Why do people go to Disneyworld?

My family just visited Disneyworld. It was fine and the people there were mostly nice and friendly.

It was not cheap. We paid $400 a night for a standard hotel room and a 3 day pass to the park was over $1000 for my family. Renting a double stroller for a day costs $18 just as one example of inflated prices inside the park.

And mostly we just waited in line. For instance, here is one of our days at Disney. We left the hotel room (which was on Disney property) at 8:30 am and returned around 3 pm. Here is what we actually accomplished in those 6.5 hours: (1) we had breakfast, (2) we went on a 20 minute African safari, and (3) we saw a 20 minute 3D movie. Combined these took a little more than an hour. The other 5.5 hours were spent waiting or trying to get from one place to the next.

I will probably not ever willingly go back to Disneyworld. But it wasn’t as bad as my description above would suggest. This is largely because Disney has truly mastered the art of waiting in line. First, they don’t let you see where the lines go. They just wind and wind through constantly varying surroundings and waves of distractions that are often more entertaining for the kids than the destination itself in many cases. Second, somehow the lines are always moving forward also. Third, they price discriminate by having a “fastpass” option where for extra money by which you have to wait to go on the ride, but you don’t actually have to wait in line. You pay your money and they tell you to come back in say an hour to do the ride. That is a tremendous improvement over when I went to Disneyworld as a kid (or maybe it was always an option and my parents were just too cheap to pay for it).

As pricey as Disneyworld was, I wish it had been even more expensive to drive away the crowds. Disneyworld has a great problem — so much demand they don’t know what to do with it. Even in late April when most kids should be in school.

I have two completely unrelated questions for readers:

1) Why is demand for Disneyworld so great?

2) Why do they make you stick your fingers into some machine when entering Disneyworld? What is the point?


It's all about the nag factor. The price of visiting Disney World is much less than the frustration of your kids nagging you about going there for years and years.


1. I would propose that the demand for Disneyworld is virtually inelastic. Despite the obscene pricing structure, they continute to attract huge crowds.

This demand is fed by the constant supply of Disney movies that children then want to take to the next fantasy level and meet the characters. Kids guilt the parents and the cycle continues.

2. I have no idea why they make you stick your fingers in the machine... biometrics???


Disneyworld's popularity is self-perpetuating in an important sense. Chances are you know many people who've been there. That creates a form of pressure on you to go there yourself, so (1) you won't feel left out and (2) you can see what all the fuss is about. Note, in this context, that Disneyworld does not do a tremendous amount of advertising, at least not anymore; it doesn't have to.

Ken D.

My impressions from a trip a few years ago were similar. I wouldn't want to go back very bad either -- but the kids did have a lot of fun, and the taste in my mouth is probably a litte less bad than yours. Disney has achieved over the decades a pop-culture centrality that gives it something akin to monopoly power. I see a rough analogy with Microsoft. I don't like that company or its boss much either, and I suspect that we would be better off if Linux-like open standards had prevailed over MSDos/Windows; but I am sending this from a Windows machine. As to Fastpass, I don't remember paying extra for it, and a quick trip to Google seems to support my recollection. It is indeed a major time saver. The effect is enhanced by the existence of some minor complications to maximizing its value. Since on any given day many customers are on their first or only day, a veteran Fastpass manipulator has an additional leg up.



Disney is truly a magical place where one can feel like a child at any age and experience true magic. I've traveled around the entire world...and I can say that Disney is still one of my favorite places to go. Did you see the fireworks displays every night? It's like 4th of July on steroids. The rides are really fun, and just the feel of the place, details in everything, down to the garbage cans, it's like another world. I was lucky enough to have a parent who was from Florida originally and Disney was a part of my growing up that I can't wait to share with my children.

Yes, it's gotten bigger, more expensive, more crowded, more crap to buy etc. But, compared to other theme parks, it's no worse. It's still clean, friendly, and you can find bargains and see Disney economically if you just spend alittle time researching. It's like any vacation you would take.

As for your hotel price, you must have stayed at the highest-end hotel on the property at the peak of the season. I go every year with my family in Februrary, I stay at the All-Star Sport, All-Star Music, All-Star Movie or the Pop Century. We usually pay $65-85 per night for 2 double beds and a very clean room. They pick you up at the airport for free, give you free transportation all over the parks, and you can even check your luggage at the hotel for your flight back before they take you back to the airport, all included with your stay on the property!

Fast pass doesn't cost you. You're confused with Universal studios where you can pay an extra $50 and cut lines. Fast pass is free, and, if you know how to move around the park, you pick up a fast pass, go on some other rides, and before you go back for your original fast pass time, then pick up another one at a different ride. Then, you are barely waiting on lines. Yes, this all depends on the time of year. I grew up waiting on the same lines for even longer, and we seemed to get through the entire park. But I don't think the waits are the problem, we've just become a society where we want it now and don't want to tolerate wiating anymore. But, again, you wait on lines at Great Adventure, Bush Gardens, every theme park. Heck, I wait longer on line at Costco.

As for the strollers, you don't have to rent one, you can bring your own. And, you can park them outside of the rides and they are always there when you leave.

As for the finger ID. This is my educated guess. The best part about Disney tickets are that they have and probably always will be good FOREVER. What people were doing buying a multi-day park hopper (which is cheaper than a daily and lets you go to all the parks), not use the rest of the days, and sell it off. This is a big business. So, to prevent this, your ticket becomes yours via your fingerprint. So, if you go this year, purchase a 5 day park hopper, and only stay for 3 days, your 2 days are good forever, but, they are now only good for you. You can't resell them, knowing that next year the price will go up a few dollars.

Look Disney was never that cheap even when it opened. For a family of 4, it will cost you, but, it doesn't have to break your bank. My parent always took us to the reasonably priced hotels, didn't buy us all the kitsch, didn't buy us the balloons, didn't stop at each ice cream vendor for snacks, didn't let us go into the shops to get attached to some big stuffed animal and we grew up just fine,still loving Disney but knowing that you can enjoy it without all the junk.



2.) I used to work on the admissions systems for Busch Gardens ad SeaWorld, and my suspiction is that sticking your fingers is so that they can make sure the same person is using the muti-day ticket each time, since they are not transferrable.

Steven D. Levitt

To JohnMcG,

but what can they detect off your fingers?
Certainly not fingerprints, I wouldn't think.


Going to Disneyworld is a part of American lore. For some the postmodern experience makes us long for a sense of nostalgia and innocence perpetuated in the 50s and 60s, where Disney presented all that was idyllic. It has since been ingrained into every family that a trip to Disney is a return to innocence and an integral part of American life.


This is one of those cases where economics fails to measure up. Kids, the ones that really drive vacation preferences (and the parents' wish to satisfy them), do not look at it in an entirely rational way. Here, the value of advertising and word of mouth (helped by significantly rose colored rear-view mirrors) are incalculable.

Mr. Levitt, ask your kids what they thought. Then ask them again in a year. I have a suspicion your questions will be answered.


Disney is exploiting information assymetry. If you had purchased "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyworld", you would have saved $$$ and been able to see all that you wanted as well. For instance, you may have learned that you can stay at the Deluxe Dolphin near Epcot for $165 (teacher rate) as I will do later this month. You would have sampled the touring plans, which would have given you the exact sequence of rides to maximize your enjoyment. They use some fascinating optimization models. Heavily researched and footnoted, it's an economist's delight! (And it's about 3 times the size of your book).

It also explains the biometric measurements, they use the dimensions of your fingers, stored as a hash total on the card (Disney doesn't store your fingerprints or DNA or anything like that).

So now you know!


"Why is demand for Disneyworld so great?"

Because Disney has mastered the art of customer service. You alluded to this when you said that waiting in line doesn't seem like waiting in line.

My wife and I had our honeymoon at Walt Disney World ... largely because I'd never been to a Disney park before, and my wife had only been to Disneyland. From start to finish, we were treated like royalty, and it's all because of the little things that add up to a pleasant experience. Buying things with your room key and then not having to carry them around because they send them directly to your room for you. Fast and efficient transportation around the park. Easy to spot employees when you have a question. The entire experience was worry-free, and we've never experienced anything quite like it.

We literally can't wait to go back, and are actively trying to find ways to save up the cash to go again.

"Why do they make you stick your fingers into some machine when entering Disneyworld? What is the point?"

They've had problems with people buying season passes and multi-day passes and loaning them out to people. So they installed a biometric system to stop that. It doesn't read complete fingerprints, but it can read enough data to generate a sufficiently unique identifier for their purposes. I think it's infrared, if memory serves.

Oh, and while someone else already mentioned it, I'll just say again that FastPass is free at the Disney parks.

(I'm a big fan, keep up the excellent work, Steven ... and Stephen!)



"Why is demand for Disneyworld so great?"

Beats me. My wife and I took our kids (11 months and 4.5 years) down years ago. the 4.5 year old liked the hotel pool better. So did my wife, for that matter. The 11 month old liked the inside of the hotel room better -- she was just learning to talk and wanted to practice walking and falling down, not sit in a stroller.

Plus, even now, I sometimes find "It's a Small World After All" going through my head. Can I do a reverse-Ipod and send Steve Jobs 99 cents to get rid of the song?

I realized we could have driven 3 miles to Embassy Suites and had a better time. We haven't been back since.


My favorite example of Disney price gouging, from my trip there last year.

Long distance calls are free with virtually all calling plans (and cell phones), and for the handful that charge, the cost is ~$0.03 - $0.05 / minute.

Disney's rate? (if you're staying at one of their hotels)

$6.00 / minute.

Of course, this rate is buried deep in a multi-page document you sign when you check into the hotel. Most folks probably miss it, and some portion of them presumably make a quick 3 minute phone call back home, reasoning that it will be expensive - perhaps as much as $1/minute, but still a 3 minute call can't be too expensive.

And for Grandma who brings the grandkids and lets them make a 30 minute call to mom back home? Yowza...


Speaking of which, there's probably a good econ paper in this subject (if not already written):

We are moving increasingly to a digital world, with elaborate EULAs and fee statements that we click through. We are also moving away from paying physical cash to digital. With physical cash, usually paid before the good/service is consumed, it's easy to tell when you're being ripped off and stop the transaction. Not so with digital, especially if you consented to the outrageous charge in some 15 page agreement you signed off on without fully reading.

I suspect if you could find a set of transactions that the consumer pays for up front, in cash, versus one that they pay for on the back-end, via charge card (and having already consented to via lengthy agreement, digital or paper), that the vendor profit margins on the latter are, on average, dramatically higher than for the former.


Oh, and also, one-time fees are more likely to be a source of rip-off than recurring fees, since, with a recurring fee, if the customer feels ripped off, he will cancel the service.


Did you figure the cost per minute of fun?

Phil Senderowitz

The device at the entrances that you stick your fingers in is a biometric device that ensures that the passholder cannot sell the pass to someone else for additional uses.

Evidently, much like fingerprints and retinas, everybody has unique characteristics in the structure and distance between the points of the fingers being scanned.



Disney tickets are no longer good forever. I'd imagine old ones are still good, but new tickets are good for only 14 days from date of first use.


Why is demand for Disneyworld so great?

I admit it, the out of pocket costs for a trip to Walt Disney World can be extreme. These costs, however, for many are worth the magic you feel while there and the memories you can take home. If the price was too high, why did you not opt to stay at a cheaper hotel nearby that would have been half the price? I could probably guess that you chose to pay higher prices because you felt either (a) if you were going to go to Disney you wanted to do it "right" or (b) you liked the added benefits of staying so "close to the action" or the extra benefits of Extra Hours or various other amenities offered to hotel guests. Disney World is just that, another world, and you have to know how to play the game to get the most out of your time. Much like most governments, if a person knows how to work the systems they have set up, their deadweight loss would be less. Fast passes, as stated earlier, can help to maximize benefits, you just have to know how to work the system to get the greatest benefit. The above you described, also, was at the largest and newest park which has not been able to develop fully (price does not equal marginal costs yet). If you had instead offered a description of another day at one of the other parks I'm sure there would have been lower opportunity costs.

Also, vacations are about family time, and sometimes waiting in lines or doing other things with family members where you all have to stick together is the best time to "bond". Even though it may seem like "wasted time" you may realize that there were unexpected benefits to this "forced family time".

I would also like to add that I am a fan of your research and have enjoyed both reading your book at hearing you speak at the Ohio State University. I hope Disney didn't leave you with too much of a sour taste in your mouth.




You can buy tickets either with or without expiry. The ones without expiry cost closer to the individual day tickets.