Earlier this week I read a Washington Post article that stated theme parks, mainly Walt Disney World, have left the middle class behind to cater to more elite vacationers. I found the author's statements very skewed with many facts omitted to perhaps prove a preconceived agenda, or shows poor research at best. Seeing this glaring misinformation I couldn't help but write a response. I have been on various trips over the years that have warranted different budget styles and can provide examples of how a Disney trip can be affordable and how the original author didn't tell the whole story.
A Ticket for the World
The first paragraph states that the ticket prices on opening day were $3.50. While this is a true statement, it doesn’t completely paint the whole picture. Admission got guests into the park, but not onto the rides. In those days, guests had to purchase tickets for each ride and the cost was dependent on the type of ride as they were rated A-E. The more popular the attraction the higher the rating (Westfall, 2014). The additional cost of the ticket book for the rides doesn’t mean it cost as much then as it does today, however, it is something the author should have mentioned.
While the current one day price for a ticket to the Magic Kingdom is $105, I would bet most guests don’t purchase one day tickets, as they are traveling to the location for numerous days. I was not able to locate the percentage of people that purchase multiple day tickets, but I would like to run the numbers to show what the daily cost of visiting the parks would be based on multi-day passes. Since the author used the adult ticket, non-park hopper price without tax, I will do the same.
One Day Ticket (Magic Kingdom) = $105.00
3-Day Ticket = $275 or $91.60 per day
5-Day Ticket = $315 or $63.00 per day
7-Day Ticket = $335 or $47.86 per day
10-Day Ticket = $365 or $36.50 per day
As you can see, the price comes down significantly on a cost per day basis if a multi-day pass is purchased. This may not seem like that much of a difference, but it does add up if you are taking the whole family. But the author would have you believe that a family of four visiting for a week is going to spend $105 per day per person on tickets when in reality they are going to spend $48 per day per person.
Dining with the Mouse
The author then bemoans the fact that guests can dine on “$115 steak, enjoy a $53-per-plate dessert party…” So what? If guests want the options of dining at world class restaurants, why is that a bad thing? Guests can also choose to eat for much less money. Julie and I have been lucky enough to dine at some of Disney World’s high end options, but we have also eaten at numerous counter service locations and split a $15 dollar meal that included enough food to fill the both of us up. Park goers can also eat and drink until they are so full, they can’t move without even spending a penny because Disney allows guests to bring their own food and drinks into the park. When we travelled to Disney World and Disneyland, we either brought snacks and drinks with us and purchased one meal during our visit, or packed complete meals for the day and purchased no food or beverage.
The article mentions the Polynesian Village Resort by stating that rooms were $171 when it opened but after a remodel, guests can pay $3,200 a night for Bungalows. Again, I say so what. If people want to experience Disney in luxury, why judge them negatively for doing so? Also, the author is comparing a standard hotel room ($177) to the most deluxe accommodations the Polynesian Resort has to offer. The more accurate comparison would be $177 with $429 (which is what the same room goes for today). Sure that is a big jump, but not nearly as big as the author is trying to portray.
While we are on the topic, there are plenty of Disney Accommodations that are very affordable and cheaper than the $177 mentioned in the article. Three resorts, Disney’s All Star Music, Movies, and Sports Resorts all start at $92/night. Disney’s Pop Century Resort starts at $102/night and the brand new Disney’s Art of Animation Resort starts at $115/night. That gives guests 5 separate resorts that are cheaper than any of the resort accommodations that were available when Walt Disney World first opened.
There are campgrounds that run $69/night which have been available since the park opened and have no doubt gone up in price since then. The point is, there are plenty of accommodations that are affordable to middle class families and completely void the notion of Disney being just for the upper class.
The accommodation and ticket prices I used were all rack rates direct from the park site. Disney generally runs deals where the package price is cheaper than purchasing the vacation in pieces. Also, the author mentions extras like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques as if they are mandatory. Any vacation destination is going to charge money for extras such as this (see Cruise Lines). And even here, families can purchase princess dresses for much cheaper before they arrive on property, do their own makeup, and parade around the park just like the children who get the Boutique experience.
I make no impressions about not being a supporter of Disney. As a Disney Vacation Club Member, I have a vested interest in the continued success of the company, more specifically the theme park division. Having said that, I feel the author chose certain statistics to illustrate a preconceived point of Disney being out of reach for all but a few people when more complete research would have shown otherwise. My goal here is to illustrate that a Disney Vacation is not just for the 1% and that there are various ways to save money and make this type of trip affordable and fun. We intend to share some great budget saving tips in upcoming articles. Stay tuned!