There's a Mouse in My Pocket! A Guide to Disney World's Upcharge Events

September 24, 2015, 1:55 PM · Theme Park Insider has offered some wonderfully intelligent, thought-provoking articles (many authored by Robert) on the sea change in Walt Disney World’s marketing strategy that has witnessed a wholesale shift repositioning Disney from a middle-class working America park to a premium brand designed to attract the wealthy. And many people feel that the “American middle class” is shrinking faster than the ride count at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

It seems that, lately, Disney pricing is truly getting out of (gloved) hand and, subsequently, the fiscal reach of most American families... all while Disney is laughing all the way to Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.

Toy soldier
"Excuse me. Gotta check your ticket for this."

However, I’m not going to examine this from socio-economic and political standpoint or analyze how American society in general has stagnated because of the current economy, because frankly this isn’t the forum for it and I also just fell asleep while writing this sentence, so it must be pretty boring.

What doesn’t bore me are things that affect my wallet, especially while on vacation. So in this article I’m going to conduct an assessment from the point of view of an irritated consumer who goes to Walt Disney World and witnesses the paper money fly from his wallet like animated butterflies in Fantasia. Now since this a genteel family website I will replace any of my angry expletives with the titles of obscure Disney films....

Part one of this two-parter will explore the cost of special event with the hard ticket seasonal parties, the ubiquitous add-on dessert parties, and other assorted upsells. Part two will follow-up with character meals where Disney's stars charge more for an appearance and spend less time with you than a candidate at a political fundraiser. (Now, I will grant you that Goofy would surpass what most American politicos are offering us these days.) Then there are those omnipresent Magic Bands that have bolstered the Disney coffers by making it exceptionally easy to spend all the money you care to spend and then some! But's that's all to come in part two.

Hard- (to Swallow) Ticket Events

There is a dirty new buzzword in WDW folks and it is called... upcharge. This word is derived from the original Latin phrase meaning — you are being charged up the Apple Dumpling Gang.

Now, if you haven’t been to Disney World since those halcyon days when buying a Blu-Ray player would actually cost you more money than a one-day, one-person, one-park admission ticket to the Magic Kingdom, then allow me to let you in on a little secret: Them days are over, buddy (and buddette.)

But Disney isn’t stopping at merely raising its prices on mundane things such as tickets, meals, souvenirs, and dining. Oh, no. They are now marketing a multitude of “experiences” above and beyond what you get for your $105.00 plus $6.83 in tax, a $111.83 1-Day Theme Park Magic Your Way Ticket to the Magic Kingdom.

(P.S. $111.83 dollars! American? Are you Flubber kidding me? I’m fairly certain this is false advertising as this is not really Magic My Way, because my way would be to pay far less than $111.83, perhaps by using some sort of coupon or possibly the type of indentured servitude as portrayed in Cinderella. I would give the interior of the castle a light dusting in exchange for a ticket discount; I mean it all seems fairly easy when accompanied by cute animated creatures and montage music.)

Disney has long offered access to holiday parties and special events that aren’t included in your standard park admission ticket, but these days not only are those prices rising but here come more upcharges and add-ons marching inexorably forward like the toy soldiers in the Disney Christmas Parade.

Let's Trick or Treat on September 5th!

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party may not be so scary, but its ticket prices sure are! Once upon a time, the ticket prices were tolerable, but not only have the prices risen, but thanks to the introduction of date-based pricing levels, when you go now makes a difference in the price you pay.

Of course, the cheapest time to go is in early September, because who doesn’t love to wear a multi-layered, elaborate costume when it’s 96 degrees out? In the shade. At night.

September is also smack-dab in what we Floridians call the rainy season, which consists of the entire calendar year except for three cold days in January and 18 sunny ones scattered throughout summer. Then there’s the joy of those September thunderstorms popping up exactly the moment when you are furthest from the park exit, on the very same day you forgot your bag of $15 ponchos in the hotel room.

Oftentimes, it rains for so many days in a row that some Orlando residents seriously consider constructing an ark and gathering up traditional Florida fauna such as two lizards, two mosquitoes, and two snowbirds.

Not to mention that fact that in September, technically the nearest holiday is actually Labor Day, not Halloween. Maybe the MNSSHP should reflect this and the kids should all wear worker costumes — the Pluto Proletariat.

Or just rename the September event to something more apropos: Mickey’s Go-to-Work-on-Labor-Day-to-Pay-for-Your-Trip Party. All the guests can dress up as cast members and perform those jobs while the cast enjoys the holiday off. Of course, Disney would likely try to extend the event by starting in August, which might interfere with all the Frozen Summer Fun.

Let’s take a closer look at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Using a typical family of four on an average price ticket day (remember that the cost fluctuates based on the month and day you choose to attend.)

2 Adult Party Tickets = $68
2 Child Party Tickets = $63
Total with Tax = $279

Enter the new Disney up-charge model here to Robin Hood you of more of your money. The new hard-ticket upcharge within the hard-ticket upcharge Halloween Party is the Happy HalloWishes Dessert Party. That's $69 per adult and $39 per child.

What is included in this upcharge? You get a reserved location to watch Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade, followed by dessert at the ubiquitous MK destination for all things up-charged, the Tomorrowland Terrace, which doubles as a viewing area for Happy HalloWishes Nighttime Spectacular.

So you’re paying for two things you can receive for the discounted price of free: a view of the parade and the HalloWishes fireworks show. Plus dessert. Granted there is a large selection, but really how much candy and sweets can you and your kids eat? I sincerely doubt its $69 and $39 dollars worth, respectively.

And if you personally allow your child to consume $39 worth of candy, chocolate, and assorted sweets at 9 or 10pm before going back to your hotel room to retire for the evening, well then I guess it really is worth the price because it’ll be just like getting a free ticket to Halloween Horror Nights!

So to sum up this little excursion: attending a MNSSHP with the Dessert package add-on will cost you a total of nearly $500.00 for a family of four. That’s $500 to spend five-plus hours in the Magic Kingdom (the party is from 7pm until Midnight, though you can enter the park as early as 3pm.) Five hours of entertainment, at the rate of roughly $100 an hour.

And the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is even more expensive. Here is the pricing for the cheapest party nights:

2 Adult Party Tickets = $74
2 Child Party Tickets = $69
Total with Tax = $304.60

Holy Shaggy Dog, that’s a lot of Disney Dollars!

It's Just Not a Party Without Dessert

Still don’t agree that the number of these “not-included-with-your-park ticket admission add-ons” are getting completely out of hand and multiplying like the little snowmen from Frozen Fever? Well, consider this comprehensive list of upsells that recently have been and/or are currently being offered by Disney.

(A quick note, I’m not going to include dinner packages in this list, such as Fantasmic!, because at least you’re getting dinner with your show, instead of just heartburn from the bill.)

Happy HalloWishes Dessert Party
Already well covered.

Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party
This is the original, but has recently morphed into the “newly enhanced” Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party.

IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party

Feel the Force Premium Package

Feel the Force Deluxe Premium Package
Our first add-on to an add-on… This has everything the Premium Package offers and adds on these benefits: allows guests to follow behind the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, provides reserved seating for all of the celebrity talk shows, and offers priority access to Darth’s Mall. This also comes with a commemorative lanyard and credential.

The Merry & Bright Dessert Party

The Merry & Bright Dinner Reception

Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package

Villains Unleashed Party

Epcot after Hours Wind Down (2014)

Harambe Nights (2014)

Harambe Nights Premium Experience (2014)

Frozen Holiday Premium Package (2014)

Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise
This is the newest upsell.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Pirate League

Whew! That’s a lot of add-ons, up sells, and hard tickets. Have you noticed that nearly all of these rather expensive parties feature one common denominator? Yup. Dessert.

Why do you think that is? Because dessert is something cheap and easy to mass produce. This in turn, means a bigger bottom line and larger profit margin for Disney. And a bigger waistline for you if you attend enough of these things.

Also a lot of these take place at Disney's Hollywood Studios, because there are so few attractions there currently, that you will gladly pay money to have something to do.

Now, of course I realize there is an easy solution to this… Just don’t buy the tickets. Don’t go to the parties. But your kids are going to want to go; heck, I want to go. But it’s getting less and less affordable to do so. And the upsells are merely an obvious indicator of the much larger, more widespread problem at Walt Disney World. Just the tip of the Matterhorn, if you will.

The worst place to get hit is not the face, but the bank account. And that makes people angry, especially longtime loyal customers who feel like they have been swept aside as if by all the magically autonomous brooms in Fantasia.

Stay tuned for part two, which will cover the financial impact of Character Dining, Unique Dining Experiences, and Magic Bands.

Replies (9)

September 24, 2015 at 2:31 PM · Yikes! We start our Disney World trip on Tuesday (9/29). This was such a great article, I'm looking forward to part 2. Also hoping it is posted prior to Tuesday.
September 24, 2015 at 3:13 PM · In between all the "it's too expensive" diatribes (what's new in Central Florida?) there's some really good info summarized here for folks to utilize in their vacation planning. Nice work.

As for upcharges in general, just like anything else, you gotta pay your money to get your fix. Or simply say "no" and do the hundreds of other fun things that are included with your paid admission. For me and mine, I usually skip the upcharge attractions unless it makes financial sense (if I only have half a day to spend in the park, paying a reduced admission rate for MNSSHP makes a little more sense).

September 24, 2015 at 3:45 PM · There was a time I could sit watching a firework-show at MK but now it's roped off for the dessert stuff.
There was a time I could see Illuminations from Italy's island, but not anymore.
There was a time when each guest was equal but not anymore.
And please don't give me the "it's a business" spiel. It has always been a business, but it hadn't always the best locations behind an extra paywall. It just greed from the Disney Company (I don't call it Disney anymore, not sure if he would approve what is done in his name).
There was a time I would love to go to WDW but...
September 24, 2015 at 4:39 PM · Another great one, Paul. I absolutely love your writing style and your talent for pointing out the absurd.
September 25, 2015 at 6:09 AM · Great article, Paul!

I almost feel sorry for the parents of little ones these days. Back when my kids were little, parents could be heroes for just taking the family to Disney for a few days. Nowadays that's just a starting point, and you don't get the "you're awesome" appellation until you throw in a few upcharges.

Hopefully these upcharges are used to help keep the regular ticket prices down. Yeah, hopefully.....

September 25, 2015 at 8:43 AM · Sadly a lot of this comes from the laws of supply and demand. As long as people keep booking these events, Disney will continue to expand them and up the prices until there's a critical mass. I've grown increasingly frustrated with the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival events that have gotten ridiculously expensive (and non-refundable) that you have to book 3-4 months in advance, essentially blind since anything newer offerings not previously held are complete mysteries to booking guests aside from the brief description (some don't even have specific menus).

Unfortunately, there little that guests can do aside from not feeding the monster. However, there are those with the means and desire for these events that there's little chance the proliferation and increased cost of these events will slow down. What you have to do is select one or two upcharge events during a trip that are really important or special to you and fit into your budget. Maybe it means not buying that souvenir or staying at a off-site budget hotel instead of an on-site hotel, but that's the new reality of a WDW vacation.

September 26, 2015 at 12:08 PM · I thought all the upcharges were paying for the brand new rides that Disney opens yearly instead of just doing cheap overlays, character meets and reusing ride systems.

I'm glad WDW has world class attractions like Captain EO (unless they close it to preview another terrible movie that no one will see) to hold us over until Avatar and Maelstrom Frozen open after years of construction. Making a Soarin seat look a dragon and a polar bear into an ice monster is work only a Mickey Mouse imagineer could do in several years time.

I can't wait to buy the new $10 cupcake when they open

September 28, 2015 at 2:58 PM · I read a great editorial recently that said part of the reason that people get so upset when flying is that they're herded past first class when they get on. You get to witness comfort on your way to be treated like crap.

Now Disney's getting in on the game. Sorry, kids, but you have to sit 100 yards over there behind that tree in order to catch a glimpse of the parade, while me and Lord Fauntleroy set on cushioned seats in the front row. Oh, your $12 fried crap is horrible? I'll think of you while I'm at Cathay circle enjoying fresh fish.

If only to be one of Disney's one percenters. But unfortunately I'm just a plebe.

September 29, 2015 at 5:36 PM · I wouldn't mind the special hard-ticket events if they were genuine extra hours events, but they're not. Instead they close the park easier than usual to fit in a hard-ticket event, robbing the people who (quite possibly unknowing of the event) visited that day with regular tickets.

The prices is however nothing short of scandalous.

The pricing of the up-charge events annoys me less, because you can just avoid them and you're not missing out on anything.

If people are stupid enough to pay hundreds of $s for a dessert and a free show that they could have seen anyway, then that's their choice.
I wish they wouldn't perhaps wouldn't be so eager to create so many.

It seems that no matter what they launch and no matter how much they charge, there people lineing up for tickets.
I would just love to know what all these people are earning to be able to throw maybe $500 away on a dessert party.

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