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by Ken Pellman (archives)
September 24, 2003
Ken asks if Disney should change the pricing system for their theme parks.


It’s time for a big change in the Disney theme park business.

First- a story to set the stage for my point.

"Why did I just pay $47 to get in here, with everything closed?!??

Have you ever been around to hear that? I have- a few times. You may even have asked that question, though chances are you are better informed since you visit this site. Yes, these people could have checked ahead and checked again outside the Main Gate, too, but people just assume that most of their favorite attractions will be open. It is to be expected that part of the trade-off for smaller crowds is that some attractions will be closed for renovation, but people still get upset, because they've paid full price.

The Dreaded Conversation
Have you ever stood in Tomorrowland when a guest asks “Is Space Mountain open today??
“What about those things that zip around really fast??
“Rocket Rods??
“They’re gone.?
“What about that movie that’s in a giant circle??
“That’s gone.?
“Are the submarines still here??
“What about that sky tram??
“The Skyway??
“That’s gone.?
“Well, I can see that the Monorail is still here.?
“Are you staying at a Disney Resort??
“Well, then you can’t ride.?
“What else is there to do here??
“The Autopia.?
“Okay, done that.?
“What about Star Tours and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience??
“I’ve done those many times in Florida. Say, the last time we were here was late 1995. What else is new in the last eight years besides the Autopia an Innoventions??
“Well, we have Winnie the Pooh and Tarzan’s Treehouse.?
“That’s it??
“Well, there’s California Adventure.?
“Ah yes, well, we’re only here one day and our ticket isn’t good for that. There were only two attractions we really wanted to see over there, and didn’t think it was worth it. Well, I guess it is off to Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Haunted Mansion for us.?

Things Have Changed
Currently, Disney uses the standard “one-size-fits-all, all-you-can-ride? unlimited passport. Sure, there are variations- a lower price for what Disney has defined as children, and the various annual passports.

Younger, newer Disney fans may be totally unaware that Disney used to have a system of tickets (called coupons) that granted access to different attractions. Typically, you’d buy a “ticket book? that gave you admission to the park and a certain number of coupons -A, B, C, D, and E by the end of the run- that would grant access to attractions on a limited basis. "E" was the most expensive coupon and granted access to the most popular, most exciting attractions. "A" was the least expensive coupons. If you ran out of coupons, you had to buy more from one of the locations located around the park. Even without the coupons, the nominal admission price granted you access to the park in general, including various forms of entertainment, shopping, and dining.

Before the coupons, it was plain ol' cash and coins, which was common for amusement venues at the time, such as other parks, fairs, and carnivals. Walt Disney liked to have control over everything in his park, but consider that existing venues were often comprised of many operations that were separately owned and controlled, so it made sense to pay cash at the attractions you were interested in.

In 1971, another park opened in southern California. Magic Mountain sold admission tickets that included most attractions in the single price. Walt Disney Productions essentially owned and controlled all of both of existing Disney theme parks (Disneyland Park and The Magic Kingdom) and since other parks had an admission ticket that offered a single price to cover most attractions, Disney tested the concept with Magic Kingdom Club members in the late 1970s, then expanded the sales to others. For a while, "unlimited passports" (which gave admission the park and all attractions -except the arcade games- for one, two, or three days) were offered as alternatives to the coupon books. In June of 1982, the coupons were completely replaced by the unlimited passport.

Clearly, there were some advantages to the unlimited passports.

These passes, when they were first introduced, gave guests the convenience of paying once to get in the gate and not having to count coupons for the rest of they day as they waited for and rode whatever they wanted to.

From the perspective of park management, it meant being able to raise the admission price in one fell swoop instead of having to tell guests that the various attractions they just rode six months ago had since increased in value, and therefore cost. (As a side note - Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, who took the helm of Disney after the passport was introduced, made such regular price increases of the unlimited passports a central plank in their platform to turn Disney into more profitable business. That, and releasing the vault of films in home video format and raising the rates at Disney's hotels…but I digress.) It meant not having to print, clean up, and dispose of coupons, and not having to staff people to sell the coupons and to accept the coupons at the attraction entrances.

For over twenty years, Disney parks have used the all-in-one, all-you-can-eat, one-size-fits-all unlimited passports.

It's time for a change. It's time to move away from the one-ticket-fits-all model.

Wait- before you go spilling that cappuccino all over the keyboard, dropping that croissant on the floor, yelling "Ken, I don't wanna pay for each and every ride!!!", and switching the screen back your James Theodore Kirk screensaver, hear me out.

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