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Price Discontent


They call it “price shifts.” Whatever they term it, it:

Makes you uneasy.

Unhappy, too.

Maybe even angry.

A local newspaper put it this way:

“The laws of supply and demand have become more complicated at Orlando's big theme parks as they make shifts in pricingstrategies.”

You can read that as higher prices for Disney World tickets and Universal Studios Orlando tickets…and Busch Gardens Tampa tickets…and just about everyone else.

So if you are angry, as some are, you wonder:

How can they do this?

Real reasons why parks cost more

Well, it turns out they do have reasons.

In the case of Walt Disney World Resort, the approach is said to discourage some people from visiting during the most crowded times.

But the inevitable impact for most of us: higher prices are a drag.

If paying higher admission prices to visit an Orlando theme park makes you stand up and cheer, please do so now.

It doesn’t?

No surprise.

But higher prices are not the only way to look at this happening.

Why?

More to the story

Because they are hardly the entire story.

You also have to consider other things:

What you are getting for your visit? How that has changed in recent years?

Then, there’s history. Not in a boring way.

But how it impacts you.

And that history includes what has happened to some failed theme parks.

They no longer are able to sell you an admission ticket.

Why?

Because they are closed.

Went out of business.

And perhaps you might consider a famous quote by the Irish writer Oscar Wilde who said of a cynic:

“He (she) knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

So what we propose is not an excuse for higher prices here. But a realistic look at them from more than the simplest but obvious fact:

They are going up.

It’s not just Disney that is revaluating pricing.

Before opening its new Harry Potter land, Universal Studios Hollywood started charging online prices that vary by day.

SeaWorld recently stopped charging separate weekend and weekday prices for tickets bought online. Those tickets now vary by season.

The Disney rising prices are the most criticized.

For example, this was the reaction:

That's crazy. Is this Disney's backdoor way to reduce crowding? Why don’t they add more rides…and more parking?”

"It shouldn't be so expensive to share a joyful day with your family. Just going to Disney for one day, you can expect spending hundreds of dollars on food, games, etc. It's not right someone should spend an arm and a leg (or for some an entire paycheck) on one day at a theme park."

"It's now kind of a routine that Disney raises their prices by a few dollars every year…that we all expect. Theme parks are not a cheap and affordable vacation, and I pretty much accept that. It's why we save our money for our vacation to afford the travel, hotel stay, food, souvenirs, and passes."

The later comment is probably the most realistic.

Prices everywhere going up

Disney has hardly been alone in pricing.

Others have taken the same direction.

There is no question that SeaWorld has lost visitors as it has fought off controversy about its killer whales.

Competition from Orlando’s Disney and Universal has also led to larger crowds there for the new attractions.

The result is that SeaWorld knows it can’t compete with the two larger parks in new attractions. So they have been looking to customers with smaller budgets.

An interesting aspect of the whole pricing business has been the honesty of some park officials.

SeaWorld officials have been quoted as saying they underestimated how many of their customers demand discounted admission prices.

Disney on the other hand is less reliant on Orlando discounted tickets.

Disney has also taken the concept of higher prices and fewer crowds to a new height. They started a new series of late-night admission events costing $149.

Hours before the first event in April, some time-share club members received invitations to attend for free, DVCNews.com reported.

Prices were slashed in half for annual-pass holders and DVC members for subsequent events.

Disney said it must have been confident of the response. They did no marketing. But the company said it was pleased with the response.

Disney far more willing to raise prices

Let’s consider the past.

Or history, for a few minutes anyway.

Does that not seem relevant to you?

It should.

When you consider their evolution into the type of sophisticated entertainment you see today.

Perhaps those who condemn it.

Or call it “Greedy” is among milder descriptions.

Perhaps they have forgotten…

Disney is also a business.

They are there to make money.

While you know that fees at theme parks have consistently risen, did you something else?

Did you also know that Disneyland in California was one of the first amusement parks ever to even charge an admission fee? Keep in mind that Disney is also a business

Theme parks did not start out to thrill younger riders on roller coasters or to please families with G-rated entertainment.

Like most of us, you know the modern day versions of how Walt created what we know today.

But before him, theme parks had what might be called a somewhat “seedy” or “disreputable” reputation.

Most US parks started in the late 1800s.

The first were “trolley parks.”

What in the world was that?

Parks built at the end of trolley lines.

Yes, that’s how people traveled in those days.

These new parks often offered dance halls. You may know them as places where men paid small change to dance with women (yes, times have certainly changed, haven’t they?).

These parks often had no single main entrance. You just walked in.

Of course, rides cost you.

You paid by the ride.

Disney would change all that in later years.

One of the first theme parks, the Seabreeze Amusement Park, opened in 1903 at Rochester. NY.

The first Ferris Wheel is probably not as old as you might imagine. The first one came from George (Ferris) at the 1893 World’s Fair.

Roller coasters followed.

Your dining choices: fried chicken

Food was always a feature. But early versions were usually fried chicken.

No turkey legs, though.

Or Dole Whips.

This may surprise you. But admission in the earliest times was a real bargain:

Free.

Payment was by the ride.

But then as now, you could buy several rides at a time.

Not common today, but you can still find it in some areas.

But the parks in the early part of that century made little money.

The result: Many were poorly cared for.

Run-down.

They got worse in America’s Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s.

You also may not know this but motley gangs roamed freely before there was anything like “security officers.” These were at times violent and disrupting when they demanded money from other guests.

World War II in the 1940s also dampened park enthusiasm.

Hundreds of parks or so by 1950 had dwindled down to less than 50 amusement parks in the US.

But then we come to Disney….which in some ways started with theme park problems.

Why not cater to families?

Everyone knows the old story: Walt was sitting on a bench in Griffith Park watching his daughters on the carousel when he wondered:

Why aren’t there places where the entire family can spend time together?

His inspiration was said to be twofold:

Letters from children all over the country who wanted to actually meet Mickey Mouse.

And the famous train in the backyard of his home.

In those days, just about everyone knew about the train. It was famous.

So Disney came about.

As another reminder that it is never boring when you see how it actually happened.

So now we arrive at today.

In 1955, or more than 15 years before Disney opened in Orlando,

The price at Disneyland was $3.25. In 1955.

Counting inflation, that was the same as $29.

For that, you got eight rides.

Paying by the ride

Prices kept going up. But do did more rides and attractions.

Of course, without getting into all the numbers, inflation kept going up even as Disney admission prices did.

Did higher prices ever kill theme parks in modern times? Did it even make a huge difference in slowing them down?

No answer is needed.

Which means Disney’s explanation is not from outer space…though you may still be dubious.

Might the crowds if prices had never gone up now be unmanageable?

We really don’t know. But we do think so.

In fact, higher prices have thinned even larger crowds.

This has made Disney and to some extent other parks more of a premium or expensive product.

But that clearly is a supply and demand situation. And maybe you should be happy about it… again considering the alternative.

No, no magic here. .

But is it possible that guests like yourself not only are getting more choices of rides, attractions but also having a less crowded park than you would otherwise?

Is it possible Disney (while they want to make more money, of course), could also be doing you a favor by helping to provide a better experience?

Remember what we said about Disney: making money lets them stay in business.

Not all theme parks were successful

Those parks that were closed?

Steeplechase Park at Coney Island, New York closed in 1964. Olympic Park in Irvington, New Jersey in 1965. Euclid Beach outside of Cleveland in 1969. Riverview Park in Chicago in 1967.

Riverview may have been the best known. It began as a sharp shooting park. The Schmidt family operated it and added rides, including a carousel, in 1904.

Through the years the park at Western and Belmont became a second home to many who lived in northern Chicago. It prided itself on having several roller coasters.

Not just any coaster but similar to today’s competition among parks to have the fastest or the longest or the scariest.

Riverview had almost a dozen versions.

The best known was “The Bobs,” an innocent name for a wickedly twisting ride.

A lot of people loved these parks.

So much so that entire books have been written about how much fun and entertainment they provide.

Joy, in fact.

For many, all that remains today are some faded photos. And memories.

Factors killing theme parks

The easiest answer to what killed the parks: well publicized acts of violence is the usual answer. Families became reluctant to go.

That same issue that prompted Walt to reconsider the parks themselves.

This might be a case where what Disney and others are doing is also good for visitors such as yourself.

Could it be that Disney is correct in its statement that raising prices is positive?

Some objective observers think so.

"The right pricingstrategy can benefit both the company and the customer - that idea of ... managing demand so you don't have these crazy crowds that can't be served well," said Matt Busch, a partner with consulting firm Revenue Analytics.

Why? Park attendance while still going up has slowed.

You have less crowds.

But don’t think that will always be the case.

“Star Wars” is coming.

And with it, higher prices.

That will put pressure on others to imitate something as spectacular. But also on pricing.

Costs will go up.

Crowds will also rise.

But we hope all this gives you another view of not only today, but the future.

You’ll be seeing many more examples of new pricing.

Something to keep in mind at that time:

The price has to be considered.

But do you also know the value? ###