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?