Junk Science: You Won’t Believe What A Ticket To Disneyland Used To Cost!

Posted By Debbie on June 30, 2015

From time to time, I see articles and posts furious at how much it costs to spend a day at Disneyland in California. The article usually mentions that Walt wouldn’t have wanted prices to be so high “people” can’t afford it. I recently saw another article claiming that Disney has “abandoned the middle class.” This appears to imply that Disney is only for the 1% or headed in that direction.

Not only is this untrue, impossible, and bizarre but I can’t even figure out what is the intention of writing such things. Are you hoping people will be so upset by your opinion that they refuse to plan a Disney vacation? Do you think you will bully the company with the highest park attendance on the planet into lowering prices? What’s the point of writing these things and bringing out people’s grumpiness?

There are lots of logical fallacies here, so let’s break down the claims about how much it costs to go to Disneyland.

First, some real data. In 1956, Disneyland’s second year of operations, it cost $3 for an adult to get in. You then had to pay per ride using tickets. That $3 got you 8 rides. If you wanted more, you had to buy more tickets. So it’s possible that many families were buying extra tickets and not going with just the $3 ticket book.

Today, if you buy a one-day ticket to Disneyland, you have a lot of options. Do you want one park or both parks? Hey that’s new since 1955… only one park then. So let’s say we just want one park. One day in 2015 is $99 plus tax, unlimited rides.

That’s an increase of 33x. People are claiming that these vacations are not affordable and Walt’s rolling in his grave. But let’s take a look at unemotional facts.

1. Disney has always been a for-profit corporation.

Walt wouldn’t have been happy with things losing money, especially since that would have meant the money wasn’t there for upkeep and improvements. He wanted things always improving.

If Disney stopped building new things then maybe they could keep prices down. But Walt’s idea and mandate were to always keep improving. That means new rides, new lands, new performances, new parades, new light shows, new costumes and uniforms, lots of new things every time you go. That costs money.

If I remember correctly, Walt made WW2 propaganda films to make money. I don’t think the guy was against making money. I don’t think of him as a socialist.

He wanted the parks available to anybody, and they are. All ethnicities, dietary needs, disabilities, and religions are welcome. LGBT very welcome.

2. Cost to run Disneyland.

Costs have gone up over time. What do metals, plastics, labour, workers, costumes, custom written music, and paint cost? Electricity, water, utilities. Building permits. What do those cost? Have those gone up more than inflation since 1955? Probably.

3. Lots of things have skyrocketed in price since the 1950’s.

I grew up hearing stories about how a hamburger was a nickel around 1950. There are yucky, suspicious burgers nowadays for $1. But a similar burger might be $5 now. That’s a 100x increase in nearly the same amount of time as that chart. Even a cheapy $2.50 burger (who sells that?) is a 50x increase.

Disney’s ticket price hasn’t gone up 100x. It’s gone from $3 for a limit of 8 rides (plus possible extra ride tickets) to $105 for unlimited rides. That’s 35x. That’s a lot. But would Walt spin in his grave?

Gas was 23 cents a gallon in 1955. Now it’s easily $3.80 around here. That’s a 16x increase.

Postage stamps have gone from 3 cents to 49 cents. Also about a 16x increase.

Many things in our day to day lives are getting cost increases way over what inflation would translate them to now. That 23 cent gas would now be about $2 per gallon if it were just 23 cents in 1955 dollars translated to 2015 dollars.

The average annual income in 1955 was about $4200. That would be around $36,000 in today’s dollars. Maybe there’s the problem. That is a realistic average income for many middle class workers… yet so many other things have increased prices way more than simple inflation. And that’s not Walt’s fault. If people were making an average of 16x that 1955 income (over $67K), a day at Disney wouldn’t look forbidding.

4. A ticket today to Six Flags Magic Mountain in southern Cali is $73.

This makes Disney’s $105 not look so weird. It’s certainly more, but they are different parks with different themes, attractions, and history. With restaurants, shopping, and attached hotels, Disneyland for some will be a bit more of a destination than other area theme parks.

5. Disney has discounted tickets for locals or people who go frequently.

If you walk up to Disney and buy one ticket for one day, you will pay the most. Like many products and services, the discounts are in bulk purchases. A small jar of mayonnaise in the supermarket costs way more per ounce than the vat of it you can buy at Costco. Same thing applies here.

An annual pass to Disneyland with blackout dates costs $550. You can go 315 days of the year on that. If you only went one day a month, that would come out to about $45 per day. They have cheaper passes with more blackout dates. If you’re going often, you’re paying relatively little to get in.

6. These angry-at-Disneyland-pricing articles NEVER talk about Disney World in Florida.

It’s always California. Yeah, I do think CA is a bit overpriced especially since it’s so small. Disney World in Florida is priced very differently. They really focus on the annual or multi-day pass there since most people are coming for a week or are locals going a lot. I know someone going this summer for two weeks. He’s just going to buy the annual pass.

Take a look at this sliding scale. The per day gets quite low if you are coming to FL and staying a while. This is the price assuming you only want to get into one park per day. There’s an added fee on your ticket if you want to “park hop.”

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Going to Disney World for 10 days? Each day is cheaper than one day at Disneyland in 1955, accounting for inflation. Plus you get unlimited rides.

Vacations Can Be Expensive

No matter where you go, vacations can be expensive. It’s easy to spend a lot once you have flights, hotel rooms, park tickets, and food. This will never be thought of as “cheap” by 99% of America.

Being profitable doesn’t go against anything I ever heard attributed to Walt. He built Disneyland so that kids and parents can have fun together. This is contrasted against his experiences taking his kids to amusement parks where they went on rides and every parent sat on benches waiting for them. He achieved that.

He wanted people to go. They do. They Disney parks win awards every year for being THE most visited parks on the planet. It’s not cheap. A week in either Disney in the USA will set a family back $$$$. Many families save weekly or monthly for 1-2 years to enjoy a week at Disney. But they are GOING in droves.

Here are some screens from the 2013 AECOM.com report on worldwide theme park attendance. The first screen ranks by group (rather than individual park). The second screen ranks by individual park. Disney has 9 of the top 12.

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ScreenHunter_570 Jun. 16 14.50

In Conclusion

The next time you hear that Walt would have hated what Disney parks cost now, please find me a direct quote from Walt that says that he wanted Disney parks to be cheap entertainment that every family can afford any day they feel like going. I don’t think he said anything close to that.

And when they claim that a Disney park ticket has risen insanely since 1955, ask those people to compare how other things have risen. Ask those people to take into account what it takes to run a park of that size and how those costs have gone up exponentially. Ask those people to explain what they think a day at Disney SHOULD cost, given wages, materials, electricity, and other things it takes to make that run well. $3.50 in 1955 might be under $40 today, but I remember paying $36 for Six Flags probably 20 years ago. That’s just not what amusement parks cost.

I believe these articles are junk science made to appease the unhappiness some people feel that a Disney trip is financially out of reach. And I’m sorry! I wish most people could experience that fun and magic. Walt isn’t rolling in his grave. He’s probably rather pleased at the stock price!