Theme Park of the Day: Tokyo Disneyland

Is Walt Disney World Actually Underpriced?

January 11, 2022, 3:26 PM · Walt Disney World yesterday raised many food prices across the resort. The increases may have been small in amount, but the percentages add up, with the price of a Dole Whip going up nearly 17%.

Here's some perspective, though. A Dole Whip now might cost $6.99 at the Magic Kingdom, but over at Universal, a Butterbeer costs $7.99. Even with this latest round of price increases, in some ways Disney remains underpriced relative to other entertainment options around the country.

That's not something that many Disney fans want to hear. Disney has provided a world-class entertainment experience for millions of fans, including many who have been priced out by other sources, including pro sports, Broadway tours, and live concerts. None of us wants to be priced out by Disney, too, so whenever Disney raises prices, many fans are going to complain.

With recent changes to annual pass programs as well as changes to the sizes and prices of food across its theme parks, Disney has shown that it is ready to close the gap and begin pricing a Disney theme park visit at something closer to true market rates for this type of entertainment. Disney's top-line prices long have led the industry, but many of the company's most loyal fans have paid far less than those "rack rates" by taking advantage of annual passes, local resident tickets, Disney Dining Plan deals, Disney Vacation Club point rentals, and other offers.

But Disney has a problem when fans using those deals begin crowding out other guests who are willing to pay closer to the rack rate. That's why - ever since the pandemic provided the hard reset that allowed Disney to revamp its operations - we are seeing Disney make changes.

Will they work for Disney? We will find out the latest when Disney releases its next quarterly earnings report on February 9. But a more complete picture detailing the effects of Disney's emerging pricing strategy will not become clear for several months - and even then not until Omicron and the ongoing pandemic stop confounding customer spending patterns.

Until then, as always, keep your eyes open for deals and other opportunities as you consider what's best for your next vacation or getaway. Don't get upset because something isn't as good a deal now as it was in the past. Few things are anymore. Keep your focus forward and find the best deal that's now available for you and your family - whether it's from Disney or someone else.

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Replies (31)

January 11, 2022 at 5:14 PM

Comparing a Dole Whip to Butterbeer is, I think, comparing apples to Orange Birds. Dole Whip has none of the IP attachment that Butterbeer does (although with the evergreen popularity of Dole Whip & Orange Bird one could argue Dole Whip is an IP on its own, although certainly not on the same level as Harry Potter or Star Wars).

A much better comparison would be Blue/Green Milk in Galaxy's Edge. Like Butterbeer it's a beverage stemming from a wildly popular IP. Blue Milk currently sells for $8.49, $0.50 more than Butterbeer!

But that's not all. Butterbeer is served in 16oz cups while Blue Milk comes in about 8oz cups. In essence you are paying $0.50/oz of Butterbeer at Universal but $1.06/oz of Blue Milk at Disney. You are paying more than double at Disney per volume compared to a similar product at Universal. Price is one thing, but value is another.

Disney is free to continue raising prices to provide a better experience for those able to afford it. Disney may very well be undervalued. But with continual trigger-happy price increases, Disney risks rocketing beyond the market clearing price, if it hasn't left its orbit already.

January 11, 2022 at 5:55 PM

Excellent point @MyHandsDontScan.
It's a funny this site keeps on having strange comparisons while covering for Di$ney.
It's fine, I guess Robert needs the money as does Di$ney, and it makes a good read, I laughed my socks off. So one big hurray for more "fair" price raising, the sky is the limit for this "world class" destination (lol)!

January 11, 2022 at 6:25 PM

I don’t believe that the next few quarterly earnings will display whether or not Disney’s price increases and new changes are effective or well received, because it would be very hard for Disney to not beat it’s previous earnings. With the pandemic affecting the past few quarterly earnings, as well as all the new ways for guests to spend more money whether that be lightning lane, genie +, or the increases, there is no way this quarterly earning does not blow the past few out of the water. Along with those increases, Disney is still spending less money than before due to entertainment cuts and less labor. The bad thing about that, is that Disney will take those numbers and see it as a way for them to continue to raise the prices, as there will be a tremendous increase in the amount spent. I am not exactly sure what the math is on it, but if Lightning Lane sells out every day, and 33% of guests are buying genie + per day, as well as the busy holiday season, that’s a lot of extra revenue for Disney that will inflate their earnings.

January 11, 2022 at 6:29 PM

I chose Butterbeer vs. Dole Whip because they are each the most iconic, popular cold/frozen treat at their resort, so they seemed like the best apple-to-apple comparison for most visitors.

Blue Milk is such a non-starter for me that I don't consider it worthy of comparison with Butterbeer. And don't get me started on the abomination that is Green Milk.

January 11, 2022 at 7:30 PM

Also..the prices some guests pay for deluxe accomodations or specially the DVC are very high indeed. The ticket price or increases on food/merchandise are a very small porcentage of the overall experience. However if your family/ travel group is big ( 6 plus people ) those increments can really rack up.
I do belive that the ticket price vs hours spent in the park with rides/ shows/ parades/ fireworks etc is a very good price. How ever time spent in line may upset that balance.
Small groups/couples/solo travellers can get a much better deal. Specially if you know how to manage your time and have prior exoerience/ research

January 11, 2022 at 8:32 PM

Compared to bars in DC, Disney is an absolute bargain.

January 11, 2022 at 11:28 PM

An interesting concept that counters a lot of the argument about Disney's prices going on right now. I understand Robert's point. I'm looking into watching the Blue Man Group in Vegas. A weekday showing for a mid-level ticket with fees comes out to about $145. Comparable to a Disney World 1 day ticket but for only a 2 hour show as opposed to a day's worth of experience. I recently watched my favorite NFL team play in person. I paid for slightly above mid-level tickets and the price for those was 300 each (my team was done for by the 3rd quarter BTW). So I get that point.

But Disney World for a lot of people is a family destination with kids in tow. That really adds up. The parks and dining can be up for this argument but one aspect of Disney World that can never be considered underpriced are their resorts. They're dropping extras and amenities yet the prices keep skyrocketing.

January 12, 2022 at 3:34 AM

The blue milk may not be as valid a comparison either.
The Star Wars IP
That said, that means Blue Milk is over-priced.

Of course that assumes that they aren't paying Lucasfilm royalties for the IP usage the same as Universal is

January 12, 2022 at 5:35 AM

Dole Whips are indeed iconic, but I don’t think they are the best option you can get at Aloha Isle. This last visit, I decided to try something new, and went with the “Tropical Serenade” which I thought was great. There are a few other items I wouldn’t mind trying either. I bet if most guests tried something different, they would be surprised…

January 12, 2022 at 7:49 AM

I'd willingly pay $7.99 NOT to drink Butterbeer...... :)

January 12, 2022 at 8:35 AM

If you believe in the concept of supply and demand (as I'm sure most of you do), then yes, Disney is underpriced. I know most of the article was made in relation to the price increases of goods inside the park, but as the park is still being filled to Disney capacity many days (as evidenced by lack of park reservation availability on many days), then Disney has room to increase prices (particularly ticket prices) further. If people are willing to pay higher prices, then why wouldn't Disney want to maximize their bottom line.

Now, I'm not a cheerleader for Disney like Robert is. I do believe that all the price increases and cuts in services that were made in 2021 were too much and too fast. It has caused a lot of bad press (outside of this site) for Disney. JonathonK is right that only the next earnings call will show whether this new Bob Chapek strategy has proven more profitable.

And finally, O T stated:

"It's a funny this site keeps on having strange comparisons while covering for Di$ney. It's fine, I guess Robert needs the money as does Di$ney, and it makes a good read..."

A statement that I made a couple weeks ago about how Robert is using controversial topics to drive traffic to this site, much to the chagrin of many readers here. I am glad to see that I am not the only one that sees this.

January 12, 2022 at 10:52 AM

Right, TwoBits, other people lack manners just like you. If you're accusing Robert (or anyone) of being a shill without some evidence to prove it, you're a sad loser, full stop. You're Trump.

January 12, 2022 at 11:51 AM

FWIW Universal also sells Dole Whip at Schwab's Pharmacy in USF & Whimpy's in IOA. The price? $3.99 for a cup. I can't seem to find the cup sizes for either Disney or Universal online, but assuming relatively equivalent portions, Disney is charging $3 more for the same product.

I think another interesting facet of this discussion is merchandise. The existence of Cast Connections demonstrates that there is an excess supply relative to the demand at Disney's price points. Certain guests may balk at a $75 price point for what's essentially a souped up sweatshirt, while others might put down $150 hand over fist for a well-designed Spirit Jersey. There's no way of knowing with certainty in advance what item or design will be a hit and what ends up in the 75% off bargain bin.

Disney, of course, is not the only theme park to sell steeply discounted excess inventory. But it does beg the question: how much is too much for the "Disney tax"? And how close are Disney's competitors able to approach it?

In the Dole Whip example, Disney is tacitly stating that Dole Whips are worth $3 more in their park because you're experiencing the product at Disney. This may work for certain exclusive food & merch options, but with price increases across the board, higher ticket prices may eat up potential revenue from higher priced food & merch. If only Disney could rub a lamp and summon some sort of magical optimizer...

January 12, 2022 at 11:56 AM

TwoBits: This remains a site with journalistic integrity. Even when Robert chooses controversial positions (and at times I wouldn't doubt that he may do so with the goal of driving traffic to the site, engaging with followers, and generating discussion, as this is a business he is running), he does so with well-informed, well-written articles that always go deeper into the subject at hand than the headline. The opposite is true on most websites, and certainly on most theme park websites. I, for one, applaud the ways in which he provides multiple viewpoints, not because it drives traffic, but because it makes us all more informed consumers. I never get the sense that he is writing to benefit any given company or park. Those who claim he has pro-Disney bias must not be reading this site all that regularly. Nor would it make sense for someone covering theme-park news and innovations to treat Disney like it isn't the market leader.

I agree with you that a day at Disney has gotten too expensive. But on a recent visit, I did also notice that food prices were lower than at Knott's, a park I usually think of as affordable (because the ticket prices are lower).

Finally, if you don't want a blogger to need to create controversial headlines in order to drive traffic, you might make a point of not commenting on articles that you consider to be "click-bait" and instead commenting on the more purely informative articles on this site that often generate few comments. That would be voting with your time and attention.

January 12, 2022 at 12:46 PM

Clearly MyHandsDontScan has never been to Cast Connection (singular, not plural FYI). For one these days it's empty... Disney and everyone else has such a supply inventory issue that there simply is very little rolling over for cast to buy, discounted or not. A temp problem hopefully, and not your main point, but worth mentioning. Second, the stock is usually heavily tilted towards the last season's big event (marathon, F&W, specialty cruises, etc.), so maybe interesting to buy if you just need a shirt or whatever. And third, when 'nice' stuff does get there it's usually in sizes at the both ends of the spectrum (XS/S and XL/XXL) and rarely in the middle. Most cast the go there do it for the few staple groceries that they sell at okay discount prices compared to the store, but the selection is very limited.

January 12, 2022 at 1:06 PM

In a context of year-round overcrowding, Disney needs to stop offering discounts to a large number of guests. APs, resident discounts, etc. only aggravate the problem (and aggravate top dollar paying tourists!). For way too long, the only thing Disney seemed to care about was packing the parks all year long, and guest experience be damned. If everyone pays the true value of their Disney vacation, then there WILL be much more value -- since you won't be figthing crowds all the time (at least, not as much obnoxious crowding).

Now it's true that most of the on-site hotels are pricy or downright outrageous, but people are clearly willing to pay a premium for proximity to the parks. So at least supply and demand are working in that area.

January 12, 2022 at 1:29 PM

With Colonel immediately posting after me, I'm beginning to think he was just lurking, waiting for me to post something so he could respond.

@Jonah: I agree with you nearly 100%. This site is much more well written than many click-bait sites that come across my social media feeds as they have picked up I am a theme park enthusiast. But as a writer for the O.C. Register, he is not going to aggravate an advertiser with the money and power as Disney.

One thing I will point out is this statement you made:

"Even when Robert chooses controversial positions (and at times I wouldn't doubt that he may do so with the goal of driving traffic to the site, engaging with followers, and generating discussion, as this is a business he is running)..."

...directly contradicts with your statement prior:

"This remains a site with journalistic integrity."

Should the money drive journalism, and if it does, isn't that undermining the integrity of it all?

Finally, I will admit I'm guilty of giving my time and attention to this site (Robert, you're welcome for the extra income you receive from advertisers for my clicks). But since my post two weeks ago, I have noticed that articles that he writes that are not editorials and his opinions do not drive a lot of traffic (or at the very least, repeat traffic) to those articles. There was one exception that started as just a factual article, but the comments turned into an argument between whether Disney or Universal was better that was mostly unrelated to the article.

January 12, 2022 at 9:24 PM

@TwoBits I’m convinced TheColonel is a satire account at this point. Nobody can be that idiotic with a straight face

January 13, 2022 at 12:04 AM

Well said @Jonah Sirota.

What a sad group of haters to falsely impugn Robert when he has one of the most thoughtful theme park sites on the web. Why not shove off to Fox News or some other site where that sort of small-minded behavior is welcome?

January 13, 2022 at 12:36 AM

To get back to topic, I am struck by the complaints on Disney so expensive when really par for the course for other parks. And at least they offer a bit more quality than the terrible food for same prices at a Six Flags or such.

High prices at Disney parks have been a regular thing for decades, just something those who go there have to get used to.

January 13, 2022 at 12:42 AM

Disney underpriced ?? Ha ha I’m sure that’s what every visitor thinks after marveling at their state of art attractions, reminiscing about the peaceful throngs of people and knowing they cheated Disney by paying only $12k for the family vacation !

January 13, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Haaaaa Robert, teasing us (readers) with a regular swing from :
Disney too expensive > Disney underpriced > Disney hot - Disney cold.
:-)
What can I say about any of those wierd milk concoctions ?
Not for me. Just once a year a very classic milkshake, will do.
:-)
But, it's not the point. My point is: aren't there more interesting topics in the field of (real) theme parks worldwide ?
Cheers :-)

January 13, 2022 at 7:09 AM

One ticket for one person for one day at one park is actually reasonably priced. Sure. But Disney isn't set up for that, and as-of-late wants to get as far away from that as possible. I have been that one guest for one day, meeting up with friends, and had a fantastic, reasonably priced day. But Disney doesn't want me.

For the majority of the visitors they are targeting, a family vacation to Disney includes the cost of four flights, seven nights at an above market priced hotel, a six day park hopper with Fastlane on each one (times four), seventy-two meals, twenty-eight overpriced snacks, and close to $500 in souvenirs. And that's if you don't go to Cirque du Soleil.

Sure, a $125 theme park ticket is a better value than a $150 concert ticket. But concert tickets don't require six-thousand dollars in peripherals.

Robert actually hit the nail right on the head with the comment "Disney has a problem when fans using those deals begin crowding out other guests who are willing to pay closer to the rack rate."

And that's Disney's very real situation. They are actually too successful, and their parks have become too busy. And us "Theme Park Insiders" who have figured out all the tricks of the parks to cut the costs, optimize the Fastpasses, Park Hop and early entry to the greatest success are the most logical ones (financially) for Disney to eliminate.

They want the once-in-a-lifetime vacation people, who will splurge, splurge, splurge, on every single upcharge and full price luxury. Every penny drained from every pocket, and then throw a bunch more on the credit card on top of that.

Theme Park fanatics don't buy the souvenirs like those guests - because we got all we want long ago. We know which restaurants are the best deals, and which ones have servings big enough to share for two. We know which rides to hit at rope drop, rather than pay for any upcharge. We know which hotels will show up on discount sites two months before our trip. We know which gift shops actually have better valued snacks than the kiosks in the street, and which kiosks has a better beer price than in the bar. And we probably put away JUST enough money to cover exactly what we need to spend - because we have it down to a science, and know all the prices and hidden costs.

How often do you read on these boards that Disney has gotten too busy to enjoy properly? Well, Disney knows that and agrees. And its current objective is to stop catering to the most expendable guests, who are likely to spend the least.

And I hate to say it, but that's us.

January 13, 2022 at 9:29 AM

B Goodwin: "Sure, a $125 theme park ticket is a better value than a $150 concert ticket. But concert tickets don't require six-thousand dollars in peripherals."

That is an outstanding analogy, and brings up a very good point.

I'm not sure Disney is going after just the "once in a lifetime" trip-goers. If that were the case, they would not have DVC, nor would they offer deals for lower-priced rooms, or create new attractions. They definitely want repeat customers. But they want the in-betweeners: Those who return, BUT are still willing to pay for an upgraded room (first time at a moderate resort, return visit at a deluxe resort), or more table service meals. I'm sure it is a fine line Disney tries to balance to maximize their profits.

And Disney definitely has to change the rules once in a while to keep ahead of us "Insiders". We did manage to maximize the FP+ system and learned that rope drop is the way to get the most our of our days. Rope dropping became common knowledge, as did the FP+ system, so it got replaced with Genie+ and rope dropping is now only allowed if staying at a Disney resort.

And @Stormrunner: LOL

January 13, 2022 at 12:30 PM

ultimately, isn't the problem that there are far more very rich people and far more very poor people than there were in 1960? i don't feel badly for disney (in fact, extremely the opposite -- this is largely a problem of their own making) but there are fewer "middle class" citizens than thus this is the way late-stage capitalism insists their business scales.

they have to target the ultra rich and those who are darn close to it. there's a lot of noise around all the loopholes they can close and all the insiders they can shut out and the loyal fans who feel hard done by, certainly. but frankly I think it's pretty simple: disney is chasing ever-increasing revenues from ever-diminishing streams, just like every other conglomerate. i think that's bad, certainly, but no more or less bad than every other business.

January 13, 2022 at 3:40 PM

I belive disney goal strategy is even more simple than that. They are not going for ultra rich. Ultra rich people dont go for the " modest " accommodations in disney ( even the deluxe levels are not that billionares are used to, maybe a very few rooms in the resort or Golden oaks ) and super rich do not often rub shoulders with the most of us in a hot summer day. The disney managment is going indeed for the noob , the rookie, the inoccent unsuspecting turist that would spend a lot more that they should be couhging up in a vacation, but is paying for the privilage of a " prime vacation " . Disney used to be an excellent deal for a family vacation, now not so much. Disney is amazing, and getting better, but if you do not make reaserch, you are going to feel you just went to las Vegas and bet the house mortage while drunk at the roulette table.

January 13, 2022 at 8:46 PM

What a sad group of haters to falsely impugn Robert when he has one of the most thoughtful theme park sites on the web. Why not shove off to Fox News or some other site where that sort of small-minded behavior is welcome?

Ok @thecolonel,
The problem with you and Robert is anytime someone disagrees with you it is lets blame Fox News. The problem in this world is not looking at both sides. I watch stations on both sides of the isle and form my own opinion, if you had any brain cells you might want to try it out. Robert has the same problem, a total disgust for conservatives he can't help but be ignorant to different viewpoints. Neither side is always wrong and most definitely always right.
I will end as not a Trump supporter he didn't destroy this country but everyone's hatred of him did. Rational thought and discussion has gone out the window.

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January 16, 2022 at 5:38 PM

No one has lined up for 5 hours to get a Harry Potter popcorn bucket.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd ... scene.

January 17, 2022 at 5:35 AM

I remember when it $3 to park and $20 for a Disneyland. And I thought it was too expensive.

But EVERYTHING has gotten more expensive; it's not just Disney. I think I've been priced out of Walt Disney World, but I could still swing two or three days at Disneyland, as long as I stay off property.

But I don't think I'll be comfortable in a large crowd for a little while.

January 17, 2022 at 4:50 PM

Nice shocker of a title! LOL

You are correct though! If you are going to be mad at Disney, you should be mad at most entertainment venues. Probably the bigger shock is how expensive everything else is compared to Disney. Disney's decisions are also not made in a vacuum. Disney isn't doing anything really much different than its competition down the street at Universal. They are all cut from the same cloth.

Also, Disney has tested all of this out of oblivion. They know how much money people are willing to spend and they won't stop until we all say NO.

For my own thoughts, raising the price on a pretzel or Dole Whip by a buck isn't going to cause me to change my plans. Disney is already expensive, whats a $1 more?

As to @Robert's taste. I enjoy the Blue Milk ice cold inside of Oga's. Give me the green milk with the liquor outside!

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