It is time to dismiss one of the biggest myths revolving around Disney World’s ticket prices.
When accounting for inflation and relative costs, it does not actually cost more money to visit The Most Magical Place on Earth today–as we can today–compared to a visit in the 1970s. If anything, the basic Guest experience 50 years ago was far lower in value than it is today for not a significantly lower cost–if any.
On almost every single Disney fan group, thread, or forum, people have been complaining about how Disney is all about maximizing profits at the expense of the Guest experience. Ever since the other Disney Bob took over, the Mouse House has been on the march to start charging Guests for every little detail. First, they removed PhotoPass from all Annual Pass tiers and gave all but the highest-tiered option block out dates. Then, they replaced the free FastPass+ system with the extra-cost Genie+ and Lightning Lane systems. At this rate, what else is next, right?
Well, it turns out Walt Disney World and Disneyland experiences were as “a la carte” as they could get at the beginning. Guests had to pay to get into the Park, then they either had to pay per ride or purchase ticket books that offer access to rides based on a scale of A, B, C, D, and E. Guests could purchase as many booklets as they wanted so they could ride as many attractions as they wanted.
Disney replaced the ticket books with Disneyland’s Unlimited Passport and a Disney World equivalent by June 1982, making the all-inclusive ride access the new normal. But what was the better deal for Guests? Well, let’s take a look back to see for ourselves.
Disney World Ticket Prices: 1975 vs. 2022
Guests can have access to all of Magic Kingdom Park as well as scores of other world-class extra-Magic-Kingdom experiences for less than the same price they would have to pay to experience all of the Magic Kingdom Attractions in 1975!
We will focus on the Magic Kingdom in 1975. Why 1975? Because that was the year Disney’s first Central Florida Theme Park became more similar to today’s experience. Tomorrowland received an upgrade that featured the opening of Space Mountain, and Disney World Guests were also treated to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and Carousel of Progress. The Enchanted Tiki Room also followed Pirates of the Caribbean (opening in 1973) in “plussing” Adventureland.
To keep things simple, we will also exclude “Magic Key Club” coupons and Annual Passes. We are only focusing on how much would a basic one-off experience at the Magic Kingdom today cost based on Magic Kingdom 1975 pricing.
In 1975, adult admission to Magic Kingdom cost $6.00. Again, “admission” in 1975 only meant that Guests were legally allowed to enter the Park. It cost extra to experience almost every single attraction. Guests could pay per attraction or purchase an “Adventure Book” which offered admission to 8 attractions, reportedly cost between $6.50 and $7.25. Let’s use the average of $7 for this observation putting the relative cost at $0.88 per ride on top of the $6 for entry.
Factoring in inflation over time, a visit to the Magic Kingdom and getting to only ride one A-ticket, B-ticket, C-ticket, D-ticket, and E-ticket attraction each would cost an average of $37.41 before sales tax, etc.
Magic Kingdom Attraction Categories
To clarify, here are some examples of how attractions were categorized (Note: this is not a complete list):
Magic Kingdom Park “A Ticket” Attractions:
- Horse Cars
- Main Street Vehicles
- Cinderella’s Golden Carousel
Magic Kingdom Park “B Ticket” Attractions:
- Main Street Cinema
- Frontierland Shooting Gallery
- Mike Fink Keel Boats
- Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse
Magic Kingdom Park “C Ticket Attractions:
- Grand Prix Raceway (Tomorrowland Speedway)
- Dumbo, The Flying Elephant
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Snow White’s Adventures
- Mad Tea Party
- Explorers Canoes
Magic Kingdom Park “D Ticket” Attractions:
- Skyway to Fantasy or Tomorrowland (One-Way)
- Flight to the Moon
- Country Bear Jamboree
- The Hall of Presidents
- Enchanted Tiki Room
Magic Kingdom Park “E Ticket” Attractions:
- “it’s a small world”
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- Jungle Cruise
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Haunted Mansion
- Space Mountain
For further context: Today, it is most likely that Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would be considered E Tickets under this system. Mickey’s Philharmonic would probably be a “B Ticket” attraction, and the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor would probably be either a “C Ticket” or “D Ticket” attraction. Disney was also known for re-categorizing attractions based on their popularity.
So, you have your Adventure Book. Take your pick. A far cry from being able to conquer the Mountain Trifecta and call it a day, right? This reporter can imagine siblings and friends swapping tickets and fighting over them like Pokemon Cards in the 90s.
Sticking with our $0.88/ride ratio, it would probably cost around $26 to access every Magic Kingdom attraction in 1975. Adding the $6 we need to get through the gate brings us to well over an average cost of $30 per adult.
The Cost of Unlimited Magic Kingdom Access
Now, let’s use that same ratio for today’s Magic Kingdom. There are about 36 ticket-able experiences at Magic Kingdom Park today–I include character experiences and the Walt Disney World Railroad. Add our entry fee (and a couple of extra dollars to pay for any potential error in my math), and we come out at $40 per person per day. But remember, that is $40 USD in 1975.
According to usinflationcalculator.com, $40 in 1975 is equivalent to $213.76 in 2022 (and for those who are going to note this in the comments, that $40 was equivalent to $192.42 in 2020).
Folks, I am only factoring in inflation right now and the price before taxes. I have not even included the rise in labor costs over these near-50 years, nor the increased cost that has gone into research and development to create and properly maintain all of these attractions at an increased level of quality that would undoubtedly drive that base cost up even further.
As of April 13, 2022, Disney World’s website shows the starting price for a single-day Magic Kingdom Park ticket with no Park Hopper Option is currently fluctuating between $129 and $149.
So what has really changed? From this reporter’s perspective, Disney simply did not want cheap loiterers taking up space in their Theme Parks anymore. They optimized their pricing for those Guests who want to experience as many attractions as possible within the day or their favorite attractions as many times as possible. Instead of Disney World or Disneyland missing out on profits because people taking up capacity did not feel like riding many rides, the Guests are the ones “missing out” on the value of their purchase.
The Magical Psychology Behind Unlimited Access
It can be argued that there is an extra level of magic that comes with stepping into the Parks and having unlimited access to all of the attractions with only time and ride malfunctions standing in the way. Regardless of cost-saving at the end of the day, forcing people to pay extra for every experience–even if it is only $1 a ride–puts them in a more frugal state of mind, and this mentality goes beyond Theme Parks (Be honest with me, readers, how many of you pay $1.99 to get an app’s ad-free experience?).
Today, Disney World’s Theme Park Tickets allow Guests to forgo having to pay for each ride at a lower rate than the true a la carte value so they are free to live the Magic their own way. Fans also argue that the Disney Dining Plan helps push that “all-inclusive” value even further.
If one does the math based on the a la carte pricing and our cost-per-ride average, Guests can easily “get their money’s worth” by the time fireworks are over and it is time to go home. But each Guest’s idea of a fulfilling Disney trip is different, and whether that fulfillment is found by hitting all of the mountains as much as possible or just watching his or her little kids smile at Mickey Mouse, today’s admission ticket offers that convenience to find that fulfillment and more.
2019 Disney World Ticket Gave Guests the Highest Value for the Money
For almost 20 years, Disney World Guests have had more than just the Magic Kingdom. Nowadays we have EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom with scores of unbeatable “E Ticket attractions” like Expedition Everest, Avatar: Flight of Passage, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and so many more. (And I’m not even counting Disney’s and that Guests can access with a .)
According to Disney World’s website, a one-day Theme Park Ticket with the Park Hopper Option costs $204 before taxes. That means Guests can have access to all of Magic Kingdom Park as well as scores of other world-class extra-Magic-Kingdom experiences for less than the same price they would have to pay to experience all of the Magic Kingdom Attractions in 1975! Then, on top of all of that, add the FastPass+ system: a complimentary system that allows Guests to reserve a time to skip the lines for three rides at a time!
It is clear to me that a Disney World Theme Park Ticket with the Park Hopper option during the time of the complimentary FastPass+ system held the highest value of any ticket to any Theme Parks anywhere else in the world. Until complimentary line-skipping options and the unhindered Park Hopping capabilities return, that value will continue to stay below its highest point, regardless of attractions added.
But even though Guests no longer have the FastPass+ system and can only Park Hop after 2 pm, the cost to value ratio of a Disney World ticket today is significantly better than a ticket back in 1975.
Readers, we need to get over the misleading, surface-level “$6 vs $140” cost comparison and look at the cost situation for what it is. It is my hope that this brief comparative dive was enlightening, and helped revitalize some of the magic lost over the past few months.