Mickey Mouse vs. Middle Class: Magic Kingdom Leads Way in Pricing Some Families Out

Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse
Photo by HarshLight's Flickr | CC2.0

When Walt Disney opened the Magic Kingdom in Orlando in 1971, tickets cost just $3.50 a person. The result not only helped revolutionize Florida tourism by bringing tens of millions of extra tourists to the Sunshine State a year, but it also provided a relatively budget-friendly in-state vacation for local families. It cost just a tank or two of gas, a few nights at some hotel room, and admission, and it became a yearly tradition of many Floridians' childhood. 

But as the Washington Post points out, the Magic Kingdom has led the way in increasingly pricing out the middle class. The most-visited theme park in America, the Magic Kingdom is now also its most expensive. One-day tickets have increased to $105, the first time the tickets have surpassed $100 (tickets for children between 3 and 9 years old cost $99, the same price as adult tickets to California's Disneyland). Tickets to Disney's other Orlando parks cost $97 per day, while most other major Orlando parks also now charger more than $90 per day. 

Those ticket price rises won't come to an end anytime soon either. The park is considering a surge pricing strategy that could see one-day tickets peak at $125 during the most-visited days. 

“If Walt [Disney] were alive today, he would probably be uncomfortable with the prices they’re charging right now,” Scott Smith, an assistant professor of hospitality at the University of South Carolina, tells the Post. “They’ve priced middle-class families out.”

Granted, Disney is just following the laws of supply and demand, and with 19.1 million people visiting the park last year, there's no apparent shortage of people willing to pay that price.

The most magical place on Earth.
The most magical place on Earth.
Photo by Phil Whitehouse's Flickr |CC2.0

But there's no denying that the park has gone from budget-friendly getaway to a premium destination. In 2014 dollars, those $3.50 tickets in 1971 would cost about $20.46 today. Just a decade ago, in 2005, one-day tickets for adults were still just $59.75. 

The resort has also rolled out increasingly expensive options aimed at the one percent (or "Wall Street dads" as the Post calls them), including line-hopping passes, five-star resorts, and $195 princess makeover packages aimed at the little girls of the wealthiest. 

“They’ve been aggressively raising pricing because they’re looking at themselves as a premium price, a premium brand,” Scott Sanders, vice president of pricing for Disney’s parks and resorts between 2004 and 2009, told the paper. 

“Every child feels like they’re entitled to a Disney vacation, and I think they’ve played off that, letting the emotions lay in until the family says to do it. They’re recognizing they can capture demand across the price curve. So why not take advantage of what people are willing to pay?”

Luckily, Florida residents still get a discount on multiday passes. A three-day multipark ticket costs $189 for Floridians over age 10, compared to $275 for out-of-staters, and Floridians can still purchase annual passes starting at $19.97 a month after a $112 down payment, but the days of the middle class visiting Disney World without breaking the bank are long over. 

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