A reader who works at the resort emailed an interesting piece of information she'd picked up during a recent staff meeting. She wrote that the executive in the meeting said that Walt Disney World's target household income for its visitors is $80,000 a year and up. Given that the median household income in the United States is about $54,000 a year, this report would seem to confirm what many Disney fans have been saying in recent years — that Walt Disney World has become out of reach for many middle-income Americans.
About one-third of American households have a combined income of $80,000 a year or more, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That would put two-thirds of Americans outside of Disney's reported target market. (You can blame Disney for its rising prices, or you can blame a U.S. economy where workers' incomes haven't kept up with their productivity increases since the 1970s. But that's another vote, for another time.)
Obviously, $80 grand isn't a hard cut-off. I can tell you from personal experience that $80,000 in Orlando buys a lot more than $80,000 buys in Southern California. (And this is where our readers in New York City and San Francisco reach for a drink... before realizing that they can't afford one.) Many families who earn less than that find ways to get to Walt Disney World and enjoy a vacation there. But with each price increase, that becomes tougher to do.
Disney isn't the only option in Orlando, either. The first trade-off many Disney fans make is to stay off-site, instead of at an on-property Walt Disney World hotel. Some theme park fans even opt for skipping Disney and putting together days at Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Legoland, the beach, or other area attractions to enjoy their Central Florida vacations.
But with Universal raising its prices to keep pace with Disney, even the "non-Disney" Orlando vacation option is becoming more expensive. Disney and Universal are the attractions that make the Orlando area unique among vacation destinations. If you can't afford to visit either of them, you're probably asking whether you should look elsewhere for your vacation.
How are you feeling these days about the affordability of an Orlando-area theme park vacation? Is it still a great deal for you, or are you finding it more difficult to make happen? Or have you decided to look elsewhere for your family vacations? It's Vote of the Week time.
Tell us in the comments what you're doing to make your vacation affordable, whether it's to the Orlando area or elsewhere this year. And, as always, thank you for being part of the Theme Park Insider community.
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Of course, failing in getting DVC is not the end of the story. You can trade for some top Orlando resorts to stay although you'll need to rent a car to get to your destination. Timeshare resorts are much more comfortable than hotel suites. They are one, two, or three bedroom configurations with full sized kitchens and washers/dryers for convenience. Pools usually have spas and slides. Most have activity centers for the kids (no extra charge).
Save by not doing too much. Concentrate on a few attractions like only Disney or Universal as that seems to be the trick. Spend more time at the resorts as you're paying for that too. The Resort amenities should be used to your advantage like the pool. If your room has a refrigerator, I highly recommend eating breakfast in your room. You can keep some lunches like sandwiches refrigerated for bringing into the parks. Bring your own water bottles (or empty if you're going to Universal). I will bring my own soda bottles, which will cost up to $4 in the parks.
Take advantage of the off season prices. This may not be available to the non-local so plan accordingly.
This recent increase is simple supply and demand. Not all can afford a trip to Disney, not all can afford a lot of things. Such is life.
Personally, I haven't thought Disney onsite hotels are worth their price for a long time. For most of them, there's just not enough extra value received for the price you pay to justify staying onsite vs. off. The cost of the tickets is high, but not enough to turn me away yet. Honestly, I get twitchy if I spend more than about 1 day in the resort, so I won't be spending a lot on tickets there anyway :-).
Universal, on the other hand, has always seemed to provide EXCELLENT onsite hotel value when you factor in unlimited express, the ability to walk to the parks, pet-friendly, etc. Admittedly, I do have the advantage of being able to tap into Florida resident or annual passholder discounts. And, speaking of the annual pass, it also remains a good deal for us. We've had our Preferred passes for years and intend to keep them as the price of renewal is considerably lower than if we were buying them from scratch again. And the discounts/benefits we get with those passes have always seemed to more than justify the renewal expense.
What I worry about, though, is that as Universal adds hotels that have different price points and levels of onsite benefits (i.e. not all express, not all pet-friendly) we WILL eventually be priced out of our favorite RPR. It hasn't happened yet, but it IS a concern.
Also, while I love to see the investment that's being put into Universal, I worry that with more hotels the parks will become more crowded and our lovely, relaxed vacations will become more like Disney stress-fests. I dread the day I feel like I have to make a reservation for every meal at Universal.... Luckily, I think that's still some years away :-).
Now that I've moved half way across the country I will probably never get back to Orlando. Not because of time or ability to travel. It's just too expensive. I could save, but it's not worth it too me. I've spent many years going to all the Orlando parks, but the rising cost isn't justified by my desire to go back there. And the parks would have to make much more significant changes than they are to entice me back.
There are so many parks across the U.S. alone that I want to get to that are way cheaper than the Orlando parks. So there really is no NEED to go back to Orlando.
As for Universal, it's just as expensive as Disney -- more so, when you compare their on-site hotels to Disney's value resorts. Let's face it, running a theme park and building/maintaining complex themed attractions costs a bloody fortune. They will never charge the same as a Six Flags, where the latest star attraction cost $10-20 million (at most) to build. At a theme park, major attractions cost $100 million (at least).
Priced out is a little confusing. As a theme park fan, of course I'm going to force myself to save for a theme park vacation. What else would I spend my money on? :) However, in the past I may have thought about a theme park vacation and a non-park vacation in the same year. Lately it has been more of an either/or decision because of costs.
The bigger issue for me has been friends and family. Living in SoCal, a trip to Disneyland was always planned with visiting friends and family. Now, I won't recommend that option unless they mention it first as I don't want to burden people (and myself) with the crazy costs. I know a lot of extended families travel together to Orlando and I'm wondering what impact it might have if one of the families can no longer afford the trip.
Customer: "When are you going to add another E-ticket attraction?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"
Customer: "Can you do something to expand capacity at your most popular rides?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"
Customer: "Why do you shut down whole areas of the park at times when the parks are still crowded?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"
Customer: "Couldn't you have taken just a small portion of the $1.5 billion spent designing MagicMoney+ and used it on one or two new E-ticket attractions, instead?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"
Customer: "W.D. executives, don't you know that your jobs depend on maintaining the long-term goodwill of your customers? Can't you see that you're near the tipping point where you lose that goodwill?" Executives: "@%#$ you, pay me!"
Last of all I gave up playing golf in Florida. To play a good course it now is in the one hundred dollar neighborhood. We have two Arnold Palmer designed courses near Detroit you can play for under $35. Try to find that in Orlando.
Depending on what gets announced for 2016 (and if Universal does target 2017 for Ministry of Magic), we might stay away for another year, which would be the longest we've stayed away from Central Florida since my wife and I started dating 18 years ago. It really has far more to do with the lack of new attraction over the next year or 2 than the prices.
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