Disney Price Increases – Up, Up, and Away

| December 7, 2012 | 2 Replies

As a person who enjoys researching information about Disney’s theme parks I find myself from time to time looking through Disney message forums.  This is where I typically find up-to-the-minute information about the happenings at the theme parks.  This includes price increases either before or after they’ve occurred.  Continue through the page and let’s discuss the most recent price increase and why it’s a trend and not a passing fad.

Price increases at the Disney parks are something we can expect from time-to-time.  Disney provides guests with a great product and superior vacation experiences.  At the rate the turnstiles keep spinning we should expect price increases.  Disney is a business and they’d be crazy not to raise prices and capitalize on their investments.  I get that, I feel their most loyal fans get that, but what I don’t get is why these increases have to be so large.

Let’s take a look at the most recent price increase which involved membership into the Tables in Wonderland program.  This program gives annual passholders, DVC members, and Florida residents the opportunity to purchase a membership card that gives you 20% off of food and alcohol at various sit-down restaurants and bars across Disney property.  The cost was $75 for AP and DVC members and $100 for Florida residents.   As of 12/1/12 the price went up to $100 for AP and DVC members and $125 for Florida residents.  That is a 33% and 25% increase.  The trend for these increases over the years has been a modest $5 or $10 increase.  This recent increase was huge compared to previous increases!  Will I still buy a TiW card?  I’ll have to crunch the numbers, but one thing is for sure I’ve lost a good chunk of value when it comes to dining at Walt Disney World.  Looking at the other side of the coin local residents will still find this program much more of a value than tourists who visit the parks 3, 4, or 5 times per year.  It’s still a great value for those residents who live close to the parks.

Let’s analyze the Disney Dining Plan.  When the plan debuted back in 2005 the cost of the standard dining plan was $35 per adult.  For 2013 the standard dining plan is approximately $56.  That’s a 60% increase in price over the past 8 years.  Has the cost of food gone up 60% in the past 8 years?  No way.  I think anyone with business sense would tell you the cost of food has gone up, but nowhere near 60%.  You do have to consider there are other costs involved like labor and those costs increase too.  But, a 60% increase in 8 years seems sharp to me.  Also consider the plan has lost entitlements along the way like the included gratuity and appetizer (switched to dessert) making the 60% increase seem worse.

Moving onto to Disney theme park tickets, we could discuss these increases for a while.  Again, I expect Disney to raise ticket prices.  Their product is too much in demand not to raise prices.  But, if you look over the past 9 years we’ve seen 12 price increases in ticket media.  In June of 2003 a one-day park ticket purchased at the gate cost $52 plus tax.  Today, that same one-day ticket now costs $89 plus tax.  That’s approximately a 65% increase over the past 10 years.  Granted you can do better with a Magic Your Way ticket or get a better value with an annual pass depending on your vacation situation.

Let’s be fair.  These price increases are hefty, but let’s look at them in terms of value.  Disney is continually adding new entertainment and dining options to its theme parks.  In regards to dining, new restaurant outlets are popping-up like the new Tutto Gusto and Via Napoli in EPCOT’s Italy pavilion, a new margarita bar in EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion, and the latest addition The Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s new Fantasyland.  These eateries are outstanding, but does that mean we should be seeing these types of food and beverage increases over the past 8 years?  Certainly not by 60%.  The increase doesn’t match the value in my opinion.

As for ticket price increases we have seen Disney investing in their theme parks over the past 10 years.  The addition of the new Fantasyland, Cars Land, Pixar Place, a refurbished Haunted Mansion, Test Track, Star Tours, etc.  However, I don’t think these investments warrant a 65% ticket price increase over the past 9 years for each adult guest.  Even the other ticket options like annual passes have increased greatly.  The last Disney World annual pass increase this past June was $55.  That’s by far the biggest AP increase we’ve ever seen for the Orlando parks.  One other note in fairness Disney Vacation Club did just roll-out a set of perks never seen before like a $399 premium annual pass for its members.  These types of perks and benefits to its most loyal customers are appreciated and we hope they continue.

My contention with price increases isn’t the amount of increases we’ve seen over the years; it’s simply the size of these increases.  The increase percentages are staggering and alarming.  The size of these increases seem to be accelerating with the addition of new and refurbished attractions.  Are guests still storming the theme parks?  Yes!  The prices haven’t stopped guests from spinning the turnstiles, but what I’m afraid of is when the tipping-point is reached the attendance drop-off will be fast and furious.  Just as fast as prices have increased over the past decade.  Think about this.  What if we see another 65% increase in ticket and food prices over the next 9 years?  Will the casual guest and middle-income family still be able to afford a trip to the Disney parks?  For me personally it would be very difficult to stop visiting the theme parks because of prices.  Like most park fans I’d have to improvise during my visits like eating off property or spending far less on souvenirs which I’m starting to do today.  Whatever happens in the next decade I’m hopeful Disney will find common-ground between guest affordability and company profits in its Theme Parks division.

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