Opinion: Disney price hikes about more than profit

Posted Tuesday, October 6, 2015 10:27 AM | Contributed by Jeff

From the piece:

While profits are undeniably at the heart of these changes, they’re also about simple crowd control. If you glance at many of the negative reviews of Walt Disney World or Disneyland at sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, you’ll see that people complain nearly as often about the parks being overcrowded as they do about them being overpriced. Maddening crowds and long lines can make theme park visitors miserable, and the “solution” Disney seems to be settling on is a win-win for the company: Raise prices so high that the parks will be full (but not overfull) of just the right (high-paying) customers.

Read more from Time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 4:07 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Brian Noble said:

Total 2014 attendance is 51.5M. If average trips are three park days, that's 17.2M distinct people per year.

In terms of how 'exclusive' the experience is, we really don't have to go further than this.

From here it's down to estimates about foreign/domestic and one-time/repeat visitors.

But let's imagine the absolute best case scenario just to create a completely hypothetical ceiling - those 17.2M visit once and from within the USA.

17.2 million visitors out of 318.9 million citizens.

At the very best, 5.4% of the US population visits WDW in a year. The reality is going to be much lower than that. Then you have to consider that's just a yearly figure - how does that apply to the average lifetime and he odds of visiting?

I guess what I'm pondering here is whether it's really that unreasonable that something only 1% of people do each year is priced so that only 1% of people can do it.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 4:16 PM
Jeff's avatar

Really? I can say without question that many of us locals spend $2k a year on the annual passes alone (assuming a family of four), and these are not "1%-ers." Hell, include the cruises, and I know I spent almost $10k with Disney last year. My family is a 15%-er at best, and I know my neighbors likely fall more into the 30-40% range. Everyone is over-thinking it. A household income of $50k a year can afford $2k on a vacation. If they can't, I don't think they know how to manage their money, or they just have vastly different priorities.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 4:36 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Honestly, I think your anecdotal evidence is atypical.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 5:07 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:

A household income of $50k a year can afford $2k on a vacation.

Your $2k number refers to a very specific situation (5 day stay, in the next two weeks, during a slower part of the season, nothing but room and tickets included).

If I plan for two kids and two adults with a more realistic timeline (next February 1st through 5th) still in slow season, taking advantage of current "Early 2016" promotional room rates at the low end Pop Century. I'm at $1726 for room and base tickets. If I add the basic Quick Sevrice plan for dining (which would be pushing it for all food needs) I'm up to $2411 and I still haven't gotten there. You could drive in many cases, but you really can't drive in many more.

When I add the flight through Disney I end up arriving mid-day on the 1st and leaving mid-day on the 5th (so 3 full and two half days at the parks) and the total cost is $3182.08

I that really the kind of vacations people take to WDW? Not even a full day for each park, trying to scoot by on the quick service plan for food? I've cut every corner and am probably going to have a less than stellar experience (especially compared to what Disney can be) and I'm dropping more than $3000 for the experience.

If you make $50,000 per year, your paycheck is $1923 gross. Net will obviously vary.

I can assure you I wouldn't drop two full paychecks for the experience outlined above. Whether you could or not is just a matter of, like you say, priorities, personal budgeting, sensibilities and such.

But it leads me to another line of thought. The vacation I've booked above for that cost is crap. That's a lot of money for what is going to be a pretty lame time. I can make $3100 of entertainment go WAY further and get more value out of it.

Which I think is what the 'cost of disney' discussion really envelops - it can be one of the best experiences going. It can be a great value. But that Disney experience doesn't come cheap...and that's the one worth pursuing.

And yes, I believe that Disney vacation is out of the reach of many people. However, I don't see that as an issue. So what if they offer a premium experience at a premium price? Like I said earlier, I think the market has spoken. Enough people are willing to pay the price for that experience that they're pushing the lower end spender out of the picture. Sucks if you expect to have a champagne vacation on a beer budget, but otherwise it's a win for everyone.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 6:10 PM
Jeff's avatar

You can't just pick a busier time of year with higher room rates and say my number is wrong. I could argue the opposite and say people could stay at some crappy place in Kissimmee (with free bed bugs).

Maybe I'm out of touch, but I stand by my position. I don't see how spending $2k every year or so is out of the realm of possibility for a $50k household. Looking at my own finances (and you know what I drive), I could live on net $40k after taxes easily, probably only having to reduce my dining-out budget. I know this is true, because in 2013 I saved everything beyond that for the down payment on my house.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 6:17 PM

Did I read that right? 40k a year without enough for food or housing? Someone needs to look at cost of living. In Beverly hills, no way, but Knoxville, Kentucky? Absolutely.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 8:43 PM
Jeff's avatar

Right? I've never been in a position where my housing plus car was more than $2k per month, so $24k a year, then add utilities, clothes and food. Maybe even Internet and phone. Household net $40k is a budget of $3,333 per month. I just don't see a universe where that isn't doable, with some left over.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 8:46 PM
bjames's avatar

Jeff said:

A household income of $50k a year can afford $2k on a vacation. If they can't, I don't think they know how to manage their money, or they just have vastly different priorities.

Pbbth! My parents made quite a bit more than that and I never got a trip to Disney as a kid, nor did they ever shell out that much on a vacation. We toured the small northeast parks for a few days each and that was about it. They preferred to invest in retirement, and as they were never close to breaking out of the middle class, they're now very well prepared for their retirement. Disney has become a haven for the rich family and/or the poor managers of money, as you say, as a result of its expensiveness.

Last edited by bjames, Wednesday, October 21, 2015 8:47 PM

"The term is 'amusement park.' An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things." -Spock, Stardate 3025

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 8:50 PM
Jeff's avatar

Your last line doesn't even make sense. I'd really invite anyone to come down and look around, because 20 million people a year visiting Magic Kingdom are not rich. I'm not rich, nor are my friends and neighbors.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 11:01 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:

You can't just pick a busier time of year with higher room rates and say my number is wrong.

I'd just like to point out that I don't think I did. In fact, I think apples-to-apples, I came in a little bit cheaper. The point was establishing a more realistic - all inclusive, actual out of pocket - price to get four people to Orlando for 5 days. It goes beyond tickets and room. Any vacationer/traveller/non-local isn't doing WDW and staying on property as you detailed for $2000 total out of pocket. They're just not...under any circumstances.

More importantly...

Maybe I'm out of touch, but I stand by my position. I don't see how spending $2k every year or so is out of the realm of possibility for a $50k household. Looking at my own finances (and you know what I drive), I could live on net $40k after taxes easily, probably only having to reduce my dining-out budget. I know this is true, because in 2013 I saved everything beyond that for the down payment on my house.

We've had this conversation before.

And if you don't appreciate a good Gonchback, the jist is:

Only a little out of touch with a slightly skewed perspective.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2015 11:30 PM
slithernoggin's avatar

I've never earned $50,000 a year in my life (and I'm ancient); I have come within (distant) shouting distance of $40,000 a couple of times. From my perspective, a $50,000 a year household is well off.

My many visits to WDW would not have happened without a generous Windermere-dwelling-former-WDW-employee friend; I couldn't have afforded it.

The 20 million visiting WDW each year may not be rich, but out of a US population of 321 million, that 20 million have sufficient disposable income to make the trip possible.


Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

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Thursday, October 22, 2015 12:10 AM
Jeff's avatar

OK... so sell me. What's the minimum amount a family of four has to make to do a WDW visit once a year. You can even use the Gonch math with flights at $3,200. Let's say they spend $1,500 a month on housing (rent or mortgage, I don't care), and $500 on cars. If you think that's too much or too little, tell me why (and I'll probably respond with poor prioritization).


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Thursday, October 22, 2015 1:05 AM
slithernoggin's avatar

I'll leave the mathemagics to Lord Gonchar. Not my strong suit.

The minimum amount a family would have to make would vary depending on the family. A WDW vacation with all the Disney bells and whistles would be a priority for some; a WDW vacation, staying at a Motel 6 and using discounted admission tickets, a priority for others.

But in any case, a family vacationing at WDW by definition has sufficient disposable income to do so.


Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

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Thursday, October 22, 2015 9:08 AM
Jeff's avatar

But that's really what my point is... that Disney isn't by default priced out for some huge segment of the population. It depends entirely on priorities.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Thursday, October 22, 2015 10:57 AM

With "huge segment" being subjective. We do know though that its not too many for Disney purposes.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015 11:39 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

The entire discussion is subjective.

However, with all the "Disney hates poor people" whining, all the 'price hike' stories and the general consesnsus here, collectively, the subjective tone seems to be that trip to WDW is increasingly out of reach for more and more people.

There's just too many sliders to play with to say one setting is correct.


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Thursday, October 22, 2015 11:45 AM

One would guess, those that are making in the $40,000-$50,000 range with a family of 4, and spending money on a Disney type vacation every year are going to be living off social security when it comes retirement time......It's expensive.

Disney IS the premium theme-park experience. People get what they pay for. Not everyone is going to be able to afford the premium experience unfortunately. But there are things far and beyond the pricing Disney that everyone would like to do, but can't afford it. Unfortunately in this world, not everyone can do everything. And unfortunately, it's not a companies duty to make sure everyone can purchase/experience their products.

Disney parks are getting too crowded to be a pleasant experience, so with that, it becomes less premium. Who wants to pay thousands of dollars to fight crowds, pre-plan what time you are going to be at what ride DAYS or MONTHS in advance, and eat mediocre food? When you could take a true relaxing, higher quality vacation for the same price?

The only way Disney can keep their experience premium is reducing the crowd size, or massively expanding to handle the crowds......Also marketing to repeat visitors throughout the year does increase the crowds, and decreases the experience to those that are paying a higher price for their one visit.

Last edited by super7*, Thursday, October 22, 2015 11:52 AM
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Thursday, October 22, 2015 11:53 AM

Anything with a price that increases is increasingly out of reach for anyone whose incomes are stagnating. Which at this point includes large numbers of people. Add to that certain costs that are rising faster than overall inflation (and certainly more than incomes for many folks) -- most notably to this discussion, the cost of college -- and it makes non-essentials that much less affordable (or at least harder to afford). To that end, you could say a whole host of businesses hate poor people.

If the numbers I have seen for retirement savings for people are true, there are a whole host of folks who will be living off social security come retirement time. Not all of them have necessarily spent money on Disney type vacations every year.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015 11:54 AM
Raven-Phile's avatar

Here's my take - Disney makes it incredibly easy to obtain a vacation there. I say obtain, because "afford" might not be the best word to use in this case.

They essentially allow you to book a vacation on layaway, by putting down a $200 or so deposit, and making payments that you can afford until 45 days before (I think, might be 30 before), at which time the balance is due. Couple that with being able to use Disney gift cards to apply to payment, and grocery stores offering gas discounts on gift card purchases, it's definitely in reach for a lot of people. That said, when I go on vacation, I don't want to be away from home and broke. I can't enjoy myself unless I'm able to do whatever it is I want to do, within reason. So, while on the surface it looks like a lot of people can afford to BE there - getting there, and enjoying yourself while you are, is a whole different ballgame.

Another example - a family of 4 is traveling from PA to Orlando - they've got their vacation paid for, days off, but plane tickets are astronomically expensive at the time, so they look into packing up the minivan and taking a road trip. Except, mom and dad are limited in their vacation time, and driving will chew up some of that, making them have to cut back on their time at Disney World. Maybe, at that point, they decide to change their minds or bump their vacation to another time when it's easier or less expensive to actually get there.

The travel there and back is my biggest problem. I remember when it was $150 or less round trip to fly down from CAK or CLE - so I had no problem going down for a 3 day adventure, but now it's not worth it unless I'll be there for more than a week.


R.I.P LeRoi Moore 9/7/61 - 8/19/2008
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Thursday, October 22, 2015 12:30 PM

Lord Gonchar said:

There's just too many sliders to play with to say one setting is correct.

Right here.

Based on where you live, and how you prioritize your budget, you will or won't be able to afford Disney on the same income as someone else.

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