On Sunday, Disney (DIS) rolled out ticket price increases with single-day admissions climbing $4 across its four major theme parks in Florida. The Magic Kingdom will be $99 for a one-day ticket, though guests will still pay a bit less -- $94 -- to get into Animal Kingdom, EPCOT or Disney's Hollywood Studios.
The family entertainment giant boosting its entrance fees isn't a shock. Like your cable provider, Disney isn't afraid to push through prices increases year after year, whatever the economic climate.
It's the timing of the move that's a bit of a surprise. Disney's annual hikes had come in early June for each of the three previous years -- strategically timed to cash in on summer vacation season.
Advancing the price increase to February is a bold move, and -- with two hikes in one calendar year -- it's one that may cast Disney in an unflattering light. Combined with June's $6 increase, spring break visitors will be paying 11 percent more to visit the "happiest place on Earth" than they did a year ago.
It's All About Keeping You Close
Critics will note that it's hardly a matter of just $99 to get into the Magic Kingdom. We're talking about $15 to park, and then you start paying for all of the premium-priced meals, snacks and souvenirs.
However, Disney will point out many of its guests pay far less than that. The theme park leader discounts multiday passes that are popular with those staying in one of the resort's nearly 25,000 hotel rooms. A traveler opting for a 10-day pass will be paying less than $40 a day. Resort guests also enjoy complimentary transportation to the parks, and on select days can get in early or stay late to milk the most out of their admissions.
Discounting the multi-day passes is a smart tactical move. It encourages visitors to Central Florida to limit their treks to Disney parks, and that's important. Legoland Florida opened a couple of years ago, and rival Universal Orlando has been a tourist magnet since opening up the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Comcast's (CMCSK) Universal is planning to open an ambitious expansion of its Potter-themed attractions in a few months. If higher one-day ticket prices lead guests to consider longer stays to take advantage of multiday discounts, Disney wins on both fronts.
Making it Worth Your While
The interesting thing about $99 for a one-day ticket to Florida's Magic Kingdom is that it pushes the next inevitable increase into triple digits. To be fair, $99 already breaks through that ceiling once state taxes push the retail price to $105.44. However, it will still be a psychological barrier that may test the resolve of day guests.
Potential visitors naturally won't like Sunday's increase, but that doesn't mean that they will balk at the move. Attendance at the Florida parks has improved most years despite the annual increases. In an improving economy, a $4 bump to get through the turnstile isn't going to be a deal breaker.
One day Disney will realize that it doesn't have unlimited elasticity in its increase. But for now it won't keep the Disney from attracting what should be another summer of record crowds.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.