay, so to speak. So what does Disney do right? There are definitely quite a few things on this list.

♦ Fastpass+ is included with every ticket. If you have scraped and saved for five years to bring your family to Disney for your one and only visit, your child will not have to watch people stream past in the fast lane at every ride while they have to wait in the slow lane every single time and never get  a turn to skip the line.  And you will not have to explain to them that it is because those people have more money than your family.  Your relatively low economic status may be inescapable in many situations outside of the park, but you will not have your nose rubbed in it in the ride lines.

♦ Disney allows food and drink to be brought into the parks.  There are many strategies to control the non-ticket costs of a Disney vacation, and one of those big non-ticket costs is food.  Many amusement or theme parks do not allow guests to bring in outside food, forcing a choice between purchasing overpriced food inside the park or spending  valuable time leaving the park to eat and come back.  At Disney you do not have to make this choice. Our own Steve and his family even brought an entire Thanksgiving dinner into the Magic Kingdom

♦ Speaking of food, the Disney Dining Plan is a do-right in my book. Although it is often criticized for not necessarily offering savings, use of the plan can add non-monetary value to your vacation.  Assuming you can cover the up-front cost or have received it as part of a promotion, the Dining Plan can silence the cash register that starts ringing in your head every time you get into a Quick Service line.  This can backfire if you are one of those people who has to make sure you maximize the value you get, but if you’re just looking for the freedom of not having to give your kids a price limit when they choose their meals and snacks, the stress-free ordering on the DDP can provide a nice change from your vacation norm at other destinations.

♦ Last item on the food front, Disney’s handling of allergies and dietary restrictions is generally regarded as being exceptional.  Families that have children or adults with one or more severe food allergies often have difficulty eating out in restaurants and may tend to avoid it altogether. Disney World provides a place where this normal experience is available to these families

♦ Another popular cost-cutting strategy is to stay off-site.  Once you are in the park during regular hours, nobody knows if you are staying on-site or off-site.  Although Disney offers some extras to visitors who choose to stay at a Disney World hotel, none of them apply directly to your experience inside the park.  There is no letter branded on your forehead marking you as an off-site guest.

♦ Once you’ve paid to stay on property, you can ride the bus no matter how much your room cost.  The amenities of your resort may be different depending on how much you shelled out, but the extras associated with staying on Disney property such as Magical Express, bus transportation, and Extra Magic Hours are all available whether you are paying for a room at Pop Century or a suite at the Grand Floridian.

♦ Accessibility of rides: I’ve saved this one for last because it is very important to me.  My teenage daughter is a thrill ride junkie; last summer she rode the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster five times in a row and would have kept going if she hadn’t burned through everyone’s fastpasses.  My youngest is right there with her for at least the first couple of rides.  My middle child, however, gets horribly motion sick – when he was younger he complained that he got Safari-sick on a particularly bumpy turn on the Kilimanjaro Safaris.  Roller coasters and g-force manipulators are not his thing at all.  In the world of amusement parks, Disney is relatively unique in offering a very high percentage of rides and other attractions that are a fun experience for him.  These rides not only serve those with motion sickness issues, but also those with any disability  or issue (including pregnancy) that would prevent them from riding the high-speed or high g-force rides found as the majority of attractions in other parks.  Walt’s Dream is often expressed as being the desire to build an amusement park where the whole family could have fun together, in contrast to other parks of the time.  Today, Disney World is a place where my whole family can have fun together in a way that is not possible in a Six Flags or a Busch Gardens.  We keep coming back to Disney because everyone in the family has a good time, every time, and you can’t ask for much more than that in a vacation destination.

Overall Conclusion: This statement is false. Although any component of Walt’s Dream that relates to affordability has long fallen by the wayside, Disney makes an effort not to distinguish between demographics once the ticket is purchased and the room is paid for. Additionally, the type of rides and Disney’s approach to guest accommodation around food issues and disabilities make Disney World a place where the whole family can enjoy the same activities in a way that may not be possible in other amusement parks.

If you would like to make your own conclusions, here is a link to download the author’s original spreadsheet. Enjoy!

Posted on April 6, 2016

34 Responses to “Disney World Ticket Price Increases: An In-Depth Analysis”

  • Wow, really outstanding piece. Looking forward to more from Jennifer!

  • OK, your ticket price comparison is garbage. First, you cannot assume everyone wants to spend 4 days in WDW and spread out their “Season pass” level pricing for a 4 day ticket and compare it to a 1 or 2 day ticket for everyone else. There are a lot of people who only go for 1 or 2 days. Second, I’ll stick to Universal for my comparission on your “Bottom out” garbage since I’ve been to both WDW and Uni many times.
    You listed a price of $335 when the power pass at $240 is an option for many. Also, I don’t know how you assume everyone has a bottom on the way they spend their vacation. My family spent 12 days in a row at Universal and didn’t “Bottom Out”, we are even going back this year. So my “Bottom Out” price last year was less than $20 since I got a power pass before the price increase. We go slow, enjoy pool and other entertainment, but my kids want to ride the same rides EVERY DAY!

    • by Brian McNichols on April 6, 2016, at 10:13 am EST

      The rationale for the analysis was explained above. It clearly doesn’t apply to you specifically, sorry about that. Yes, there are a lot of additional factors that could have been added, but it’s really a case-by-case basis. I, for instance, bottom out on Universal much faster than you do.

      I appreciate that you read the article and you clearly are passionate. A word of advice, though: beginning your comment with a sweeping generalization and outright dismissal makes it difficult to treat your further points with the respect they deserve.

    • While I will not use the word “garbage” regarding this article, I feel there is an awful lot of spin used to be able to describe Disney World (and Universal, to a lesser extent) as a “mid-range” financial/affordability option. For this comment, I address Assumptions 1 & 2; the 3rd is incredibly subjective (though I tend lean towards agreeing with the blogger).

      Regarding Assumption 2: We must acknowledge (and this is something YOUR OWN STAFFERS have admitted) that Disney IS INDEED aiming itself at the upper class at the expense of the middle class. This is obvious in such things as paid-for Extra Extra Magic Hours, annual (or MORE frequent) increases in cost of rooms and park tickets at far above inflation, the coming-at-some-point resort fee, and more. There are, of course, numerous political/economic factors affecting this point, yes, but Disney has stretched the field even further, arguably further than it really NEEDS to.

      Assumption 1: To compare 4 days at WDW (and 2 at Uni) to 1 day tickets at Sesame Place, Hershey Park, etc. is incredibly unfair. I could push the spin in the opposite direction and say that compared to one day at MK, I could spend about $30 more and get an annual pass to Busch Gardens Tampa or Hershey, which would be a FAR GREATER value than that one day @ MK, no matter how magical the Kingdom is!
      While I’ve never been, I also question the validity of being able to do Legoland AND its Water Park in one day, given the hour a party would lose in transitioning from normal park to water park and back over the course of a day and the fact that the park seems to typically be open about 9 hours/day. This seems like a 1.5 day need to experience the entire Legoland facility, which when combined with the Annual Pass (just FIVE DOLLARS more than the one-day pass listed above!) would bring that per-day price down to $66, towards the bottom of your first chart, instead of topping it.

      Regardless of the Legoland example, the author made some unfair comparisons in order to make the point she wanted to make, in my opinion.

      • CORRECTION: I make one note that annual passes for some of these non-WDW parks could be $40-50 more than a one-day MK ticket–I used a tax included price for MK, and tax EXCLUDED for the others. I feel the point still stands.

      • Hi Justin,

        You’re correct that I accidentally used the wrong ticket price for Legoland — it should have been the price for the Legoland only ticket not including the water park. That said, I feel I was also generous in assuming the seven day advance purchase. If the correct ticket prices are used, then the 7-day advance price is $74, which would be fifth on the list but still within roughly a $10 spread for the top offerings. For the flexible date ticket the price would be $89, which is still top of the list.

        Regarding your statement about Assumption 2, I am a bit confused as you seem to be arguing that the truth is exactly what I concluded. The quibble I had with the statement is that the trend is not actually recent — it’s been going on for quite a while.

  • A very well thought out article, Jennifer! A favor, I’d love to read about how Steve brought Thanksgiving into the park, but the link didn’t work for me. Is that article still available?

  • Very fair article. I would add, as someone who vacations at Disney parks and regularly goes snow skiing in Colorado, that WDW is cheaper than skiing and has more bang for the buck. Lift tickets for skiing at popular resorts are now over $100/day for about 7 hours of skiing. The parks are regularly open 12 to 15 hours/day and have many more entertainment options with rides and shows. I think when you compare WDW to other vacations generally you will also find that it is not overpriced for what you receive in terms of total entertainment options.

    • I agree. I always note when people point out the expense of a Disney ticket that most people I know would have no problem paying $100/person for a ticket to a concert or theatre show and that’s only for a couple of hours of entertainment. Disney parks offer 12-15 hours of entertainment (often including concerts or theatre shows) for the same price.

  • An extremely well thought-out article! Of course it doesn’t apply to every situation, but it’s great that you “crunched the numbers” to help some of us rationalize why we keep going back.
    Do I have your permission to share this with my fellow teachers to use this as a “research” piece for a math class? This is a perfect example of “why do we have to learn this stuff anyway?!” in action!

    • Hi Ashley,

      Glad you enjoyed it. Please feel free to use and share it! Brian has also kindly added a link to the data so that you can see how the analysis was created.

  • I am appreciative of the “debate/conversation” and the article, and as Disney fans we are certainly in debate mode about costs associated with WDW park tickets. It isn’t cheap.

    However, nothing that is “top-shelf” is cheap. The average price for a family of 4 to addend a major league baseball game is $215…and that’s for 3-hours of entertainment. A Disney park is theoretically 12-hours of entertainment, making the equivalent Day at Disney 12-hour cost of an MLB game $848. Now some may call this extrapolation “garbage,” but so be it.

    WDW parks are crowded and the waits extending. The only way to make the immediate demand elastic is to raise the price. It takes time to add capacity to park rides, but the crowd issue is a now issue. It’s the only lever to pull and Disney is pulling it.

    Issues about middle class vacation affordability is not necessarily a Walt-dream issue, perhaps it goes to the core debate in this country of the shrinking middle class.

    • This comment mostly sums up my thoughts on the matter. I’m fond of quoting Yogi Berra regarding this topic “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” (Another MLB reference)

  • Good article. In the end, Disney is a business- it was even in Walt’s Day. They keep charging more for tickets and hotels, and the parks keep getting more and more crowded. If I were them, I’d continue to raise prices as well. If you don’t like it, vote with your wallet and DON’T GO. A Disney vacation is not a right, and it is a very privileged and entitled belief to think it is.

  • What I think most people have a problem with is the experience that you are getting for your money today compared with what it was. If the price of a ticket has gone up 10% or more over five years I should be getting the same vale or more from that ticket. It seems that you are getting less for your money. EPCOT and The studio’s are shells of what they once were. There are a few new attractions in The Magic Kingdom but with that other attractions have vanished along with entertainment. As a comparison in 2000 I went on a Caribbean cruise. The cost for 2 of us in a balcony cabin was $1500.00. In 2005 I went on that same cruise on a newer ship same type of cabin and it was $1500.00 for the 2 of us.

    • I think it is just simple supply vs. demand for Disney – for those of us that have been numerous times, of course there is less value, but people going for their first, second or third time, plenty of value because it is a new experience because you can’t do everything with one visit. You can’t compare a cruise to Disney – the whole cruise industry has been in disarray for the last decade and there was no way the cruise industry would stay afloat(see what I did there) by raising their prices like Disney has. Basically, we are stuck with it and each of us can only do what is best for ourselves….but there is only one Disney World

  • I really appreciate this thoughtful article filled with FACTS! They can add upsell items doesn’t mean I need to buy or get hysterical over the increases. Disney world is a real privledge of a trip one that takes us a few years to save up for. As kids I remember my aunt with a piggy bank and a chart saving for years. I understand frustrations of those who use it as a frequent get away but for those of us who it’s a few times in a lifetime treat? As accessible as ever. Thanks again

  • I think it would be interesting to run this analysis over time factoring in the average cost of standard onsite hotels in the value, moderate and deluxe categories plus the average cost of counter service meals (say 2 per day)for a family of four for a four day stay. I suspect that result might not look nearly like the ticket trends.

    Question: If Disney has a capacity issue why don’t they build more parks like they are building more ships? They could just keep raising the cost of a cruise and not build more boats, right?

    • by Sarah Stoneham on April 7, 2016, at 11:51 am EST

      They are building more parks… just not in the US. Shanghai Disney. A lot of the growth in demand is from international consumers, especially Asia, so this move makes sense.

      • Shanghai Disney will have little to no impact of the WDW capacity issues. Shanghai Disney is about new customers in Asia not relief for crowds in Orlando.

        • You asked why they weren’t building new parks, not why they weren’t building new parks in Orlando. And I answered that.

          The reason they aren’t building new parks in Orlando is easy. It’s not profitable. Americans take vacation in 1 week chunks. Disney World is already so big, that you can’t “see it all” in 1 week. Adding a 5th gate, won’t cause Americans to extend their vacations, and spend more money at Disney. It does however involve a serious outlay of capital. Disney would most likely have to issue bonds to do so. Why would they go to all that trouble when there is an easy way to get people to spend more money- charge them more!?! If I was a Disney shareholder, there’s no way I’d want Disney adding a 5th park.

  • Regarding bullet one under Assumption 3 (“. . . your child will not have to watch people stream past in the fast lane at every ride while they have to wait in the slow lane every single time and never get a turn to skip the line. And you will not have to explain to them that it is because those people have more money than your family. . . .”):

    I don’t entirely agree with this, given the the private VIP tours Disney offers: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/vip-tour-services/

    I’m not sure how many people are booking these and how conspicuous vs.inconspicuous they are at the moment. But a family/group being escorted by cast members through the park and repeatedly swept into fastpass lanes, etc. is likely to be noticed to some degree, including by children, invariably leading to the “what makes them special?” question. Yes, it is because they have more money.

    • Hi Meg,

      I think the key feature, included in the part that you quoted, is “while they have to wait in the slow lane every single time”. It’s true that the VIP tours are sometimes referred to as human fastpasses. However, they’ve been around for a while and in my experience they are not conspicuous — the few times I’ve encountered one in the fastpass lane, I only was aware of it because I already knew what these tours were. “Being escorted through the park by cast members and swept into fastpass lanes repeatedly” brings to mind a certain level of ostentation and obviousness, but that doesn’t match what I’ve seen — the tour guides don’t clear a path for their group as they move through the park, they travel like any other group or family and as they approach the fastpass lane the guide’s uniform serves as the trigger for the group to unobtrusively pass into the lane without scanning their bands. You would really have to be following this group around from ride to ride to realize that anything was different — otherwise there would be no reason to assume that those people didn’t have regular fastpasses and this was just their turn, like it was your turn to get in the fastpass line at Space Mountain an hour ago. As you have pointed out, it’s very true that like all the other upsell at Disney more privilege is available to those with more money, but compared to the experience at say, Six Flags, where front of the line access is *only* if you pay for it, Disney is offering a different option for the average guest with regard to skipping the lines.

      • Hi Jennie,

        Many thanks for your reply, which is helpful. I’m glad VIP tours aren’t really noticeable and have little impact on the touring experience of others. Given that there seems to be no limit to what people with the means will pay for a premium experience, I”m surprised these aren’t more popular (perhaps Disney puts a tight cap on the numbers? Or maybe it just reflects how busy the parks are, i.e. the VIP tours go unnoticed amid the overall hordes). And as you pointed out, Disney should be acknowledged for keeping fastpass+ a standard feature, unlike some other parks.

  • Can you please explain how you determined the “# Days that justifies value” column in the Bottom Out table? These values appear to be arbitrarily chosen and highly subjective.

    Also, I disagree with your conclusion of Assumption 3, simply based on what Walt envisioned for EPCOT and what we have today. Just because Disney World does a lot of great things, that doesn’t mean it’s what Walt would have wanted, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    • Hi Nate,

      The # Days that justifies value column is the number of days that you would have to be going before it would make sense to purchase that pass rather than individual tickets for the days. But you are right that there may be a bit of subjectivity in them; although in general I tried to assume the cheapest ticket type that was routinely available — so no pre-season sale prices etc. were used — there were a few cases where that just didn’t seem to make sense.

      A simple example: for Six Flags New England, the ticket for a single day is $62. There are no multi-day tickets available, so if you want to go for two days your most cost-effective option is to buy a season pass for $92 rather than two one-day tickets for $124. Thus at two days the cost of the Season Pass is justified.

      A more complicated example: For Universal Orlando, there are no 5-day tickets; the longest is four days. A four-day one park ticket is $209 if bought at the gate, and a one-day ticket is $105 for a total of $314. If purchased online then these tickets are $20 cheaper for a total of $294. Both of these options for five days’ worth of tickets are cheaper than the Annual Pass at $335. However (and here is where the subjectivity comes in), because Harry Potter is a significant draw and riding the Hogwarts Express requires a park-to-park ticket, it seems likely that at least one day would be purchased as a park-to-park ticket. If this happens, then the cheapest option is a 4-day one park ticket purchased online for $189 combined with a one-day two-park ticket for $155 – total $344. At this point, the $335 Annual Pass which gives you two-park access every day is clearly cheaper, thus the relevant # of days is 5.

      I’ll also freely point out that someone has already found where I did make an error collecting the price of the Legoland ticket. While embarrassing to my generally perfectionist nature, it’s quite possible there may be one or two more. However, I don’t think they would be truly numerous, and I also don’t think they would be likely to significantly change the overall comparison.

      • Thanks for the reply Jennie.

        Based on what you said, I would argue that the data presented in the Bottom Out table works against your argument since it shows you have to visit WDW for a longer duration before you break even. It doesn’t matter if your Bottom Out price is cheaper on a daily basis if you have extend your vacation, and increase the extraneous costs associated with doing so, to justify buying your ticket choice. Disney knows this, and that’s why they offer the multiple day tickets at a cheaper price per day in the first place.

        I disagree with your notion that the number of days to break even is equivalent to the amount of time that is required to fully experience an attraction. If I can fully experience WDW in 7 days with a 7 base ticket, then I should only need 7 days to fully experience WDW if I have a 10 day ticket or a season pass. The Bottom Out price is comparing apples to oranges, in my opinion, when you don’t account for the amount of entertainment you get for the price you pay.

        Also, for the WDW platinum pass, I may be wrong on this but I think the “# Days that justifies value” would be 16 days based on a 10 day ($400) with a 6 day ($355) Magic Your Way base ticket. A 10 day ticket with a 4 day ticket would only cost $725, and with a 5 day ticket would be $740, and both would be cheaper than a $749 season pass. Either way, it doesn’t really change your analysis.

        • Hi Nate,

          I agree definitely WDW is an outlier, and that’s part of the reason I put it in the table at three different price points. I think the issue is that there are two factors that come into the Bottom Out consideration for WDW that don’t come up with other parks:

          1) The other parks all take less than a week to saturate the average guest. For WDW, your choice of ticket may be constrained not by how long you think you can go to the parks and still be having a good time, but by how much vacation time you have available.

          2) I think this may begin to be true at the other parks with a longer # of days to bottom out, but I believe Disney is unique in that you can get so oversaturated/overstimulated that you are just done, hit bottom, can’t take it, don’t want to go back another day right now even if you haven’t seen everything and experienced it all.

          To your point about having to extend your vacation to get the cheaper prices; this was the mostly point of the first analysis that looked at the prices that give you one day in each park, to show what you could get given a (relatively) minimal vacation. For a longer vacation, say a minimum of a week, I think the validity of your point depends on how you vacation. If you plan to go to Busch Gardens for 2 days and Legoland for a day or two and sit by the pool the rest of the week with maybe one session of mini-golf thrown in, then you’re right that you can’t get the same per-day average for entertainment that you’d get in your week’s vacation if you want to buy Disney tickets. But if your plan is to do some attraction every day and you are just looking to hit a reasonable price point and ensure that what you do that day is enjoyable and doesn’t become ho-hum on the nth repetition, then I think the analysis shows that at any of the ticket types listed Disney is a good value.

          Thanks for finding the mistake in the Platinum Pass; I think I mistakenly compared it to the cost of 14-days’ worth of Hopper tickets, but you are right that 16 is the correct number.

  • You definitely make a lot of valid points, though I do feel like some of them begin with a certain assumption (proving the original assumption as false) and then use evidence to support them.

    The big challenge in comparing Disney ticket prices to other parks is the fact that Disney sets the market. Whenever they raise ticket prices, the others follow. This makes it problematic to compare the prices in any way that makes sense. That doesn’t let the other parks off the hook, but it diminishes the fact that Disney has an impact on them.

    In terms of Assumption 3, the Disney Dining Plan is only a good deal if you eat quite a lot of food. It’s fine that it works for your purposes, but that doesn’t prove the assumption is false because it fits your goals.

    Also, FastPass Plus is not the same for all guests like the original FastPass was. There is a huge difference between booking 60 days out for your entire trip and booking 30 days out. I learned this when we stayed on-site during our last trip. The flexibility makes being able to afford on-site quite a difference in terms of value. So connecting that to Walt (which is an impossible assumption regardless) doesn’t really click.

    Disney still has a lot to offer, and I love going there. However, I’m not sure all the well-written analysis disproves the assumptions. There’s still a lot of subjective analysis happening. Very interesting article!

    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your comments. You’re right about Disney setting the market and that being a complication. I considered this when doing the analysis, but what I decided (and this may simply be semantics) is that this is a market forces issue. If your local bodega has eggs for $10/dozen and the supermarkets all sell for $2/dozen, then the bodega eggs are clearly overpriced. But if the price of eggs goes up overnight so that everyone is selling them for $10, then one of two things will happen. Either consumers will stop buying eggs, and stores will either lower the price or stop selling eggs (if they truly can’t lower it without losing profit). Or, consumers will continue to buy eggs, and in this case the eggs are not overpriced, they are simply a commodity with a very high profit margin. It doesn’t matter that Disney raised the price first; if Six Flags couldn’t get enough people through the door at the ticket price they choose then I think they would be more concerned about keeping the lights on than keeping up with Disney.

      I think almost everything in Assumption 3 might be regarded as subjective, because “Walt’s Dream” is kinda ambiguous and it means different things to different people. That’s a great point about FastPass+ though, and one I hadn’t thought of. On consideration, I don’t think it takes away from my statement. Without throwing my anecdata against your anecdata about what you can reserve at the 30-day window, I think we can agree that FP+ with a 30-day window is better than waiting in the long line every time, which is what you will be doing with your base ticket at Uni if you don’t happen to be staying in the right hotel. And there’s a lot of aspects about the way the FP+ rules are set up – for instance guests who are staying on property being able to reserve FP+ at 60 days for people who are not staying on Disney property if they are joined in MyMagic – that make me think Disney really tried to both preserve some perk value for this for on-site guests but still make it valuable to all.

  • Very nice article. My thoughts were along the same lines as those who mentioned skiing and major league baseball games. IMO, a ticket to a Disney park packs a lot of bang for the buck (especially if you know what you’re doing; thanks Touring Plans!).

    Not strictly on the subject of tickets only, but sometimes I look at what we paid in the past vs. what we would have to pay today. My husband and I honeymooned at WDW in 1993. We bought a package that cost us $1,050: 6 nights in a standard room at Port Orleans French Quarter (which was just known as Port Orleans at the time), checking in the Sunday after Thanksgiving (so, value season), “length of stay” passes (which allowed entry to all parks from the first to last day of your stay, hopping included), and a couple of random things like a copy of the Official Guide and I think a couple of other things we didn’t use.

    According the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, $1,050 in 1993 has the same buying power as $1,722.95 in 2016. So if you can get 6 nights at a moderate, standard view, during value season and 2 tickets that allow you 7 days of park entry with hopping for ~$1,723 this year, you’re paying just about the same amount we did for our package in 1993.

    By my calculation, it looks like in 2016 the room would be about $1,300 (rack) and equivalent tickets would be about $467 each, so to buy the elements of our old honeymoon package today would cost ~$2,234. So yeah, more expensive today for sure. If you can get a 25% discount on the room, which is often available that time of year, it gets closer to $1,900, but still more than today’s equivalent of what we paid in 1993.

  • Nice article! I agree with a lot of it, except that the first comparison of daily ticket prices leaves out one important thing in my mind- we went to Hershey park last summer and got a $20 discount for each person per day, simply by searching coupons online. As a resident of Maryland, I frequent six flags, busch gardens, hershey park and kings dominion as they are all within a half a day or less drive. Each of these parks offers substantial discounts through a lot of different sources. Kings Dominion, Six Flags and Hershey all offer steep discounts just by googling coupons or selectively choosing your travelling times. While Busch Gardens discounts are slightly harder to come by, you can travel there all summer long for the cost of a one day ticket, and our two preschoolers were free. Many of the parks also offer free or reduced price entry the evening before, so you can get a day and a half in the parks. It is impossible to find a discount on a one day Disney ticket, because Disney has ensured that there can’t be any- anywhere. It would be interesting to see the price comparison when applying a readily available coupon to each of those parks.

    I love Disney, and I feel that overall it is a better theme park than any other. It creates an atmosphere that no other park can recreate, thus I find myself returning over and over again. But the problem I find with Disney, since we live 12 hours away and are definitely what one would consider “middle class” is that I can no longer justify a one or two day ticket there for my family of four ($400-800). We ended up having to squeeze and buy 10 day non expiring tickets so that we could do two days on various trips, because the only other way I could justify the cost was to purchase a 5 day ticket (from a discount website- the only decent discounts you find are 5 days or more). Since Disney has taken away the no expiration option, this will be the last time we are able to do that. When I buy a 5 day, I don’t have any time to 1) rest, or 2) experience any of the other awesome things there are to do in Orlando. Since we have been to Disney so many times, even though it’s my favorite, I still enjoy “mixing” and doing other things, or even just enjoying all of the stuff there is to do on the resort outside of the parks. That is becoming near about impossible for someone who is “cursed” with the constant need to analyze the value for what I am receiving, and cannot justify, nor can I afford to spend nearly $500-$1000 for 1-2 days in the parks (and no- I NEVER purchase a $100 concert ticket when I can hear them for free on the radio…)

    That being said, I also agree with giving Disney the credit it deserves for all of the things that it still allows, such as bringing your food in and free fastpasses- these type of things are the things that make Disney seem “generous” in a way, but in my eyes it simply works to counteract the outrageous price they charge for tickets and food.

    So in short, I don’t think the price comparison was entirely accurate, but you also are at a disadvantage because comparing Disney to any other theme park is obviously not comparing apples to apples.. thanks for the article!

  • Nicely done, fitting what could be someone’s doctorate thesis into an article. Point #2 was especially interesting, although I’m sure a hundred economist would do it a hundred different ways. What would have been truly definitive is having the demographic data over that time period to see how the percentages of the different quintiles changed with time, corrected for travel cost. I.e., much cheaper for a local family to visit then someone that has to fly in (and Florida resident discounts!).