Are Disney tickets too expensive?

September 14, 2016, 7:33 PM · Are Disney tickets too expensive? With the price for a one-day, one-park ticket topping $100 on most days at both the Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts, many fans might answer "yes."

But other consumers know that Disney's hardly alone in charging $100 and up for a day's entertainment. In fact, many popular tourist and entertainment destinations charge that much — and more — for far less than a full day of enjoyment.

In my Orange County Register column this week, I look at some of Disney's competitors and what they are charging these days to suggest that maybe Disney's triple-digit tickets aren't such a bad deal after all. And I remind readers that most visitors to Disney's theme parks aren't paying that sticker-shock, $100-plus-per-day rate, anyway. At the Walt Disney World Resort, most visitors are getting into the parks on multi-day tickets that can drive the price per day of visiting Disney under $50.

And here at Disneyland in California, many if not most visitors have annual passes, with which a day at the parks can cost less than going to the movies, if you visit often enough.

Compare that with a day skiing at a major resort, a round of golf on a top-quality course, seeing a Broadway show or top-name concert, or going to a pro sports game. The cost of any of those could top the price of even the most expensive one-day Disneyland or Disney World ticket. Yes, we're Theme Park Insider and we're biased in favor of theme park entertainment here, but I think that just about any reasonable consumer would agree that a Disney theme park can deliver just as much, if not more, entertainment as any of those other diversions.

Of course, none of this answers the question "is it too much?" Heck, it's possible, maybe even likely, that all high-quality out-of-home destination entertainment in this country is grossly overpriced at this point. But that raises much broader economic issues.

Fortunately, theme parks — and not just Disney's — do offer those multi-day tickets, annual and seasonal passes, and other discounts that make visiting the parks affordable for many families than might not be able to drop more than $100 per person, per day for some fun time out of the house. So when you compare time at the parks with other ways to entertain the family, you might find that going to Disney (or Universal or some other park) is a pretty good deal, after all.

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Replies (39)

September 14, 2016 at 8:03 PM · On an individual basis, it's not that much, but for a family, it hurts a lot. Disney's APs are worse for it will cost $2000 for a family of 4 if you want to have a pass with unblocked weekends. For a vacation, a several days pass will cost a family at least $1000. So the alternatives are looking much better and affordable.
September 14, 2016 at 8:18 PM · Just because those other things are expensive, it really doesn't justify Disney's prices. That's a fallacy of relative privation. Disney is expensive because shareholders demand profit. Call it what it is and pay the money or don't. It's a luxury. Your argument that "Those other people charge a lot too" is weak and privileged, and typical of an Orange County mindset.
September 15, 2016 at 9:52 AM · In related news, Disneyland is ending their discounted ticket program on Friday, September 16.

September 14, 2016 at 11:10 PM · Your analogies aren't really valid.
You're comparing one time event prices (broadway shows, rounds of golf, concerts and sporting events, etc) to a true 'destination' vacation.
You are in essence a 'captive audience' when you take a vacation to Orlando. You came to see Disney and the other major overpriced theme parks for the entire duration. Oh you may see some smaller attractions while there or sit by the hotel pool a couple of days, but you wouldn't have come at all without Disney being there.
And chances are, you brought your whole family and have to pay for everyone to enter the parks (probably not true for broadway shows, rounds of golf, concerts, etc).

Yes, theme parks have become WAY overpriced. They are exceeding the cost of living, wages and inflation rates by several times over and thats just for the admission prices.
Food, drinks, souvenirs, parking, hotels, etc. have increased at an equally high rate of inflation.

I'm glad my kids are grown now, because we used to go nearly every year to Orlando on vacation, but I probably couldn't even afford a long weekend there now.

September 15, 2016 at 12:38 AM · Comparatively speaking they are not overpriced. The comparisons you've drawn are apt. In Australia, a day pass to Warner Brothers Movie World (a good park, but notably inferior to Disney) is $80 (average wage is comparable to the US).

The amount of entertainment for your dollar at these parks is still fantastic, the issue is that they have previously been such great value that the price hikes astound people.

The other way to look at it is simply supply/demand. The parks are still busy, so the price changes haven't significantly affected demand. Until they find the sweet spot on the curve, expect prices to continue to rise.

September 15, 2016 at 3:49 AM · You also should factor in the cost of "front of line access". I'm pretty sure Disney is still the only major theme park operator that does not upcharge or require an on property hotel stay for that perk.
September 15, 2016 at 4:33 AM · Great article Robert, and totally agree.

I am the manager of a tourist attraction in the UK, much MUCH smaller than the theme parks we talk about, but the same principles apply. We charge $15 entry (which includes 20% tax) for what is about a 2 hour visit. A significant number of people complain about the 'high' price yet they will go sit in the pub and spend more than that on drinks, or visit a theatre show and pay $80-$100 etc. etc.

I detect, in the UK at least, people forget these are private businesses and there is often an underlying feeling that visitor attractions/theme parks are somehow a public service/facility that shouldn't cost so much and should be available to everyone regardless of what they can afford. People also forget that whilst in the past attractions and theme park could pretty much stand still, people now expect constant change and 'improvement' which of course costs a lot of money.

September 15, 2016 at 4:38 AM · "Heck, it's possible, maybe even likely, that all high-quality out-of-home destination entertainment in this country is grossly overpriced at this point."

Likely? Try Definitely. Greed is rampant in the entire spectrum of entertainment. Even taking inflation into account, the rise in prices far outstrips the average rise of the rate of pay for 99% of the families in the United States.

September 15, 2016 at 5:12 AM · We visit Florida every year and no longer visit Disney as we consider if to be overpriced. This coupled with the lack of new attractions makes it a no-brainer to find other things to do.
September 15, 2016 at 5:16 AM · The fact is they only charge $100 per day in the off season, it's now $152 during holidays and peak season.
September 15, 2016 at 5:25 AM · This is a great discussion topic. Although I very much agree with this comment from Mike Rhodes -- "people now expect constant change and 'improvement'" -- it's important to point out that in Disney's Florida parks, at least, major attraction openings over the past decade have been few and far between. So much so that in its 2017 guidebook to Florida's major theme parks, one major travel publisher is questioning the cost of admission vs. the value of visiting Disney Hollywood Studios.

- Brian from Florida

September 15, 2016 at 6:46 AM · Spending $100 per person for 4 people isn’t cheap. Adding it up for a 7 day vacation is really not cheap. Buying multi-day passes, cuts the cost a bit (per day), but adding the park hopping and water parks, again makes a vacation a bit expensive.

A Six Flags pass sells for$41 to $66 for a one day pass. This includes the water park and the rides. A season pass is about $70. But I still think that Disney is a far better deal. You get what you pay for. Food is expensive wherever you go, but Six Flags is actually more expensive than Disney, and Disney food is a lot better.

Overall, Disney is a great place to vacation. If they lowered the price, they might get a bigger crowd. I wouldn’t like that!

September 15, 2016 at 6:47 AM · Very few of the comparable attractions require that a person stand in line for 4 or 5 hours during that visit. Take that time off the visit, plus eating and you are paying $100+ for about 5 hours of entertainment.
September 15, 2016 at 8:45 AM · Yes
September 15, 2016 at 10:08 AM · "Very few of the comparable attractions require that a person stand in line for 4 or 5 hours during that visit. "

I take it you haven't been skiing on a holiday weekend, then? ;^)

September 15, 2016 at 10:22 AM · Nowadays more and more attractions are encouraging the purchase of memberships, season passes, and mult-day tickets in order to boost attendance. Single day prices are inflated in order to make the multi-day options seem more attractive. Museums, zoos, theme parks, ski resorts are all doing it.
September 15, 2016 at 10:43 AM · I believe the mindset I hear about from guests visiting here in Florida is captured in the Express Pass. from Universal. People want to pay to wait less and be around less people.

During peak hours, 2 of top complaints I receive every year are "too expensive" and "too crowded". The suggested solution proposed the most is "let less people into the parks". Well raising prices is an attempt to lower attendance...

I think it could be so much better, but i know it could be so much worse.

September 15, 2016 at 11:13 AM · The tickets ate way too expensive if once you get in the park it's so crowded you can't move.
September 15, 2016 at 11:20 AM · Sure it's expensive, but, for multi-day tickets, the value is still there. Plus, who says you have to stay in Disney's deluxe or moderate resorts? You can stay in value resorts, you can do counter service instead of table service, you can bring food into the park, etc. And no one is forced to buy souvenirs (in my opinion, the best souvenirs are the pictures you take). Much of the extra costs are optional.
September 15, 2016 at 11:32 AM · YES YES YES YES YES!
September 15, 2016 at 12:15 PM · I agree with Still a fan, you expect it to be expensive that is why you save for the trip. My families last trip was in 2013 our biggest expense, after air fare, was WDW tickets. We purchased a 5-day pass and it cost approximately $1335,including park hopper, we rented a 3-bedroom condo and it only ran $1175 for the 10 days that we were in Orlando. I just checked the Disney web site and the same 5 day pass is now $1636. Unless my math is really out that's 22.5% increase in 3 years, seems a bit steep.
September 15, 2016 at 12:26 PM · I would say Disney/Universal/et al are just taking advantage of the "charge it" mindset and jacking things up to what the market will bear. Look at NFL & NBA tickets which are both grossly overpriced as well, and you can see theme parks are not way off from those activities. People have no problem financing their vacations anymore with credit cards, and that has jacked up prices as well since it's reducing the upfront cost by spreading it out. If you had to pay the gate in cash or not go, a lot of people would not go and they would reduce admissions. Credit is to blame I think for higher admissions.

My main problem is that the concessions and parking have gotten really, really ridiculous. A bottle of water should not be $5 when it is 100 degrees in Florida. Aramark food service hamburgers are awful, and to be charged $13 for one is just brazen.

September 15, 2016 at 12:28 PM · This is one of those questions that doesn't have a right answer. Is Disney expensive? Absolutely. Is it too expensive? That depends. Someone who visits at least once a year is going to have a much different opinion than someone who visits at most once every few years. Personally, I would say that Disney is not out of line and compares favorably to some other resort destinations (such as ski resorts), particularly when you look at the most popular ticket options (2/3 day tickets in California, 4/5 day tickets in Florida) instead of the one-day ticket price. Yes, it will cost a family a lot more than a day at a regional theme park, but Disney parks are meant to be something different and therefore the higher price is justified.
September 15, 2016 at 1:57 PM · It's funny someone mentioned standing in 5 hours of queues as a reason it's not good value. The queues are a direct reflection of the tickets affordability (not value). The more expensive the tickets are, the shorter the queues.

As for Disney's motives for these prices, profitability is certainly high amongst them (as it is at ALL of the regional and cheaper parks - don't kid yourselves the these places are cheaper due to some altruistic intent). Also amongst their motives is crowd control. Either crowds would be completely insane for cheaper tickets, destroying everyone's experience, or they would have to put a cap on attendance and lock people out, which would justifiably anger shareholders and seasons pass holders.

Disney's price rises were an inevitability. The only way to reduce then is for more competition at a similar level of quality (more than just Universal that is), which the market probably couldn't sustain.

September 15, 2016 at 3:49 PM · It's just another example of corporate greed out of control. Try to watch ESPN these days. It is impossible because over 50% of program airtime are fingerprints Iger are all over these franchises

Remember this site is a unabashed, PR machine for Disney. Don't expect unbiased analysis here.

September 15, 2016 at 8:23 PM · It's so expensive that probably only 19.3 million people instead of 20.5 million people will enter the Magic Kingdom this year. It's so expensive that 3300 people a day are staying away.
September 16, 2016 at 5:39 AM · I just recently moved from Colorado, so I am very familiar with the Ski resorts and their cost/functions. While it can be busy during a weekend or holiday, you can easily hit the slops at most of the major resorts with little to no lines during the weekdays (something that is usually not true for a a Disney park). Also all the major ski resorts offer 'local' season passes at significant discount rates, day passes to locals for a significant discount and even free tickets for events like scout days. So you can do a ski day or trip at a significant discount or even free at times.
September 16, 2016 at 7:30 AM · Are Disney tickets too expensive? Yes. Of course, they are.

In 1982, a ticket to Disneyland cost $12.00. In 2016, that same ticket cost $119. Adjusted for inflation, a ticket to Disneyland would cost $29.95 today. Adjusted for inflation, Disney is charging 4 times as much as they did for a ticket in 1982.

But what about the E-ticket attractions that Disney has added since 1982? Do those E-ticket rides justify the price increases? Well, Disney has not added an E-ticket attraction to Disneyland since Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995. In 1995, a ticket to Disneyland cost $33.00. Adjusted for inflation, that same ticket would cost $52.00 today. Disney is charging a $67 premium per ticket for a park that hasn't changed since 1995.

So what justifies these price increases? Is Disney paying their park employees more? No. Adjusted for inflation, Disney is paying its park workers less than it did in 1982 and 1995. So, where did the extra money go? Michael Eisner, Bob Iger, bad investments and stock buybacks designed to juice the bonuses of Disney executives.

But Disney is a business, they can do what they want, right? Disney doesn't behave like a business in a competitive market, because Disney is a monopoly. In 1998, Disney bribed the U.S. congress to grant them an extended monopoly on characters created by Walt Disney that should now be in the public domain. What would tickets to Disney cost today, if fans of Mickey and Donald and the princesses could meet and greet them at the local Six Flags park?

Wise up, fellow fans. Disney is not your friend. Disney is an abusive monopoly. And Disney's monopolistic practices have jacked up prices for the entire theme park industry.

Want to know more? Google the Copyright Extension Act, aka the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

September 16, 2016 at 7:49 AM · My question is when will the price increases stop? The AP increases over just the past few years were astronomical. Then came the very high priced special events like the Jungle Cruise Brunch for $300 plus per person, the Blue Bayou Halloween dinner for $150 per person, on top of park admission on top of Mickey's Halloween Party tickets. And the Frozen Hyperion pre-party at $49 per person for popcorn, 1 beer or 1 glass of wine, or the pre-dinner at $95+/- per person. For me, my husband and friends, we are still able to keep up with the increased prices for AP'sand a couple of special events. We enjoyed the Food and Wine Festival at DCA, but one of the events with Kurt Russell was close to $200 per person. I'd be curious to know who took over the park events last fall. They seem to have elitist leanings. As I've posted previously, I think it takes a lot of nerve to repeatedly increasing the AP and ticket prices for Disneyland when it's under so much construction, rides are increasingly breaking down (HM and Indy the most), and ...there are no.. new..rides.
September 16, 2016 at 10:18 AM · As an avid skier who skis 40+ days per year I will say that lift lines, even during holiday periods, are far shorter than amusement ride lines on comparable days.

Lines more often than not do not exceed 10 minutes, even on the most popular ski lifts and there are usually some lifts with little or no line at all. High capacity, high speed, detachable lifts have eliminated the long lines that ski areas were known for in the 70s and 80s.

As for Disney, the direction they're taking is to cater to the high end consumer. It's a very smart move on their part. It doesn't exclude anyone per say, but it will make the visits of some fans less frequent, but Disney doesn't care about the value oriented consumer.

September 16, 2016 at 12:35 PM · If something is expensive or not is (for me) related to the value I get and if I think it's worth it. It is different for every person. I have amazing memories of awesome concerts of great performers and I treasure them forever.
But we are talking Disney here and (again for me) I can't find the value in the experience anymore. Customers service and maintenance has been going down the hill for a long time. New attractions I cared for (or I think Disney worthy) as been build ages ago and when I go down the list what I can do in 4 parks that I care for it's a very small list. Again, my personal observation that totally will differ from others.
For 3 visits over 5 years I have an amazing time at Universal. For me that is a better value but it could change in the future. If Avatar is amazing, Star Wars land is a Potter beater and Toy Story Land is stunning I would, and service, cleanliness and the overall customer service gets to the level it once was before I probably will spend a few days there, no matter the price.
September 16, 2016 at 5:32 PM · The prices were the breaking point for me. It was the last straw. $20 to park? That may be secondary though because Disney wants me plan months ahead of time. Anything I want to do has to be planed. It lacks spontaneity. It's just not fun anymore.
September 16, 2016 at 6:26 PM · I think the real issue is, Disney has allowed the parks to be stale and have similar offerings across multiple parks/resorts (even two new Star Wars Lands will be largely the same in the US). For the price, it's worth it for first-timers, but the repeat visitor levels seem to be dropping off due to rampant price inflation and stagnation of the offerings. Add to that, a stronger competition in Florida and California (Potter on both coasts, SFMM and SFOG are getting interactive dark rides next year, etc)... Disney just seems old hat.
September 17, 2016 at 5:39 AM · It's way too expensive in general. Why? Disney wants more money like with any typical company wants. But is it a good thing ? No. Why not drop the prices a bit and then maybe Disney can see a rise in profits with low ticket prices.
September 18, 2016 at 3:35 AM · I last went to Disneyworld In 2010, visited Orlando last in August 2016 and had already decided the Disney cost compared to what had changed (i.e new rides) over the last 6yrs was not worth it.
If I could have gone to Magic Kingdom for one day with the family and felt it was value (around $300) I would have done but a cost of around $480 for four of us incl tax seemed too much when considering fast passes had gone to others 60 days earlier and we'd effectively be paying more to be second class visitors.
Maybe one day I'll return to Disney (Star Wars land, Avatar world etc) but currently I can't see why I would.
September 18, 2016 at 3:56 PM · Over priced, under developed and over capacity.
That was my last experience of disney as a uk visitor in 2013. Nothing new had opened since my orevious visit 5 years before, just a re-arrange of fantasyland. I feel sorry for my sister who has booked for next may with her kids, her trip, with flights, has set her back £8000.
September 20, 2016 at 4:30 PM · The biggest problem with your comparisons? They're all things that are routinely done WITHOUT CHILDREN. A couple can go do those things and break only half the bank. Add two kids and everything on the list becomes a ridiculous price.

I still haven't seen Cars Land because I'm NOT paying $100 for the "pleasure". We only recently traveled to WDW because the prices do drop greatly once you get up into 6 days and beyond. But that's not true for Disneyland, unless you live in SoCal and buy a SoCal Annual Pass. Yes, you could, in theory, get a 5-day Pass for a per-day total of $59. But anyone who wants to spend 5 days there needs to seriously think about a long hospital stay instead!

September 20, 2016 at 5:24 PM · I've gone to games, shows, concerts and skiing all with my children.
September 21, 2016 at 10:15 AM · IMO the best music festival in the country, Riot Fest pre-sells 3 day tickets for as low as $99. For that you get a full array of top tier musical performances in a once in a lifetime concert experience.

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