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Going to Disney? Here's How to Handle the Parks' New Pricing

Airlines do it. Hotels do it. Sport venues and concert halls do it. Now the Walt Disney Co. is jumping on the demand-pricing bandwagon too.
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Airlines do it. Hotels do it. Sport venues and concert halls do it.

And, to the irritation of car-less urban travelers, so does Uber.

Now the Walt Disney Co. is jumping on the bandwagon with demand-based pricing, too.

In a weekend blog post the company announced that because “the demand for Disney Parks continues to grow, especially during peak periods,” seasonal pricing will now be applied to 1-day tickets at both Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida.

Disney says new ticket pricing, which has already gone into effect, is designed to “help spread out visitation,” but it means higher prices will be charged during the most popular periods (such as holidays and summer weekends) and lower prices during slow seasons, such as September, when kids go back to school.

Using crowd calendars, the new pricing plan divides the calendar by "day types" and sets three tiers for one-day tickets: “value,” “regular” and “peak.”

The 1-day ticket price calendar for Disneyland in April, for example, shows “Peak” pricing will be in effect through April 10th — when many schools are on vacation — “Regular” pricing will be in effect on all remaining weekends and the lowest “Value” tickets will only be available Mondays through Thursdays starting on the 11th.

Pricing for the new 1-day tickets varies by park: at Disneyland in California, a one-day “value” (or off-peak) ticket now costs $95, a “regular” ticket costs $105 and a peak-day ticket costs $119. At Walt Disney World, a one-day “value” ticket is now $97, a “regular” ticket costs $102 and a “peak” ticket will set you back $114.

1-day Value, Regular or Peak season tickets purchased now must be used by December, 31, 2017 and can only be used on corresponding days on the crowd calendar. For example, a Value ticket will only gain you entry into a park only on a Value season date, while a Peak Ticket will be good any day, “Value,” “Regular” or “Peak.”

Response to the new pricing is, not surprisingly, mixed.

Yvette Sterbank of Corning, New York is headed to Florida in a few weeks with her family and hasn’t yet purchased park tickets because she’s trying to rationalize the cost.

“$400 to $600 for a family of four to spend one day in one or two crowded parks is already pretty outrageous,” said Sterbank. “Surge pricing would just make this decision less palatable.”

But Southern California resident Jen Miner loves the idea of surge pricing.

Read More: Disney Considers Uber-Style Pricing for Theme Parks

“If I lived in the Midwest, I would probably be irritated,” said Miner, “but surge pricing makes it easier for me to pay a little less and not make my kids go to Disneyland during the busiest times of the year, when the parks get so unmanageable and crowded. Anything that helps alleviate the chaos is a good idea.”

Travelers looking for “workarounds” to the Disney parks' new pricing plan have some options.

“Simply put, there's now an even greater incentive to time your visit for off-peak times,” said, Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family vacations expert at “If your family can be flexible and visit midweek or in a slow month such as September, your tickets will cost less.”

Another strategy is to make the most of your one-day Disney park ticket, whether you’ve paid a “value”, “regular” or “peak” price.

Doug Stallings, senior editor at Fodor’s Travel, suggests staying on-site so you get the all the perks associated with being a Disney guest, such as getting into the parks early, being able to plan rides and experiences in advance and being able to buy meal plans.

“With prices at these parks being so high, you really do want to get your money's worth, and you aren't going to do that if you have to stand in several hour-long lines in a day,” said Stallings.

Another strategy to consider: other theme parks.

The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens April 7 at Universal Studios in California, “which will certainly give Disneyland a run for its money in the near-term,” said Stallings, “And in nearby Buena Park, there’s Knott's Berry Farm. While it's not as big and elaborate as Disneyland, it's a fun place to visit and more low-key.”

In Orlando, Stallings lists alternative Disney park attractions that range from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando as well as Sea World, the WonderWorks Science museum and numerous water parks, indoor playgrounds and mini-golf courses.

Also,“Legoland is about an hour away and is drawing large numbers of families with younger kids” said Stallings, and for something more nostalgic and old-fashioned attraction, there’s Gatorland.

As for whether or not other theme parks will follow Disney and adopt surge pricing, it may just be a matter of time.

“You have more people — particularly foreign travelers — traveling and fighting for space at the most popular destinations,” said Stallings, “So sadly, I think that's just the direction the parks are heading.”

Editor's note: NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, also owns Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions.