Just how complicated can theme park tickets get?

June 18, 2018, 11:07 AM · Most theme park fans have realized that the days of rolling up to a ticket booth and buying the one ticket available for sale are long over. Theme parks offer a dizzying array of admission options these days, ranging from variable prices on one-day tickets to a variety of multi-day and multi-park admissions.

Theme parks' attempts to maximize the revenue by creating all these new price points for their tickets are becoming a national business story. The Wall Street Journal today published, Disney Tests Pricing Power at Theme Parks, pegged to the $300 Pixar Pier preview party that the Disneyland Resort is offering this Friday night at Disney California Adventure.

The long-term goal for parks is to find a system where prices can float with demand to maximizes income. Parks want people to commit in advance to filling the parks to near capacity every day of the year... but they also need a pricing system that won't frustrate potential visitors to the point where they throw up their hands and choose to spend their money elsewhere.

Good luck with that.

Disney has used seasonal pricing on one-day tickets and a complicated annual pass blockout calendar to shift attendance from peak days to ones that were traditionally less busy. That's all but eliminated the off season at the Disneyland Resort, where parking garages now close due to capacity on many Friday nights during the school year. But the debut of the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida next year brings new pricing and crowd-management challenges to the company.

If Disney thinks it can get $300 a person to preview Pixar Pier, how much do you think it will get for a preview of Star Wars land? Disney has moved to park-specific blockout dates for Disneyland in California. Will it do the same for Walt Disney World? What about eliminating one-day ticket sales for Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios? Or applying the variable pricing tiers to multi-day tickets as well as single day? Or adding to the three pricing tiers the company now offers on both coasts?

Disney has pretty much unlimited options here. No matter how complicated it makes its pricing structure, someone, somewhere will figure it out. (We are here for you, theme park fans!) And enough people will be able to afford it that Disney will be able to make more money than it does now.

But as Disney prices people out of its theme parks — whether through expense or confusion — that creates opportunities for its competitors, including Universal and even the often-now-forgotten SeaWorld. What will they do to take advantage?

How complicated can theme park tickets get?

Replies (13)

June 18, 2018 at 12:32 PM

On our last trip to Orlando we bypassed Disney World (or as we call it Pixar World) for SeaWorld. We had a great time and even had money left in our wallets!

June 18, 2018 at 1:47 PM

Simple Fix. Instead of trying to pack everybody in like sardines 365 days a year, why don't they set pricing and show the capacity levels for that day? If a ticket is $300 for a day (or a party), show how many total tickets are being sold (and average wait time). A $100 ticket would in theory have 3X more people in a park but you know what to expect. Let the consumer decide when they want to go and with how many people they want to be around. I'd rather know what I am walking into, than purchase a ticket 6 months out only to find out the park is at full capacity.

Magic Kingdom (and Studios for the next few years) should be limited to a 2-day park ticket and above to eliminate the last-minute day guest. Gold level annual passes and above for MK and HS access as well.

All of this will keep Disney's bottom line intact, but will lessen stress on the parks and bring back the quality experience many of us remember.


June 18, 2018 at 2:37 PM

I would love to see them do something like this in combination with actually limiting the number of tickets sold per day. That would truly help to spread out the crowds and maximize the value for the guests.

June 18, 2018 at 3:51 PM

A sign I'm old: Remembering when a 2-day pass was about all you could get for WDW.

June 18, 2018 at 3:52 PM

Robert hints at it, but I would not be surprised to even see blockout dates for Hollywood Studios for a period after Galaxies Edge opens. (Hope the don't do this, but what if they have second entry gate into Galxies Edge and charge upcharge ticket?) they have a Crowd control in Hollywood Studios is going to be amazing.

Not sure how they could make multi-day passes as Seasonal priced. They would have to make them date specific. What if dates change or I buy in advance for future trip? (Guest services could be busy making changes.)

June 18, 2018 at 5:33 PM

WDW’s back to back Halloween and Christmas special events is making a regular visit during the holiday season a chore.

June 18, 2018 at 9:18 PM

The pricing model is feeling more like Black Magic than Magic. Ride reservations requires a PhD in I.T. Just planning a vacation requires building Gantt charts and spreadsheets. I’m here for Magical Day, not an MBA.

June 19, 2018 at 7:13 AM

Unless it gets absolutely insane, WDW will never do the park blackout dates. The Disneyland Guest is not the same as the Disney World Guest. A majority (or a large percentage) of DL guests are native Californians meaning that they can simply come back on a different day. Most of WDW guest are not Floridians. These people are traveling to FL specifically to check out the parks.

Could WDW do this? Maybe, but they would need to telegraph this blackout date almost a year in advance (possibly longer).

If WDW will not close the Haunted Mansion to make it "Nightmare Before Christmas" because that attraction must remain open, they aren't going to deny access to one of their parks unless at full capacity.

June 19, 2018 at 7:46 PM

Disneyland is no longer customer friendly, the overcrowding and long lines for high capacity rides like It's A Small World and Pirates are going to continue to frustrate the guests. And there's no foreseeable end to the frustration, especially with Star Wars Land opening.

This situation could have been avoided if only Iger built the third park. He wanted to use every last inch of available space, because Disneyland Resort makes more money with two parks than Walt Disney World with four parks. But this is the worst example of profits over guest satisfaction.

$300 might have been ok for a Star Wars preview party, but not for Pixar Pier, which is widely seen as an overlay of an existing land. Maybe $150 for a Pixar Pier party.

June 19, 2018 at 9:05 PM

You know what I am so over Disney. The Guest experience has gone down the toilet. The Details are not there in the new stuff. It is a shame too because Disney was such a fun and magical place to go but the nickle and diming that is occurring now just makes me head some where else where I can get a good value for my money. And I am not talking about cost but actual entertainment and a feeling that it was worth the money I spent. We might go in 20 or 30 years if and when we have grand kids but right now my kids have been there enough times that we are happy to experience new things now.

June 19, 2018 at 11:34 PM

More bob Iger greed. he is a poster boy for the new gilded age. screw the customer and ring out every last dollar. Walt would be appalled

June 20, 2018 at 7:19 AM

I enjoyed Disney in the 90's and early 2000's. I used to attend "off season" or "off peak" between Thanksgiving and Christmas when there were few lines,if any, even with the most popular rides. Going to Universal was a breeze also. I agree with 65.34.86.193 above, its not fun anymore trying to plan out rides and meals in the park months in advance. My out of state relatives don't even want to bother with the headache of Disney when they come visit. The Magic is disappearing. The Happiest place on Earth is becoming the most crowded and complicated place on Earth.

June 20, 2018 at 2:57 PM

I envision a situation similar to what has now taken over sporting event tickets. Most sports teams utilize "dynamic" pricing for single game tickets. The prices fluctuate based on how far in advance the ticket is purchased, the attractiveness of the matchup, and how many season ticket holders there are. It can sometimes be like playing Russian Roulette, because even for attractive matchups (think Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Cardinals, or Warriors/Spurs), prices will start obscenely high because of limited availability, but may precipitously drop days before the event because no one wants to pay the inflated prices. Airline and hotel prices appear to follow a similar pattern, but rarely drop to "value" levels because of unsold tickets due to demand always outstriping supply.

Disney could setup a similar situation. They know approximately how many passholders they have and how many show up on a given day. Thus, they now how many single day admissions they need to sell for each day to reach park/resort capacity. If it's a day where they know most, if not all, the eligible passholders will show up (July 4th/December 25), they can price single day admissions very high because they know there will be high demand and limited capacity available to accommodate non-passholders. Then, as the date approaches, the price can further fluctuate to reflect the actual available capacity remaining. The only issue with this would be upsetting guests who pay a high price for their tickets far in advance only to see the price drop. I'm not sure how the Disney crowd would react to such a system, but I think it would create some animosity. The biggest change that would need to occur would be for non-passholders to commit to specific days, even for multi-day ticket (not specific parks, but at least specific days to visit). Disney is already somewhat locking guests into visiting specific days through the FP+ system, but further locking them in at the time of purchase may be a big ask for some guests that like to maintain some flexibility for their vacations, especially for weather and unforeseen events. Perhaps guests could pay a "base" price for an admission ticket, but then pay an additional fee once they select their specific days to lock in the dynamic pricing. However, if a day is "sold out" they would not be able to select those days.

I think that's where Disney is heading, and the Disney Drones will continue to hang on to the rope and get dragged along.

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