It has been an unprecedented 2.5 years for the Disney Parks. Starting with the extended closures of China parks starting in late 2019, through the beginning of the COVID pandemic, to this new COVID reality, attendance numbers have dropped, stayed flat, and, in some cases, just started to increase when most parks were able to once again return to semi-normal operations.
With most people in the U.S. just starting to get comfortable traveling again, it has come to a shock to many fans just how much change has taken place, and what is new is not, in their opinion, necessarily better. 3 days of tickets to Disney World costs upwards of $1,500 for a family of three, and the cheapest hotel in a prime location on property is around $500 a night. Since the vacation as a whole would cost roughly $4,000 to $5,000, many are delaying their trips to space them out further apart—or forgoing their trips altogether.Read More »
This has been puzzling for some because Disney Park visits are perceived to be an essential family vacation, one that many have taken (or hope to take) in their lifetimes. It is a given that with supply chain delays, making up for decreased attendance/closures due to COVID and inflation that costs would have gone up slightly, but what is happening now is unlike what has been seen in the past.
Cost increases, such as on Annual Passes are a given, but hidden fees and reduced perks are not. Len Testa, who runs a popular Disney blog and authors guide books, says that the anger many feel towards the Disney Parks now differs from what was expressed in the past. On top of that, many people, families included, lost significant income mid-pandemic, so every dollar increase is a hard blow.
Well, what new changes have been made?
- Park reservations
- Increased prices on park tickets, hotel stays, food, drink and merchandise
- Ride line skipping apps on both coasts
- A Star Wars experience
- No more free shuttle to and from the airport
- Paid parking at the parks
- Increased crowds
- In some cases, less of a focus on appearance and service
- New experiences to enhance the Disney brand
Reservations are now needed at the parks, making Annual Passes less appealing since people cannot come and go anymore. Even with those in places, many recent visitors have experienced the park being very crowded and uncomfortable. Trash is abundant and cleanliness might look different from past visits.
Parking at the parks is a hefty fee, and the Magical Express, a free bus service that shuttled guests from the Orlando Airport to the parks, is no longer. In its place is a pay-to-use service. Only a handful of days at both Disney World and Disneyland are at budget prices, and the number is steadily decreasing year after year. Multi-day and Park Hopper tickets keep going up and up. Merchandise is in shorter supply, but prices are higher.
On top of all this, Disney is investing billions into initiatives such as streaming and the headline-catching Star Wars Hotel. For a family of three, the prices start at over $5,000—yes, that figure is less than the total trip estimate made by some Disney fans earlier this year. You can have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but at a cost.
Data has shown that park ticket prices have increased at 3 times the rate of inflation, and hotel prices have increased by more than 60 percent in under a decade. There are special pricing options for Florida and California residents, but they must meet certain requirements, options are only available on certain days and others cannot benefit.
According to Testa, tickets seem to go up 5 to 10 percent a year, and the Star Wars stay, which includes lodging, food, entertainment and meet-and-greets is already more than what roughly 80 percent of Americans spend on vacations a year.
Even with the price increases, and what some say is becoming a less than magical experience, attendance numbers have steadily increased and revenue from what visitors are spending has increased by 40 percent compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Food, drink and merchandise spending has increased, perhaps fueled by the desire to have a full Disney experience. Those who can afford it have had a nice time, especially in Disneyland, but acknowledge that it is an expensive experience that is hard to afford often.
But the large contributing factor is likely app-based ride reservations, which have taken up steam on both coasts. They cost a minimum of $15 a day in California and $20 a day in Florida. That is not counting fees for more in-demand rides or any additional experiences (character dining is an example). More than a third of visitors used these services when they came out late last year, and more than half did around the holidays.
A recent park visitor said that while the app sounded convenient, it meant they spent more time on their phone than looking up and experiencing everything a Disney Park has to offer. Others are saying that the experience is still fun, but not worth it every year, or went recently and vowed never to return.
Quotes were made by top executives saying they did not regret raising prices, to which people had an iffy reaction.
This leads to the question ‘is the magic lost?’ In some ways, things will never be the same, and Disney has already out priced the average folks, the opposite to what Walt Disney had originally intended. It is hard to say whether or not people will keep coming to the parks if prices increase, and for how much longer prices can go up before people stop attending, spending and recommending Disney branded experiences. From another perspective, the beloved characters, food and memories has a generational pull that one cannot put a price tag on.
Disney’s direct competitor, Universal, also raised ticket prices to keep up with increased demand and what Disney is doing.
Only time will tell how things will shape up in the future. If you are planning a trip to Disney in the near future, keep all of this in mind—the prices may be going up, but the experience may not be. It is a personal choice and only you and your families can make it. Happy travels, to Disney and beyond!
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