In what is becoming Disneyland's least celebrated annual event, the park has once again raised the price on its benchmark one-day admission.
Last month, the park boosted its adult single-day entry fee to $34. That's up $1, or 3%, over the 1995 entry price. Disney is also squeezing the kids for an extra buck this year, bumping their admission to $26. It's Disney's sixth gate increase of the 1990s, and it brings the tab for admission and parking for a family of four to a not-so-whimsical $126.
Disney's price increase corresponds with an identical move by Universal Studios Hollywood, which increased its admission fee in January by $1 to $34. And it comes on the heels of price hikes by other theme parks such as Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott's Berry Farm and Sea World, which bumped up gate prices in the latter half of 1995.
Tourism industry analysts say the hikes reflect a recovering Southern California tourist economy, demand for hot attractions such as Disneyland's Indiana Jones adventure ride and Universal's Waterworld and the escalating costs to build the multimillion-dollar extravaganzas to wow the crowds and keep them coming back.
"They have to keep improving themselves with incredibly expensive new technology," said Steve Balgrosky, managing partner of Economics Research Associates, a Los Angeles-based entertainment-consulting firm. "Theme parks had to hold the line [on gate increases] during the recession, so it's not surprising to see admission costs edging up now."
However, promotions such as Disneyland's current $24 "Southern California Residents Salute," hatched in the depths of the Orange County recession, continue to grant reduced admission prices for guests who can prove they are locals. Theme park owners may find it tough to discontinue gate discounts to local consumers, said leisure industry watcher Mike Meyer.
"It's here to stay and it's appropriate because we're talking about two separate markets now," said Meyer, managing partner of Ernst & Young's Kenneth Leventhal division, a Newport Beach-based real estate and leisure consulting firm.
"Tourists are one-time visitors willing to pay the full admission for a unique experience, while locals have lots of entertainment alternatives. They're looking for value."
Disneyland's latest hike marks a 183% increase since 1982, when a single-day adult admission cost just $12.
Tom Brocato, manager of press and publicity for Disneyland, says higher operating costs prompted the increase. While the Happiest Place on Earth is fast becoming one of the priciest, Brocato says guests aren't flinching at the extra $1 in admission.
"We've had very few complaints," he said. "We feel that Disneyland is still a good value compared to other forms of entertainment."
Industry watchers say other area theme parks might follow Disney's lead and nudge admission prices even further in 1996 to make up for ground lost during the recession.
But with gate charges already topping $100 for the average family at most venues, analyst Balgrosky questions how far the operators will be able to push it.
"A buck doesn't seem like a lot of money, but at some point [the theme parks] can price themselves out of the market. They need to be very careful about pricing."
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Disneyland admission prices have increased 183% for adults since 1982:
Adult Child* June 1982 $12.00 $9.00 Oct. 1983 13.00 9.00 May 1984 14.00 9.00 Jan. 1985 15.00 10.00 May 1985 16.50 10.50 March 1986 17.95 10.95 Oct. 1986 19.00 12.95 Jan. 1987 20.00 15.00 Sept.1987 21.50 16.50 Dec. 1988 23.50 16.50 Dec. 1989 25.50 20.50 Nov. 1990 27.50 22.50 June 1992 28.75 23.00 May 1993 30.00 24.00 May 1994 31.00 25.00 Jan. 1995 33.00 25.00 Jan. 1996 34.00 26.00
* Ages 3-11
Sources: Times reports, Disneyland; Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times