Disney’s Early-Season Price Hike Almost Dares Visitors to Boycott Its Theme Parks

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A year ago at this time, a one-day pass to Disney’s Magic Kingdom cost $89. Now, after two price hikes in less than 12 months, admission runs $99—$105 after taxes.

That’s the new single-day admission cost for adults at Magic Kingdom in Orlando, after the Disney raised prices this week. Disney’s other Orlando parks, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, were also boosted by $4, to $95. In all cases, the child’s ticket, for ages 3 to 9, is $6 cheaper than the adult rate. (Multi-day ticket prices were also raised proportionally.)

And in all cases, this is the second price bump applied to admissions over the last year. The two big theme park companies—Disney and Universal—have traditionally raised prices in late spring. Universal Studios did so last May, becoming the first to cross the $90 threshold. Disney followed in early June by pushing the single-day price at the Magic Kingdom from $89 to $95. The latest price hike means a one-day pass has gotten $10 more expensive in less than a year.

What’s with the relentless admission inflation? Aren’t these parks worried about alienating families who will be priced out or just turned off by nonstop price hikes?

In a word: no. Their actions indicate they’re not worried at all. Strong attendance figures give theme parks good reason to keep jacking up prices. Keeping admissions prices flat could juice attendance, of course, but as anyone who’s been at a major theme park lately and encountered hour-long ride waits knows, these places are hardly hurting for business. So instead of trying to constantly boost crowds in leaps and bounds, the strategy is to milk more money out each visitor flooding through the turnstiles.

(MORE: Tourists Give Theme Parks Good Reason to Keep Jacking Up Prices)

But why did Disney decide now was the time for a price hike, as opposed to just before the peak summer period?

ThemeParkInsider’s Robert Niles, who mentioned rumors of Disney’s price hike over the weekend, told USA Today that it seems like Disney wanted to jump out ahead and be sure get its price hike ahead of its main competitor. “It almost seems as if Disney is daring Universal to go over the $100 barrier,” Niles said. “We thought there’d be (an increase) this year, but more likely after Universal’s price hike.”

Despite Disney’s apparent lack of concern about the potential to scare off remotely budget-conscious vacationers, Frommer.com’s Jason Cochran, author of Frommer’s Easy Guide to Walt Disney World and Orlando, says that the theme park giant is “playing a dangerous game” not only with the latest price hikes, but with an array of policies that all but force guests to book multi-day vacations (because the per-day costs are astronomical if the visit is short) and to plan every latest detail of one’s visit far in advance (because that’s the way to get the most out of one’s trip). He writes:

Very quickly, a Disney vacation is becoming something you have to plan for weeks ahead of time with military precision rather than something you can spontaneously enjoy with carefree abandon. The heavy cost just adds to the difficulty.

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The prospect of a more difficult, more expensive, and less spontaneous vacation would seem to be a major turnoff to plenty of families. But recent history—filled with price hikes and policy tweaks prodding visitors to plot one’s every move during multi-day visits, without any indication of slumping demand—seems to show otherwise.

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