Why Disney World's pricing structure ensures it will remain Orlando's theme park leader
Universal Orlando today matched Walt Disney World's recent ticket price increase, offering a one-park, one-park ticket for $85 and a one-day "park to park" (Universal's phrase for Disney's "park hopper") for $120, just as Disney now does.
Fans queue for early entrance to Universal's Islands of Adventure last summer.
Pricing, more than any other factor perhaps, shows why SeaWorld's been suffering for attendance and why the Universal Orlando parks continue to lag the Disney parks.
Remember, most people who visit Central Florida visit Walt Disney World during their trip. And once you've bought a couple days at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disney makes it absurdly cheap to add extra days at a Disney theme park. Once you've bought three days of theme park tickets at Disney, it costs just $9 to add a fourth day. Then it's just $8 to add each additional day beyond that, up to 10 days total.
Given that the Walt Disney World Resort has four theme parks, it's easy to visitors to justify a three- or four-day visit to the resort. Once they've committed to that, then, it's dirt-cheap for families to stay with Disney for the rest of their vacation.
So if you want to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when you're in Orlando, but you're visiting Disney World, too, you're looking at $85 for your day at Universal Orlando versus $8 to skip Potter and spend an extra day at Disney instead.
Let's say that you're dead-set on seeing Harry Potter, though, and commit to spending the extra $85, or $120 if you want to see both Universal theme parks in one day. To add a second day at Universal Orlando would cost you an extra $31 if you're going with one-park-per-day tickets or an extra $16 if you bought the park-to-park.
Even the $16 charge to add second day at Universal is twice the $8 to go back and spend an extra day at Disney.
Let's say you do two days at Universal anyway, one for each park. A third day at Universal is still more expensive than that extra day at Disney - $20 for a third day on a one-park-per-pay ticket ($136 if bought online) and $15 extra for the third day with park-to-park ($151 online). I imagine that at this point, most people go for the cheaper ticket and return to Disney.
Remember, the TEA/AECOM attendance report counts a "visitor" as each person who visits a park in a single day. If you come back and visit a park on another day, you're counted as an additional visitor. It's those multiple, repeat visits that help pump up the numbers for the Disney theme parks, as visitors return for their additional $8 days.
Given the price advantage that Disney holds, as well as the fact that Universal raised its ticket prices substantially before Harry Potter opened, it speaks to the popularity of the Wizarding World that Universal's attendance in 2010 rose as much as it did.
But the Universal Orlando theme parks are never going to catch the Walt Disney World Resort parks, unless Universal becomes popular enough that the majority of its visitors decide to skip Disney altogether when they visit Orlando. It's hard for me to see that happening without several more "Harry Potter"-level expansion at the Universal Orlando Resort.
For SeaWorld, the numbers are even more grim. Before Harry Potter, SeaWorld may have been the "second choice" destination for many more Walt Disney World visitors. SeaWorld's attendance decline this year suggests that SeaWorld's slipped to "third choice" for most visitors now. As a third choice, SeaWorld's $72 online sale price for a one-day ticket not only has to compete with that $8 marginal cost for an additional day at Disney, it also has to compete with that $15 or $20 marginal cost for a third day at Universal Orlando. As we see from the attendance numbers, fewer and fewer Orlando-area visitors are opting to do that.
SeaWorld's trying to compete on price. It's $72 ticket is the cheapest for non-Florida residents. And it offers a second day free for online buyers, as well. But $72 is still a lot more than $20, $15 or $8. SeaWorld's going to have to find its own Harry Potter to get back into this mix.
Is there any hope for Universal and SeaWorld to catch Disney? Yes, but they'd have to work together. Right now, Universal and SeaWorld are part of an "Orlando Flex Ticket" that gives you up to 14 consecutive days at those three theme parks (plus the Wet n' Wild and Aquatica water parks) for $275. That's the same price as an eight-day base ticket to the four Disney theme parks. Most Americans don't take 14-day vacations, though. And if I had to pick one ticket or the other for my $275, there's more to do at the four Disney World theme parks to fill a week than at the Universal Orlando theme parks and SeaWorld.
For what it's worth, Universal doesn't even mention the FlexTicket on its main ticket page online any longer. You can find it only on the SeaWorld website.
Perhaps more people would choose the Universal/SeaWorld combination as their first choice if those parks offered a truly integrated ticketing system to challenge Disney's "Magic Your Way" ticket structure. Match Disney World on day-to-day price, but offer admission to Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida and Busch Gardens Tampa as part of the ticket. Five parks for the price of Disney's four.
Ultimately, so long as so many Central Florida visitors include Disney as part of their vacations, Disney will retain its price advantage over the other area theme parks, under the "Magic Your Way" price structure. If those other theme parks are going to break that system, they're simply going to have to find a way - working together or alone - to convince more visitors to start skipping Disney.
Articles like these are the reason I love coming back to this site. Some truly great analysis.
Great article. One thing, I don't mind paying the high prices AS LONG as it's reinvested back into the parks. Keep giving me new attractions to have me come back and see me $ working.
The affordability of Universal's AP has convinced me to skip Disney. While I love the Disney parks, the initial investment is so great that it's not an option. Yes, it is insanely cheap to add a few days but when my vacation costs $800 and $900 for a lesser hotel, for the same time period... I'm going to choose Universal hands down. I do agree that Disney has a hold over the masses though. Once I graduate college and have a more stable salary I may think differently.
We visited with the family for the 18th time from the UK in April and this time we purchased a combined Disney and Universal pass. This cost around $2060 for 15 days for 2 adults and 2 teens, $137 per day.. I think this is pretty good value for money, considering we could come and go as we pleased. However, I still object to the MASSIVE cost of parking!!!, it's outrageously expensive!!,,,,
I agree, this was some excellent analysis and it's really gotten me thinking. I also want to see my money spent well.
Informative article, Robert! Thank you.
Mike I'm not sure why you would pay $85 JUST to do WWOHP. IOA is an amazing park with lots of stuff for the kiddies. Seuss Landing neighbors the Wizarding World and has lots of fun kid friendly rides. You also have Spiderman, Ripsaw, and Popeye's.Then have iconic rides such as Jurassic Park and the Hulk which have a child swap area. WWOHP Also has more than just FJ. There is a great family coaster that as incredible queue theming, Olivanders, and a few shops that I could honestly spend hours in.
While I am one of those who love both Disney and Universal I do lean toward going to Universal when I visit Orlando because I am in my 20's and have no kids, and Universal has as many if not more thrill rides as Disney. That being said I dont really agree about how much cheaper Disney is on multi day passes than Universal. Yes Disney is really cheap on adding days after 4 days and I know that Disney has 4 parks instead of 2 but at disney a 4 day park to park pass is $298 per person where as a Universal 4 day park to park pass is $156 per person. While I agree that a lot of people wont do both Disney and Universal because of the price of buying 2 sets of tickets to 2 different parks I think that if Universal was $15 cheaper on their tickets I dont think it would help their attendance as much as it would hurt their bottom line. Sure Universal could let poeple in for $10 apiece and probably crush Disney in attendance, but having a buisness is about making money not winning an attendance contest.
Universal should find a way tap the James Bond and Star Trek franchises, and Sea World should team up with Stargate (Atlantis). Nationally, theme parks would feel the pressure, so while we're at it, let's magically join Six Flags and the Matrix or Predator. That would leave one major (MAJOR) franchise untouched. Cedar Fair, welcome The Lord of the Rings into your parks. Say what you will, Mount Doom and the Eye of Sauron would put Michigan's Adventure on the map!
Ashleigh- I know exactly what you're talking about and I do understand that some people just do want to go to WWOHP and don't care about the cost. But when I have seen numerous people come back to say "I paid $85 to ride 2 rides and it was not worth it!" I get a bit worked up. I in no way meant to flame anyone just to explain that IOA is a great park. But, some people just won't come over to the dark side.
Disney is hard to beat, but it is still beatable. Most people have 7 days to visit. Sure, it is nearly full price for days 1 to 3, but if you're like me and want to visit Universal, SeaWorld, and The Space Center, it SAVES by visiting Disney less, much less.
Oh I would also like to add that Universal eliminated the 7-day ticket all together. Instead they have a 14day ticket that allows you to park hop AND go to wet and wild. The price is $194. Again with the annual price lecture above. The ticket isn't worth it with the discounted savings.
My only comment is does Universal and the Sea World parks need or want to beat Disney???
File this article under "Best of Niles'"
Well, if you dont dillydally, you can do Universal in a day. I usually do everything I want to by noon or 1. Disney however requires several days because of the massiv resort, and they price there tickets reasonably.
I don't get why a few of you are praising this article. The author is suggesting that the pricing at Universal and SeaWorld is wrong and they should join forces to challenge Disney. However, the reader comments suggest just the opposite with many saying they've gone to visit Universal and I believe one said they went to Universal exclusively. Based on the comments it would seem that Disney's aggressive discounting of their gate for longer visits doesn't really keep people at their parks and away from their competition.
I think SeaWorld is under severe pressure. Attendance declines don't help. Orlando is a saturated market. Disney dominates.
Anon Mouse: Disney has some major weaknesses that can be exploited. The lack of cutting edge attractions.
(Apology if double posts)
Ok, so does this mean the Orlando flexticket is only available to UK visitors. Because that is a ticket that covers 14 days unlimited visits to Seaworld, Aquatica, Universal, IOA, Wet 'n' Wild and Busch Gardens. For £210.
"Again, is this just your opinion or a widespread belief? Is there any published data that accommodates the assertion that there has been a decline in customer service or quality?"
Eric G writes: I don't get why a few of you are praising this article.
"Probably because it is well researched, backed up by facts and maintains consistency with the TEA report."
No, Anon Mouse, I do not necessarily disagree.
Yes, Anon Mouse, "Probably."
The post is great, for the one who ask why. Is the detailed description of choices and prices...
Disney wins by attrition. They packed their parks to the gills and taken most of the tourists' money so there is no way out. They also have a very cohesive message on what their vacations are based on. As such, the other parks should try tactics to their advantage.
Francisco the Anonymous poster writes: "I'm glad a lot of people here (in this particular post) are so NOT Disney Magically blinded. I'm surprised with so many people loving Disney like they were in a "cult" and refusing to give any of the others GREAT parks any props at all."
Noticed Anon Mouse has not seen fit to defend the assertion about Disney ("The decline of all their parks in quality and customer service.")
@TH Creative - I like Disney, I enjoy my vacations in Orlando, regardless if I'm in Disney or any other park I think Disney does a great job in a lot of areas. I don't think it has the best rides individually. I'm not a family oriented guy, in terms of rides. So I think the "others" have more thrilling rides. Does, more interesting/better in my book. I know a lot of other people are looking for a more Family oriented experience, I have no problem with that.
@Th Creative by the way it was "Me" the last post (The anonymous poster "Francisco") - Another thing SOME of US the Theme Park loving folks, NOT in love with any park franchise in particular, can tell when people are Blinded by Disney's "Magic". If some people can't, well I'd guess that's that...
FWIW, I totally agree with your assessment, Robert.
The TEA/AECOM report isn't explicit about this, but back in the days when it was ERA (before it was bought by AECOM) doing the report for Amusement Business one of the people there told me that the report tried to account for just the first gate of the day. So a second visit that day to another park wouldn't count. Don't know if that's still the case, as different chains might have different policies on that.
The chance was very simple for Sea world and to a lesser extent Universal to compete with Disney on a "level" playing field. But it was lost when the decision was to save money on intitial construction cost and not long term success via Legoland being built in Winter Haven over Universal's remaining property near the convention center or on their traditional area and connecting it via the canals to City Walk. This would have given the I-Drive corridor IOA to compete with MK (closer than many think), Hollywood Studios to Universal Studios (easily Universal), Sea World to Animal Kingdom (Sea World) and Epcot would overwhelm Legoland (but at least a fourth park). Furthermore Aquatica & Wet'n Wild would compete with Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon pretty fairly. Toss is some arrangements with some of I-Drive's secondary attractions (Ripley's, Wonderworks & Mini Golf) and the vacations would be quite comparable. Universal could also when vacationers with only boys or create a rotation via legoland versus the Disney Princess faction.
Mr. Francisco, I am not sure what you mean by "blinded." I think Walt Disney World represents the best in themed entertainment because its parks are emersive. However simply because someone rates the WDW themed experience as the one they favor certainly does not mean that person does not recognize the extraordinary attractions and entertainment of other parks.
@Th Creative. Who the heck are you? We can drag this to eternity as you have shown. Let's keep bringing up the decline of WDW's quality and level of service. Yes, let's keep bringing it up.
@Anon Mouse you made the claim ("The decline of all their parks in quality and customer service") and I simply responded by asking a question ("... is this just your opinion or a widespread belief? Is there any published data that accommodates the assertion that there has been a decline in customer service or quality?")
@TH creative- I agree with some of your points. But in the "Blinded" point that seems to irritate you (chuckle), I stick by that 100%. I do see it, and have seen it. Even by "some" TPI regulars, saying stuff like lets wait and see what Disney's come up with to beat HP. That HP is a momentary thing it will pass, and how Universal's still not worth a visit. I've read those comments here (more than once). I won't look for then cause really is too much work... But although I don't register (and haven't always commented either) I've come to TPI since around 2006, is not "2002" but it does gives me a large sampler.
@TH creative- Again my previous comment - "Francisco" forgot to...
One guy I know tried to start a pricing revolution with Disney because he was upset about the price increase. His curiously flawed logic was to boycott Disney merchandise to lower prices. He thought that to make up for the money lost in merch sales, they would have to lower the prices of the gate to let more people in. I tried to tell him that it just might raise the merch prices and not affect the gate prices, or if anything raise them more.
Well for me, as a UK visitor, Disney costs are more expensive when compared to the flexiticket which covers universal, sea world, busch gardens, wet n wild & aquatica which I would normally buy hands down.
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