Why is Disneyland so expensive?

The problem with answering this question is that the reasoning is subjective. The typical “what’s expensive for some people may not be for others” comment applies here as does the thought of, “Do we get our money’s worth regardless of the price?” To simplify this comparison, let’s just focus on park admission. 1959 is the best year to start this comparison since Disneyland was only 4 years old fairly well-established by this point. In June of that year, Disney introduced the E ticket to better accomadate the new attractions at the time.

1959 Admission
This is just one example of a standard ticket book you could purchase at the front gate for $4.50 in 1959 and for that price, you’d get a ticket into the park and 15 attractions:
Disneyland ticket book 1959
Disneyland ticket book 1959

So far we’re at $18 for a family of 4 to go to Disneyland, but remember that you only get 15 attractions to start with and the number of each A, B, C, D or E coupons varied by the book you got (depending on price). In other words, if your ticket book gave you one E ticket, but you wanted to go on the Matterhorn 3 times, you needed to buy 2 more tickets at $0.50 each. In today’s money, that was about $4 per ticket so factor in that extra $8!

2013 Admission
There are quite a few options for getting in the park these days. You have annual passes, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 day passports and you have a choice of going to two parks or just one. For the sake of this comparison, let’s look at the cost of a 1-day 1-park ticket: $92. We won’t worry too much about the $6 discount for children under 10.
Disneyland tickets 2013

For a family of 4 today, you’re looking at $368. But remember that’s only for 1 park. If we got the 1 day Park Hopper ticket, then the price goes up to $137 per person for a grand total of $548!!

Results
After adjusting for inflation, you get about $140 for a family of 4 or $35 per person in 1959. No matter how you look at it, Disneyland was much cheaper than today…$228 cheaper to be exact. But many people are asking why have there been so many price increases and more often than not, the answer always seems to be that Disney is greedy. I disagree however.

First of all, it’s hard to judge the value of something like a theme park because everyone has a different opinion on what entertainment is worth. Second, it’s hard to directly compare the price of Disneyland in 1959 to today simply because the experience at the park is much different now. Not only are there many more attractions of much higher quality than before, but today’s ticket price includes unlimited use of all rides and attractions all day long. As mentioned earlier, simply riding the Matterhorn 2 extra times in 1959 would cost about $8 in today’s money. The more rides you went on (past your initial 15 included in the ticket book price), the higher your price went from your $35 starting point.

But even after you consider the increase in attractions, overall park quality and entertainment options (shows, parades, fireworks, etc.), some people are still left feeling like they’ve been robbed. And above all this, we still haven’t factored in the cost of parking (currently $16), food, snacks, merchandise, etc.

Conclusion

It’s my belief that Disney increases theme park pricing because the market allows them to. They don’t have any real competition if you think about it. Sure there’s Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain down here in Southern California, but the experience of these two parks is NOWHERE near that of Disneyland. That Disney “magic” that everyone talks about really does make a difference.

Since the competition is small, people will pay to get into Disneyland. And year after year, people have proved this. Attendance rises every year even though prices do as well. You may not think it’s fair, but that’s capitalism at its best. I have to also believe that Disney is somewhat controlling its population with pricing hikes. If the prices stayed low, both parks would be mob scenes 365 days a year! As a local, I have an annual pass and I can count how many times I planned to go to Disneyland only to be presented with a sign telling me they’re “at capacity” on one hand and frankly, I’d like it to stay that way. Physical space has its limitations and the parks can only handle so many people before the quality starts to diminish and/or safety becomes a factor.

Of course Disney is running a business and they would be stupid not to turn a profit. Just like how movie theatres get away with charging $13 per person and gas stations get away with charging over $4 per gallon, Disney will not miss an opportunity. In the end, you can’t just say Disney is being greedy. We all know that the cost of everything is going up and Disney has to support the park in so many ways that you don’t see including property taxes, permits, annual fees for inspections, electricity, gas, water and the list goes on and on.

So is Disneyland really that much more expensive? Well, if you just walked into the park in 1959 and 2013 and did nothing else, yes it is. But if you wanted to go on many rides many times throughout the entire day, then the price could be somewhat the same after inflation is considered. In fact, considering that today you get two theme parks with unlimited rides, you could say you’re getting much more for your money now than you ever had before.

Happy 4th of July! Disneyland Celebrates 58 Years Today – Happy Birthday!
  • Ron Smith

    Disney’s rides suck tho – the real value is the movie magic brought to life for kids (and adults who are fans) and that ties into what you’re saying about the experience. No adult will go to disneyland over either KBF or MM for the rides because most disneyland rides pale in comparison (especially to MM). But Disney is much more a theme park than a place for roller coasters which is why it has that monopoly.

    But crap – $96 bucks a ticket, holy cow – gonna have to factor that in to pre-planning a trip there.

    • http://www.brandon.me Brandon Hann

      You bring up a good point. Time and time again, people ask me why I like Disneyland so much and the more I think about it the more I realize I only like it because it’s nostalgic for me. Those rides you speak of bringing the movie magic to life did it for me when I was a kid and they have stuck with me all my life.

      And you’re also right about Knott’s and Magic Mountain…those parks are no comparison in terms of rides, but that’s ok because they compete on different levels.

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      You’re right, I wouldn’t compare Disneyland to Magic Mountain and Knott’s because the rides are so different, but that allows them to compete on different levels.

      As far as the Disney magic goes, I realized a long time ago that I’m really only a fan of Disneyland because it’s a nostalgic place for me and being there brings back so many memories…not to mention the re-creation of the movies you speak of.

  • Doug

    I don’t get Disneyworld’s popularity. You wait in line 45 minutes, on average, to go on a 5 minute ride. If you stay there the whole day, you’d get to to go on 8 rides, on average. At $400 bucks for a family of 4 ($90/ticket plus food is going to run you at least $40) that’s works out to $50 for the family to go on each 5 minute ride. This doesn’t include the cost of getting you there, which can be considerable, if there’s airfare and/or a stay at a hotel involved. Of course, as long as Disney draws the crowds, they’re never going to lower their prices.

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      When you put it like that, it’s gets quite depressing! I guess it’s almost like anything you do as far as travel…factoring in the breakdown of all costs including eating out, flying, driving, gas, tickets for various events, etc. really allows you to see the big picture of what all this “fun” really costs. I tend to do this a lot just so I know where I stand with my money, but it can really change your mindset on whether you’ll think doing certain things in the future is even worth it or not.

      As far as Disney goes, it’s almost like an expectation…a ritual of some kind that all children must be taken to a Disney park at some point in their early lives so they can have those memories forever. At the same time, your money spent there does not usually go to waste. Disney parks are known for their exceptional attention to detail and cleanliness alongside their ability to create “magic” with new rides and attractions. None of this could exist without premium pricing.

  • griflc

    Yes, Disney has cornered the theme park market. However, they’re pricing themselves out of the game. Their competition in Southern California has a keen eye on them and I think they’ll do what it takes to surpass Disneyland.
    I agree, there is something magical about Disneyland. Something each generation wants to pass down — it’s at the point however families will not go into debt for Disney Magic.
    Disney has more to lose than not. They need to re-think their game. It’s truly disheartening.

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      Very valid points, but could it be possible that there really is no direct comparison to a Disney park? I mean, with carnivals for example, they all have similar rides and concessions so the competition could be pricing, location, live events, etc. With theme parks like Six Flags, the competition is all the same, plus maybe the types of roller coaster they have, but nothing really compares to Disney because going to a Disney park isn’t always just about rides. I’d say most of it has to do with that magic you speak of. Children get to ride the rides of their favorite Disney movies and characters. And now that Disney owns Marvel and Lucasfilms, we’re likely to see less ride-name licenses going out to other theme parks…at least for Star Wars and comic books rides.

      I truly feel their trying to find their balance. If the prices were too low, the parks would be sold out every day and trust me…as a passholder, I’ve seen this happen many times throughout the year. As much as we’d like to think Disney would love a sold out park every day, I can’t imagine they’d retain those crowds for long because nobody would want to come if every line was 4+ hours long! And if the prices get too high, population will drop.

  • Kasey Whelton

    I don’t think Disney can be compared to any other park in the country. I went to Disney World for the first time when I was 25 (I went to Disneyland when I was 4 but don’t remember it). I had as much fun as I possibly could have. I didn’t ride everything, and did wait in some pretty long lines, but it’s all of the things besides the rides that made it so great. We saw several shows, which should be taken into account when adding up value because the shows are free. Plus there’s just the magic of seeing childhood movies and characters come to life, I don’t care how old you are! And the decorations (we went at Christmas)! Amazing! And if all of that doesn’t float your boat, sit back and marvel at the technology Disney possesses. If they really wanted they could probably take over the world, only slightly kidding. What they make possible for the sake of entertainment is amazing.

    Here’s the thing when it comes to cost that always blows my mind…don’t pay $1500 for a weeklong trip when your kid is 3 and won’t remember anything. Wait until they’re a little older. Maybe 7 or 8. They’ll still get the feeling of wonder and magic, but they’ll probably be able to recall all the memories they make later in life.

    Also, very interesting about the ticketing in 1959. I had no idea!

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      It’s strange…when I think back to my earliest memories of Disneyland, they aren’t about the shows and lifelike characters. They are about spending a fun day with family, going on rides, eating junk food and getting cool souvenirs. Of course everyone’s childhood memories will be different, but the reason I bring it up is because I have never gotten enjoyment out of any of the shows or parades…other than the fireworks. I think the magic for me was mostly about how tightly each theme was integrated into each attraction. Add to this the history of it all and I was a very happy kid. I suppose I was the minority in this sense where most kids were probably just impressed to get a photo with Mickey, I was busy thinking about how cool it was that I was walking in many of the same areas that Walt Disney walked in.

      There a very few types of Disneyland fans…I’m one of the ones that is nostalgic about it and would like to retain as many rides and attractions as possible from my early life, but at the same time, I can’t be selfish. Times change and new things have to replace the old. This way, new generations can enjoy the place just as much as I did.

      Although I rambled a bit off topic, I brought all this up to agree with your point that no other park can compete with Disney on that level because they don’t seem to create the same emotional attachment that Disney can.

  • Lizzie

    All I remember about going to Disneyland as a kid (which I did once and have never done again) is waiting 3 hours to get on a ride. Why would I want to do that more than once for each ride in a day? Ripoff.

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      I agree that it would be a waste if you bought full price tickets and had to deal with lines that long. I’ve been spoiled with my annual pass so I don’t really pay much attention to the lines anymore. My advice to anyone in your position would be to find out the best dates in the “off” season to go so there will be far less people. But there are a few trade offs for doing this. First, the weather may not be favorable. Second, you have to deal with shorter operating hours and lastly, many of the year’s ride closures are done during the slow times.

  • TSV

    Your viewpoint to discuss about Disneyland price might stand wrong place. It doesn’t make sense to compare 1959 and 2013 since too many facts, backgrounds, and lives of people are different. It’s not only money difference.
    Why didn’t you compare two Disneylands? Anaheim and Tokyo.
    Both are in 21st century, most developed countries, and people with money.
    Let’s see the admission fee. To make it simple, I’d like to introduce ¥100 as $1.

    1Day passport at Anaheim
    Age 10+ :$92
    Age 3-9 :$86

    1 Day passport at Tokyo Disneyland
    Age 18+ : $62
    Age 12-17 : $53
    Age 4-11 :$41

    As an adult, you have to pay $92 for DL at Anaheim while you only need to pay $62 at TDL (Tokyo Disneyland).
    Scarily facts follow. If your little child becomes only 3 years old, you must pay $86 while TDL humbly accepts the little one for FREE. 4 years old is treated as an adult in Anaheim. On the other hand, TDL is kind enough to let school students in for reasonable fee.
    If you want to know more, I’d better to tell that there are sensible settings for seniors and nighttime.

    Don’t miss the point that TDL has lots of superior reviews by Japanese people who are pretty picky or the pickiest in the whole world.
    Many Japanese go back to TDL over and over again because TDL has satisfied those sensitive customers.
    Of course, as a result, it’s one of the most crowded places in Japan or in the world 365 days… even the coldest day in a winter.

    Like you mentioned about strategy of Disneyland at Anaheim, TDL also should raise the admission fee to control the flood of guest. But it hasn’t happened. Thank you, TDL. Many regular income folks can enjoy the dreamland easily.

    I’d like to know how you explain “Why is Disneyland so expensive?” with little facts I introduced. For now, I just regard Disneyland at Anaheim as nothing but a RIPOFF.

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      The main reason for comparing the Disneyland of yesterday to that of today was simply because it’s a common discussion among fans in the area. Many people around here can still remember the various price points that Disneyland has endured throughout the years, so watching it go from “cheap” to “overpriced” is both a heartbreak and a reality check.

      Also, going with your logic, we would yield the same argument…comparing Disneyland in Anaheim to the one in Tokyo would be impossible as well because different countries have different cultures, interests, likes/dislikes, etc. In other words, Disneyland Tokyo could be cheaper simply because it’s not as revered as Disneyland Anaheim is. Obviously I can’t make that assumption since I’ve never been to Tokyo myself, but my point is that this article wasn’t intended to paint the picture that one Disneyland is better than another simply by looking at pricing and features.

      The point was to show how pricing in 1955 went from what it was to what it is today. As you mentioned, different eras do provide vastly different interests and the willingness to pay for certain things while not paying for others, but the fact that Disneyland itself has changed with the times to account for these cultural changes is proof enough that Disneyland is more or less as popular today as it was in 1959.

      This article was also not meant to be a scientific approach by any means and only serves as a quick glance into how much has changed due to economic changes such as monetary inflation and differing tastes and styles.

      Lastly, you mentioned Disneyland in Anaheim is a ripoff, but the thing is that this is the original Disneyland and many of the people visiting here are doing so simply because it’s the ONLY Disney park where Walt Disney himself had a hand in creating, not to mention the only park in which he walked around in personally. There’s something magical about that and people will pay for that feeling of nostalgia.

      • TSV

        Thank you very much for your reply.

        A man from Europe and I discussed about the price setting of Disneyland. He
        mentioned that it’s just because of demand and supply. If you have something
        that nobody can offer, you have choice to be greedy as mush as you can.
        Maybe that’s the answer I was looking for.
        I expected your essay to explain about economical aspect. Guess I was holding wrong anticipation. And sorry for pushing just numbers.

        Still I wish to save TDL’s honor. If you are interested in checking this link, I’d appreciate very much.
        http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201207/3147/

        • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

          No worries. I was just trying to look at it in a very simple perspective (and local one as well). And it is true about having something that nobody can offer, but at the same time, the visitors are the main reason prices go up. They keep coming and in higher numbers year after year, so if the prices remained the same, before you knew it, the park would be selling out everyday. This would be unfair to travelers and locals alike who sometimes plan days or weeks in advance to come here. Disney really has no choice, but to keep the “fair” market price in check.

          Also, I checked out that link and it is pretty interesting how he ranked the parks! I can at least say this much for the newer parks (including Tokyo)…they benefit from being newer and having all of Disneyland’s and Walt Disney World’s history to learn from. The main issue plaguing Disneyland’s future development is the public’s desire (and probably the company too) to keep it as original as possible since like I said, it’s the only park that Walt built himself.

          Being able to create a brand new Disney park with the best components of the existing parks put in place is naturally going to make the new park “better” in many respects. I do not doubt that Tokyo Disneyland is amazing…maybe one day I’ll get to see it!

  • TSV

    Sorry I made a mistake.
    “10 years old is treated as an adult” is correct in stead of “4 years old is treated as…”

  • Alexander

    I still don’t understand why disneyland is so expensive. I mean, don’t get me wrong. its an amazing park including its neighboring park, California Adventure. But why does it have to be so expensive considering how popular it is. Paying a lot of money just to get INTO a park, plus the food, drinks, souvenirs, and parking too??? Disneyland including C.A. are great parks but scams when it comes to their pricing. I don’t get the ‘magic’ too? i read a lot and talk to a lot of people and they say same thing “being a kid again” and ‘the fun and magic of being there is unlike anything other’. I mean, you can still get the same amount of fun at any other amusement park including knotts berry farm, and six flags magic mountain, even Sea World and local carnivals too. i mean from my perspective. i still get the same amount of fun and still feel like a kid at other amusement parks. but thats just me. Still don’t get why its worth spending a lot of money on the same magic you can get at other parks.

    • http://www.brandon.me Brandon Hann

      The fun and magic you speak of is of course very subjective and everyone will experience certain places differently. But with that said, it can be generally agreed upon that the magic that Disneyland (and other Disney parks) possesses can not be duplicated at other theme parks even though those other parks can be just as fun or more fun.

      The reason for this is because much of the Disney magic comes from the fact that the parks are so closely tied to Disney characters and movies from the past dating all the way back to the 1920′s. These movies and characters have been burned in the imagination and memories of practically every human being alive today. And since 1955, Disney parks have been creating another sub-set of memories for these same people. No other theme park can make that claim.

    • http://www.brandon.me/ Brandon Hann

      The fun and magic you speak of is of course very subjective and everyone will experience certain places differently. But with that said, it can be generally agreed upon that the magic that Disneyland (and every other Disney park) possesses can not be duplicated at other theme parks even if those other parks are just as fun or more fun.

      The reason for this is because most of the Disney magic comes from the fact that the parks are so closely tied to Disney characters, cartoons and classic movies dating all the way back to the 1920′s. These characters, cartoons and movies have been burned into the imagination and memories of practically every human being alive today. And since 1955, Disney parks have been creating another sub-set of memories for these same people. No other theme park can make that claim.