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Disney unveils surge pricing plans for parks

Fireworks blasted from the top of Cinderella Castle as Walt Disney World in Florida celebrated the Disney Global 50th Anniversary. AP/file 2005/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — For the first time, tickets to Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California will cost more during holidays and some weekends — up to 20 percent more — than during slower periods, as the bursting-at-the-seams parks seek to spread out demand.

The Walt Disney Co. unveiled its long-expected move to demand-based pricing in a blog post Saturday. The seasonal changes, which took effect Sunday, affect the two theme park resorts differently and apply only to single-day tickets and not the multiday packages that the majority of vacationing families buy, particularly at Disney World.


At Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, which attracts roughly 17 million visitors annually, single-day tickets now cost $99. Starting Sunday, the park will charge three prices based on the calendar. “Value” tickets, for Mondays through Thursdays during weeks when most schools are in session, will drop to $95. “Regular” tickets (most weekends and many summertime weeks) will climb to $105. “Peak” tickets (most of December, spring break weeks, July weekends) will cost $119.

At Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which includes four major theme parks, the price changes are more complex, because they vary by park. At the most popular Disney World park, the Magic Kingdom, which handles nearly 20 million visitors annually, single-day prices will remain at the current level, $105, for value periods. Prices will rise to $110 for regular periods, and to $124 for peak.

Disney intends to increase ticket prices once a year — recently, at well above the rate of inflation — and it always prompts a degree of consumer outrage. But in pure economic terms, Disney’s price increases have been modest considering the soaring demand, analysts say. During the company’s last financial quarter, which ended Jan. 2, domestic park attendance rose 10 percent from a year earlier, setting records. Attendance in the final quarter of 2014 rose 7 percent from the same period in 2013.


Overcrowding during holidays, particularly at the Magic Kingdom, has become enough of a problem — endless lines for rides do not make for “the Happiest Place on Earth” — that Disney had little choice in moving to a demand-based ticket-pricing structure, analysts say.

“In addition to expanding our parks, we are adopting seasonal pricing on our one-day ticket to help better spread visitation throughout the year,” a statement from the company said. “Multiday tickets, annual passes and visiting during nonpeak periods also provide our guests with options and savings.” A Disney spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the statement.

The company’s blog post emphasized expansion efforts on both coasts, including a new “Frozen”-themed attraction at Epcot and a major “Avatar”-themed area at its Animal Kingdom park. Major “Star Wars”-themed additions are also in the works. The largest proportion of days at both Disneyland (46 percent) and Disney World (49 percent) fall in periods designated as regular; peak days account for 27 percent of the year at Disneyland and 29 percent at Disney World.

Demand-based pricing, which is commonly used in the lodging and airline industries, has been adopted by other theme park operators in the United States, including Universal Studios, which will unveil a major Harry Potter-themed expansion of its Los Angeles park next month. Movie theaters and sports teams are also experimenting with similar pricing efforts.