Entry tickets aren't the only cost at The Walt Disney Co.'s (NYSE:DIS) theme parks, and other costs could make for a very expensive vacation. Not including hotels, the average per-day spending at a U.S. Disney theme park was $131 per person last year, according to one recent look at prices.
Yet even with the rising expense of attending these parks, visitors still come in record numbers, thanks to better-than-ever attractions and features. Here's a look at some of the costs of a day of Disney theme park magic and why families' willingness to pay up is so important for Disney's shareholders.
What a day at a Disney theme park will cost you
Following the most recent price increase, Disney theme-park goers will now pay as much as $105 for a single-entry adult ticket. That's double what it was in 2000.. There are ways to reduce your entry cost, such as with a military ID or by purchasing package deals such as multiple-day tickets, which can make the per-day ticket price more like $63.
Once in the park, your wallet will continue to be opened for souvenirs, meals and snacks, and other ways Disney is able to continue making revenue from a guest long after they enter the park. All accounted for, the average per-capita single-day spending is $131, according to an article posted on Forbes. With the recent entry ticket price increases, the Forbes contributors expect this number to be closer to $140 in 2015.
Just where are those post-entry costs coming from? Take this family's account from their recent trip to Disney World (as recorded on FunCheapOrFree.com in March 2015) and the breakdown of their total costs:
This family's lodging costs seem to be middle range at $169 a night (which is during off-peak season and does not include a cleaning fee). If you decide to stay in a Disney facility, it could be as cheap as $69 a day at a Disney campsite, but more likely in the range of around $100 to as much as $525 per night for the Disney-themed hotels and villas.
Also, the family's cost to travel to the park are low compared to what many other visitors will pay. This family drove to Disneyland from Utah, reporting total gas cost of just $275 for the whole family. However round trip airfare to Disney World in Orlando could be more like $200 (from D.C.) to $450 (Seattle) per person, meaning a family of four might pay as much as $1,800 or more just to get to Disney World, before all of the spending broken out above.
Disney proves that higher prices are worth it
Record attendance at most of its parks in 2014, including turning guests away during the last holiday season when parks in both Orlando and California reached capacity, proves that for enough people, Disney parks are worth the higher prices. Two ways Disney is convincing people of this is with better technology to make the overall experience better, as well as with better and more attractions to keep guests coming back.
Better technology: Disney's MyMagic+ system is one example of how Disney is using technology in its parks. Guests can wear the RFID-chipped Magic Bands to track family members, pay for items, enter their hotel rooms and certain privileged areas and events that they've paid for, and much more. The band will even sync with a guest's online account where users can see photos taken of them throughout the day by Disney's photographers who wander the park.
Similarly, the system works with an upgraded version of FastPass+, which allows you to choose a time slot for a certain ride online ahead of time, tag your wristband to the electronic portal when you get there, and skip the line to ride immediately. This allows more riding, less waiting, and an overall more enjoyable experience.
New attractions: As for new attractions, Avatar is one example of what's ahead at the parks. The Avatar attraction, slated to open in Animal Kingdom in Orlando in 2017, will allow guests to experience what it would be like to live in Pandora, the world of the characters in the Avatar film. The creations for this attraction have been made with unique technology and artistry, including the use of interesting lighting and touch-sensor technology that looks pretty amazing.
"This project is really pushing the boundaries of what is possible," says Bruce Vaughn, Disney's chief creative executive. "We're having a lot of fun dreaming up ways to bring to life the land's iconic elements from the magnificent floating mountains to the interactive bioluminescent forest, and even to the soaring banshees."
These new tech features and attractions are helping Disney to prove that its parks' increasing costs, increasing substantially faster than inflation, are worth it. For Disney shareholders, it's a good thing Disney visitors agree.
DIS is a magical stock, too
Theme-park revenue currently accounts for about 30% of Disney's total revenue, which is more than double the revenue of studio entertainment, Disney's segment responsible for producing its feature films. With increasing per-capita spending and attendance, theme-park revenue is likely to continue rising, helping Disney's overall income soar higher in 2015.
More than a few times, I've heard investors say "I wish I'd bought shares of Disney when they were (insert number that seems low now)." That could have been said at $60 in April 2013, $80 in April 2014, or now around $106 in April 2015. Yet the stock keeps doing well thanks to these growth drivers that continue to prove Disney's long-term strategy is working. With so much success in theme parks, along with success in movies, merchandising, networks, and more, Disney continues to look like a great long-term play.
Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.