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Disney Parks Now Charge Up to 20% More If It's Busy—Tickets Cost Up to $124 a Day!

Early this month, I reported that Universal Studios Hollywood would charge less for quiet days for guests who booked ahead online, and I predicted that it was only a matter of time before Disney followed suit and simply charged you more to go during popular times.

Today, Disney followed Universal's lead.

Except where Universal's plan shows customers when they can save money, Disney's announcement mostly raises prices. It announced a tiered demand-pricing system. Think it's bad that tickets already cost more than $100 a day? It's going to get much, much worse. That extremely high price is now going to be the lowest you can find during what the company now terms a "Value" day. On other days, it'll be even higher.

Both Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland Resort in California now label each day on the calendar as "Value," "Regular," or "Peak," according to how many customers they expect will come. Usually, the times families most want to go—meaning the days kids tend to be out of school—will be Peak. 

As you can imagine, Disney is not sparing about what it calls the most expensive Peak days. For example, March 11 to April 2 is a solid block of Peak days. In summer, Peak days start May 27 and don't ease until July 23—nearly two whole months of $124-a-day prices that used to be $105—that's a nearly 20% price hike! 

At Walt Disney World, The least the Magic Kingdom will ever cost is now $105 (before tax) adult and $99 for a kid aged 3 to 9. That's on a Value day. Regular days are $110/$104, and Peak days are $124/$118. 

The other three parks at Disney World (Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom) now cost $97/adults and $91 for kids (Value) $106/$102 (Regular), and Peak are $114/108. If you want the right to hop between theme parks on that day, you pony up another $50. (Walt Disney World pricing calendar.)

Disneyland in California suffers similarly: $95/$105/$119. The difference there is Value will often fall on most weekedays, and the Value price is a $4 drop from the previous ticket price of $99—so you can skip work and save $4. But the $119 Peak price is another 20% price hike for the days when families most need to go. (Disneyland pricing calendar.)

A few immediate repercussions and predictions resulting from this new dynamic pricing system:

1) You'll spend more money. Extravagant expense is always true of a trip to Disney, a publicly traded company, and it probably surprises no one.

2) Locals will be turned off.  Disney representatives already admitted that these drastic price hikes, which began with annual pass prices last fall, are in part an attempt to deal with overcrowding. A percentage of people who used to attend the park on weekends and free days have decided to drop visits from their budgets. 

3) More crowded days across the calendar. Now that guests are being steered to previously quiet days, those quiet days will now be busier. It will be harder to find a day that isn't unpleasantly heaving with people. This is what happened with the lower-tier rides when Disney started forcing visitors to accept Fastpasses for them. Currently, September has the longest stretch of Value days; January is likely to as well, but Disney hasn't released the schedule for 2017.

4) More hooky. More families will be induced to taking their kids out of school to take advantage of Value rates. Disney may soon become a catchword for truancy among the nation's school administrators.

5) Fewer low-income people enjoying a Disney trip. I wrote about this in our popular article "The One-Percenting of Disney." Those experiences we had in our childhoods of riding Dumbo and visiting the Castle are becoming out of reach for many families, and as more are excluded, Disney's magic for the younger generation will diminish. Where will that put the company in a when those kids grow up and don't care about bringing their own kids? Disney is a victim of its own success, and it's laying a trap for its own future.

6) Other attractions in Orlando will benefit as more people are priced out of the parks. Although part of Disney's strategy is to encourage people to extend their stays because per-day prices go down the longer you stick around, we're getting to the pricing point where high rates for short stays will backfire. This week, we published a feature about 15 Fun Things in Orlando that Disney Vacationers Usually Miss.

Every year, planning a Disney vacation becomes a worse chore. The imposition of these pricing calendars is just another layer of bureaucratic misery the Disney company has inflicted on visitors. We can help you navigate planning and know what's truly worth seeing in the parks. Our guidebook to Disney World, Universal, and Orlando has won awards for its plain-speaking talk about how to cut through Disney's pricing burdens and how to plan a Orlando vacation that cuts through the clutter. Click here for that.

We also recently published a story on how to save money on Disney tickets—meager as the discounts are, they do exist if you know what to do.