I bought my first Walt Disney World “Four Seasons” pass back in 1994, essentially, it’s today’s “Seasonal Pass,” exclusive to Florida residents. The Four Seasons pass had block out dates, like today’s seasonal passes, and did not include parking.
Forgive me if I sound like an old fart, but back in the day you could park your car in any of Disney’s three (at the time) theme park lots for four bucks. My pass, being of the less expensive variety, required me to pay that fee anytime I wanted to visit the parks. At only four bucks, I didn’t think twice about paying the fee, I was only thinking about when and for how long I was going to visit. Dropping by the parks for a couple of hours was something I did frequently and definitely was a huge advantage of being a passholder.
In the late 90′s, Universal Studios Orlando announced expansion adding a second theme park and its juvenile delinquent, I mean, shopping, dining and nightspot, Citiwalk. Since Universal Studios is basically located in the middle of residential area (Dragon Challenge practically goes through the Dr. Phillips High auditorium) and paid primo prices for the land they sit on, they own far less real estate than the Mouse. This expansion necessitated the incorporation of the Universal Studios parking lot into the new theme park, Islands of Adventure, which in turn, necessitated the building of what would turn out to be the largest parking garage in the world. A monster 20,000 space colossus, it was built so large because attendance was supposed to double with the opening of the new park.
For whatever reason, and there have been many hypothesis (poor marketing, public perception, etc.), that didn’t happen. From opening, up until the present day, most guests visited Islands of Adventure were bastardized from Universal Studios. This left Universal with a big, half-empty white elephant of a parking garage. And so began the great hidden fee, sticker shock, parking lot wars.
Any frequent visitor to the Orlando parks is aware of the annual, recession-be-dammed, jacking up of ticket prices. Sure as hell, every year Disney first raises their prices followed closely by Sea World, Busch Gardens, and Universal Studios. Some years the order is reversed, and this year Busch Parks haven’t followed…. yet. But don’t worry, they will.
I know, parking garages are costly to build. According to most estimates, about five times more per space than surface parking. In other words, Universal Studios paid out the ass for this thing and when it was half full they slowly started to raise the parking rates to recoup the cost. Disney, never one to miss an opportunity to siphon a bit more out of your wallet, matched every raise. Maybe not right away, but eventually they would. Despite the fact all their parking is on surface lots and all the lots existed before Universal built their garages.
Today, parking fees have risen to an exorbitant $14 per car at Disney and a, just raised on my last visit, $15 per car at Universal. This is ABSURD. These parks are charging over $80 bucks for a day per visitor and they have the gall to charge guests $15 for a space to put their car! It’s not like hoofing it to the parks is an option for anyone except hotel guests, who park free anyway. It would be one thing if they could claim they are raising parking rates to keep ticket prices low, but obviously this isn’t the case.
Parking is just a silent, hidden way for them to f*ck you over. Another way to raise ticket prices without the negative publicity that comes with raising prices in the middle of a recession. I, for one, am not going to silently let them get away with it. I am calling both Disney and Universal Studios out on this.
On both of their websites, on the page where tickets can be purchased, guests should be clearly warned about the parking fees. They are no longer trivial. It may even be beneficial to them. I mean if I was thinking of staying outside the WDW, and I realized I was going to have to pay $14 extra to park each day, I would definitely reconsider. Especially with Florida Resident rates sometimes running as little as $54 bucks a night at the Value resorts. Also, if parking rates were by some miracle lowered, the Seasonal and Power Passholders might start dropping by the parks more frequently leading to increased revenue for both Disney and Universal.
In the mean time, however, until guests start complaining, and mentioning it on the exit satisfaction surveys, I’m afraid escalating parking fees are here to stay.