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In recent years, The Walt Disney Company has decided that the best way to protect the theme park experience is through crowd control And the company's most consistent form of keeping traffic in check is via price increases. 

A few years ago, I provided a detailed analysis of theme park ticket price inflation. Until then, Disney prices had remained fairly consistent. Alas, the situation has taken a sudden, dramatic turn. I don’t expect matters to improve, either. 

FastPasses

Image: DisneyDisney recently did something brilliant. They introduced the paid FastPass at Walt Disney World resorts. You didn’t read about it in the news because the company pulled off a Trojan horse trick. The company quietly introduced a 90-day FastPass for certain deep-pocketed guests.

Theme park tourists who stay on the Club/Concierge floor of high-end Disney resorts can buy FastPasses. For $50 plus tax per person per day, guests receive three additional FastPasses per day, and these aren't for a single theme park.

With these paid FastPasses, guests can reserve a spot in line at Avatar Flight of Passage and Frozen Ever After if they’re so inclined. It’s the least Disney can do since you’re paying for the privilege. And this isn’t an isolated situation, either.

MaxPass at Disneyland is a paid service for digital FastPasses. When Disney introduced it, the Happiest Place on Earth became the third Disney theme park with paid FastPass, joining Shanghai Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. The count is up to four if we count Walt Disney World. Make no mistake on this point. A paid FastPass system is (regrettably) the future of Disney theme parks.

Ticketed events

Image: DisneyMickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is one of my favorite times at Walt Disney World. During these ticketed events, guests receive exclusive access to Magic Kingdom. For a set fee of $100+, Disney also delivers a marvelous nightly experience filled with parades, shows, and fireworks presentations. It’s well worth the money, I swear.

Disney hosts more than one ticketed event these days. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has been a holiday staple for years now, and park officials have doubled (well, tripled) down on the concept recently.

Image: DisneyDisney After Hours is another ticketed event that’s not holiday-related. Instead, it’s another exclusive opportunity to spend time at a Walt Disney World theme park that’s closed to the general public. A debacle at first, this event has evolved into one of the most popular upsells Disney offers. In fact, the company introduced Disney Villains After Hours in 2019.

You don’t have to be a business major to understand the math of the situation. By closing the park at 7 p.m. for regular guests, Disney can make a lot more money selling additional access to a few thousand guests at $100+ a pop. Expect more of these events in the future, especially now that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open.

Limited-time engagements

Image: DisneyOut of everything listed here, the purist concept is the limited-time engagement. Walt Disney was never happier during his career than when his Imagineers dominated the 1964 New York World’s Fair. When he excitedly announced the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, Uncle Walt essentially promised that it would feature a daily World’s Fair.

Whenever Epcot hosts a festival at the World Showcase, park management honors one of their founder’s last wishes for his company. And that’s why Disney currently offers four different events each year. On more than half the days on the annual calendar, Epcot runs limited-time engagements.

The trend will expand in the coming years. At this point, seemingly every event comes with the phrase "most days ever" as part of the announcement. Disney does this because they can create a sense of urgency for guests.

The unique merchandise at these festivals is only available for a limited time, and then it's gone forever. Plus, restaurants can get packaged with special concerts at higher rates. Disney sells the same meals for a higher price this way. Speaking of which…

Meals

Image: DisneyAccording to my bio page, I’ve been writing for Theme Park Tourist for more than five years now. I mention this because I’ve infrequently glanced at some of my earliest work. On those occasions when I’ve mentioned prices, well, it quickly escalated. Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s cost $35.99 in 2014. As I type this, the listed price is $48.99…which somehow may sound quaint to you if you read this in 2024. Friends, that’s a $13 or 36 percent increase in five years. Dinner prices actually went up by $15 over the same timeframe. 

Now, restaurant prices do go up over time. Inflation is a factor that impacts all phases of the economy. The numbers discussed would be extreme hyperinflation, though.

The food didn’t get $13-$15 better at Chef Mickey’s over the past five years. Chicken nuggets are still chicken nuggets. But Disney has regularly raised the cost of food at all of its most popular restaurants. Nothing will stop this from happening again in the future.

Parking

Image: DisneyBefore March of 2018, guests at official Walt Disney World resorts received free parking privileges. Realistically, that’s a good 47-year run for an amenity most hotels don’t provide. Generally, tourist areas such as Orlando hide hotel fees in places like paid parking. It was commendable of Disney to hold out as long as they did.

Unfortunately, the good times are over. Guests currently pay as much as $25 per night for the right to park at the Disney resort where they’re staying. This fee is on top of the expense of the hotel room itself, which is never cheap at Disney, something we’ll discuss in a moment.

Even worse, park officials have already increased the cost of parking once. Only 15 months after introducing this fee, Disney raised the floor from $13 to $15 per night at Value Tier resorts while increasing Deluxe Tier fees to $25 nightly. No, there's no good reason why guests staying in a nicer resort must pay more. Disney's merely doing it that way since they can…and they will do it again in another year or two.

Resorts

Image: DisneyFive years ago, the cheapest hotel room at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort started at $438. That was the rack rate at a time before surge pricing technically existed…although it's always been hidden in plain sight. For 2020, the cheapest room at the hotel on the same date will cost $591.

I could add a ton of caveats to this. Due to readily available discounts, guests should never pay rack rates at Disney hotels, even on major holidays. And savvy travelers can either join the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) or rent DVC points to stay in the same room for much cheaper. That’s the apologist’s evaluation.

The economist’s evaluation is that room charges increased $153 per night in six years. That’s $25.50 annually. At the current pace, a night at Bay Lake Tower will start at $700 by 2024. I’m one of the world’s strongest proponents of this property, and I wouldn’t pay that. In all likelihood, this trend will continue, but Disney should strongly reconsider it.

Admissions

Image: DisneyThe cost of admission at Disney parks is the topic that drives theme park tourists crazy. All of us remember a time when a Disney visit wasn’t just affordable; it was a terrific deal! Alas, those days seem further away with each price increase.

Ticket prices go up annually at Disney theme parks these days. In fact, the company sometimes sneaks two into a calendar year. Theoretically, our friends at the Mouse House do this to protect the park experience. They care deeply about park surveys, and guests almost always indicate that they have a better time when the park is less congested.

Disney's price points are also pain points. They want to charge an admission price that will deter guests from visiting on certain days, the ones where crowds are historically most significant. The logical conclusion of this philosophy is surge pricing, wherein Disney charges guests more to attend the most popular days.

Recently, Disney’s gotten even more aggressive with pricing, though. The company has built several jaw-dropping new attractions and themed lands. While doing so, they’re passing the cost of these projects along to guests.

This trend certainly won’t go away anytime soon, which is why you should dampen your enthusiasm whenever an E-ticket attraction gets announced. Sure, the ride will be sublime. Ultimately, you’re the one paying for it, though.

In fact, you’re the one paying for all of these upcoming price increases. If you’re angry about that thought, let Disney know. Remember what I just said about how much company officials care about those surveys. Tell them if you think Disney prices have reached a tipping point!

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