Walt Disney World is increasing prices and making major changes to single-day ticketing and park reservations on December 8, 2022. This post offers details and our commentary about how this will impact the guest experience, motivations for the new approach, and more.
The surprising part is that this didn’t happen then, and that this is the second ticket price increase of the year at Walt Disney World, with the first happening in mid-February. Even that isn’t unprecedented. That’s why we’ve been advising readers to purchase tickets in advance to lock-in current prices in our 2022-2023 Discount Walt Disney World Ticket Buying Guide.
While we didn’t necessarily expect another increase this year, it’s not a surprise. Sadly, they’ve become all too common with Walt Disney World. The good news is that Undercover Tourist, one of our recommended third party ticket sellers, still has tickets at the “old” prices for a limited time. By buying through them before Walt Disney World’s upcoming price increases take effect, you can save a significant amount per ticket.
For the first time in several years, the price of single day tickets is increasing. These will now vary by park, and still start at $109, which has been the base price since the introduction of the date-based system back in October 2018. However, the maximum 1-day ticket price is increasing for Magic Kingdom, which is the first time that’s happening since March 2019.
With that said, we have no clue how the distribution of price points has changed during that time. We don’t track the price calendar that closely. It’s highly probable that even before this there was a shrinking number of cheaper dates and growing number of more expensive dates.
We also don’t know what that distribution will look like going forward, but we do have the new price ranges. Walt Disney World will introduce park specific pricing for single day, single park (so not Park Hoppers) tickets beginning December 8, 2022. Price ranges are as follows:
Magic Kingdom – $124 to $189
Animal Kingdom – $109 to $159
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – $124 to $179
EPCOT – $114 to $179
As before, ticket prices will vary based on dates, hence the ranges. This is not dynamic pricing, but it is demand-based in the sense that dates forecast to be busier also cost more. (H/t to theme park journalist Scott Gustin.)
Also starting December 8, there will be no need to make a Disney Park Pass reservation with single day, non-Park Hopper tickets. With these being park-specific, that would be redundant. As such, Walt Disney World’s system will automatically make a reservation for you.
This change is only for those who purchase 1-day tickets for a specific date and park. Most guests will continue to make theme park reservations. As before, Park Hoppers and multi-day tickets will need to make reservations. There are no changes to the Park Pass system for these ticket types (yet?).
Along with the introduction of park specific pricing at Walt Disney World on December 8, the cost to add the Park Hopper (and other options) to your ticket will also vary by date.
Walt Disney World has not yet provided pricing specifics–we’ll update accordingly once the new prices go live. Again, these are the second price increases of 2022 for park tickets, so we’re hoping that Park Hoppers don’t go up too much. Of course, what we hope happens and what actually happens are often two totally different things.
Similarly, although new Annual Pass sales remain paused, those APs will see an increase when sales resume. Here are the new prices for each tier:
As for commentary about the price increases, I’ve lost the capacity for surprise when it comes to those. This is similar sentiment to the commentary in other recent price increase posts (plural), but it remains true here. Even though this is the second ticket price increase of the year at Walt Disney World, it’s still not a huge surprise. Crowds are crushing, pent-up demand is still strong, and the parks have a devoted and passionate fanbase.
The busy Christmas season has arrived and with it, two of the highest attendance months of the year. Last year, Christmas was such a popular season that Walt Disney World ran out of reservations even at top-tier prices and suspended ticket sales for some dates. Our expectation is that this holiday season will be even busier.
On top of that, inflation is running hot around the globe, with the United States hitting a four-decade high above 8% this year. Most of these price increases are in the neighborhood that. On top of that, the least expensive single day tickets haven’t gone up since October 2018.
However, it’s also fair to point out that with the end of free FastPass+ and introduction of paid Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, which Disney has indicated that roughly half of Walt Disney World visitors are purchasing, the effective cost of visiting has gone up by more than 10%. In order to have an equivalent experience as compared to pre-closure, you’ll need to spend an extra $25 per day, at least, and that’s just for Lightning Lanes. That’s still not exactly apples to apples, but it’s close enough for the sake of our comparison.
During earnings calls and interviews throughout the year, CEO Bob Chapek has directly addressed price increases–and prepared fans for more of the same. He has said that Disney’s theme parks are seeing unprecedented demand, and have pricing power as a result. Chapek has also boasted that the company’s domestic parks and resorts have achieved all-time revenue and operating income records.
For several consecutive quarters, per guest spending at the domestic parks has been up more than 40% versus the same quarter in 2019, an absolutely staggering number. This has been driven by a more favorable guest and ticket mix (read: fewer Annual Passholders), plus higher food & beverage and merchandise spending, as well as contributions from Genie+ and Lightning Lanes. Revenue and operating income exceeded pre-pandemic levels, and that’s even as Disney continued capping attendance.
In essence, Chapek has said that the ball is in consumers’ court—so long as they continue to descend upon Disney in huge numbers and willingly pay more, Disney will continue to raise prices until met with resistance. (In the form of lost sales and reduced demand, not online complaints divorced from actual action.)
Sadly, Chapek is correct—at least in the short term. It’s hard to make a compelling case that Walt Disney World has any sort of pricing problem, at least for now. Even with all of the recent (non-ticket) price increases, the company is posting unprecedented numbers and demand is off the charts.
Excluding the early fall off-season, Walt Disney World crowds have been absolutely bonkers thus far in 2022. While the Florida parks haven’t hit Disneyland levels of absurdity, they are closing in on 2019 wait time levels (but almost certainly not raw attendance numbers due to the reduced capacity of the parks, which exacerbates “feels like” crowds). This is something we’ve discussed in countless crowd reports and Disney Doesn’t Want Lower Crowds, so we won’t belabor that point here.
In short, as long as consumers keep spending and pent-up demand is strong, people will pay the prices for Walt Disney World park tickets, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, and whatever else has gone up in price. The serious issue will come down the road when people are not feeling so hot about their economic circumstances and future.
At that point, it’s a question of whether discounting will be enough to incentivize guests to return, or if irreparable brand damage will have been done during the last decade or so of increases. We don’t have an answer to that–no one does–but it’s definitely something about which we’re curious.
We aren’t alone. During the Walt Disney Company’s fiscal fourth quarter 2022 earnings call, Wall Street analysts and investors asked CEO Bob Chapek and CFO Christine McCarthy about contingency plans to keep the company on track to meet its financial targets during a potential recession in 2023.
In response, they indicated that there are a number of “levers” they could pull in the event of economic downturn. We explain those options in What Does Walt Disney World Do During a Recession? However, in the here and now, pent-up demand still has not exhausted itself. This holiday season might be the ‘last hurrah’ so to speak, but it’s likely to be a busy one.
On a positive note, we are very pleased to see reservations rolled into 1-day tickets. This is a step in the right direction, and one we’re shocked didn’t happen at the start of this year.
The argument could be made that reservations are useful when it comes to staffing or resource allocation, but that doesn’t really hold water with single day tickets—especially under this new system. We’re skeptical that it ever was true for any tickets, as Disney is notoriously bad with data and analytics, even if it might fancy itself a tech company now.
As we’ve pointed out elsewhere, the only parks that are regularly running out of reservations are Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. This has been occurring on many days regardless of wait times, with both parks going unavailable on occasion with 5/10 or lower crowd levels.
This means that Walt Disney World is now using reservations not out of necessity, but to redistribute attendance on many days. They’re doing this by capping reservations at Magic Kingdom and pushing people towards Animal Kingdom and EPCOT to increase the utilization of those parks and normalize numbers across all four parks. There actually are a number of benefits to this approach, including making for a more pleasant guest experience and easing staffing shortages.
Multiple Disney executives have implicitly indicated that this is more or less occurring. When discussing the park reservations systems, they routinely mention yield management–or maximizing revenue by anticipating and influencing consumer behavior.
Disney CFO Christine McCarthy has also indicated that the company pivoted with the Disney Park Pass system from limiting capacity due to local mandates to using it to “better balance load” attendance. This is something we’ve seen with Disney attempting to manage Lightning Lane inventory, and load balancing is also occurring with park reservations.
With that said, there are downsides and potentially ulterior motives, as well. For example, if EPCOT has higher food & beverage spending–which it almost certainly does–management might have an incentive to funnel guests there.
The downside for Walt Disney World is it could backfire, which probably explains this change (and why we expected this to occur a long time ago). It’s one thing to manipulate reservations for multi day tickets or Annual Passholders, as they will simply adjust accordingly (most of the time).
It’s another entirely to do that for those who purchase single day tickets, which is a surprisingly large portion of Walt Disney World visitors. If you’re taking a Florida trip and want your kids to “get the Disney experience” for a day, that most likely means Magic Kingdom. If only EPCOT is available for regular ticket reservations, some guests will choose not to buy tickets at all and simply not visit Disney. (Keep in mind that for many causal visitors, Magic Kingdom is synonymous with Disney; EPCOT and the rest are not a comparable substitute.)
Of course, this is also precisely why Magic Kingdom is going to cost more than any of the other parks. Maintaining the same range as before for Animal Kingdom while effectively increasing prices (potentially by significant amounts) for each of the other 3 parks is savvy marketing that will also yield significantly more revenue from visitors who do day trips to Walt Disney World and want to do “the Star Wars park,” “the Disney World park,” or “the Drinking World park.” (Sad trombone for Animal Kingdom, forever “the zoo park.”)
We’re only half-joking. Walt Disney World is becoming even more adept at yield management, and trying to shape consumer behavior or capitalize on the popularity of the parks.
While they’re getting “good” at this, it’s still a delicate needle to thread. Consumer behavior is also the ultimate ‘check & balance’ on corporate behavior and could prevent the Disney Park Pass system and so much of Walt Disney World’s current approach from being viable once demand for ‘make-up’ vacation starts to abate and spending falls back to regular levels–or worse, if there’s a recession.
Ultimately, it’s still our belief that things aren’t too far from normalizing. (You might call it wishful–or delusional–thinking!) Again, this holiday season will certainly be busy and we’re not suggesting otherwise. However, these price increases and other changes last beyond Christmas. It’ll be interesting to see whether capturing extra revenue for another couple of months is worth the headlines that further cement Walt Disney World as a travel destination with ever-increasing prices.
It’ll also be interesting to see just how quickly Walt Disney World is able to pivot and pull some of those “levers” (to borrow a phrase from the c-suite) when attendance or the U.S. economy (or both) switches gears. At some point, pent-up demand will fizzle out and inflation on necessities will negatively discretionary spending; on top of that, higher interest rates, underperforming investment portfolios, and growing household debt will bring the party to an end. The clock is ticking on all of that.
When all of some of that happens, consumers will return to being more cost-conscious and price sensitive, and things will normalize to at least some degree. However, there don’t appear to be any signs of those things happening anytime soon. So, get used to high prices, heavy crowds, and nickel & diming at Walt Disney World and Disneyland as this record run of revenue and income continues for at least the immediate future. We’ll be paying careful attention to all of the changes, and will keep you updated as we learn anything new.
What do you think about Walt Disney World’s decision to change the park ticketing system and increase prices along with it? Do you think Disney is going too far with increases in a way that’ll leave lasting reputational damage, or will the company be able to quickly pivot along with economic circumstances? Think Chapek is right or wrong about how guests essentially control Walt Disney World’s prices by virtue of demand? Agree or disagree with our assessment? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!