Traveling to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando might have been an annual tradition for thousands of families, however, 92.6 percent of Disney World enthusiasts believe the current cost of a Disney vacation is out of reach for average families.
Many of these enthusiasts visit the park multiple times a year as Florida residents and annual pass holders, but still acknowledge aspects in which Disney can improve.
A Disney enthusiast not included in the survey is Stephanie Howell. She is a wife and mother of three boys from Denver. Her family has traveled to Disney World several times throughout the years, making it a tradition to visit the resort when visiting her parents in Naples for spring break.
Howell is currently planning a vacation to the resort next year during spring break with her husband, children, parents and mother-in-law. The price for tickets with a park hopper option for the week of March 17 to March 22 is expected to cost $5,720.30 for her family of 8, not including airfare, hotel or food expenses.
Howell intends to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge on the property, a 4-star hotel with the standard room rates for 2023 ranging from $469 to $842 per night.
“It’s sticker shock, to say the least,” Howell said upon seeing the ticket prices. “The park hopper passes alone were eye-opening. The week will cost us more than a European vacation at this point.”
When comparing prices to the last time her family visited Disney World in 2019, she noticed a sizable increase.
Howell isn’t alone in this as the Disney World enthusiasts surveyed who are also planning an upcoming trip expect their vacation to cost 35.7 percent more on average than their previous visit to the parks.
These price increases are a result of Disney parks all across the world being closed following the COVID-19 pandemic. Walt Disney World specifically has only closed for short periods of time, the first time being in 1999 for Hurricane Floyd and the second time being in 2001 for one day following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only closing for hurricanes since. March 2020 was the first time the park has been closed for an extended period of time.
With very little revenue being made for the company during this time, Disney reported that its second-quarter profit went from $5.4 billion in 2019 to $475 million in 2020, a 91 percent decrease.
The parks reopened in July with a focus on regaining the funds lost during the pandemic. As inflation nationwide began to rise, so did hotel rooms, ticket prices and merchandise at the Disney parks. According to the Wall Street Journal, “despite lower attendance during the pandemic, per-capita spending by guests grew by 17 percent or nearly three times the average annual growth rate during the previous decade.”
Following the pandemic, Disney began shifting their focus on increasing the amount of money visitors spend in their parks, rather than bringing more people to their parks. Knowing they have a loyal fanbase with annual passes who visit no matter what, Disney is catering to families who have never been and have no experience with Disney parks so it seems like they are getting the most bang for their buck. On average, annual pass holders usually live near the parks and know the ins and outs of Disney. They know where to spend money and when to go on certain rides. Out-of-state visitors would be staying on property, eating in restaurants and paying for new services Disney has started to implement.
One of these new features increasing vacation costs is the Genie+ system. In 2021, Disney abolished their free FastPass+ system for a paid Genie+ service, an app that offers “Lightning Lanes” that allow guests to skip lines for $15 a day per person. If Howell was to utilize Genie+ for her family of 8, she would have to spend an extra $120 per day for the Lightning Lanes alone. Compare this to neighboring Universal Orlando Resort, where booking in on-site premiere hotels gives guests an automatic Express Pass in the parks.
This service has a polarizing reaction among fans, with many complaining about time slots being sold out when they go to book a lightning lane, and others loving the flexibility Genie+ gives them to enjoy their day at the park. For the enthusiasts surveyed, 66.9 percent of them feel that “if they don’t upgrade to Genie+ and purchase additional individual Lightning Lane entries, they won’t get the full Disney World experience.”
Despite all of this, these are still Disney enthusiasts and they simply want to have a magic-filled day at the self-described “happiest place on Earth.”
“Disney still does have that magic feel to it, even with sticker shock and lines,” Howell said when asked why she still prefers Disney over neighboring parks, such as the Universal Orlando Resort.
Other Disney fans might disagree with 68.3 percent of Disney World enthusiasts in the aforementioned survey saying “rampant price increases make it feel like Disney World has lost its magic.”