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Disney World Leans Into Wealthy Customers

The theme park company has added a major perk, but only for the people who shell out the most money.

Disney World costs a lot of money to visit under any circumstances. Currently, a single-day ticket for entry to one park comes in at $109. A four-day ticket with April 22 as the first day of admission with the "Park Hopper" add-on costs $554.77. That means that a family of four looking to spend four days at the Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report parks will spend over $2,200 just for basic admission.

That's before eating a single Mickey Mouse pretzel, paying for add-ons like Lightning Lane and Genie+, or renting a hotel room. A Disney vacation has always been a luxury -- something that middle-class families have to save or go into debt for. Now, however, Disney has found ways to make a Disney World vacation a better experience for people willing to spend more money.

Disney has always offered better experiences in exchange for more money. That's how its after-hours events have worked. Visitors who buy a second admission get access to one of the four Disney World parks (generally Magic Kingdom) with a limited crowd.

It's a moneymaker for the company and a better experience for anyone willing to pay up. Now, Disney has finished rolling out a more subtle way to encourage people to spend more money on a Disney World vacation, and it's putting more attention on the wealth divide at the company's resorts.

Disney Magic Kingdom Lead JS

Disney World Still Lets On-Property Hotel Guests In Early

Before the pandemic, Disney World offered "Extra Magic Hours" to guests staying not just at its resorts, but at partner resorts near its Florida theme parks. That allowed anyone staying at those resorts and hotels -- from the highest-priced properties to the lowest -- could access one of the Disney World parks before general admission.

That program changed a bit once the parks reopened, but the core idea remained. Stay at a Disney hotel or partner hotel and you get early access to the parks. The company explained the new program, which is now called "Early Theme Park Entry," on its website.

As part of The World’s Most Magical Celebration, Guests of Disney Resort hotels can get a 30-minute jump on their Disney day with early theme park entry—available at all 4 Walt Disney World theme parks. Early theme park entry gives you a head start in the parks, so you’ll have access to select attractions, shops and dining before regular hours. And, you can enjoy this benefit on each day of your stay — in any park, subject to capacity.

That's a nice benefit and an enticement to stay on-property. It's also a benefit that extends to all of its customers, not just the ones spending the most money.

A new benefit that lets people stay at one of the the company's four Florida parks -- Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, or Epcot -- is not being offered on a similar basis.

Disney World Offers Later Hours (But With a Catch)

In recent months, Disney has added extended evening hours at its theme parks, but only for certain guests.

"Extended evening theme park hours is a benefit for registered Guests staying at Disney Deluxe Resorts and Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts," the company shared on its website..

Hollywood Studios becomes the latest of the four parks to offer this program, beginning on April 13 (it won't be offered every night). Magic Kingdom and Epcot already offer extended theme park hours for Deluxe guests.

"Restricting Extended Evening Hours to Deluxe Resort guests has been a contentious issue and for many this has felt like an un-Disney change and something which goes against the original ethos set out by Walt," wrote Theme Park Tourist Owner Natalie Sim. However, with park closures due to COVID-19, Disney appears to be implementing any strategy it can to increase revenue and this certainly appears to be one of the ways to encourage guests to spend more."

Disney CEO Bob Chapek did not directly address the evening hours, but did talk about guest experience and managing capacity during his company's first-quarter earnings call.

"But I must tell you that our ability to increase our guest experience through a reservation system and a very carefully managed demand ticketing system has been something that we really like," he said. "And I think guaranteeing our guests that they have a great experience no matter when they come, whether it be the Christmas holiday or whether it be in the middle of the month of September, that's really important to us."