Little bit of a rant here, but follow me on this one. I'd like to see some input from the "old-timers" who have been going to WDW for decades as I have.
Long-time MiceChat Lurker here, and occasional post-er. Let me start off by saying that I'm an east coast Disney fan, and I've been taking trips to WDW since 1972. I've been to Anaheim/Disneyland 4 times (most recenly during the 50th Celebration, and I love the original Disney park!) I'm also a DVC member, and am planning an extended family getaway later this year. I've also attended conferences at the Disney Resort Hotels for several years. My wife and I even splurged one year for our probably one-and-only-ever dinner at Victoria and Albert's for our Anniversary. So, I'm quite familiar with the "cost" of doing Disney.
Having been a regular visitor since 1972, I have seen all the trends and changes over the years. Disney was always a more exclusive, upscale trip, and there was a small premium for tickets, food, and souvenirs while in/around the Magic Kingdom, and later EPCOT. But things weren't OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive. For example, a soda or hamburger in the park may be 25-50% more than you would pay at your local fast food restaurant, but NOT twice as much!
A WDW Cast Membert informed me that they were told "Disney doesn't really make money off of admission tickets." Which, in some accountant's ledger, is probably made to appear true. By the time you factor ancillary costs of ticket printing and distribution, ticket booth staffing, Gate staffing and upkeep, fixing those electronic finger scanners, having security full-time at the Gate, the discounts on multi-day tickets/Florida Resident/DVC/Annual Passholder/AAA discounts - well, you get the picture. And the fact that Disney is letting people in for free on their birthday lets us know that the REAL profit comes from overpriced Disney plush, CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, and concessions. But I don't buy that premise COMPLETELY, otherwise we wouldn't see 3 to 20 dollar ticket price hikes EVERY AUGUST.
Disney's Argument: "But you have access to DOZENS of attractions and shows, stores, parades, and more, for the entire day, for one price (~ $85 U.S. with tax)... why, that's less than a DOLLAR per experience! Where else can you find that much entertainment for so little?! And besides, with a multi-day ticket or Seasonal/Annual pass, the cost can be less than a dollar per DAY!"
My Response #1: "Yes, but when can ANYONE ever do EVERYTHING at The Magic Kingsom/EPCOT in one day? (Animal Kingdom,/Hollywood Studios, it's technically possible). Only if there are NO crowds, minimal attraction line wait times, the Park is open late (remember, you don't have a full 24 hours, more like 12-16 hours under the best of circumstances), you take advantage of extra Magic Hours, and you had NO small children to drag around, and you maximized FastPass at every E-ticket ride, could you possibly fit in EVERY attraction and store and show and meet-and-greet and parade and music performance into one day, and therefore really "feel" like you got your money's worth out of a ticket. Sounds exhausting, not really a relaxing vacation. And, unless I'm a Central Florida local, I CAN'T go to the parks every day. Not as long as I have a job and family to support. My brother lived across the highway in Celebration, and HE certainly couldn't make it every day!"
My Response #2: Just 30 minutes away, I can get a 14 day pass to Sea World/Aquatica/Universal Studios/Islands of adventure for $220, less than a WDW 3 day pass.
Disney's Argument: "Disney is a premium brand. Like Lexus, Mercedes, Prada, Gucci,etc... you pay more for the quality (perceived or real), and you have a level of expectation for that premium price."
My Response: "Yes, of course. WDW will always be more expensive than the Chuck-E-Cheese, or Dave and Busters, or local Carnival, or County Fair. No one is putting a gun to my head to go to WDW. I come because I want to."
Disney's Argument: "Like you said- no one is putting a gun to your head."
My Response: "Um, yeah, I just said that. But these prices keep a fair amount of visitors away from the parks, who simply can't afford to go. I've talked to children and adults over the years who would give anything to take just one trip to WDW, but their family simply can't afford admission, $3 Cokes, $8 hamburges, $25 T-shirts, $12 parking, let alone travel and lodging expenses."
? POSSIBLE SOLUTION ?
I think WDW should seriously consider going back to an individual ticket per attraction system, but update it for the 21st century. Pay a nominal fee to get into the parks, and then pay for the attractions you use. I know there were staffing issues and costs in the past with selling and claiming tickets, but I STILL see Cast members in the lines to observe and collect Fast Pass tickets. What would the difference be now? Don't you think Disney would stand to make MORE money if you could get into the park for say $20, buy souvenirs and food, and then pay for individual rides?
Picture this: Your ticket is a plastic debit card, that you load with $$ when you first enter. $20 to get the card for entrance that day, but then you load it with money in increments of $5 or $10 (or call it "points" if you want, so no-one really sees that they just paid $8.50 to ride the Haunted Mansion and $9 for Big Thunder). Have those fast scanners at the ride entrance, like they do at drive through windows and convenience stores, where you wave your card over the sensor, and it automatically deducts points from your card, and shows you how many remaining points you have. Not enough points? Scatter a few ATM-like charging stations around the parks that take cash or credit card to re-charge your Disney Debit Card. The technology has existed and been used in the real world for years. And there could still be free attractions (Carousel of Progress, for example).
You could also STILL pay for an unlimited "all you can ride" pass that lets you on everything, Fast Pass included for all attractions with this feature. This is sort-of done now with Extra Magic Hours at night. People in the park are no longer chased out - they just can't get on the attractions after regular hours without a Disney Hotel ID. But they are still encouraged to spend $$ on food and souvenirs.
Now, there would certainly be down sides as well. What if the scanner goes down at 8:00 AM on the new and improved Space Mountain? Can anyone get on the ride until the scanner is fixed? Well, yes. In that case, you let EVERYONE on for free, until the scanner is fixed/replaced, or you close the ride until it has been resolved.
OK, it's still a thought in process, and it's not perfect... but I think Walt himself would be first to try to make his special magic available to the most people he could, without procing so many out of the market.