Why is Disney World Held To A Different Standard Than Universal Orlando?

As expected, Universal Orlando raised ticket prices just a few days after Walt Disney World. If you walk up to a ticket window at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, it will set you back $96. That’s now 2 bucks more expensive than Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Sure, there are ways to get cheaper tickets online or if you take a tour of a timeshare on Highway 192, but that’s beside the point.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort

Recently I wrote an article about how theme parks in Orlando justify their ticket price increases. Most of the feedback I got was positive peppered with “However, you forgot to mention……”. Yes it’s true, I didn’t mention all the factors that go into a price hike. There are a ton of factors that go into the decision including operating costs, capital investments, and the market climate. If I included every factor, the article would never end. I had to stop somewhere and you all brought up some great points.

Copyright Universal Orlando

Copyright Universal Orlando

What I don’t quite understand is, when Universal raises their ticket prices, theme parks fans barely bat an eyelash. I have read a fair amount of articles recently about Disney being greedy or out of touch. However, when Universal now becomes more expensive, why don’t they receive the same treatment?

For example, a columnist at the Orlando Sentinel recently published an article accusing Disney of slowly pushing away Florida residents who just want to visit Disney for a day. She goes on to say that if you just decide to go to Disney tomorrow, that not only do you have to pay higher prices, but all the good restaurant reservations and FastPass selections have been taken by planning tourists who have already gobbled them up.

Photo Courtesy Mousesteps.com

Photo Courtesy Mousesteps.com

As stated in a previous article, the reality is, FastPass+ is designed so a certain amount of FastPass tickets are available the day of for every attraction. If you didn’t wake up early enough to snag a FastPass for Soarin with the old system, you wouldn’t get one, now you won’t either.

Courtesy Walt Disney World

Courtesy Walt Disney World

As for advanced dining reservations? It’s a shift in society. Thanks to the internet and having tons of information at your finger tips, people now can book a reservation online in advance as opposed to waiting in line at the park or a resort, or even calling on the phone. There is a definite convenience factor in knowing your kids can meet characters at Chef Mickeys weeks in advance, not have to wait in line, and factor that into your budget. Also, from Disney’s perspective, if they have X amount of seats in a restaurant they want to fill in a night, wouldn’t it be smarter for people to book those seats in advance to make sure those seats get filled? Let’s say they held 20% of their seats at all restaurants for same day/walk up guests. What if those seats don’t get filled? What if 5% remain open? What if those 5% have already booked a reservation somewhere else off of Disney property that they could make a reservation at? Where the family knows they don’t have to wait 2 hours for a table and they are going to a restaurant they know they want to dine at. What restaurant owner anywhere in the world wouldn’t want all of their reservations booked in advance?

Courtesy Ron Schneider

Courtesy Ron Schneider

Yet, for some reason, Disney continues to get blasted for the same practices that other companies also take. Why? For better or for worse, Walt created a company that continually tugs at your heart strings. If you buy a Cinderella DVD that your daughter falls in love with, that she watches over and over. She then wants to dress like Cinderella and the next thing you know, she’s wearing kiddie glass slippers for Halloween.

Courtesy Walt Disney World

Courtesy Walt Disney World

Months later, you’re gathered around the television on Christmas morning where your little girl watches the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade and she not only sees that Cinderella has a real castle and you can meet her there! Before you can blink, you’re headed to Orlando. After booking plane tickets, a hotel, and buying park passes, you plunk down the extra dough for breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table. When you see your daughter hug Cinderella, the same character she’s emulated for months now, for the first time? You shed a tear. That joy, that pride, those tears? Are all the real thing.

However, the truth to the matter is. The Cinderella DVD, those glass slippers, the dress all were paid for by your hard earned money. That embrace your daughter just shared with Cindy that meant so much to you that it made your eyes well up? You bought it. The question is: what’s it worth to you?


Shouldn’t every little girl’s parents be able to afford a trip to Disney World to hug her favorite princess? It’s the American dream, right? Disney stands for certain values that we learn in all their movies, right? Maybe I missed it, but I have never seen a movie with the message of: everyone should be able to have access to affordable family entertainment.

Disney may sell you movies and t-shirts with messages like “When you wish upon a star, dreams come true.” However, those messages are for children, not the adults who spend their time on Disney/theme park fan sites (even mine!) and complain about how their wish of cheaper prices didn’t come true.

Disney World Ticket

If you think Walt Disney World has continued to out price themselves where no one is coming to the parks anymore, you are sorely mistaken. According to any attendance report you can find, attendance at all Orlando theme parks have seen steady increases over the past few years. My guess is this will continue throughout 2014 as well. Clearly Universal Orlando ad Walt Disney World see it the same way, otherwise, why take such a huge risk with a price hike? Just maybe, it’s not that big of a risk at all.

This is where you come in. Help me understand why Disney gets held to a different standard than other theme parks or any other business for that matter. Why do people get so upset when Walt Disney World becomes more expensive. I know the answer is complicated and I also expect to get some passionate responses. Don’t worry, I can handle it.

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  1. fan51
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Did you see how Universal increased their prices for the 2 day 2 park hopper passes? They are nearly $200. The time for holding Universal to a different standard than Disney is over. Your article may have a point, but previously, Universal was significantly cheaper for 2 day or longer passes. This price increase eliminated the price advantage and Universal is higher priced in some scenarios. Guests have no choice, but to buy park hopper passes if they want to ride the London to Hogwarts train. This is the most expensive attraction that the park added.

  2. Neon
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    To be honest, I am ok with Uni raising prices, because UNLIKE disney these days.
    Most of the money seems to actually go to new RIDES.

    If the mouse actually started BUILDING again, like universal is doing maybe people would stop holding them to a different standard

  3. SurfNinja
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    For me, it is not the prices themselves that are at issue, but that the policies seem to keep changing to be less and less in favor of the Guest. I started working as a Disney Vacation Planner in 2002. (I no longer work there – or live in Florida for that matter.) At that time, a one day, one park ticket was $49.75, so prices have pretty much doubled since then. (Just stating a fact there.) A four-day Park Hopper (with no expiration) was $199 – so no daily price advantage, but you got the park hopping AND the no expiration at no additional charge. A five-day Park Hopper (the highest offered without water park add-ons) was $229 – so you got $20 off the fifth day. When Magic Your Way started (around 2005 I think), it sounded pretty good and I guess was supposed to save people money who really weren’t taking advantage of the park hopping or the lack of expiration. But, of course, what it really meant was price increases and the gradual disappearance of non-expiring tickets. I always thought the “We’ll take your money now for your vacation in the future” was a pretty valid business construct, but now it seems to be “Why pay now for your future vacation, when you can just pay more for it in the future?” Anyway, with the current Magic Your Way offerings, there is no appreciable discount until you get to four days. I LOVE Disney Parks, and I don’t really want to go to them for more than two or three days in a two-week period. It used to be you could add the no-expiration option to a four-day ticket for about $10 or 15 – so worth it to get the discount on the additional days, but now they don’t really offer no-expiration – or if you go to Guest Relations and get it, I feel certain it would be cost-prohibitive. And recently, they offered a Florida resident multi-day ticket that you couldn’t use on consecutive days – WTF? They seem to have learned from that mistake, though. When you compare the cost of a theme park ticket to the cost of attending a Broadway show, though, you can see the value. You get a lot more for a similar price. (I also love Broadway shows.) The other issue is the dining reservations. While I realize it would be a logistical challenge, I think they really need to go back to a 90-day window. It is hard enough to plan a vacation – let alone a meal – six months in advance. That is all.

  4. jvnoledawg
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I believe it has to do with problems of intangibles. Namely, Disney sells a service (theme park experience) that is grounded in intangible goods. You said it above – the feeling you get as your little girl meets Cinderella for the first time. Yes, the dining, and clothing, and DVD are all tangible products, but the purchaser in your scenario has placed a high emotional value on the experience described. That is an intangible that is very hard for the ‘rational man’ (in economic theory) to place a price on. The response, therefore, tends to be emotional. Thoughts?

  5. Wyll
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I am a big Disney fan and I love the Florida attractions and my opinion on the subject is that it comes down to what people can compare Disney too to get an idea of value for money. For example, Disney is making big promises in your face in every medium. “Happiest place on Earth”, characters wandering the park at random, no signs of crowds in the commercials.. this is the image that Disney is selling and when I think of the price and the reality, I know I am not getting value for my dollar. Factor in the constant movie tie-ins and the idea of the Disney experience, I can see why people grumble at the prices and increases. Looking at Universal, they are straight up in their sales pitch: Harry Potter, Transformers, and pure fun. Nothing about expereiences or magic. Plus, I feel there isn’t a Universal machine to focus your hate on. Also, with my CAA, I can pay $155 for a 3 day, 2 park ticket in Orlando. A little over $50 a day compared to $100 a day? That’s where the comparison gets people grumbling about Disney.

  6. Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I disagree .disney is constantly building new attractions: Carsland, avatar, the mine coster, Festival of fantasy Parade, little mermaid, and the possible star Wars land and Frozen attraction…how can you say they aren’t continuously building attractions?

  7. Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Also Josh to answer your question I have absolutely no problem with the Disney Pricing. The last time I was in Orlando I paid $110 (with tax) for a one day ticket to MK. now I get to spend 12 hours in a park for that price. If I saw a Broadway show it would be $130 and It would only be for two hours of entertainment….I think Disney is the better bargain.

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