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Disneyland raised prices for most admissions Sunday, a move that was widely expected as the park prepares for the 2019 opening of its much-anticipated “Star Wars” land.
After the price hikes were announced, most Disney fans said they expect to keep on paying, though some said they were now priced out.
Cynthia Varnell of Huntington Beach took her 4-year-old son to the park Sunday morning, while her husband planned to meet them later. Despite the increase they’ll renew their annual passes, because, she said, it remains worthwhile compared to other entertainment options.
“For me, the fireworks alone are worth it,” Varnell said. “It doesn’t really deter us. Our family can drop $100 at Chuck E. Cheese, no problem.”
But Rachel Broughten of Queen Creek, Ariz., was despondent about the price increases, which she estimates will soon cost her family $600 per year.
Broughten said she sold baked goods she made at home to earn enough money to buy three-day parkhopper tickets back in January for an upcoming Presidents Day trip this weekend.
Later, she and her husband decided to upgrade them to annual passes when they arrive on Friday. In this situation, Disneyland will give the customer the value they’ve already paid and apply it toward the price of the new annual pass, but it can only be done in person, she said.
Broughten hadn’t counted on the prices of the four passes going up a total $600 for their family.
She earns the money for family vacations by selling baked goods such as cupcakes but, she said she can’t bake enough to earn $600 by Friday. People outside of California aren’t eligible for the lower end passes, nor for the monthly payment plan.
“We mistakenly told the kids we were getting annual passes and now they’re excited,” she said. “I’ll have to do some serious number-crunching this week. The majority of Americans don’t have $600 lying around.”
Anaheim resort officials have been struggling for years to balance their desire to keep the parks full against the reality that they’re crowded on a daily basis, even during the winter renovation season when attendance used to be light.
The easiest way to reduce overcrowding while still keeping revenue high is to hike ticket prices, although Disney officials don’t want to alienate their bread-and-butter customers – the estimated 1 million annual passholders who remain loyal regardless of circumstances.
“Disney doesn’t even have an off-season anymore,” said Martin Lewison, a Disney price expert and assistant business professor at Farmingdale State College in New York. “Disney is in that special rare position where they can raise prices and their attendance won’t dip, or, if it does dip, it won’t be that much.”
Starting Feb. 12, all tickets and annual passes are now pricier, except for the cheapest “value” single-day off-season ticket, which will remain the same at $97, and the “value” one-day park hopper, which will actually decrease in price, from $157 to $147.
In 2016, Disneyland changed the way it sells tickets from a single standard ticket price. This system of demand-based pricing has become standard across entertainment and travel industries. In Disneyland’s case, ticket prices are divided among “value,” “regular” and “peak” days. On days projected to be the most crowded, a one-day, one-park ticket will now cost $135, up from $124.
Annual passholders will now pay at least $100 more per year, except for the Southern California Select pass, which is blocked out on weekends and will go up only $30 per year.
“Wow, that’s a big increase from what I’m paying now,” said Michael Marquez of Moreno Valley, who plans to upgrade his current Southern California Passport to the pricier Signature pass, which has fewer blackout dates. His new pass will cost $999, up $150 from the price for the same pass before today. “But this is our escape from politics and the drama of life. No matter how much it costs, people are going to pay it because it’s their escape from the world.”
Annual passholder Lacey Pasmant of La Puente managed to renew her passes just before the price increases, tipped off by rumors floating around Facebook. Her family’s passes would have expired on March 11, and she also needed to buy a new pass for her son, who just turned 3 and now is required to pay admission. Typically, she uses her tax refund to buy the passes, but they haven’t received theirs this year.
“I talked to my husband and said, ‘I don’t want to be wrong and have to pay more money,'” she said, explaining why they decided to renew even though their passes won’t expire until next month. “When I saw how much they went up, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I just saved so much money.'”
Even at the higher prices, she said that the passes still made financial sense.
“This is our only form of entertainment,” Pasmant said. “We realized when we went bowling or did other things, it cost nearly as much. My 3-year-old can’t go bowling, but this is something we can all do, no one has to compromise.”
This move is clearly intended to increase revenues while also decreasing crowds on the busiest days by making it significantly cheaper to go during the week and winter.
However, resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown warned that changes are coming to the annual pass programs sometime this year.
“We will be reshaping our Annual Pass program to better manage the guest experience throughout the year, which will help all Disneyland Resort guests have a great visit, particularly as we look forward to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019,” Brown said Friday in a prepared statement.
For this latest change, though, they did not eliminate the park’s monthly payment plan, which Brown said a majority of annual passholders use to pay for their passes.
The Disneyland Resort last raised annual pass prices in October 2015, and changed categories around to provide fewer benefits overall, except for the highest levels, which for the first time topped $1,000.
Despite this change, Brown said that the number of annual passholders has quadrupled over the last 20 years, though she declined to provide the numbers. The average passholder visits the park 10 times per year, she said, though there are fans who visit much more often. Generally, the accepted number of passholders has been thought to be around 1 million for Disneyland, though Disney has never confirmed that number.
“They’ve been trying to trim the number of annual passholders for some time,” Lewison said. “The number of annual passholders is more than they have capacity for at the parks.”
Gavin Doyle, who runs the MickeyVisit.com blog, said he thought the moves “make total sense.”
“I would still buy my annual pass right now, to get grandfathered in,” he said. “They could have raised the price of the highest level pass even more, but they only raised it $100.”
|Ticket type||2017 price||2018 price|
|Value: 1-day, 1-park||$97||$97|
|Value: 1-day parkhopper||$157||$147|
|Regular: 1-day, 1-park||$110||$117|
|Regular: 1-day parkhopper||$165||$167|
|Peak: 1-day, 1 park||$124||$135|
|Peak 1-day parkhopper||$174||$185|
|Signature Plus Annual Passport||$1049||$1149|
|Signature Annual Passport||$849||$999|
|Deluxe Annual Passport||$619||$729|
|So Cal Annual Passport (on hiatus – only renewals)||$469||$549|
|Select Annual Passport||$339||$369|
Typically, value days are weekdays that don’t include holidays or school holidays. Those prices did not rise in the latest restructuring, and the so-called “parkhopper” tickets that include the right to visit both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on the same day, went down $10.
In addition to increasing ticket and pass prices, Disney is also eliminating its renewal discount for renewing annual passes, which in the past ranged from $10 to $60, depending on the pass.
Blockout dates that ban passholders from visiting on certain days of the year will remain the same for now, Brown said.
Lewison, who is not only a business professor but also a theme park fan who visited 125 parks last year, said Disney can raise prices and get away with it because the company has a unique product, and people today have disposable money to spend.
“There was a time when Disney competed in the regional California market against companies like Knott’s and Sea World, but now they are the 800-pound gorilla with new attractions and shows that make it the most attractive option,” Lewison said.
“Demand for Disney parks is less price sensitive than for other luxury goods and services,” he added. “Disney is the kind of modern day luxury that its fans don’t see as a luxury anymore. They see it as a necessity. People see going to Disney almost as a right, so they get upset when prices go up, but they keep on coming.”
Even after Disney raised ticket prices last year, attendance at Disney parks in Anaheim and Florida still increased by 6 percent, according to company officials.
Passholder Marquez, who stages unofficial events at the parks several times each year, said Disney has become a fad, even more than before.
“If we have construction all over the place and (temporary construction) walls up, people are still coming,” Marquez said. “They are going to complain, but they are still going to spend the money.”
Marquez said he hopes that Disney officials won’t adopt a policy under review that would eliminate the option of paying for annual passes in monthly installments.