How Much Are You Willing to Pay for a Theme Park Ride?

August 9, 2020, 6:33 PM · Disney's cutting hours. Universal's closing rides. Cedar Fair parks are chopping the calendar. Is there any value in visiting a theme park right now?

Parks are cutting hours and services because the pandemic has reduced the number of fans that they can accommodate... as well as the number who want to visit in the first place. The parks took massive losses while they were closed. They're not about to compound that by operating at a loss after they reopen. So if attendance and income are down from normal levels, parks' expenses need to fall, too.

That's why the cuts. But if parks cut too much, they become self-fulfilling, as they discourage fans from visiting. Not that fans haven't had enough discouragement as it is, thanks to this pandemic.

So the one glimmer of value that parks have had to offer fans during this most difficult summer has been shorter-than-usual wait times. Lower attendance means fewer people queuing for popular attractions. It's the same formula that draws fans to visit Walt Disney World and other year-round theme parks during their "off" seasons. Sure, the hours are reduced and some rides and shows are down for refurb. But with smaller crowds in the parks, you can get more done than during a fully-loaded summer day.

In effect, the pandemic has turned this summer into an off season. I guess that makes this upcoming fall the "off off" season?

Whether you're planning to visit a park anytime soon or not, I would like to hear about how you calculate value on a theme park visit. On average, how many rides or shows do you expect to to get on in a day? When you divide your ticket price by the number, what does that work out to?

Some of us might not like doing that math. (I pay WHAT to go on Steel Vengeance?) But I think it's a helpful way to compare value — whether you are thinking about one theme park versus another, or about theme parks versus other forms of entertainment.

Let's hear how you think about value in planning a theme park visit.

To keep the comments on track, please limit yourself to no more than two comments. You may edit your comments, if necessary. And please remember that personal attacks on other commenters are not permitted.

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Replies (22)

August 9, 2020 at 6:59 PM

I voted 11-15 attractions and $6-$10 per attraction. If I could enter Magic Kingdom or Disneyland and have a guarantee I could ride 15 attractions that would be worth $150 dollars to me. The catch is how many times I could ride my favorites. That same price point is too high if I only get one ride on BTMRR or Priates for example.

August 9, 2020 at 7:34 PM

I read from somebody that used to work for Universal’s Horror Nights that based on their surveys, guests expected to have just 3.5 experiences to get a good value. I think that’s why Disney World used FP+ to guarantee guests three wait free attractions.

August 9, 2020 at 7:56 PM

It depends on park as can get more done in Magic Kingdom than Animal Kingdom and such but when I go to a park, want the full experience for money's worth.

August 10, 2020 at 2:27 AM

That is not how i would calculate it. Usually that one should be quite a favourable calculation for theme parks. Maybe not anymore these days (up until this year that is) on a crowded US Disney day - but then to be fair, some single attractions there also cost more than entire top 20 theme parks in Europe to build. A good theme park also gives me quite a lot of joy just by walking arround. But there is also another way to calculate it. My last short trip, shortly before covid got really bad was to Vienna. In hindsight, that was probably already not too smart an idea at that point. 60 Euro for the return train ticket, 30 Euro for the single room in a hostel and 15 Euro for local public transport. Admission costs: Zero. I got to see lots of nice buildings and parks for that price anyway, some also from the inside. If i had gone to Europapark off season with some planing to get cheap trains/accommodation instead, prices would have been similar - the train a bit cheaper, a room at the small village with the closest train station to the park a bit more expensive maybe. But then there would have been another 55 Euro for admission and there would have been no regular shops to buy food. Plus, the second day would have been boring, or i would have had to spend over 100 Euro for a two day ticket.

Sure, i´m not here by accident, so if the park had not been closed and at that point and the train connection would be somewhat less horrible i might have gone to Europapark anyway. It´s still a competing acvitivty that is much cheaper. If i had gone into some of those third rate pay per ride attraction at the Prater that were already open, i might have soon regreted i didn´t do a theme park trip later instead.

Damn, just by writing this, i really want to do that kind of trip now, just not a responsible thing to do right now unfortunately.

August 9, 2020 at 10:13 PM

As a math person, I tend to use a very math-oriented approach with the following steps:

1. Take any required costs and add them together. This includes admission, parking, and any taxes or fees associated with those purchases. It does not include food or merchandise as those can vary and it's possible to visit without spending money on those. With a season pass, you'd divide the total cost by the number of anticipated visits for the year.

2. Subtract $20. This is what I consider the approximate value of just entering a park and walking around, enjoying the theming and atmosphere.

3. Subtract $2 for every hour spent in the park. This is the time matter what you do with your day, it accumulates as you spend more time on property.

4. Subtract $5 for every attraction experienced. This is the average value per ride I place on attractions (obviously headliners would be higher and common flats a little less).

Total the result. If you wind up with a negative number, it means you got more out than you paid in. If you get a positive number, you paid more than the experience justified.

In my experience using this formula, you usually get very good value if you've got a season pass, but with day tickets the value may be anywhere from good to just breaking even (or even coming out at a loss). For example, Walt Disney World tickets are $121 per day when I'm planning to visit in October, so assuming I spend 8 hours in the park I'd need to experience 17 attractions for the value to be worth the admission price. By comparison, I'll be visiting Busch Gardens Tampa on a Platinum Pass I got at SeaWorld San Antonio for $135, so even if I only use it three times this year the cost to visit is just $45, which means I'd need to ride just 2 coasters to break even (assuming I stay for the full day).

Of course, this is a simplified model that doesn't take into account external factors (such as visiting with friends I don't see often, hence why I'm willing to take a loss on Disney this time), but I often use it as an estimation tool when planning a trip to decide which parks may be worthy of revisiting and which parks I'm more inclined to skip.

August 9, 2020 at 11:45 PM

When you go to a steak restaurant, how many bites do you expect to have, and how much per bite? If you went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, how many paintings would need to see and how much would you pay per painting? When you go to your GP, how many more hours of life would you expect his treatment to give you and what would they be worth?

I'm done now.

August 9, 2020 at 11:45 PM

That’s a good formula AJ, but it still has its flaws. At a Disney or Universal park, the attractions and atmosphere of the park as a whole justify the higher price. There’s far more entertainment at Harry Potter just walking around than there is at Sea World. So I would not subtract the $20 from parks that are not as pleasant to wander around, and a smaller price per attraction because those attractions aren’t as good either. Disney is somewhat overpriced, but still a better value overall compared to many other parks.

August 10, 2020 at 1:55 AM

How much would you pay for a guaranteed ride on ROTR? Would you pay $20 extra if you knew you were guaranteed to get on that ride without having to play the Virtual Boarding Group lottery? Would you pay $40? $50? $100?

We would probably be willing to spend as much as $50 per person. It would be worth it for the peace of mind (and might seem like a relatively small fee after paying airfare for the family and Disney's high-priced hotels and food.) I'll bet Disney has discussed this money-making option.

August 10, 2020 at 3:23 AM

Remember an anglo sphere academic economist doing a calculation on fast passes at Universal way back, probably before Potter. Of course according to his calculation they were a steal and he bought them. Probably did some equations on optimum price discrimination at theme parks afterwards :-). When i wrote a semi serious marketing paper as an undergraduate in a very different cultural sphere suggesting some relativly harmless price discrimination mechanisms for theme parks the Prof was not entirely happy with the ethical aspects.
Applied to the real world, when pushing those things to far things just get complicated murky and frustrating. There also is such a thing as an enjoyable waiting time before entering major rides. The people running theme parks know that which might be one reason why they don´t do super premium fast passes with zero wait time for a fortune.

Heres another more or less fun anecdote about price discrimination. Some poorer arabic countries love to do it. You got an arab price and a white person price. Often the white price is a huge mutible. Now a very white girl that did speak some arabic and did a term abroad there got the native price from a taxi driver. When his colleages saw her pay the locals price they all started yelling at the driver :-).

August 10, 2020 at 3:58 AM

It's all about quality, not quantity, so I didn't vote.
People are known to spend 2 days for only the Potter area's at Universal Studios resort, that are only 5 rides and a steep price.
When I look at Epcot, once my most favourit park in the world, I don't care for any of their rides anymore and wouldn't spent money to visit.
It's just a personal perspective showing perceived value isn't the amount of attractions but the quality and if it is worth for the guest.

August 10, 2020 at 6:06 AM

Very park driven.

Mrs Plum's and my primary enjoyment of Epcot is World Showcase but Magic Kingdom it is the classic attractions, which are plentiful, so two completely different answers.

A key factor, for us, is the experience of "escapism" which Disney and Universal achieve with aplomb, where the environment, atmosphere and detailed theming are as much a draw as the overall and individual attractions especially walking around Diagon Alley or the whole of Animal Kingdom. There is no "one-size fits all" answer or formula.

However, there is nothing more frustrating or disappointing than being in Magic Kingdom on a busy day and spending most of the day in queues experiencing only a handful of rides.

So for The Plums, it's about the overall experience, absorbing the atmosphere, admiring the amazing details of the themed areas as much as trying to do as many attractions as possible.

August 10, 2020 at 9:15 AM

For me, it's not necessarily the monetary cost of admission, but more about the total cost to make a theme park visit. For instance, BGW recently opened for a limited hours/attractions hard-ticket event that pass holders and members could attend for free. However for us, BGW entails a 2.5 hour drive to reach (given the unpredictable traffic on I-95 and I-64, that 2.5 hours can easily balloon to 4+ hours without warning), and with just 4 hours of time to enjoy the park and only 5 attractions available (Finnegan's Flyer, Loch Ness Monster, Griffon, InvadR, and Catapult), it's just not worth the hassle to make that trip even though our cost of entry is $0.

The same goes for Cedar Point, which for us is a 6 hour drive and likely hotel stay to enjoy a park that has many of its top rides open, but making it difficult to experience everything in a single day due to current safety and crowd management procedures. Again, it's just not worth the hassle for us to make that drive for a day that's not likely to include a ride on every single top ride despite no cost to us for admission with our Cedar Fair Platinum passes, which have already been extended through the end of 2021 without additional charge.

That pretty much means that our only outlet for satiating our theme park needs is a 30-45 minute drive to Six Flags America, which we have visited twice this season, including yesterday. I can't even fathom right now visiting a theme park that would require a plane trip or multiple different hotel stays.

August 10, 2020 at 11:28 AM

I've done a few of those Six Flags fast past which usually works out well for me until you realize in small fine print that you can only use them once for the new and most popular rides.

On a related subject of cost, Disney cutting hours and bound to lose a lot of money, is there any solid data of millennials showing up spending money on these parks? With the news of Mulan going to Disney plus for $30, and the trend of Disney park price increase, what's the concern retaining Millennials?

The reason I ask because honesty, I don't really know that many 16 years old to 21 years who really seems to care about Disney. Maybe it's different with the local kids who have the season pass, but I've yet to really find that age group who really seems gun ho about making a trip to Disney. Most of the time the response I get is, "We only go because my parents are Gun Ho Disney fantics". I have nephews and nieces who go two or three times a year, but again that's because my cousins are more Disney fans. As they recently turned between 15 to 19 years old they are burned out of Disney and ready to do different things.

I know Disney aim is all about family and the last time I went a few years ago i got more of a chance to sit back and noticed, "where are the young adults"? I'm 45 years old, but it seems my age range of folks are more gun ho about the Disney experience than the millennials who complain that it's too crowed, expensive, and not cool".

I know within my circle of friends who have kids (I have a 5 year old myself), when this topic comes up it's interesting to hear how they view Disneyland today vs the past and how it seems you can get more bang for your bucks traveling around the world and visiting national parks and big cities.

August 10, 2020 at 12:21 PM

Lots of good responses already but I agree that it all depends on the park. Right now you couldn't pay me to go to a theme park in the states but if Canada's Wonderland was opened I might consider it. Then again I probably still wouldn't go since it would require flying cross country for me and I'm not ok with flying just yet.

For Universal when we go we always buy express passes so to me it really doesn't matter how much per attraction I'm paying. I go knowing the cost and not wanting to compromise on time we pay it and for us its worth every penny. Disney we haven't gone in over 10 years since I hate planning months in advance. (Not a vacation).

Thinking of Disney I answered 16+ with $26+ put we really wouldn't mind going even higher to guarantee being able to ride everything we want and not having to plan so far in advance.

We've considered the VIP option at Disney but their idea of "VIP" is a complete joke when compared to Universal. For $5000 you don't even get front of line access, no food, no parking so with all that we've never booked it. We've never done VIP at Universal in Orlando either because the express passes work so well but we have at Hollywood and it was great.

August 10, 2020 at 1:36 PM

Beacher, I would absolutely pay $50 if it got me a guaranteed ride on Rise of the Resistance instead of dealing with that asinine boarding group nonsense.

August 10, 2020 at 2:12 PM

@Beacher and James - I would absolutely despise any system that would limit attractions to guests paying extra for access to top rides. The fact of the matter is that in almost every single theme park in the world, the most popular attractions cannot physically accommodate every person that wants to ride. While it started out as a cat and mouse game, the Boarding Group system that has evolved for RotR is incredibly fair, with the playing field further leveled by Disney offering a second (and for a couple of weeks a third) "drop" of reservations on the incredibly popular yet throughput-challenged attraction. As a person who despises pretty much any "upcharge" scheme (not just in theme parks), I would be disgusted if guests could pay a nominal fee (and yes, $50 is "nominal" in Disney terms) to circumvent a traditional or virtual queue.

August 10, 2020 at 9:34 PM

Russell, agree to disagree. Disney is purposely making it even harder now to get on RotR by shaving off an hour of operation at DHS, so I would have no problem making it an upcharge experience at this point. Phone reliability is always a subjective experience and I'd be pretty peeved if Wi-Fi or some other network issue caused me to miss out. I have a day planned for the park in September. If I don't get a boarding group, my enjoyment for the whole day is going to be non-existent.

The thing that frustrates me the most about this is that they had four months to figure out a solution and couldn't even manage that. Reportedly, ride performance is the same as it was pre-closure, which is just insane to think about.

August 11, 2020 at 12:38 AM

What so far no theme park seems to have done is to open some attractive low capacity attractions specifically much longer than regular park hours one way or another. Either way, right now is not the time for any experimtents in procedures.

August 11, 2020 at 7:37 AM

For me , I factor in the ease of getting there, getting around the park, overall safety, the kinds of attractions and waiting in lines. The easier and more exciting that is, the more I am willing to pay. The harder Or less exciting it is, the more likely I wouldn’t visit no mater the price. For now, the target guests are those under 60, who have no other major Medical issues and can properly distance themselves from anyone in that category after visiting. So in terms of COVID, I feel the parks have done a great job and made that a non factor for me. If you are diabetes, obese, have heart, kidney, immune issue etc., of course that should be THE factor and you shouldn’t go.

August 11, 2020 at 9:12 AM

@James - I think even if Disney placed an upcharge on RotR, you would have the same problem with demand far outstripping supply. That means even if you were willing to pay the $30, $40, or $50 extra to experience RotR, there would be more people wanting to ride in a day than it can reasonably accommodate, setting up a similar situation to now, except with people scrambling to pay for their reservation days, weeks, or months before they step foot on property instead of scrambling with their phones in the morning and afternoon when Boarding Groups drop. If you don't think it would be as hard or even harder to secure a paid reservation for RotR as it is to secure a Boarding Group now, then I think you're gravely mistaken.

So instead of wanting to pay extra to "guarantee" a ride months beforehand and possibly still not being successful, you can wait until the day you walk into DHS, and put your faith in your ability to scroll through a couple of pages on MDE to get on for free. I'd possibly lean towards the paid reservation when they were only doing the Boarding Group drop once in the morning, but now that they're doing a second (and for a while there a third) drop later in the day, you've got to be pretty incompetent or incredible unlucky to not get into a Boarding Group. Since Disney has moved to the current system, I haven't read any accounts for prepared guests that have not been able to get into a Boarding Group - now, some people have not ridden because of significant downtime, but that can happen with any ride on any day.

August 11, 2020 at 9:07 AM

Beacher... I don't think RotR is as good as the number of people in the line would indicate. Yes, it's good, but not as good as I expected. I'd say the same for Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run. The ride is really good if you get front seats (Pilot). But as the engineer in the back row, it wasn't very good.

So, what is the ride worth? I'd say it's worth enough to try to get on.

The total value of a vacation includes the cost of travel, the room, the food... When I lived in MD, I came to Disney 29 times for 7-8 days. But the prices have gone way up. And now some rides aren't open, and no fireworks, and no parades, and no meet-and-greets. The experience has diminished. And now, the park hopping privilege included in my platinum plus pass is gone.

I don't blame Disney. But the value isn't as good. I predict attendance will go way down. Profits will go way down. The Virus has changed everything.

August 11, 2020 at 7:03 PM

I’m curious from those who have ridden Hagrids Motocross vs RoTR - I know they aren’t similar attractions but which would you rather experience or repeat and which was a better investment?

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