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Disney World Brings Back Major Event (it Will Cost You)

The theme park giants keep leaning into a strategy that some visitors love and others simply can't afford.

Disney World has become an aspirational vacation for many families. Prices keep rising (although single-day ticket prices have not increased in a few years), putting a trip to the Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report theme park out of reach for many middle-class families.

The problem is that each Disney theme park can only comfortably accommodate so many customers on a given day. That's a number the company has actually slightly lowered in order to maximize its mix of revenue and customer experience. That's not to say Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom aren't crowded -- they pretty much always are -- but at peak capacity, they're not quite as stuffed as they were before the pandemic.

To make up for taking in slightly less in admission fees, Disney has raised prices in other ways. The once free FastPass+ has morphed into Genie+ and Lightning Lane, paid systems that replaced services that were once free. Food portions have gotten smaller or prices have increased and Magic Bands, which passholders and people staying in the parks once got for free, now cost money.

It's all expensive, but Disney largely caters to people who can afford to pay. The theme park giant wants to make as much money as possible while delivering a decent experience. One way it has done that is by bringing back its Halloween and Christmas After Hours events.  

These are added-fee, limited ticket opportunities to visit Magic Kingdom (and, in some cases other parks) with a lighter crowd and some semblance of a special event.

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Disney Brings Back Winter After Hours Event

After Hours events allow Disney to maximize its inventory. It closes a park or two at 6 p.m. and then sells new tickets to get into the After Hours event. The company made its admission money earlier in the day, but at night, it brings in a whole new set of customers (or existing visitors who also pay the added fee), bringing in even more money.

Disney plans to follow up its holiday After Hours event with a new offering that begins Jan. 4 at Hollywood Studios and Jan. 9 at Magic Kingdom. 

"In case you aren’t familiar with Disney After Hours, these late-night, separately ticketed events let you enjoy a Walt Disney World theme park for three additional hours after regular park hours, with treats such as ice cream, popcorn, and select beverages included. Best of all, the number of tickets for these events is limited, which means lower wait times for some of your favorite attractions," Disney shared in a press release.

The After Hours events begin at 7 p.m. and require a special ticket. Event tickets for Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios can be purchased by all guests starting October 7, 2022, with prices ranging from $129 to $159 (plus tax). Some Disney World hotel guests -- Disney Resort hotels, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels, as well as Shades of Green at Walt Disney World Resort -- can buy tickets beginning Oct. 4.

The After Hours events will run at Hollywood Studios on select nights: January 4 through April 19, 2023. Disney After Hours events at Magic Kingdom are scheduled for select nights as well: January 9 through March 27, 2023.

Disney Has to Balance Revenue and Guest Experience

The pandemic showed Disney that it can make more money by constraining attendance but getting more money out of visitors. Basically, if you keep the guest experience vaguely pleasant and charge extra for better-than-pleasant, the company makes more money than it did by packing people in.

That's a challenge for Disney as higher prices generally require delivering a better experience and After Hours events are the perfect way to deliver that. Wait times for rides generally get cut in half during these events. That makes riding all the top rides at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios possible (or, you can get a few turns on your absolute favorites).

Disney theme park slots, so to speak, are a commodity that's quite rare. The company has clearly been working to get as much value out of each slot as possible, which is good for shareholders, and anyone who can actually afford theme park tickets.