Are Disney World & Disneyland Good Per-Hour Values Compared to Other Entertainment?

Like clockwork, when Walt Disney World or Disneyland raise ticket prices, overzealous fans come out of the woodwork to defend the decision and explain why even at the higher costs, Disney theme parks are a great value as compared to other entertainment options. Others do the exact opposite, complaining about any and all higher prices.

I hate all of that. So naturally, I’m going to join them and do the very thing I decry! But instead of engaging in some free PR for the big corporation or point out the obvious that paying more stinks, I’m going to dig a little deeper and provide context. I’m not starting this post with a preordained conclusion, or emphatic yes (or no!) to the titular question.

I fully expect Walt Disney World and Disneyland to outperform some forms of entertainment. (“It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” ~Taylor Swift) I’m also not going to cherry pick the choices or frame this analysis in the best possible light to reach the invariable conclusion that Walt Disney World and Disneyland offer great per-hour value for money. I know the parks are more expensive than a lot of things.

For the sake of this analysis, we’re going to look at a median single day ticket, which currently costs approximately $165 at Magic Kingdom or $169 at Disneyland. Note that we’re using the two castle parks for the ease of comparison. Admittedly, it’s also to discard the starting price of Walt Disney World tickets, which is a marketing gimmick that only applies to Animal Kingdom and would skew the numbers.

(It’s worth noting that Disneyland has a wider range for ticket prices: $104 to $194; Magic Kingdom’s range is $129 to $189. The numbers for each coast normally would be even closer, but Disneyland increased ticket prices in 2023 and Walt Disney World did not. Well, not yet. There’s still a week to go!)

Single day tickets for the castle parks are being chosen because it’s the cleanest comparison to most other entertainment, so it makes sense to do The Math™️ on this one. Although this may come as a surprise to Disney diehards who have Annual Passes or always purchase long multi-day tickets, 1-day tickets are an incredibly common ticket type. (Last I knew, it was the most popular ticket type…but my info is a few years old.) Most tourists still only do day-trips to Disney as part of all-encompassing Florida or California vacations.

With that in mind, we do think it’s also worth acknowledging the difference between a single day ticket and a 4-night vacation. The latter is usually significantly cheaper on a per-hour basis, but much more expensive as a whole. That would be a fair analysis because Walt Disney World has 4 theme parks and is a vacation destination, but it ceases to be an apples to apples one with other entertainment options.

Notwithstanding Ben Stiller, most people don’t sleep over at the museum…but that’s also more of a single day experience. I’m also not at a concert for several consecutive days, having to purchase an entire vacation package, multiple meals, flights, accommodations and who knows what else.

(Although from what I’ve read, a lot of people not only traveled to see Beyoncé or Taylor Swift this summer, but also did things like got pricey makeovers for the concert. That would add tremendous ancillary costs to the experience, but is probably the exception rather than the rule when it comes to concerts. Yet it’s common when it comes to vacation destinations, hence the name!)

If Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans want to play the multi-day comparison game, they really should do so with other vacation destinations and not entertainment. Of course, that doesn’t happen because the results suddenly aren’t nearly as favorable. If people knew just how (in)expensive it is to visit Paris or Tokyo or U.S. National Parks as compared to the Disney Parks…they might doing Disney!

Point being, Disney vacation packages are cheaper per hour but more expensive overall, making the comparison both more and less favorable depending upon your perspective. For more thorough analysis, we’ll refer you to How Much Does a Walt Disney World Vacation Cost in 2024? for the breakdown.

In any case, it’s impossible to do The Math™️ on a full vacation package on a per-hour basis. For the purposes of this post, it’s probably sufficient to point out the approximate cost of a vacation package and say “that’s a lot!”

Instead, we’ll simply determine the per-hour value of a single day in Walt Disney World or Disneyland. This might seem like a simple matter of taking the per day costs above and dividing that by the number of operating hours in a day, right?

I’m skeptical of such an approach for a couple of reasons. First, what percentage of guests are actually arriving at park opening and staying until park closing? Sure, that’s an option. And it might seem like this is the most “fair” approach since you might also leave a sporting event early if it’s a blowout or a concert if you want to beat traffic. I think that’s a bit different, though, as the average person experiences a sporting event or concert in full, whereas they spend X number of hours per visit at a place like a theme park or museum.

Second, this type of assessment conveniently overlooks the amount of time spent waiting in line at theme parks. If I go to a Taylor Swift concert, I’m going to encounter lines to buy merchandise, food, and for the restrooms or whatever. But the song “Anti-Hero” isn’t gated behind a 3-hour line. I stand in one spot, and the entertainment comes to me in succession with no appreciable, non-enjoyment downtime in between.

With Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the ‘enjoyable hours’ are a bit different. It’s not as if the only moments of entertainment come in 5-minute or so concentrations of each ride. Walking around soaking up the atmosphere counts. So too does eating, shopping, or “seeing stuff.” Standing in line isn’t all bad–but not all fun, either.

The problem is this makes it exceedingly difficult to calculate. If you just use how many hours the parks are open, that’s readily ascertainable. Enjoyable hours for the average person is more abstract and open for debate. Still, that’s the malleable metric I’m going to use, because it seems fairer.

I’m also going to say that number is 8 hours, on average, at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. If I wanted to complicate matters even further, I might muddy the water by claiming that the average for Walt Disney World is 7-8 hours whereas Disneyland is 8-9 hours. I think I could realistically make that assertion based on differences in weather and operations, but I won’t. (Even if it is probably true-ish!)

(Circling back to the whole vacation package vs. entertainment experience issue, I will say that this ‘enjoyable hours’ issue arguably makes Disney Cruise Line cheaper per hour than Walt Disney World or Disneyland even if it’s typically more expensive as a whole. But that’s beyond the scope of this post–another topic for another day!)

This means that the per hour cost of a Walt Disney World or Disneyland day is roughly $20. Here’s how that compares to other stuff that may or may not entertainment you:

  • Books – The library gives me these for free. I routinely pay late fees due to, let’s call them scheduling issues. I also pay taxes that help support the library, but that’s true of a lot of things I don’t use. Nevertheless, the per hour cost for books is measured in cents, not dollars.
  • Griffith Observatory – Free admission and access to a Terminator filming location. Infinity value at $0 per hour.
  • The Getty/Villa – Two of the best museums in the United States are also free. Sadly, no Terminator tie-ins, but still $0 per hour.
  • The Ocean – In both Florida and California, you can visit the beach for free. If you want to do activities–and not just look at the ocean, enter it, or walk around it–figure that might cost you a few dollars per hour. (Much more if you do something like whale watching, but that’s technically not “the ocean,” but rather, “the whales.”)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve logged over 100 hours saving the Kingdom of Hyrule over the last several months. (In my defense, Sarah was falling asleep at like 8 p.m. during the peak of my playing.) I cannot believe video game fans complain about prices, as they’re easily the best value in entertainment. Again, this is measured in cents, not dollars.
  • Balboa Island – Technically, there’s always money in the banana stand, so if you play your cards right, visiting Balboa could be quite a profitable venture. If not, it’ll set you back a few bucks per hour.
  • Average Museum – There are a lot of museums in Central Florida and Southern California that do charge for admission, with a rough per hour price of around $5.
  • Joshua Tree National Park – The America the Beautiful AP costs eighty bucks and covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service and day use fees at other alphabet soup agencies. It covers the passholder and all occupants of their vehicle. Or you can pay $30 per vehicle for 7 days. Either way, it’s a few bucks per hour, per person.
  • Everglades National Park – Same deal at Everglades National Park in Florida. I guess it could cost more if you get attacked by an owl or gator and needed medical attention, but isn’t that just part of The Florida Experience™️?
  • Movie Tickets – Our local theater is a Cinépolis, which is fancy. These can be found in both Orange Counties. But we go during matinee hours or half-priced Tuesdays when tickets are $10. Let’s say that the national average is closer to $18 and the typical movie is 2 hours. That’s $9 per hour. (No one is forcing you to buy popcorn. Popcorn is noisy and mediocre–it’s salt and butter that tastes good. Popcorn’s popularity is mystifying.)
  • San Diego Zoo or Safari Park – This is the best zoo in America (nice try, Ohio!) and the park that Animal Kingdom was based on. Discounts here are abundant, but we’ll just go with regular ticket prices, which put the per hour cost around $10.
  • Los Angeles Angels Game – Despite squandering two generational talents, the Angels are awful and no one wants to attend their games. $12 per hour is supposedly the average, but we’ve never paid that much to watch them–not even when Ohtani and Trout were both in the lineup.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers Game – After dropping over $1 billion (!!!) to secure the best free agents on the market, I’m terrified about how much it’s going to cost to see the Angels’ crosstown (not really) counterparts in 2024. My guess is $50 per hour.
  • Tampa Bay Rays Game – Despite actually being great, no one goes to Rays games because they’re “too far” away. As if Dodgers Stadium is easy to access. $12 per hour.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning or Anaheim Ducks Game – The average cost of these two teams is nearly identical. It’s somehow below the Winnipeg Jets who play (and this is true) in Winnipeg. But that’s in Canada, and who knows what’s up with their currency. $25 per hour.
  • Coachella – Because I’m so sure there’s considerable overlap between the target audience for Disney theme parks and the target audience for Coachella, I’m including this. I think the last act I recognized that performed at Coachella was Hologram Tupac. Every time I see the annual lineup release, I wonder whether it’s written in code (just what is a “070 Shake”) and realize I’m old. But I guess if you’re young and hip, this is a good way to burn $40 per hour.
  • Orlando Magic Game – Despite growing up in Michigan at the tail end of the Bad Boys era, my favorite NBA team growing up was the Magic. Who didn’t love Shaq and Penny?! You won’t see them today, which is probably why the average per hour cost is “only” $35.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers Game – Admittedly, this is based on data from last year when the Bucs were a very different team. The average per hour cost might’ve been higher than today, at $53.
  • Los Angeles Chargers Game – The moral of the story, unsurprisingly, should be that Hollywood entertainment is more expensive than Florida fun. $63 per hour.
  • Los Angeles Lakers Game – Going to the Lake Show is much more expensive, but you’ll also get to see one of the game’s all-time greats in his final years. $66 per hour.

  • Knott’s Berry Farm Day – A fun and old fashioned theme park, but arguably with less to do than Disneyland to fill a full day. Also, much cheaper admission. $10 per hour. (If you’re a local, you can buy a season pass for about the same cost!)
  • Universal Orlando Day – There are slight differences in the ranges and dates, but Universal basically matches Disney ticket prices in their local markets, making the average here the same as Magic Kingdom: $20 per hour.
  • Universal Studios Hollywood Day – I love USH and Super Nintendo World, but realistically, you’re getting less ‘enjoyable time’ per day at Universal Studios Hollywood without spending extra or visiting during the off-season. Nevertheless, the base price is the same at $20 per hour.
  • Average Las Vegas Show – Everyone loves magic, singing and comedy. Enjoy all of that, plus two Disney alums in “Steve Martin & Martin Short: You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today!” Average cost per hour is about $33.
  • Average Broadway Show – Theater is a blind spot for me, but the internet says average ticket prices are $122-148. That works out to be around $75 per hour…and now I know why I have a Broadway blind spot! (Yeah yeah, I know stuff like TKTS exists.)
  • Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour – The reported averages are all over the place–from much lower face value numbers to insane resale amounts–but the average of those averages of what fans actually paid to see Taylor Swift’s latest tour is (very) roughly $435. That’s the per hour cost, not the ticket total. (I know people who paid less than that for their tickets, but the point stands–Taylor Swift costs more than Disney.)

Which of the entries on this list are worth it? Which are not? That depends upon the person, but what all these things have in common is popularity. (Minus the Angels.) So enough people have voted with their wallets and deemed these things ‘worth it.’

For our part, we’ve done permutations of everything on this list except Broadway (meaning an expensive concert, but not Taylor Swift; pro sports, but only some of the teams mentioned). I don’t regret the money we spent attending a single one of the events. That’s right, even the Angels games!

The point is that all of this is incredibly subjective, and not just from person to person. Even as I sit here, there are experiences that I’d say were absolutely, unquestionably “worth it” to me at a variety of different price points. One of my all-time most memorable travel experiences was an all-day hike to a seldom-seen spot in Yosemite National Park, the Diving Board.

My photography buddy and I were literally the only ones there for one of the most epic sunsets I’ve ever seen. That vista is indelibly burned into my memory, and the per hour cost of that hike was probably a dollar or so given the cost of my AP. Should this experience be the benchmark against which everything else I do is judged?

On the other hand, Sarah and I paid nearly $140 each to attend Oogie Boogie Bash, an event we’ve attended before at a park to which we also have Annual Passes. The per hour cost of that worked out to about $30, and a decent amount of that time was spent waiting in lines. Yet, we also had an absolute blast.

Was that Halloween party not “worth it” because it cost more than the hike? (I might also add that the hike likely improved my health, whereas the candy I ate at the Halloween party probably did the opposite.) What if the exact same event a few years ago was significantly cheaper? Is anyone who pays the higher price a sucker?

Over the years, this blog has been quite critical of various upcharges offerings at Walt Disney World, save for my precious parties. (We’ve been only mildly critical of the price increases for those. Presumably because we enjoy them and are thus biased, whereas we don’t like most other upcharges. Hmmm.)

Anyway, there’s a pervasive sense of FOMO that drives many people to spend on unnecessary experiences at Walt Disney World. Consider it a form of keeping up with the online Joneses/Kardashians. That might even be why some people visit Disney in the first place–they see their “friends” do it on social media, feel pressured to take their kids on the rite-of-passage trip in order to be a “good” parent, wear ‘Most Expensive Day Ever’ shirts in quiet protest, and drop thousands of dollars on a vacation they maybe didn’t want in the first place.

When it comes to upcharges, the FOMO effect is also a driver of pricing. Experiences like fireworks dessert parties or dining packages have nightly capacities that number in the hundreds, whereas there are tens of thousands of people watching the nighttime spectaculars each night. You don’t need a math whiz to explain why these things booking up quickly is more a numbers game than it is a reflection of whether these things are “worth it.”

But just because there’s a FOMO effect or it’s limited capacity or priced highly doesn’t mean people can’t be happy with the experience and find it was worth it to them. It wouldn’t be worth it to me, but I’m not the ultimate arbiter of value. Others could be sincerely satisfied with the offering and even have been willing to pay more for it!

It probably goes without saying, but costs relative to enjoyment can also vary. In the case of the aforementioned Yosemite hike, I’d pay $1,000 right now to be instantly transported back to that moment. Heck, I’d give the same amount to watch SpectroMagic one more time! Value is nebulous, and probably the best way to assess it is not comparatively, but after the fact.

With the benefit of hindsight, would you pay that much to have done it for the first time? What would you pay to do it again? The answers are going to vary from person to person, and just because someone derives pleasure from a nearly-free book or hike doesn’t mean that a much more expensive concert or theme park visit is not worth it to them.

Variety is the spice of life, and that would seem to apply to leisure activities and value propositions, too!

Ultimately, it’s fair to say that Walt Disney World and Disneyland are neither the best nor the worst values in entertainment when you attempt an objective measure. As far as in-person experiences go, they’re about middle of the pack–more expensive than regular parks, movies, and museums.

Less expensive than most sporting events, regular concerts, Broadway shows, and Taylor Swift or Beyonce concerts. For the reasons discussed above, objective measures don’t even begin to tell the full story…to the point that they’re practically pointless! Not only that, but we haven’t factored in food, which is pretty much a necessity when visiting theme parks or attending a multihour experience. It might be a controversial opinion, but I’d argue Disney Parks offer better bang for buck when it comes to fast food as compared to almost anything else–stadiums, concert venues, museums, zoos (our local library doesn’t serve food).

It’s also fair to say that anyone preoccupied with per-hour value isn’t going to be paying the prices listed here. Honestly, I was shocked about a lot of the per-hour averages on entertainment we’ve done with some degree of regularity, because our costs are almost always significantly lower. The same could be true with Walt Disney World and Disneyland, both of which offer ticket deals or lower season prices.

In the end, I suspect that a lot of the complaints about Disney theme parks offering “poor value” come from longtime fans who have seen and felt the trajectory of Walt Disney World and Disneyland prices. I further suspect that the defenders who contend Disney offers “great value” are largely an overcorrection to the critics, or people wanting to justify their own Disney addictions. Honestly, I feel the same…as both groups.

In some cases, Walt Disney World and Disneyland cost twice as much today as they did a decade ago–and that’s after prices came close to doubling in the decade before that. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and while I can empathize with the critics, I also don’t have access to a time machine. There are a number of things that cost significantly more today than years ago, but the market has decided are ‘worth’ more now.

That includes both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as their attendance today is higher than a decade ago when the parks were cheaper. I might add that this value assessment has been made by all of us who still visit Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Complain as we might about prices, the votes we’ve made with our wallets speak far louder than our words ever could.

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Your Thoughts

Do you think Walt Disney World and Disneyland are good values on a per-hour basis as compared to other entertainment? Is the amount that you’re paying to do Disney higher or lower than $20 per hour? What’s your balking point for a per-hour cost of Walt Disney World or Disneyland? What do you think of the value-proposition of the parks: good, bad or ugly? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

35 Responses to “Are Disney World & Disneyland Good Per-Hour Values Compared to Other Entertainment?”
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