How much is too much for a theme park ticket?
I just booked my trip to Orlando for next month's IAAPA Expo. While covering the Expo consumes most of my time in central Florida, I have enjoyed taking an evening to visit Walt Disney World's holiday party in many past years. As you might have read, Disney has replaced its long-running Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party this year with the new Disney Very Merriest After Hours event, so that's something new to consider.
Yes, it's still a night in the Magic Kingdom with holiday decor. But I just could not bring myself to book at the $180 price for the available evening while I will be in Orlando. (Some nights cost up to $265.) That's just too much for me, given what the event offers now.
So how much would I be willing to pay for an evening in the world's most popular theme park with limited capacity and next to no lines for major attractions, Disney's holiday parade and fireworks, and freebies including ice cream, popcorn, seasonal treats, and select bottled beverages?
To be honest, not that much. I have been on every attraction at the Magic Kingdom more times than I can count and am pretty good at managing my day whenever I visit, so paying nearly $50 over the price of a one-day ticket for short waits on those rides does not compel me. Nor does a line-up of unlimited sweets. I'm just too old now for that many carbs (LOL).
The holiday parade and fireworks tempt me, though. If Disney had leaned more in that direction when crafting a successor to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, I might have been more willing to consider it. An after-hours, hard-ticket event with special entertainment, characters, and pop-up attractions - even with the regular attractions closed for the evening - interests me more than an event promising short waits for the park's regular attractions. Throw in a buffet meal with savory dishes instead of an endless stream of sweets, and I'm sold.
But that's for an event at the Magic Kingdom or any other park I've visited countless times. If we are talking about an event at a park I visit less frequently, a Disney Very Merriest After Hours-type event becomes much more compelling. If I were in Tokyo and looking at $180 for a limited-capacity, short-wait-times evening at Tokyo DisneySea? Oh, heck yes, I am booking that - without hesitation.
So the question, "how much is too much for a theme park ticket?" defies an easy answer. It really does depend upon the person and the circumstances. Paying $180 for Walt Disney World's new holiday After Hours event was too much for me - as a long-time WDW visitor - but I easily can envision some theme park events I would be willing to pay $180 to experience.
To me, the formula relies on the uniqueness of the experience. And that's how unique the experience is to me. I am sure that Disney will find enough fans eager to pay for what Disney Very Merriest After Hours has to offer this year. The resort sold out its Halloween-themed Disney After Hours Boo Bash, after all. For many fans, these events are unique and compelling enough to justify their price. So, in the aggregate, Walt Disney World probably is not charging too much for its Halloween and holiday After Hours events, even though they are too much for me, as an individual with his own preferences.
Parks cannot afford to overprice the market. If Disney (or any other theme park company) were too charge too much for a ticket or an event, in the aggregate, then you would see discounting or price reductions - or the event or even the park not returning for another season. But people complaining about prices online is not by itself a sign that the tickets cost too much for the market. That's just a sign that they cost too much for what the people complaining would be willing to pay.
Just something to keep in mind next time you see a debate rage over whatever Disney and other companies are charging to visit their parks.
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What I find interesting is that Disney has been claiming that most Boo Bash nights are "sold out" but then will sell tickets to walk up guests or daytime guests in the park that want to stay for the separately ticketed event.
Pricing is always going to be a hot button issue when it comes to Disney, because they have such strong brand recognition and a reputation of being accessible to the masses. However, Disney is approaching the transition to being a luxury brand that will dramatically limit its accessibility. I'm sure what they're selling is appealing to some, and with increased prices they don't need to do the same volume, but their future is definitely at odds with its past.
Given all the changes Disney is making to their park experience (Genie+) and admission structure (dynamic admission prices, Magic Key, and ParkPass), maybe Disney's new strategy is to increase the number of unique, first time visitors, instead of relying on frequent/return visits from long time fans.
The Muppets on Main Street over at Disneyland was tempting me for their Christmas party but the $165 price was turning me off.
When it comes to places like Disney where I'm likely to be spending several days, I tend to look at the total cost rather than piecing everything out. For what I get out of WDW, I usually figure it's worth somewhere in the $400-500 range per trip, so when planning I look at all the options and pick the most appealing one that comes in under that price point. As someone who doesn't get a ton out of the after hours parties, that's not something I'd likely choose to put into a trip as it would take up nearly half the budget, but if I were interested in the offerings the high price point wouldn't be enough on its own to dissuade me.
That said, if looking at the experience on its own, it's absolutely overpriced in my mind. As much as I love the Disney parks, I wouldn't spend $180+ for a one day ticket to any of them, let alone for a shorter event with limited additional offerings. On the whole, I feel Disney has outpriced itself for the average visitor, and it's the big reason I generally only go for new attractions rather than returning every year or two like I might do if prices were half as much. I don't fault Disney for what they're doing, but it's a strategy that will maximize revenue in the short term but could collapse long term without continuous investment in new, high profile attractions to draw people back.
We booked our December trip to Walt Disney World last January and have been looking forward to visiting during our favorite time of the year. When the prices were released, our dates were either $229 or $209. After much consideration and the announcement of Genie+ and its cost, we canceled the trip and rebooked our airfare for Las Vegas. For us, the biggest draw was allegedly short lines, but if you're enjoying entertainment, you're not riding rides. The draw for rides with short lines v. the draw for entertainment was competing and diminished the value for us. For Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, you could enter the park at 4 pm v. 7 pm for this event. From our perspective, it just doesn't add up.
From what costumers are getting out of the evento it seems like a steep prices, specially in a family vacation setting . The pros: special decor, special offerings at snack venues, events like character meets, fireworks and parades, smaller number of guests so You can acess rides practically as walk ins. The cons: very few hours to enjoy those special perks. Price of admisión higher than the regular day visit. If the event was longer maybe i would try it as a once in a life deal. It's cool what they offer in terms of Quality of events but as others mentioned before, having to decide to ride taking advantage of fewer guests or enjoy the atmosphere ists a bit cruel. You know You are missing something. Then again some people spend 500 or more US dollars on a 4 hours NFL Game. SO it really boils down to Your passion and love for the brand and the park experience. In the final read they offer less time for more money than similar experiencies to their costumers. I would Say is not worth it within that context.
@Pabloatthepark - You can see the special decor and eat seasonal treats during normal park hours, so even those "perks" are not unique to the after hours events. That means that guests are paying nearly double the price of a single day admission for half the time (part of which is consumed by the time needed to enjoy the few unique offerings like fireworks, parade, or characters - or trick or treat for Halloween), with the hope that Disney keeps crowds small enough to enjoy little to no waits for top attractions.
As with other trends for Disney, these changes are all about paying MORE for LESS, and Disney has completely lost the pulse of why guests attend these seasonal events. They've completely forgotten that guests visit during these times of the year primarily because of the special offerings and not necessarily to avoid attraction lines - though that was certainly a perk of the parties, especially when you got past midnight. People regularly visited WDW during Halloween and Christmas because those parties offered a completely different and unique park experience that just couldn't be had during daytime hours. These new after hours events just don't offer anything unique to those guests yet Disney expects people to pay more. That is the problem here, and I think while Disney might view these replacements as "successful", they're unlikely to maintain that success long term.
I recall 2 or 3 years ago, during a WDW nighttime party, Pirates broke down and guests were stuck on the ride for over 2 and 1/2 hours. Granted that scenario is highly unusual, just imagine paying the extra amount and spending half your night stuck on one attraction. Upon exiting, Disney gave them water and a Fastpass. In my opinion, that doesn't make up for the amount of money and time you lost waiting to be evacuated during a party!
Russell we are in the same page here. We can agree that getting less for more money is not a good business model on the long run. My concern is that Disney Managment must be aware of complaints in all plataforms, but won't react until people stop going to this events. They are NOT as sold out as they claim every single day, but good enough that that the company can pretend all is Ok. But it severs the emocional connecttion to old and loyal costumers. Nothing i can do since i AM not in the shareholders board. It's frustrating ansca bit sad that they don't care.
Half a year ago, I wrote on this site I was looking forward visiting WDW again as soon as: enough people were vaccinated (USA is now at 55%?), the travel ban to the USA was lifted and fireworks, shows and parades were running at the parks again. Furthermore, this time around I would want to stay on site in Florida to have the full Walt Disney World Experience.
However, after the amount of service cut-backs (no Magical Express, half-hour early entry, you know the list) and ongoing price increases as well as the pay-to-play additions with Genie+ and Lightning Lane, I have decided to postpone my visit for the time being although the travel ban to visit the USA from Europe has been lifted.
Robert put forward that the price of this special event ticket was too high for him, but might be right for someone else. I agree. And of course, the whole package of WDW is worth a good lot of people’s money.
Nevertheless, something has changed within me (sorry Elsa), and I’ll try to describe what that means.
First of all: I really don’t like my face to be rubbed in the fact that Disney can raise prices almost indefinitely but people will still come and that the company wants to rob me of my last cent.
It’s this corporate greed, this incredible hunger for more money-grabbing that has changed my attitude towards Disney. I don’t know if US-Americans are less sensitive towards companies blatantly putting out their need for your dough, but in Europe, wanting people’s money should not be what a company is foremost known for.
Of course I was aware that The Walt Disney Company is in it for the money and as a premium brand with extremely high brand recognition it can charge whatever the market is willing to pay for it. But since the Disney Company also claims to be a family-oriented brand, there is now too much friction in my perception towards their offering.
For me it started with the whole Avengers, Marvel and Star Wars acquisitions, brands based on violence, war and explosive conflict. Not something I associate with family friendly fare. But I was able to blend that out and focus on the story-telling and the beautiful art produced in their animated movies.
The story-telling quality remained, the enchantment of hand-drawn animation is gone. And it has been replaced by generic looking, Barbie-like dolls (just compare modell sheets of Ana, Elsa, Moana and Raya and THEN compare that with hand-drawn animation modell sheets). Or take a look at Sony’s Into the Spider-verse and how inventive they use computer animation.
So I cancelled Disney+ after a year.
The friction continued with Disneyland Paris not building anything new for over 10 years. During that time, I’ve visited Disneyland California and all the WDW parks + the Universal parks and now with the expansion plans for the absolutely horrible Studios Park in Paris delayed till 2028 (!!) I still don’t feel the need to return and pay double the price from 2009, the last time I visited and add Lightning Lane to just be able to ride the low capacity Crush’s Coaster, for example
And now I feel my emotional connection to Disney is somehow damaged. Not because of Disney being expensive, it has always been expensive. But because of the attitude. The arrogance the company is showing towards its long and loyal customers. Towards families with children. Paying 200$ per person for a few hours in the park? Charging 150$ for a day ticket per person AND adding paid Lightning Lane and Genie+ AND taking away Extra hours AND the Magic Express AND free on-site parking for hotel guests AND the list goes on.
You may ask: why do you care? Because it’s an emotional thing. Disney has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Me as a baby looking at a mirror with Thumper, my first movie in the cinema (Sleeping Beauty), watching Lion King in the cinema with my family after my grandmother died, working in Disneyland Paris as a young man at Phantom Manor, dancing when I first set foot in EPCOT: somehow it’s personal.
And to feel you are being taken advantage of, because you somehow crave that feeling of reassurance, that connection to the child in you but now there’s the feeling that the other side doesn’t care because they know someone else and enough others will pay to have that experience, makes me sad, angry and has caused the need to disconnect.
So I’ve unfollowed all Disney-related channels on social media. Themepark Insider is the only source I am still visiting because of its high quality and the great exchange between other theme park fans in the comments.
I just returned from a two-day visit to Efteling, the best theme park in the world. Paid 29 Euros / 34 Dollar for a weekday ticket (regular ticket would be 42 Euros) per person and had a magical experience. Efteling offers so many different attractions and experiences, it covers such a vast piece of land, it has become impossible to see everything in one day anymore. The park is only open from 10 am to 6 pm, which is a shame. But compared to a couple of years ago, the staff was so extremely friendly and service-oriented, the food-offerings and -quality increased and the attractions are still world-class.
So I have decided to start visiting other theme parks than Disney. I went to Phantasialand this summer with its incredibly themed coaster offerings and its amazingly beautiful hotels. I plan to finally visit Europa Park in Germany, Gardaland in Italy and if money allows, again go to Alton Towers in the UK.
Maybe we need this. I am reading several comments of people writing they are spending their money elsewhere, discovering other parks and parts of the world. I think we are somehow influencers in our own way. We are the ones who are the most emotionally invested in what makes Disney Disney. We are the ambassadors of this brand too. If we lose the fire, if we feel disconnected, that feeling will spread to the people we talk to, the people we used to take with us to the parks, watch the movies with, give advice on how to tackle the parks and to share the love with for what connects us with our inner child.
If that happens, maybe one day things will change for the better at Disney too.
This event definitely has "next to no" lines for the rides? I would gladly pay for that unique experience.
Fantastic analysis and could not have said it better myself!
You bring up excellent points and many of them are the reasoning behind why I didn't do the Halloween After Hours event at the Magic Kingdom. I had done MNSSHP pretty much for the past five years, but saw that this new event was half the "stuff" and double the price. Also, being an AP holder, I just didn't see the appeal of low lines. I feel lucky enough to be able to visit the parks multiple times a year so if something has a long line, I would come back.
As for the Christmas Party, that is a whole other ball game. My sister in law, who has never been to the Christmas Party was like "yes, we are doing this no matter what it costs". This sounds very similar to your TDS scenario. Also, compared to the Halloween Event, it sounds like you are getting MORE from the Christmas Party this year.
Disney raising prices? Eventually they will hit a ceiling, but they have crunched the numbers and see that people are willing to still pay this outrageous amount.
Meanwhile, I am sitting over here hoping that demos/Party of the Senses come back at Food and Wine
Oh and @Russell, I believe that Disney is doing exactly what you are getting at. They are taking a gamble at the first time visitor dropping big bucks over the regulars who spend less. Its a business decision which will be interesting to watch. I personally think its a losing proposition as regulars will spend more money, but it will just be over many years instead of a one time cash flow. Regulars give them a bit of security.
Its the classic question: Take as much money as possible NOW or take less money now knowing that will always be there forever.
We used to alternate Universal and Disney annual passes. This would have been our Disney year. We renewed our Universal passes for 4. For the price of one Disney pass. We'll just go to Disney a day here or there while visiting Universal. Since we lived fairly close,we go for long weekends 7 or 8 times per year. I'm not the most price conscious person but at some point you have to say enough is enough. Universal has become a bargin FOR NOW.
$1.43 + tax. My price point.
Disney has a great number of experts who measure, inquire and stay on top of costs, profits, park attendance as measured against other parks, etc. They know how to sustain their quality, image, value, etc.
They know just where the breakpoint is for the guest, and the company. While "Disneyland is your land" remember that Disney owns it and their objective is to make money, Honey.
So, relax. They have your back and the wallet that you carry in it!
A few years ago when Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party began, some Disney-fan podcasters debated the merits of paying for “ the $50 cookie” by attending the event. It was fun enough to do it back then, but $180 or even $265? Wow. Just wow.
Disney, If you’re trying to price out the devoted fans while offering less and hoping the occasional visitors and higher income folks will make up the difference, then congratulations, because in my case, you’ve succeeded -I’ve given up my APs and I’ll probably cut back on my park visits, too. Lotsa luck.
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It really is an atrocious, outrageous price. It might be feasible for a couple without children, but at those late hours and those extreme prices, I can't swing it either. It's one of those things that look shiny and nice on the shelf, but I wouldn't even bother to grab it and check out the price tag because I already know it's just not possible on my teacher salary. I'm sure that others are willing to fork it out, but it's way past the breaking point for me.