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Is Disney World Greedy or Brilliant?

By Rick Munarriz – Aug 17, 2021 at 10:05AM

Key Points

  • Disney has introduced some new experiences with lofty price tags lately.
  • Disney knows better than anyone else that fans will pay up for the right experience.
  • Disney Genie will likely be the next sticking point for price-weary theme park enthusiasts.

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Sticker price shock is the name of the game at the world's most popular resort -- and it's a game that Disney is winning.

One has to wonder if Walt Disney (DIS -0.58%) CEO Bob Chapek knows what folks are saying about him on social media. Disney's pumping up the volume on monetizing its theme parks, and some of its biggest fans are wondering if Chapek has gone too far.

In case you're not a regular on the Disney World social feeds, here are just some of the pricing moves that Florida's theme park resort has announced in recent days:

  • Over the weekend the House of Mouse unveiled Disney Very Merriest After Hours, a four-hour seasonal event at the Magic Kingdom that will replace Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Tickets will max out at $249 per adult, nearly double the peak pricing of the comparable holiday event from 2019.    
  • Earlier last week, D23 -- the official club for Disney enthusiasts -- introduced a preview of the upcoming Remy's Ratatouille Adventure ride at Disney World's Epcot. The clincher is that the Labor Day weekend sneak peek will set riders back a whopping $75 per person.
  • The mother of all sticker shocks goes to Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a richly themed lodging experience that will open next year adjacent to the resort's Disney's Hollywood Studios. The two-night stay will set a couple back at least $4,809 plus tax.   
Snow White's Seven Dwarfs in front of their attraction at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The eighth dwarf is Greedy. Image source: Walt Disney.

Leaving money on the table

It's hard to blame Disney World for being greedy. The Ratatouille preview sold out quickly. There's no shortage of fans willing to pay up for bragging rights to be among the first to experience the new dark ride that officially opens in October. The holiday party will also fill up as quickly as the similarly overpriced Halloween event taking place at the Magic Kingdom right now. As for the immersive Star Wars-themed experience, you do know that there's no shortage of wealthy fans of the iconic sci-fi franchise to throw $5,000 at the luxury experience.  

Disney fans may not want to hear this, but the company they follow has every right to be greedy right now. Disney's theme parks segment didn't surprise investors with an earlier-than-expected return to profitability last week by playing it safe. It has opened its theme parks on both coasts with a game plan to optimize the revenue-generating potential of its capacity-controlled visitors. Disney has favored park guests paying three figures for single-day admissions, ideally staying at one of its resorts. 

Last summer's reopening of Disney World may have been all about appeasing the locals, but now the goal is to attract card-swiping out-of-towners who have historically spent more at the popular resort. With an 18-month celebration of the resort turning 50 now just six weeks away from kicking off, lighting the fuse of even greater consumer demand, can you blame Disney for lunging at the brass ring? 

Genie in a bottle

One can only imagine the uproar looming the moment that Disney introduces the Disney Genie platform that Chapek was teasing during last week's earnings call. The promise of a multi-tiered app platform will raise brows after Disneyland Paris began charging piecemeal for access to its FastPass expedited queues. 

"They'll be able to spend less time waiting in line and figuring out what attractions or dining options are available and more time having fun," Chapek promised during last week's call. 

Spending less time waiting in lines could mean the ramp-up of more attractions with virtual queues, but let's be realistic. Disney pricing moves for exclusive experiences have been extreme, but folks aren't flinching. Why wouldn't it roll out a premium ride reservation and park planning application? 

Chapek suggests that the new platform is coming soon, and if it's going to be as controversial as any of this month's other high-priced moves Disney may as well get that out of the way sooner rather than later. Let the groundswell of displeasure boil over long before the 18-month fete begins in October. Disney isn't the top dog of entertainment stocks by accident. It knows its own elasticity, and August has been nothing but stretching exercises. 

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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