There's an uproar within Disney's (NYSE:DIS) theme park fan community. Disney World will start charging guests staying at its hotels overnight parking fees starting next week. The nightly rate, between $13 and $24 depending on the resort, may not seem like much, but when you slap a price on something that's been complimentary for decades, there's going to be a fair share of feather ruffling.
Social media is firing up with folks saying that they're done with Disney World vacations -- or at least staying off-site for their next visit. The negative rumblings may seem troublesome for Disney stockholders, but it's likely just knee-jerk reactions. We've seen this happen before. Disney will introduce new fees, jack up prices, or change its pricing strategy. Fans complain. They keep coming. Disney World scored record attendance levels last year, so obviously the House of Mouse is doing something right. Let's go over some other times when the world's largest theme park operator seemingly went too far -- and survived.
1. Preferred parking
Paying to park is a rite of passage at most amusement parks, but Disney World shook things up in 2016 when it blocked off the best parking spaces at its two busiest theme parks and started selling those slots for $35 apiece, a 75% premium to the $20 it was charging for standard parking. Preferred parking was apparently a hit, quickly expanding to all four Disney World theme parks.
Preferred parking has also seen two price increases since its initial rollout 24 months ago. It now costs $45 for preferred parking close to the park entrance, more than double the $22 that is now being charged for traditional parking.
2. Disney After Hours
A month after the 2016 introduction of preferred parking, Disney announced a new nighttime event. Disney After Hours would give guests willing to pay $149 three hours to enjoy the Magic Kingdom on select nights after it closed to day guests. Ice cream novelties, bottled non-alcoholic beverages, and popcorn is included.
The allure of Disney After Hours is that the number of tickets available is limited, so you're sharing the park with just thousands instead of tens of thousands of guests. Lines are shorter for the more than two dozen rides that are available. The seasonal offering could've been a case of Disney pushing its pricing elasticity. Disney After Hours returned earlier this year at a discounted $119 price.
3. Annual price hikes
When Disney World jacked up its ticket prices last month, it wasn't a surprise. Prices have gone up every year since 1989, and the hikes have happened on a Sunday morning in February in each of the past five years. Every time it happens, folks complain that they are being priced out of a Disney vacation, but the turnstile clicks keep coming. Outside of a slight and rare dip in 2016, Disney World attendance has moved higher with every passing year.
The increases have gotten more complicated lately. Disney introduced park-specific pricing in 2013, making a day at the Magic Kingdom costlier than a visit to the resort's three other parks. In 2016, it introduced demand-based pricing, charging more during peak travel periods.
There will come a day when Disney pushes its luck too far. Regulars will balk at the stiffer sticker prices or the economy won't comply. However, with so many major additions coming to the resort in the coming years starting with Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge next year, it's hard to see even the folks complaining online right now staying away for too long. The force is strong in this one.