One of the complaints people have about Disneyland is the cost of going. Every time ticket prices rise or are changed, like Disney did recently with tiered pricing (paying less for off-peak easy and more for busier days), the internet goes into rage mode: “Disney is just trying to gouge families!” “It’s not fair, they are making it too expensive!” “Walt would have hated it! Disneyland used to cost just $1.00 to get in!”
In spite of all the complaining, the value you get for a day at Disneyland is actually pretty high when you look at other ways families spend money on things to do together.
I call this my dollar to fun ratio. This is measured by the amount of money spent for the fun, the hours you get to have fun, and the number of experiences you get to have during that time.
A visit to Disneyland for one day in March 2016 is $95 for an “off-peak” weekday. For a family of four, that’s $380. And if you get to Disneyland when it opens and stay until it closes (on a weekday, that’s usually from 9 am until 8 pm), you’ll get 11 hours of experience time. Add the cost of a couple meals (share when possible), some mouse ears, and four churros, and you’re at another $150. A day at Disneyland, lasting 11 hours, includes experiencing 58 attractions–parades, rides, fireworks, shows, and character interactions, and you can do all these attractions as often as you want (or are able to). Disneyland calls this “unlimited use.” For four people, the cost is about $550 for a total experience time of 44 hours (total time the park is open multiplied by 4).
Dollar to fun ratio for four people visiting Disneyland in March 2016? $12.50
Already, the dollar to fun ratio at Disneyland exceeds what people are willing to pay for a Broadway show or a concert experience. “But what about inflation?” Remember, a ticket to Disneyland cost $1.00 in 1955, plus the cost of each attraction, and people love to recall those prices. But imagine if you had to pay for every attraction, especially once you ran out of “E-tickets,” and were left with only the Main Street Vehicles to ride?
In 2016 dollars, that $9.00 entrance fee would cost you $8.00. And the ticket book that cost $2.50 and let you go on 8 attractions? That would now cost $22.00 and you’d only get to go on each attraction once. If you wanted to ride the Jungle Cruise as often as you ride Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (at least a couple times, if you’re my family), you’d have to buy more tickets. Each time you went on it, it would cost you today’s equivalent of $3.00. Using the same numbers from earlier, a day at Disneyland in 1955, for a family of four, going on attractions the way we do in 2016, cost $102, and the park was only open from 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays. That’s a total experience time of 35 hours, but there are only half the amount of attractions, so we have to cut that 35 hours in half. $102 for 17.5 total experience hours.
Dollar to fun ratio for four people visiting Disneyland in October 1955? $5.82
Which sounds great, until you put those 1955 dollars into today’s dollars, and remember the fact that the average American income was only $3,300 a year (compared to $53,000 today). What cost $5.82 in 1955 would cost nearly $60 today.
To put it further into perspective, if you got into Disneyland for $9.00 in 2016 (what that 1955 dollar entrance fee becomes with inflation in 2016), but had to pay to experience every attraction, parade, fireworks show, character interaction, and the rest, and averaged out the cost of each attraction ticket ($3.00 for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Star Tours, etc., and only 50¢ for the Main Street Vehicles or the Disneyland Railroad) to around $1.50 each, you’d spend $87 per person to go on everything. That’s the pricing model of 1955 brought into 2016.
In other words, if you used today’s dollars to pay for Disneyland the way it was when it started 60 years ago, it would cost you about $96 per person, not including food or souvenirs–just one dollar more than a One Day Passport costs today!
Which shows that the dollar-to-fun ratio at Disneyland has actually gone down since 1955. And why it’s still one of the best experience values for your family’s money.