Is Disney’s admission increase the cost of happiness?

Comparing the high price of “the happiest place on Earth” and theme park entertainment (Photo by Matt Tweedt)

In a trend that’s reoccurring about as often as new iPhones debut, Disneyland increased the price of their general admission and annual passes again in February 2018. Coming only 12 months since their last increase in February 2017 and little more than a year since the previous increase before that in October 2015, apparently you can buy “happiness” but for a fee that’s ever-increasing.

A decade ago, one of Disneyland’s top-tier passes went for $379, only $10 more than the cost of their bottom-tier “select” pass now, which only permits attendance about 150 days out of the year

For a pass without restrictions on the dates you can attend (or “blackout dates”), expect to shell out $1,149 for Disney’s “signature plus” pass. For less than the equivalent amount, one could purchase annual passes at all other major theme parks combined within the region, including Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland, Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain, and still have money left over for souvenirs.

To be fair, that might include a few blackout dates. However, the sheer variety of having four parks to attend rather than just one partially mitigates this.

What makes Disneyland so great? For one thing, Disney regularly improves both of their parks in Anaheim, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. But what about when the price hikes come before the improvements?

Disney has also called attention to the opening of the new Star Wars Land in 2019 in justification of the recent price increase, with the cost to implement the new land at the Disneyland Resort and Disneyworld being upwards of $1 billion.

Considering Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in a deal worth over $52 billion back in December 2017, it’s hard to feel bad for Disney spending that kind of cash. #StarWarsLand continues to generate buzz with near daily activity, with the new land generally expected to bring more guests with full pockets, but some feel disenchanted.

#Disneyland has deteriorated into something hardly recognizable. #StarWarsLand is part of its spiral into meaningless dreck,” @jamiemass tweeted March 7. “Challenge, promise of the future. Ideals, dreams that created America. Hope, joy, inspiration—its premise is alive, you just have to look somewhere else. “

If not a big fan of “Star Wars” or perhaps if $369 for Disneyland’s bottom-tier “select” pass with over 200 blackout dates remains too expensive, other options exist. If you would like more freedom than being unable to attend more than half the days of the year, consider these  alternatives if still determined to hop on some rides on a regular basis without breaking the bank.

Only a few miles away from Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm’s most expensive season pass topped at $216 when the article published and includes complimentary parking plus unlimited access to Soak City next door, as well as all Cedar Fair Parks in the U.S. At only $94, their basic annual pass remains a solid value but a season parking pass can be added for $65. Keep in mind, their annual pass system operates by calendar year, however, so regardless of when it’s purchased, their passes expire December 31.

Located in Carlsbad, Legoland is the next closest amusement park and comes in at $279 for their highest annual pass, which offers free parking and access to their water park and aquarium nearby, as well. If you’re only interested in Legoland, however, they offer annuals passes as low as $159.

Universal Studios’ most extravagant annual pass ranks at a whopping $609, which includes complimentary parking, Universal Express access (similar to Disneyland’s FastPass return time system offering shorter lines) and a complimentary ticket to the park’s Halloween Horror Nights event in October. Their next tier pass at $309 may be a better choice, however, if two weeks of blackout dates don’t bother you but free parking remains included.

Situated 85 miles from Saddleback College, Six Flags might be an uncommon choice for many Orange County residents. However, at $150 to enjoy unlimited access to the Valencia amusement park and all other Six Flags Parks throughout the U.S., their season pass certainly earned an honorable mention.

It’s easy to succumb to small monthly payments that may ultimately go unnoticed on your bank statement, which is why so many amusements parks have been introducing monthly billing options for their annual passes in recent years.

Also, consider the value of what you’re getting, such as if the pass you get includes complimentary parking. Expect parking to cost $17 to $20 at any of these parks. This cost adds up if you sincerely intend to attend on a regular basis. Knott’s Berry Farm offers a season parking pass for $65 which allows unlimited free parking through the end of the calendar year. Be mindful of the time of day you attend as well. Universal Studios charges $25 for parking before 6 p.m. but only $10 for regular parking in the evening.

Before committing to a costly annual pass or monthly payment, consider how many people you could go with that also have a pass and determine how frequently you sincerely expect to go. Also, when faced with buying more than a single-day ticket, ask yourself how many times you’ll really want to see the same attractions in a single year.