Every year like clockwork, the big theme parks—Disney and Universal Studios—raise the cost of admission. Almost exactly one year ago, Walt Disney World in Orlando pushed the price of a one-day adult entrance at the Magic Kingdom to $105, up from $99 in 2014 and "only" $85 as recently as 2011.
What happens immediately afterward—also like clockwork—is that online fan forums and comment sections under stories reporting the latest theme park admission price hikes are flooded with criticism about how pricing is pushing away middle-class families. There are many promises to never again take one's business to these theme parks. And yet, pretty much every year, visitation and revenue numbers rise at Disney and Universal's theme parks, giving them very little reason to keep prices flat, let alone launch initiatives to make the parks more affordable.
The latest price hike, from Universal Studios Orlando, increases basic admission from $102 to $105, according to the Orlando Sentinel. That's for one adult, for a single day, for entrance to only a single park. The park-to-park ticket, which allows admission to multiple theme parks on the same day, goes up from $147 to $155. The one-day rates for children, ages 3 to 9 (yes, you're an "adult" at the ripe age of 10), are now $100 for a single park and $150 for the park-to-park option.
In other words, a family of four hoping to spend a single day visiting the Universal Studios Orlando theme parks would pay $610 for the privilege. Limit your family to a single park, and the bill would be $200 cheaper, though still total a hefty $410. These are strictly admission costs—parking, food, souvenirs, transportation, and other standard expenses are extra.
At Walt Disney World, meanwhile, a basic one-day admission ticket for a single park runs $97 to $105 for adults, $91 to $99 for kids ages 3 to 9. Disney asks for a flat $64 extra to turn its base ticket into a "Park Hopper" allowing multiple park visits on the same day. So it would cost well over $600 strictly in admission fees for a family of four to traipse around Disney theme parks for a single day as well.
Park visitors get big discounts on the average per-day entrance cost when they buy multiple-day tickets, thereby pushing families especially into sticking around and coming back to the parks day after day. Yet each day you're in the parks also brings with it the likelihood that you're shelling out even more for food, souvenirs, lodging, and such. So no matter if visitors spend an astronomical amount to visit parks for a single day, or they spread out their spending over the course of multiple days, the theme parks win.
Also, bear in mind that the prices mentioned above for Disney World have been in effect for about a year—meaning they're bound to go up higher any day now, on par with Universal's price hikes. As the Orlando Sentinel noted, "Walt Disney World and Universal often raise their ticket prices around the same time."