Has the cost of Disney World become unaffordable for the average American family?

FILE - Crowds fill Main Street USA in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom on the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has been a go-to destination for generations of American families, but the skyrocketing costs of admission, accommodations, and even spending inside the park are leaving many visitors wondering if a Disney vacation is now only reserved for the rich. 

A family of four from New Jersey reached out to FOX News Digital after taking a recent trip to Disney World, saying they had sticker shock over what they spent on their visit and noticed changes at the park from times past.

Gone is the Magical Express that previously served as a courtesy shuttle, so the family shelled out $200 for private transportation to get to and from the airport. 

Park hopper tickets cost $2,550 for the five days they attended. Their four nights of lodging inside the resort cost $3,780 for the parents and two kids.

Once inside the park, they spent $300 on Genie plus passes for their entire trip to skip lines in order to avoid spending all their time waiting for rides. The parents said they paid $950 on sit-down meals and another $700 or so for snacks and souvenirs. All told, the cost of the visit rounded out to $8,480, and airfare pushed the price of their vacation upwards of $10,000.

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"I feel like Disney is pricing people out. Can the average working American family really afford this?" the mother said in remarks to FOX Business. "I've been coming to Disney since I was six years old. I'm 39 now. My kids thought Disney was magical and so for me, the cost was worth it, but I see that it's not the same Disney it was."

Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief of travel site Frommer's, says disenchanted Disney World guests are not imagining things and that the park has changed.

Cochran has been going to Disney World since 1972 and has written Frommer's guidebook for Disney World, Universal, and Orlando since 2006. He says that even the most devoted Disney fans are starting to revolt over a combination of ever-escalating prices, lower quality experiences, and frustrations in navigating a visit.

"Disney has not publicly, but very apparently privately, made the decision that it wants to court guests that spend more per day than guests used to spend," Cochran told FOX Business. "In order to do that, it's done a number of things both to maximize the profit that it's making on a day-to-day basis and also to increase the prices of access for guests."

Disney World raises its prices nearly every year far beyond the rate of inflation, he says, so that isn't new. In fact, the price for visiting the park for just one or two days has not changed from last year, but rates have gone up on most other options, according to Cochran. For instance, the price of multi-day tickets for four days now starts at $447.70, up from $434.83, and can go as high as $596.74 on busy days.

In addition to doing away with the free airport shuttle, the park got rid of parking trams at all its Orlando parks except the Magic Kingdom. Speaking of parking, that is no longer free at resort hotels and will set visitors back $15 to $25 per night. For those not staying at Disney, a parking pass for the day starts at $25 per day and goes up to $50 for a premium spot.

At the same time, Disney has scaled back its entertainment. Cochran says the company has not brought back many of the 32,000 employees it let go during the pandemic and has instead eliminated positions. 

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Cochran says Disney World is still "packed" so it is too early to tell if the park could see a drop in traffic due to the changes, especially because all amusement parks are seeing a surge in demand as vacationers emerge from the pandemic. But he says that with the uptick in complaints he is seeing, "my hunch is it is not going to be good for the brand long term."

Walt Disney World Resort has high ratings on Tripadvisor, with 4.5 out of 5 stars from 33,750 reviews. But several of the recent reviews were also peppered with similar complaints, with folks expressing frustration over the requirement to make reservations in the park ahead of time, the cost of $5 water and absence of refillable park cups, and long wait times.

"What has happened to Disney? They seem to be trying to extract as much money out of people as possible," one person wrote, adding, "Walt would be turning in his grave if he knew the current situation. We will never be visiting Disney again after this holiday. Shame on you Disney, you should be ashamed."

FOX News Digital traveled to Orlando and interviewed other Disney World visitors to hear first-hand about their experiences at the park.

Justin, from Salt Lake City, Utah, said he and his wife have been bringing their kids to Disney for nearly 20 years, and that the rise in costs has been "incredible." He said that with their multi-day passes, the cost of tickets alone for their family of six was close to $3,500 and that they spent another $2,700 inside the park itself.

The software salesman recalled his parents taking him on his first trip to Disney World in 1987 and said he always wanted to bring his kids, but now he worries whether they will be able to do the same for their own children.

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Justin said he now wonders if a Disney World vacation has "become something that's only for the wealthy, or the upper-middle class."

"I think there's a lot of families that just can't, simply can't afford… to have that experience, and that's kind of sad," Justin said. "Because in the way Disney started out, I think it was meant to be for everyone." 

Cochran agrees that Disney is now out of the price range of many families.

"My concern is that more and more people are putting this on credit cards," he said, urging folks to save up for the trip ahead of time.

"There's a lot of families in the middle class and working class, blue-collar families who are still going to be spending that money because they want to give it to their kids," he added. "I think Disney takes advantage of that."

The Walt Disney Company did not respond to FOX Business' multiple requests for comment.

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