The news is out, and unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that Disney has changed the structure and price points for its annual pass offerings at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about the change, other than I know that it will make it more difficult for my family to visit domestic Disney theme parks. Perhaps the best way to sort through our feelings on the issue is to look at some of the common concerns the price hike raises.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland provide the most entertainment value for your dollar and therefore should be the highest ticket on the block. I don’t disagree with this thought. I do believe that other theme venues have been making substantial progress, but the leader of the pack is still Disney. There are two problems here as I see it however. Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie and are going to continue to raise their prices to outlandish rates to keep up, and while families will be able to afford fewer and fewer trips there will still be plenty of people paying the prices to keep up with the Joneses, Universals, and Disneys. All of that said this is still an argument that I understand and see from Disney’s side of the fence.
The cost of construction for Star Wars Land, Pandora, Toy Story Land, and Disney Springs needs to be paid somewhere. Absolutely. But don’t for one second try to persuade me that the moment these areas are open Disney won’t be raising prices again because the value has gone up due to the new offerings. Look no further than the price of a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket increase that popped up right after the completion of New Fantasyland. Guests are not getting a discount for living with parks under construction with cranes visible all throughout the area and a gauntlet of refurbishment walls that have to be negotiated. Not to mention the fact that parks like Disney’s Hollywood Studios are losing more and more attractions and entertainment options as a part of the expansion, but the ticket prices required to gain entrance to a park on the mend are increasing along with every other park.
There was a strange bit of conversation I saw over the weekend as well where one acquaintance of mine argued that locals should be thankful they can still go to Walt Disney World as there are families that will only get there once in their lives, if they’re lucky. Sure, Florida and California residents have the luxury of proximity to visit the parks and resorts and they do have a wider variety of pass options. The question to me isn’t whether you live close or far away, the further you are away from something there is always going to be more expenses associated with visiting, from travel and lodging, to the basic needs of food. The heart of the matter is should it be this expensive at all?
I’m not going to quote entrance and ticket book prices for opening day at Disneyland or Walt Disney World and then compare the costs of today to what they should be by inflationary rules. We all know the comparison looks preposterous when we consider what guest should be paying. What I am going to quote is Walt Disney on his dream and belief for Disneyland, “It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them to different places and as I’d sit there while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things – sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts – I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together… But it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too.”
I can remember going to Fort Wilderness with my family as a child. We’d set up a tent and use the Comfort Stations because we couldn’t afford the cost of a night at the Polynesian or Contemporary. We had season passes that blocked out the peak times of year because we couldn’t afford full passes. And you know what? My sister and I never knew the difference. Walt Disney World was a magical place that we could, and would, pop over to on a Saturday with our parents just to watch some fireworks. To me, in hindsight, we were living the dream Walt Disney had all those many years ago. Passes costing what they do now, and families being supported by single working parents, or even two working parents, just wanting that place to connect with their children face a very different reality. It isn’t the entertainment enterprise that Walt dreamed up, and it isn’t even what I found as a child several decades ago.
I don’t know what the answer is for Disney and its prices. The driving force behind change for any commodity is what people are willing to pay, and there will always be people willing to pay to visit the dreams of Disney. The past few years have shown that Disney is looking to cater to the high-end experience, but there should still be a Walt Disney World and Disneyland for everyone, shouldn’t there? Trips are going to be a bit more sporadic for my family and I assume many of yours out there too, but that isn’t just from this one increase, and we wouldn’t give up on Disney regardless. It would, however, be nice to know that we all still have a place in the Mickey Mouse Club.