Theme Park Inflation: Universal Orlando Becomes First to Cross $90 Admission Mark

Each year around Memorial Day, some theme park—likely in central Florida—jacks up ticket prices by a few bucks, prompting the competition to follow suit with their own price hikes. This year, like last, it's Universal Studios Orlando leading the charge.

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It’s become an annual springtime tradition. Each year around Memorial Day, some theme park—likely in central Florida—jacks up ticket prices by a few bucks, prompting the competition to follow suit with their own price hikes. This year, like last, it’s Universal Studios Orlando leading the charge.

Toward the end of May 2012, the company raised its single-day admission to $88, up from $85, making Universal Studios Orlando the most expensive theme park in the U.S. Within weeks, Walt Disney World took over that title by boosting its one-day base pass to $89. That’s the adult price; kids ages 3 to 9 catch a $6 price break, with a $83 single-day ticket.

This week, Universal again was out in front of the seasonal ticket price hikes, raising its single-day, single-park adult admission to $92 plus tax. The child one-day ticket now starts at $86.

As ThemeParkInsider.com explained, it’s highly likely that Universal’s theme park competitors will follow along with their own price hikes, making the argument that right now may be a good time to purchase those Disney admissions passes:

History shows that whenever one of the Big Three in Orlando — Disney, Universal and SeaWorld — raises prices, at least one of the others follows. So if you’re on the fence about buying Walt Disney World or SeaWorld Orlando tickets, you might want to hurry up and do it before those parks match Universal’s increase.

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More so than ever, the price hikes seem intended to push visitors into buying multi-day theme park passes. The one-day adult admission to a single Universal Studios park is $92, while a two-day pass runs $125.99 and a three-day ticket is $140.99. In other words, if you’re buying a three-day pass, the second and third days cost a total of $49, or a little over half the price of that first day’s admission. A four-day pass costs just $10 more than the three-day version.

All of the prices above are for passes that allow entrance to only one park per day. The “park-to-park” admissions ticket, which lets visitors jump back and forth on the same day between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, runs $128 for a single-day adult pass, up to $159.99 for a three-day adult pass. In this version, the three-day pass costs “just” $32 more than the single-day admission, and at $167.99, the four-day ticket is $8 more than the three-day pass.

The point of such a pricing structure is to make the multi-day passes look like bargains, relatively speaking, compared to the rip-off that is the single-day ticket. Universal Studios would never describe the strategy in such blunt terms, but that’s the gist of how a spokesman explained the price hike to the Orlando Sentinel:

“We set our prices to reflect the value of the entertainment experience we offer,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said. “Our guests continue to tell us we offer great entertainment at great value. Our new pricing has options as low as about $42 per day. And we will continue to offer a variety of value-driven, multi-day vacation packages for guests and their families.”

Getting park visitors to stick around longer than a single day brings with it not only the added revenues from admissions themselves, but the very strong possibility of selling lots more food and souvenirs to them to park visitors, and also booking more hotel nights and packages. The Universal Orlando site prominently lists the per-day costs of its various ticket options—a four-day one-park adult pass averages $38 per day, in fact, compared to $92 for a single-day pass—while conveniently leaving out all of the other daily costs tourists will incur during their trip, most obviously lodging and food.

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Even though as of Tuesday Walt Disney World was still listing its single-day adult admissions at “just” $89, the multi-day Disney passes are already far more expensive than Universal. The cost of a four-day Disney World pass with access to one theme park per day is $256, or an average of $64 per day, plus tax. Because Walt Disney World features four different world-famous theme parks, you see, it assumes that the average customer will be a multi-day visitor, so it doesn’t have to try quite as hard as Universal to push the multi-day deals.

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