Ka-ching. It’s becoming increasingly more expensive to savor the magic of a Disney theme park, as a recent rise in ticket prices at the Disneyland Resort has struck many guests with frustration and anger. Although it is normal to witness changes each year, the most recent list of ticket prices shows quite significant upsurges. Here I’ll focus on the fiscal value of what you’re receiving for spending time at The Happiest Place on Earth.
Say you want to go to either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure for just one day. If you’re any adult, that will now cost you $87. Previously it was set at $80. Let’s consider that you take said ticket to Disneyland on a day when the park is open for 16 hours, and you stayed the entire day there. You would be paying $5 an hour, mind you the park would likely contain heavy crowds. Now let’s say you choose to “park hop” between both parks for that same day. For the past decade or so, the Park Hopper plans have been very popular, especially for those who might want to head to Disneyland during the morning and California Adventure in mid-afternoon when the original park feels packed. Well, that one-day park hopper ticket will now cost you a whopping $125, up from $105. Suddenly your money is not worth as much, as you would be spending $7.81 an hour over a 16-hour period. But really, who is in the park from opening to closing over such a long day?
You might be thinking now, “Okay, then, I’ll just spend several days at the parks to really get my money’s worth.” Though that motto may have applied well in the past, unless you are an out-of-town guest who is purchasing a four-day or five-day park hopper, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Think about this. A two-day park hopper ticket is $200 (for adults), averaging to $6.25 a day, which is somewhat more reasonable. Bear in mind that figure accounts for if you spent 32 hours in the parks over those two days – assuming you’re there in the summer, too, as off-season periods lack the same long hours. Three-day park hoppers come to $250 each for adults.
The long-celebrated Deluxe Annual Passport, which allows annual passholders to enter the parks on most days throughout the year (well, about 315 of them), now costs $469 for adults. Before the ticket increase, it was $379. Basically, then, in just a year it costs about 20 percent more to hold that plan. The situation is even more striking for annual passholders who belong to the Premium Annual Passport (with free parking and no blackout dates), which is now $649 for adults. Previously it cost $499. That’s a heavy 33 percent raise, a very tough pill to swallow.
The question now is “why?” Why must Disney make it so much more challenging to pay for a vacation to one of the most popular destinations on the West Coast? As we all know, Disney is a business first and foremost. Like other corporations, price increases are a way of nature. However, many might wonder why the ticket prices have increased so heavily. Yes, it’s normal to see passes rise five percent or so, but never this much.
Many can argue that the opening of Cars Land, an exciting new area of California Adventure based on the world of Disney-Pixar’s Cars, is a key reason. This expansion’s financial figures are in the ballpark of hundreds of millions of dollars. The re-development of the park’s entrance area (Buena Vista Street), now themed to 1920’s-era Hollywood, also did not come at a discount. This is the greatest extension to the park in its 11-year history, and concludes what has been a massive period of growth for the entire resort, which has seen the openings of many major attractions and entertainment in recent years (World of Color, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, among others). Because of all of this “freshness,” one could say the money has to come from somewhere. What better way to raise the revenue than to make ticket prices even more expensive? That’s only half of the problem, though.
Disneyland Resort is as popular as ever in attendance, not only because of these thrilling new pieces of fun, but also because of the amount of annual passholders. Southern California guests are among the most frequent park-goers of them all, accounting for many of the crowds that make up the busiest days of the year. No longer are the parks as empty as they were immediately post 9/11 and the few years succeeding that, when the Disneyland Resort was far from bustling. Despite the economic recession of the past several years, the Disney theme parks have been relatively immune from this. People still want to go on vacation and dish out the cash that it takes to make those trips happen – and if they live locally, they will shell out money for annual passports. It’s a relatively good value if you make the most of it. Nevertheless, the parks haven’t become much bigger – with the exception of California Adventure growing in size as a result of Cars Land’s opening on June 15 – and the crowds of annual passholders have only risen. That means more bodies in the same area of land, equating to congestion central. One strategy in raising the passholder tickets so dramatically could be to convince fewer people to purchase those plans, and thus, limit the amount of days that the Disneyland Resort must close the gates for individuals not already in the parks. That scenario has happened very frequently over recent years, and even Disney cannot always estimate how much interest the parks will draw.
The well-executed and marketed Leap Day event, in which Disneyland was open for a 24-hour period, was poorly projected, in that tens of thousands of more guests showed up that day than the resort could have ever anticipated. But this brings into question how much supply Disney can offer given the demand. Cars Land will certainly assist in that effort, giving guests more room to stretch out and enjoy the various offerings, but if the attendance continues to spike in light of the ticket increases, these problems are bound to persist.
There are no easy answers here. Increasing passholder prices by over 20 percent could accomplish the job of steering away locals and making the guest experience more enjoyable for out-of-towners, assuming their numbers do not rise. However, one must wonder if even these very pricy annual passholder tickets will make much of a difference. They haven’t in the past, so will this time make any difference? It’s hard to say now, and it might not even matter. The amount of additional cash Disneyland Resort could be reaping in may benefit us all, in that we could have the chance to experience even more E-ticket attractions in the future. What’s next for the resort is anyone’s guess, but let’s hope that the ticket prices don’t rise as sharply next year as they did this year, and that we may at least see an announcement of a cool new experience soon.