Disney's Magic Kingdom Nears $100 Tickets, and the Crowds Keep Coming

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What Disney is saying about the economy

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Walt Disney is prying parental wallets open a little wider for that vacation visit to the theme park. The Empire of the Mouse is now charging $99 for a one-day park pass at its Magic Kingdom Park near Orlando, an increase of $4 that comes just eight months after the last price hike.

Behind the steadily rising ticket prices is the small world of supply and demand. People keep flooding Disney’s U.S. theme parks, notwithstanding steeper costs. The company reported a 16 percent increase in operating income, to $671 million, for the most recent quarter at its theme park division as sales rose 6 percent, to $3.6 billion. In Disney’s last fiscal year, theme park income rose 17 percent, to $2.2 billion. The company does not disclose attendance data.

“If you think Disney World’s gotten too expensive, don’t bother complaining,” Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider and a former Magic Kingdom employee, wrote on his website. “Disney’s looking at attendance numbers when setting prices, not people moaning online. Look for an alternative where to spend your money instead.”

Disney’s pricing strategy is designed to drive sales of its multiday park passes, which lower the per-day cost. A three-day pass runs to $91.34 per day; a five-day costs $60.80 per day. Couple the park entrance fee with hotel and meals, and a Disney vacation can become enormously expensive for a family. But while the cost of single-day tickets has soared—up more than 41 percent since 2005—Disney has dramatically cut the price for longer stays. The price of a four-day pass fell nearly $200 between 2004 and 2013, adjusted for inflation, according to data compiled by Futureprobe blogger David Landon.

Still, an additional $4—or $20—here or there doesn’t bother most people considering a trip to a Disney property, given the theme parks’ eminent place in the vacation planning of millions of children begging to go. “Disney is one of the major things nearly every American family can agree on, so of course they can get away with this,” says Jason Cochran, an editor at Frommer’s and author of its Easy Guide to Walt Disney World and Orlando.

While a daily ticket price over $100 may pose a psychological barrier, most Disney vacationers already lump that into their total daily costs at one of the company’s parks, says Jeff Logsdon, an analyst with Ascendiant Capital Markets in Irvine, Calif. With tax, the Magic Kingdom one-day pass already tops $105. “Will thousands defer going to the parks because of the pricing increases? Perhaps, but that won’t make the lines seem any shorter or the earnings any lighter in our opinion,” Logsdon wrote today in an e-mail.

Disney and its main parks rival, Universal Studios, used to announce their annual price hikes in late summer, but the bad news now comes earlier in the year. The push is probably designed to get the higher tickets out before the spring break and Easter holidays that send thousands of families into central Florida and southern California. Universal charges $92 for a one-day pass at either of its Orlando theme parks—for now.

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