Disney World Ticket Price Inflation

Supposedly, the cost of a Disney World ticket has gone up roughly 3.5X, adjusted for inflation, since 1971 (chart).

During a March 30-31, 2019 visit, however, the parks were so jammed that waiting times for popular rides were 90-150 minutes. Using the Disney World app, it was impossible to obtain a same-day FastPass for any of the popular rides. “They’re all sold out at least 30 days in advance,” said a Florida resident season pass holder. “People who are staying in a Disney hotel are able to book them 60 or 90 days ahead.”

I went with a friend who paid up for a Disney VIP guide. He told us that we weren’t seeing a particularly busy day. “The wait times can be 300 minutes on the busiest days.” How crowded would the main streets be? “You won’t see any pavement.” Was the park more crowded because we were there on a weekend? “There isn’t much difference between weekends and weekdays.”

Go early in the morning during the “Extra Magic” hours when only people staying in Disney hotels are allowed in? The line for the roller coaster in Toy Story Land stretched to more than two hours before the park had even opened to the general public. People who said that they got in line at 8:02 am (park opened at 8) were only about halfway through the line at 8:40.

Go in the evening after the kids have collapsed? The app showed that the wait time for the Avatar sim ride was 95 minutes… at 9:58 pm, just before Animal Kingdom closed for the night. Apparently people who are already in line when the park officially closes will get to ride, but only at 11:35 pm after enduring more than 1.5 hours standing in line.

With the guide we were able to get into the FastPass line at every ride, cut through side doors for a few rides, and cut the line for portraits with princesses and other characters. The resulting wait time for rides was about the same as during my 1991 trip to Disneyland, but the overall experience was inferior because the non-rides portions of the park were so crowded that it was tough to appreciate the atmosphere or architectural details. Want to get food or drink? Wait in a 10-minute line at a kiosk or a 1-hour line at an unpopular restaurant.

The guides cost $500 per hour and can tow up to 10 guests around, so figure this adds $320/day per person if the guide is hired for 8 hours per day and there are 8 people assembled in the group. Tickets in 1989 were roughly $60 per day in current dollars (source). With a VIP guide the experience is comparable overall. The wait times for the rides are similar while the rides have gotten better from a technical point of view. Meandering around the park, trying to get a meal, etc., has become far less enjoyable. Let’s say that these pluses and minuses average out. To have a basically comparable experience today, therefore, costs $109 for the park ticket plus $320 for a 1/8th share of a VIP guide = $429 per day per person. That’s 7X the 1989 price.

Plainly the mobs are buying a lot of hotel rooms, food, and souvenirs. But I wonder why Disney doesn’t have “Crowd-hater Days” in each park to capture the market of people who would be willing to pay a lot more to have the 1990s experience. There are four core parks within Disney World. Why not say that every Monday through Thursday one of these parks will be designated “Crowd-hater” and tickets will be sold at whatever price it takes to keep max line length down to 15 minutes? If ticket prices were doubled, for example, I think Disney would actually make more money in ticket revenue since demand should not be cut by more than 50 percent. By using a high price to limit admission to only one park at a time they should still be able to keep all of their hotels filled (tourists who don’t value the less-crowded experience will still go to the other core parks and/or the water parks).

Topiary from the Epcot garden event:

Travel tip: The Swan and Dolphin hotels are run by a competent hotel chain (Westin/Marriott) and are still technically “on property”. Here’s the view from our $215/night balcony room (rates are cheap if they can’t fill these monster hotels with a convention). It is a 20-minute walk to Hollywood Studios or 30 minutes to the center of Epcot. The boat service is loud and slow and was ultimately rejected by my 9-year-old companion. (She wondered why can’t they use battery-powered boats? They are never far from a charger.)

The most outdated structure in all of Disney (Nikon “Darkroom”):

Fair and balanced: Disney gives equal weight to Donald Trump’s favorite restaurant and Elizabeth Warren’s ancestral home.

Three years after a child was killed by an alligator, Disney still doesn’t have signs clearly explaining or depicting the hazard (there is a sign, but a non-Floridian might infer that the lake-related hazard was drowning and could be addressed by watching children):

(See “Disney knew its property had alligators. It caught hundreds before a boy was killed.” (Washington Post))

Readers: Is the Times Square-level of crowding something that should prompt Disney to change its pricing? Or do young people expect to stand in line for hours to get anything good?

12 thoughts on “Disney World Ticket Price Inflation

  1. I realize no one goes to Disney’s California Experience (as famously made fun of on The Simpsons), but did they really have to build “Disney’s Soviet Experience” instead?

    • You have a false idea about the Soviet life. Anyone, spending 23 minimal hourly wages for some rides in a child park, would have laughed at the idea of waiting 10 minutes, let alone 90. Quite possibly, he could have had the ride to himself.

  2. They’ve already tried “surge” pricing like you mention above.

    The issue with raising the ticket price is that people feel that they need to spend more time in the park to get their monies worth. At the old prices, people would pop into the park in the morning, then leave and explore other things – now the price is so much that people spend all day long at the park and feel the need to do everything in order to justify the high cost. So far, as much as Disney raises the price, they’ve been unable to find a price point that makes less people end up in the park all at once.


  3. Just say no. The shows were better than the rides. The rides at Six Flags over Texas are far better, but vacations for me now involve GETTING AWAY FROM PEOPLE rather than crowding in with them. Even in NYC, I avoid Times Square. I took my kids to Mecca Disney once and I have fulfilled my obligation.

  4. Flying to Tokyo is cheaper. Two parks next to each other, and not as crowded as the US.

  5. Times Square is nowhere near as crowded or full of lines as Disney. Disney World sounds awful. Why not try Euro Disney?

  6. I live in Tokyo and patronize Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. As an older fellow I hate thrilling rides like roller coasters and drop rides, and things like the Indy ride shake my bones up too much. In general, I consider the two parks walk-through attractions, and we wander around looking at things, riding unpopular rides (e.g., DisneySea’s Sinbad — a great ride, a dark version of Small World — and the merry go round, and in Disneyland, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse) as well as leisurely rides like the boat.

    Then we eat at scenic restaurants — DisneySea has two or three that have sections that overlook some interesting scenery.

    Then the shows, slthough those are becoming popular. And maybe a couple of rides that we can aget FastPasses on. Then some sitting on benches. To hell with the popular rides.

    DisneySea in particular works as a giant walkthrough attraction, it’s so interestingly designed, complete with fake volcano. A geology professor did a tongue-in-cheek technical explanation of the geology of the fake volcano on television the other night: they really put a lot of work into making it realistic, but weird.

    The Tokyo parks are getting more crowded, but not anywhere near as bad as you are describing for Florida. And if you choose off days, weekdays, or inclement weather, there are fewer crowds.

    Off topic: Why are long-range business jets all on the large size, 15 to 20 people? Would a 6- to 8-person jet that could go New York to Tokyo not hit any sweet spot, financially?

  7. I remember reading somewhere that, until say 20-30 years ago, Disney parks operated like premium versions of regular amusement parks, charging a somewhat reasonable price for a day of fun, having served as just another attraction for people enjoying the interstate highway system. Then management realized that the two parks had become destinations unto themselves and people were spending thousands of dollars to get to them. They figured out that they could jack up prices to capture more of that revenue, and they were right. I would love to go see the wonders, but at that price and crowd level, no thanks!

  8. > The guides cost $500 per hour…

    Madre de Dios! For that amount of money, those guides had better do things that aren’t proper subjects for a Disney film, and I’m not talking about making the brooms carry the buckets in Fantasia. OK they have to escort up to 10 people – but that’s a lot of scratch. I really have to ask: what do you get for that $500 an hour? I’m sure it’s G-rated, but is it worth it? Do you at least avoid any crowds?

    The price is astronomical for the experience. Sure, it’s a beautiful place, they work hard to create the ambience and the experience, but what good is that if being there is a slog? I don’t want to spend four or five hours in a day standing in line.

  9. Disney is two decades passed the point of needing a third amusement park in the U.S. When I visited Disney World in the late 1990’s you couldn’t see pavement in the Magic Kingdom and wait times were pushing 3 hours.

    For the early part of the 2000’s if you picked the right day Disneyland in Anaheim could be quite enjoyable. Now it’s a nightmare just like Disney World.

    I’ve wondered how Disney can get away with allowing so many people in either park. There is no way they could evacuate all those people in an orderly or timely fashion in the event of a natural or man made disaster. It’s ridiculous.

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