The Mouse roars, and Disney jacks up ticket prices again

You probably never dreamed it couldn't get any more expensive, but at Walt Disney World, dreams come true. Effective Sunday, August 2, ticket prices went up again.

The inflation of ticket prices is an annual summer ritual for Disney Parks, and anyone who hoped that the recession would entice the company to skip it this year has been disappointed. The one-day adult ticket for a park is now $79, up from $75. That's a leap of 5.3%.

A child's ticket (and in Disney's world, childhood prices end once you turn 10) goes from $63 to $68, or a dollar more than the full adult price just two years ago. The right to visit more than one park per day now costs $52 per vacation, as opposed to $50 before.

Disney is front-loading its biggest price hikes on its tickets for shorter stays, an effort to lure people into staying longer at the resort (and spend more money). A seven-day pass goes to $234 from $228, a rise that's more modest than in years past.

Disney announced these increases shortly after its quarterly earnings report. That revealed that the theme parks are still raking in a profit -- $521 million -- only it's just not as big as it used to be. If earnings are still in the black, the Mouse must reason, then there's no reason to change the tradition.

Part of the reason for that is aggressive discounting by the Orlando resort. Usually, that comes in the form of breaks (free entry, free meals) for people who elect to stay in Disney-owned hotels for four nights or more.,feedConfig,entry&id=369726&pid=369725&uts=1249313337
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In this image released by TPS, producer Tyler Perry, left, stands with Disney characters and day campers from Creative Steps in Philadelphia as he is presented with a thank-you poster at DisneyQuest, an indoor, interactive theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Friday, July 31, 2009. Perry arranged for the children to go to Walt Disney World after reading about allegations that a suburban Philadelphia swim club had shunned them. (AP Photo/TPS, Quantrell D. Colbert) ** NO SALES **

If you can swing that, then it's true that as long as those big deals are available, the high ticket price at the theme park gate becomes more bearable. But not everyone is willing to do that, either because they don't have that much time or they recognize that Disney's hotels are often three times the price of comparable lodging just outside the resort property. Nonetheless, there have been enough takers of the mass discounts to fill the parks but still dent the bottom line.

Steadily increasing entry prices also benefits in Disney Parks because it helps it justify charging guests up to $209 for the privilege of allowing any ticket they buy to be valid forever. Unless guests spend that extra money on a "no expiration" offer, tickets are useless after two weeks, but repeat visitors routinely spring for the option as a way of speculating against higher prices on their return trips.

Disneyland in Anaheim, California, raised its prices by $3, bringing adult tickets to $72 and kids' tickets to $62. As recently as 2001, an adult ticket was just $43.

It's hard to slam Disney for continually raising prices if there are so many people who are continually paying them. If you're a true believer in capitalism, you have to hand it to Walt's money-minded followers, even if you also have to shrug and say, "I can't afford that."

Traditionally, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando follow suit in short order. We'll see if that holds true this year, when everyone in Orlando is scrambling for business.
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