Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Theme Park Think Tank,” where we venture into the heart of some of the most debated subjects in the theme park world. Although Theme Park Magazine remains impartial on these hot-button issues, columnist Adam Fagenson will present you with meticulously researched analyses, exploring various angles of a controversial theme park subject every two weeks. Your insights and opinions aren’t just welcomed; they’re encouraged. Today, we tackle a question that hits home for many: Are the prices for Disney theme parks too expensive? Dive into the perspectives, scrutinize the reasoning, and then share your thoughtful and respectful opinion. We’re eager to hear what you think!
It has never been more expensive to attend a Disney park. Although attendance in Disneyland remains strong, fewer guests have visited Walt Disney World than in prior years. Many have voiced concerns about Disney’s unreasonable pricing strategies, including Bob Iger. The CEO of the Walt Disney Company deemed ticket pricing strategies “a little too aggressive” in an interview with the L.A. Times this year (1).
A weekend Park Hopper ticket to Disneyland costs $234 today, nearly the cost of a low-tier Annual Passport ten years ago. The pricing at Disney’s theme parks can make it challenging for many American families desiring a Disney vacation. Despite park attendance claims, some visitors post images of mostly empty pathways in Walt Disney World, suggesting how few people can afford to attend. Disney’s tactics to turn a profit may be stressing parkgoers, prompting some to wonder if this strategy nears a breaking point. But what’s behind the high cost, and is it sustainable?
Is Inflation to Blame for Disney Ticket Costs?
Guests’ desire to return to the Disney parks has historically remained steady despite rising ticket costs. “Disney Parks, Experiences and Products revenues for the quarter increased 13% to $8.3 billion, and segment operating income increased 11% to $2.4 billion,” the Walt Disney Company’s third-quarter report mentioned this month (2). Most guests are past the point to question whether going to a Disney park is financially reasonable. Whether they want their children to experience Disneyland or to relive childhood nostalgia, the admission price is always part of the deal. However, some may find Disney’s reasoning behind this strategy debatable.
In their quarterly report, Disney attributed the rising admission costs to the inflation surge tearing into the United States. “At Disneyland Resort, higher attendance and increased guest spending were largely offset by higher costs driven by inflation. Guest spending growth was primarily due to an increase in average ticket prices.” If inflation were the only factor in accounting for rising prices, the cost of a ticket should remain the same as in the past; a one-park Disneyland ticket cost $43 in 2000, and with inflation accounted for, that ticket would cost $73 today, far below the actual price of between $119 to $150 (3). As such, inflation alone may not account for the rising ticket prices.
Is Recouping for Box Office Losses to Blame for Disney Ticket Costs?
Formerly their primary income flow and medium for artistic triumph, film releases that began under Bob Chapek’s leadership, practically every filmmaking subsidiary from Disney has failed to recoup production costs at the box office. Whether attributable to “sequelitis,” a lull in artistic leadership, or lackluster marketing efforts, Disney film productions cost the studio a towering $123 billion loss in 2022 (4).
Disney’s sister studios report similar pitfalls. Pixar’s release of Elemental has slowly earned back its budget but could mark a death knell for the studio as a leader in groundbreaking storytelling. The recently-released Haunted Mansion turned into a box office bomb (5). Whether due to fans’ post-Avengers: Endgame indifference or lackluster CGI in Antman: Quantumania, Marvel might be losing steam. Moreso, 2022’s three most giant box office bombs were Disney productions. Strange World, Amsterdam, and Lightyear all contributed to their tremendous losses. To compensate for their continuing box office losses, Disney leans further into the apparent evergreen profitability of their park ticket prices (6).
Supply and Demand at the Disney Parks
The Disney parks have long held an unusual supply and demand structure; a seemingly unlimited supply of guests continues to visit the resorts. Guests visit the parks so long as Walt Disney Imagineering produces state-of-the-art attractions that enhance the parks’ legacy and maintain them. As a response, Disney continues to raise the prices of their tickets, knowing that they will continue to profit so long as guests continue to visit.
The origin of their ceaseless supply is no mystery. Disney’s collection of legacy IPs and its unique capability to ignite and reignite childlike joy make guests return again and again. The Walt Disney Company’s legal department defends characters like Mickey Mouse in every possible facet, ensuring that the mouse remains a squeaky-clean source of pleasure untainted by unauthorized sources, and it pays off. Because guests come to love the parks, characters, and stories from Disney films and television, the company wagers everything on keeping that love intact by protecting and monitoring their intellectual property.
The seemingly impossible supply-demand curve might finally be nearing (or has passed) its pricing equilibrium. Despite guests’ love and joy for Disney properties, they may no longer be able to afford to attend. Guest attendance has already begun to drop in Walt Disney World during the summer of 2023, as noted previously, although Disneyland remains a steady source of income. With that in mind, Disneyland could see smaller crowds in the coming holiday season, assuming this trend continues.
So… Will the Bubble Burst (and When)?
In the Walt Disney Company’s third-quarter report, Bob Iger relays his satisfaction with their future. “While there is still more to do, I’m incredibly confident in Disney’s long-term trajectory because of the work we’ve done, the team we now have in place, and because of Disney’s core foundation of creative excellence and popular brands and franchises.”
These claims mean to encourage investor confidence. Upon closer inspection, these claims might not follow. The “work they’ve done” is not recouping the funds needed to create more content, as is evident in box office results. The “team [they] have now in place” is a barebones structure of their past teams following three rounds of mass layoffs (7). “Disney’s core foundation of creative excellence” may appear dubious, as complaints of sanitization and formulaic storytelling may make its products less desirable to the consumer public. Disney’s “popular brands and franchises” may represent a slew of unwanted sequels that risk the integrity of its brand by pushing their stories too far. If this is the Walt Disney Company’s best line of defense for their efforts, one may wonder if the company might be skidding toward a conclusive end.
What’s Your Opinion on Pricing?
We turn the question over to you. What do you think?
- Will park ticket costs outprice guests from visiting?
- Will there be a positive turnaround that encourages confidence in guests and investors?
- Apart from adjusting prices, how do you think Disney Parks can manage high demand?
- How does Disney’s current pricing influence your vacation planning?
- Should profits from theme parks be reinvested into other Disney divisions that are losing money or remain within the theme park sector?
Wherever you stand, feel free to drop your comment at the end of this article to start a conversation, but please be polite when posting or responding to others.
Disclaimer: The author has been tasked by Theme Park Magazine with presenting multiple sides of a controversial issue so that readers may dissect and discuss it further in the Comments. Statements made should not be construed as supporting a particular position. Theme Park Magazine champions a diversity of viewpoints on controversial theme park subjects, aiming to foster enlightening dialogues. However, the opinions expressed in this column, comments, or guest articles do not necessarily reflect the magazine’s beliefs or stance. Readers are encouraged to explore and engage with these topics in the Comments/Discussion section below but are asked to maintain respect and refrain from personal or inflammatory remarks.
Explore More: Videos
In this 2022 YouTube video, PCDev debates Disney park price increases.
Explore More: Resources
- Article: Why Disney Park Tickets are so Expensive (Readers Digest)
- Other Theme Park Think Tank Columns