You probably saw a few days ago when Disney World announced new prices. “Higher” was the word most often used.
In Disney language, ala the happiest place on earth, it might have been known as “value enhancing.”
And yet, making no apologies for higher prices, the move raises some timely questions:
What is the value, cost-wise at least, of a trip to Disney World?
Of course, the looming higher prices also raise another far more-reaching issue:
Can Disney maintain the magic in the air?
Will Magic go on?
There’s little question Disney World is crowded these days.
But if you think it’s bad in Orlando, consider California.
Parts of the park there are closed. That’s to make room for Star Wars.
“On Jan. 10, 2016, parts of the Rivers of America and the Disneyland Railroad train will suspend operations. Temporarily closing is Fantasmic, the Mark Twain Riverboat, the Sailing Ship Columbia cruise of Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island and Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes,” according to news reports.
Big Thunder Ranch is closing permanently as of Jan. 10.
The only consolation:
Disneyland is holding a "Season of the Force" event starting Nov. 16 of this year to get fans excited for the upcoming new rides.
Orlando is also impacted by new construction
Especially with the multi-million dollar, guest-distracting renovations now underway?
But even more of a down-to-earth issue:
Will Disney World prices soon swing with the seasons?
That possibility was raised in…where else…The Wall Street Journal.
For the first time in 60 years, Disney is looking seriously at demand-based pricing at domestic parks, says the WS Journal.
What that would mean:
Disney World Tickets would cost less or provide added benefits during slower days. Or come with more restrictions on far busier days.
Signs of coming seasonal pricing
The signs indicating this as a strong possibility are everywhere.
Visitors to almost any area of the Disney’s US parks in both Orlando and California see signs of construction.
Some long-time visitors who used to avoid Saturdays, which are almost always jam-packed, now report also being reluctant to go on other weekend days. They are also crowded.
Dumpsters and plywood facades for new offerings are so common that they can’t help but impress visitors.
And not always favorably.
Will Disney be able to keep drawing visitors as prices rise and inconveniences continue with new offerings?
That’s an “increasing challenging” for Disney as crowds are attracted by new attractions, an improving economy and new coming attractions such as “Star Wars” and “Frozen.”
No one is better at looking at the bottom line than the WS Journal.
They note that parks in Orlando and California have posted record attendance for each of the past three years (and also the spring quarter that ended in June).
“Gruelingly long lines and long lines, which Disney parks sometimes have to implement on the busiest days, lead to unhappy visitors,” the newspaper notes.
The paper quotes Disney officials as looking at ways to spread out attendance over the year and “accommodate demand while not bursting at the seams.”
That raises the prospect of seasonal pricing, says Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek.
“If the company can instead keep Disneyland and Walt Disney World full and not mobbed for more of the year, that would likely benefit the bottom line,” the newspaper says.
In this case, the bottom line as reported in the Journal, is that in the first three months of this year, Disney parks revenue increased 6 percent.
That is $11.8 billion…a huge amount, even for the free-spending US Congress.
Seasonal pricing is one solution
The idea of seasonal pricing, of course, is nothing new in the hotel and airline industry.
Disney itself has long had pricing tiers of annual passes that exclude admission on certain days.
Writes the Journal:
“Given the way demand-based pricing works in other industries, it isn’t difficult to foresee a time when visiting one of Disney’s parks on a major holiday would cost substantially more than the current $105 maximum price for a single-day adult tickets in Orlando and $99 in Anaheim. Visiting on a weekday in the winter, by contrast, could come at a significant discount.”
What benefits might Disney offer in return for higher prices?
Visiting more and different parks on the same day is one option.
Lower prices at less busy times, by contrast, might be limited to certain times and only one park.
What Disney World will ultimately do with ticket prices is still pending, but in the meantime, this week the attraction revamped annual and seasonal pass system.
In case you have not seen it, major changes include higher prices.
Disney adds, however, that there are new benefits.
The cost of parking also went up, from $17 to $20.
The new system "has been designed to offer a wider variety of options and entitlements to best fit the needs of our Passholders," Disney said in an email.
If you already know this…you might want to skip the next few paragraphs of mind-numbing numbers…but here they are. For the record:
Among the major changes: Prices have increased.
Disney points out passes also include new benefits.
Numbers, numbers, and more numbers
Also, Disney now sells two passes with blackout dates, with the pricier one allowing people to visit more days.
The $329 seasonal pass is now gone.
Instead there are gold and silver passes.
The silver pass, for Florida residents only, costs $389. It has blackout dates during summer, Christmastime and spring break.
The gold pass costs $549. It allows summertime visits but has blackout dates during Christmas and spring break. The pass, allowing visits about 335 days of the year, is for Florida residents and Disney Vacation Club members only.
Unlike the previous seasonal passes, the gold and silver passes include free parking.
The gold one includes PhotoPass downloads.
The Epcot After 4 and Weekday Select passes -- for Florida residents only -- also now offer free parking.
The most expensive "platinum plus" pass costs $729 for Florida residents.
Its cost is $829 for out-of-state tourists.
What is a PhotoPass worth?
It provides admission to four Walt Disney World theme parks, two water parks, Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course, and ESPN Wide World of Sports.
It also includes unlimited Disney PhotoPass downloads and special offers for stays at Disney hotels.
Previously the highest-level pass had cost $649 for Florida residents.
The regular annual pass, called a Disney Platinum Pass, now costs $649 for Florida residents and $749 for out-of-state tourists. It now includes Disney Photo Pass downloads.
Previously, an annual pass had cost $529 for Florida residents.
Perhaps you are one of the few who have annual passes to both parks.
That premiere pass has risen 30 percent in recent years.
It is now at $1,439 compared to the previous $1,099.
Disney says that current passes remain valid through their expiration dates.
We’re not the WS Journal, but let’s take a look at financial matters. And value here, too.
Are Disney prices fair?
Are they more than fair: Are they a bargain?
Let’s take a couple of minor points first.
That Photo Pass has been priced in the past at $169.95 and even $99.95 but recent offers are for $69.95 if bought two weeks before your vacation. Not bad.
Having photos is almost a universal desire.
There’s no question that Disney’s PhotoPass people are everywhere. They’re in front of castles, the giant golf balls, anywhere near main attractions. You can even find them at resort hotels.
This is definitely a fun option.
That’s the case because the site encourages guests to add and edit their photos. You can add borders, character autographs, special event logos and more to any photos with elements that can be added to CDs.
Fun graphics can be added automatically.
Your photos of yourself or wife or friend can be seen holding Tinker Bell in the palm of your hand. Or a simple Mickey balloon.
Choices are endless.
If you consider that a small photo packages at a single dining location can cost, say $35, or even a single photo at $15 and up…this is a bargain.
Taking your own photos
If you are something of an accomplished photographer, you can take your own photos. There’s still a cost.
But the bottom line here is that the cost of this perk, relative to overall prices for Disney, is a drop in the photographer’s bucket.
The $20 for parking is also not a major expense.
Parking at the covered lot at the Orlando International Airport is $17 a day, or $15 at the much smaller Orlando Sanford International Airport (offering far fewer flights). So that is not out of line.
Let’s say for argument sake you are looking at $100 per adult ticket.
Of course, most of us don’t go alone. And that is just the admission price.
$100 buys what?
Just what does $100 buy in lieu of a one-day admission to a theme park?
The average spent on souvenirs: $52.
Let’s just take that figure of roughly $100, and say you buy nothing.
You brought your own food (yes, highly unlikely, but for simplicity, let’s use it as an example).
Buys a very cheap I-phone or even a camera. A good pair of cheap designer jeans or a good sweater.
Or a steak dinner for two (probably without wine) at a nice and somewhat elegant restaurant (though far from the most expensive one in the area). A really fine bottle of wine.
None of these last two, food or wine, lasts very long.
But that same $100 gets you at least entrance into the park, with access to all the rides you want.
At the same time, your park admission is always getting more expensive but also more expansive.
In other words, there may be more crowds but there are also more attractions.
More to see
Disney Springs (replacing Downtown Disney) officially opened, to cite one recent example.
Many new restaurants. More entertainment options.
You may not be a foodie, but recent openings included Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs. This added the much-noted Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and his “authentic” Asian food.
No foodie, perhaps?
The restaurant will also offer a quick service menu.
Other smaller openings go on constantly.
Hopefully to continue Disney’s ambition of pleasing all…or almost all…tastes.
Major new openings for the future you already know about include Star Wars…at last.
And Avatar. And Frozen.
As for the new pricing options…look for more changes.
Rumors are regular ticket prices will go up again in November.
And the seasonal price possibility?
Disney is surveying park-goers right now to gauge their reaction.
No timetable is set.
If the past is any indication, seasonal may be coming.
Disney has been offering tired pricing at Disneyland Paris since last year.
Prices there range from $64 for an adult ticket good only in low season to $94 for one that is year-round.
One thing you can count no matter what: prices will go up.
At the same time, more additions and announcements will also be common.
Will they compensate and/or offset the added costs?
But it’s up to you. ###