Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Will You Need a Magical Wallet to Enjoy the Magic Kingdom this Summer?

Most likely.

This week, it was announced that Disneyland will be upping its admissions prices significantly. The cost for a daily pass to that West Coast park, or its sister property California Adventure, will now be $87, an 8% hike (the most recent rate was $80 per day). Buy a daily Park Hopper pass, which allows one to visit both parks, and get ready to shell out $125, up from $105. Kids ages 3 to 9 pay $119, not much of a discount. And woe betide the Mickey fanatics who buy season passes!  In-state residents will now pay $269, an uptick of 35% over the old cost of $199; out-of-state passholders have a 30% increase to $649. Parking? That's up too, from $99 per year to $129.

DisneyWorld has not announced new pricing, but Mouse-watchers expect that to happen in the fall. "When their Fantasyland expansion is closer to opening, that's probably when they'll hit up folks with an increase," says Robert Niles of ThemeParkInsider.com. "That's supposed to happen around the holidays, so October or November."

"Of course, if Disneyland attendance tanks thanks to this latest increase, they may rethink an increase at DisneyWorld," adds Niles. "But I very much doubt that's going to happen."

And don't hold your breath waiting for seasonal hotel/park packages to alleviate the sticker shock. Ricky Brigante, owner of the Disney discounting site InsideTheMagic.net remarked recently to SmarterMoney that for first time in recent memory the Disney Corporation hasn't released any large, nationwide promotions in several months.

Thankfully, other costs remain low, especially for those heading to Florida. Airfare into Orlando remains among the most affordable of any US gateway (see my blog from last week on airfares) and lodgings deals are still abundant in both Kissimmee and Orlando.

So why the big increase on park admissions? I'd like to blame the screenwriter of "John Carter", Disney's mega-flop of an action flick this winter.

But the real reason may be the escalating battle for supremacy between Disney and Universal Studios. Not only has Universal's Harry Potter attraction drawn a lot of business away from the Mouse, but this Friday, Universal will be unveiling a ride that's sure to garner it even bigger crowds, especially amonth the teen set. Themed after the "Transformers" movies and costing a cool $100 million, the new ride been hailed by advance reviewers such as Niles as the "attraction to beat", a real game changer. It will be in Universal's California park; in Orlando, Universal will be adding a new "Despicable Me" ride as well as increasing the thrills and chills on its already popular Spiderman ride.

Disney is fighting back with its Magic Kingdom expansion (costing the company $425 million) and a new Cars themed attraction at California Adventure (opening on June 15). In addition, it will soon break ground on an Avatar attraction in Orlando that's projected to cost $500 million. And somebody has to pay for those right? Hence the new ticket prices.

But will families continue to be able to afford the parks at these levels? Or has Disney finally outpriced its core audience?

Only time will tell.

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