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Huge Crowds Force Disney World to Make Big Changes

TheStreet 3/18/2023 Daniel Kline

Higher prices alone have not been enough to help Disney World avoid over-crowding so the theme park has made another change.

Walt Disney walks a fine line at its theme parks. The company wants to maximize its revenue while also delivering a positive guest experience.

Disney's solution for that has been variable pricing. Tickets at each of the four Disney World theme parks are priced based on demand. Disney can use varied pricing to drive people to parks with lower attendance and theoretically discourage people from visiting at all. On slow days, a single-day ticket can be purchased for as little as $109 while the busiest days cost $154.  That's a major difference that in theory should smooth out crowds.

DON'T MISS: Disney Has a Plan to Solve Huge Disney World, Disneyland Problem

To put it bluntly, that plan hasn't worked, at least partly because while many families would want to visit on the cheaper days, those days never line up with when kids aren't in school. That's why Walt Disney's (DIS) - Get Free Report Florida theme park complex has seen packed crows in March.

It's spring break at many colleges and a vacation week for some K-12 schools. Ticket prices have hovered around the top of the range and Disney's Genie+ service, which costs extra but gives visitors faster access to some rides, has sold out multiple times. 

Given that variable pricing has not, at least recently, cut down on crowds, Disney has decided to pull another lever to deliver a positive experience for park visitors.

Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet © Provided by TheStreet Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet

Disney CEO Admits That Prices Can Get Too High

Delivering a positive experience at its theme parks is actually something that's top of mind for CEO Bob Iger. He talked about it during his remarks at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference.

"One of the things that we had to do is we had to improve the guest experience by reducing crowding. And it's tempting to let more and more people in. But if the guest satisfaction levels are going down because of crowding, that doesn't work," he shared.

The CEO did acknowledge that while price increases can help. there's a limit to that.

"We had to figure out how we reduce crowding but maintain, obviously, our profitability. And we did that well, but we have to be careful about that as well because, in doing that, you're actually -- you actually end up increasing the price or putting features into your pricing that are viewed by some consumers as perhaps being a little too aggressive, and that's where we're being careful about," Iger added.

Disney World Theme Parks Expand Hours

If you can't drive people away with higher prices, there's really only one step Disney can take to reduce crowding (and it's an expensive one). The company can expand the hours its parks are open, which it has done at three of the four Disney World theme parks, according to

Magic Kingdom

  • April 2-29: Park hours extended to 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. (previously 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

Hollywood Studios

  • April 2-12, 14-15, 17-29: Park hours extended to 8:30 a.m, to 9:30 p.m, (previously 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • April 13, 16: Park hours extended to 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (previously 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • April 2-16, 21-23, 28-29: Park hours extended 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (previously 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
  • April 17-20, 24-27: Park hours extended 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (previously 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.)

Epcot has already been operating from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and its hours remain unchanged.

Extending park hours should, in theory, spread crowds out more as at least some visitors won't choose to be in the parks from rope drop to close. At the very worst, being open longer allows ticketholders to experience an extra ride or two even if they have to wait in line for an extended time.

In addition to increased operating hours at the park, Disney's Hollywood Studios will also keep running its nighttime show, "Fantasmic," twice a night at 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Previously, the show only ran at 8:30 p.m. 

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