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Fantasy world; real dollars

08 August 2010 by By Shannon Behnken | Media General News Service

TAMPA — If you want to spend a magical day with The Mouse, you’ll have to fork over more cash.

Theme park giant Walt Disney World is Orlando’s first major park to charge more than $80 for a single base ticket. Wednesday’s announcement met with mixed reviews from industry onlookers, with one predicting that $100 for park admission isn’t far away.

Disney World said the move is right despite the tough economy.

“We continuously monitor the marketplace to ensure pricing that reflects a strong entertainment value,” spokesman Bryan Malenius said. “Our guests continue to agree that a day at a Disney theme park is a great entertainment value.”

The prices of a one-day ticket to a Disney park now will set visitors back $82. That’s a 3.8 percent increase from the current price of $79. Some packages are increasing as much as 5.6 percent.

This hike comes on top of similar increases implemented just last year.

Katherine Grace has tried to visit Disney World with her family each year since they moved to Florida in 1980, but rising costs have made it tough the past five years.

Grace said foreign visitors now account for most of the people she sees at Disney World. She said steep prices are not what the late Walt Disney would have wanted.

“He did not want the parks for just the wealthy,” Grace said in an e-mail interview. “Disney has turned into a money machine, as most businesses do, losing the vision it was originally intended for.”

Malenius said park visitors are willing to pay for quality entertainment.

Recent surveys show that 90 percent of them rate the value of Disney parks as “good, very good or excellent,” Malenius said.

Dennis Speigel of International Theme Park Services Inc., a consulting company, wasn’t surprised by the price hike. In fact, he thinks prices at all major theme parks will top $100 a day “in the not-so-distant future.”

“Attendance is up at theme parks slightly in 2010, but spending is down,” Speigel said. “One of the ways they can earn more money is at the front gate.”

Disney’s revenues have been down for the past couple of years, Speigel said. More people are coming into the parks, but they’re spending less when they get there, he said.

“It’s a very touchy issue. Who, in this recessionary time, wants to see anything increase?” Speigel said.

During the recession, people have continued to splurge on entertainment that creates memories, but they find other ways to cut back.

“They don’t buy the T-shirts, the Cokes,” Speigel said. “If you go outside of a regional theme park at lunch time, you’ll find people eating lunch out of the trunks of their cars.”

Disney World, he said, has about 30 million visitors a year. The big question: Will Disney lovers be turned off by the new price structure?

Malenius said most guests don’t buy single tickets, opting instead for multiple-day packages because they offer a better value. Speigel said parks will need to come up with more value programs to increase attendance, such as discounts on certain days or at certain times of the day.

What does this mean for other theme parks?

When Disney raises prices, Speigel said, Florida’s other major theme parks historically raise prices within two weeks.

“Disney sets the pricing bar for the industry,” he said. “They are the best.”

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld have no immediate plans to raise prices, said Nick Gollattscheck, spokesman for the parks. “We run our business plan independently from the other theme parks and don’t discuss business or pricing strategies,” he said.

A single-day, full-price ticket at Busch Gardens is now $74.95 and at SeaWorld, $78.95.

One major difference from Disney: Visitors who pay full price for a ticket can come back for free for the remainder of the year.

Disneyland in California also announced price increases Wednesday. Single-day, one-park tickets increased from $72 to $76. Parking at Disneyland will now cost $15. A parking pass at Disney World will remain at $14.


Here are Disney World’s price increases for selected packages:

1-day: $79 to $82 (+3.8%)

2-day: $156 to $162 (+3.8%)

3-day: $219 to $224 (+2.3%)

4-day: $225 to $232 (+3.1%)

5-day: $228 to $237 (+3.9%)

6-day: $231 to $242 (+4.8%)

7-day: $234 to $247 (+5.6%)

To add “park hopper” or water-park admission to base ticket: $52 to $54 (+3.8%)

Annual pass increases:

Premium (including water parks, etc.), nonresident: $619 to $629 (+1.6%)

Regular, nonresident: $489 to $499 (+2%)

Premium, Florida resident: $489 to $499 (+2%)

Regular, Florida resident: $369 to $379 (+2.7%)

Seasonal, Florida resident: $249 to $259 (+4%)

SHANNON BEHNKEN is a staff writer for The Tampa Tribune



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