Thursday, June 06, 2013

The High Cost of Disney Living

Thinking back to my last post about the cost of admission to a Disney theme park and the decision by Disney to spend more than $1 billion on a marketing system to track guests (rather than on, you know, attractions and improvements), I started wondering exactly how much the cost of Disney has increased relative to other items in our expensive world.

I discovered that the median American salary in 2012 was $50,413, and back in 1982 -- the year that's most important to readers of EPCOT Central -- it was $18,641, for an increase in 30 years of 175%.

The cost of a gallon of gas in 1982 was 91¢.  Last year, it was $3.63, for an increase of 299%.  Not looking pretty for Average Joe American, is it?

The car you put that gas in cost, on average, $7,983 in 1982.  In 2012, it had risen 279% to $30,303.  Ulp!

The average price of a new house was $79,900 in 1982, and by 2008 -- the height of the real-estate bubble -- it had ballooned 281% to $301,000, though by last year had declined considerably to $152,000, which would still be a 90% increase versus 1982.

If those prices were out of your league, you could have just gone to a movie: In 1982, the average movie ticket would set you back $2.92.  By 2012, the average ticket price had risen 175% to $8.02.

The cost of a Disney vacation?

Hm.  Well, this is where things get interesting.

In 1982, a "World Vacation" offered by the Magic Kingdom Club offered five nights' accommodations in the Contemporary Resort Tower, six days' admission and unlimited use of all Magic Kingdom attractions and all Walt Disney World recreational activities and facilities (golfing, swimming, water skiing, etc.)  EPCOT Center wasn't open when these prices were established, but according to the Summer 1982 issue of Disney News I have, the prices were valid through Dec. 31, 1982.

It also included breakfast lunch and dinner at any Walt Disney World restaurant or dinner show.  Yes, that's right -- any restaurant you wanted, any dinner show you preferred to see.  There weren't tiers of restaurants and classes of service, and you didn't have to save up meal coupons from one meal to use at another.  Just, simply, whatever you wanted wherever you wanted.  (Except room service and, interestingly, "fast-food locations" -- what?  Disney wanted to push its high rollers toward its better restaurants?)

The cost: $568 per person, or $1,136 for two people.

There's no equivalent option today, but for unrestricted breakfast, lunch and dinner each day (which does place limits on dinner shows), you'd have to upgrade to the pricey Magic Your Way Premium Package.  Factoring in five nights at the Contemporary Resort with a Tower room (Bay Lake view) and a six-day park-hopper ticket, the total price: $5,111.84.

That's an increase of 350%, rising far faster than the other categories.

A simple one-day ticket to the Magic Kingdom?  That has risen by 616% since 1982 -- from $13.25 (as the general public price) to $95 as of this week.

As Disney executives might say: Good thing we're all so rich.


David Landon said...

This is great information. You and I have been thinking along the same lines lately. I don't know if you saw my post about the steep rise in one-day ticket prices between 1982 and the present, and the overall shift in WDW's ticket pricing structure since 2004 ( it covers some of the same ground.

Yes, Disney's prices for everything-- tickets, hotel rooms, food, and merchandise--are beyond obscene. But people are paying them. Whether they're regular consumers duped by Disney marketing into believing that they're bad parents if they don't take their kid on a Disney World vacation or pixie dust addicts that will pay whatever Disney charges and then blog about how MAGICAL it is, the company's pricing strategy has yet to alienate a lot of customers. And nothing will change unless that happens.

Another factor at play here is that no one outside a relatively small group of Disney fans is really aware that the parks have basically been in decline since 1994. The company has decades of goodwill built up with the American public dating back to the 1930s. It's kind of like how GM was dysfunctional and stupidly managed for years before it finally started to catch up with them. I keep hoping that will eventually happen with Disney, but who knows how long it will take.

Anonymous said...

Nothing "Family Friendly" about Disney's current management!

Anonymous said...

I know virtually nothing about the new guest tracking system, but it seems these things are just new ways for people to buy their way into a "good experience", something that should come with the simple cost of an admission ticket! The FastPass thing was great, I actually liked it enough even though I didn't exploit it the way lots of people did.

Still, waxing nostalgic for a moment, it seems all these new ways to "enjoy" the park are really just ways for us all to compete with each other to maximize our experience at the expense of another guest. Back in my day... if you studied maps, read books, put in a little effort, you might find an "advantage" (i.e. best time to see attraction X). But it wasn't harming someone else's experience, the advantage came from effort and I still had to wait in line -- just a shorter line than someone else!

Now, we have ways to buy our way into that experience. Meh... not sure I'm making much sense, I think I'm conflating a couple thoughts.