Tracking Food Inflation at Disneyland
Before anyone gets too excited, we’re talking about the cost of food increasing at the Disneyland resort, not the portion sizes. Since the parks reopened in April 2021 tickets have gone up, parking has gone up, paid Genie Plus and Lightning Lanes have replaced the free Fast Pass system, creating an entirely new revenue stream. And yes, food at the parks has gone up too.
But how much has food really increased since the parks reopened? One of the nifty things about tracking menus across the Disneyland Resort is that you accumulate a lot of data on exactly this topic. Let’s take a look…
We’re going to look at a selection of iconic menu items, from treats to meals and track their price changes from April 2021 to August 2023 (the most current data available at the time of writing this article). We’ll compare the price changes to a baseline inflation rate of 15% for the 2021-current period. Our test subjects are:
- Dole Whip
- Mickey Mouse Pretzel
- Monte Cristo Sandwich
- Plaza Inn Fried Chicken
- Regular Fountain Drink (no, not iconic, but a good reference point)
The iconic Churro. No fancy sprinkles, crumbles or dipping sauces here, just the plain ol’ original stick of fried dough, dredged in cinnamon and sugar. The Churro started at $4.75 when the parks reopened. By the end of 2021 the price had increased to $5.00. And there it stayed for over 18 months until just recently, in the Fall of 2023, it climbed again to $5.50.
15.79% Increase - Not a great start.
Because things have a way of finding an extended life in my wallet, I learned recently that I paid $5.69 for a Dole Whip at the Tiki Juice Bar in late 2019. This frozen pineapple treat received a price increase during the pandemic closure, starting with a price of $5.99 when the Tropical Hideaway reopened in April 2021. The Tiki Juice Bar and Trader Sams reopened a few months later in July 2021 at the same price point. And that price was steady until August 2022, when it increased $.50 to its current price of $6.49.
8.35% Increase - Well, that’s not too bad…but it would be over 14% if we included the $.30 closure increase.
Mickey Mouse Pretzel
When Refreshment Corner reopened in July 2021, it offered the Mickey Mouse Pretzel for $4.79. Within 90 days, that price had increased to $4.99. It then held steady all through 2022 before being bumped to $5.49 in 2023.
14.61% Increase - Just a hair under the baseline.
Monte Cristo Sandwich
This one will be a bit different. Disneyland serves the Monte Cristo Sandwich and two locations, Cafe Orleans and Blue Bayou, accompanied by two different sides and offered at two different price point. Let’s see if they can agree on a single inflation rate…
At Cafe Orleans, the Monte Cristo sold for $21 when the restaurant reopened in April 2021. In Fall 2022 it increased to $22 and recently, in Fall 2023, it jumped again to $24.
The Blue Bayou reopened in May 2021, offering its version of the sandwich for $29. And it stayed there for over two years! It did finally receive an increase this Fall, around the same time as Cafe Orleans, taking it to $31.
14.29% Increase (Cafe Orleans) - Noticing a trend?
6.90% Increase (Blue Bayou) - Wll look at that, the most expensive meal has the lowest inflation so far.
Plaza Inn Fried Chicken
Our final iconic meal is the Fried Chicken Plate at the Plaza Inn. The meal can vary a bit, but usually consists of three pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, a biscuit and a vegetable. When the Plaza Inn reopened in April 2021, the Fried Chicken meal was $18.49. It received its first adjustment that Fall, increasing to $18.99. That price held for about a year, before increasing to $19.49 in Fall 2022. We have not seen an increase yet this year, the price continuing to sit at $19.49.
5.41% Increase - A new winner(?).
Fountain Drink (Regular)
As I noted above, this is not an iconic food, but a good control point. Junk food, snack food, whatever you want to call it, is considered an “affordable indulgence”. Something consumers will generally continue to buy at the same frequency even when prices increase. So, as a producer of carbonated sugar water, or a theme park that slings it, there is no need to “hold the line” on these types of items. But, before I fully dust off the soap box, let’s move on…
Fountain Drinks maintain a standard price at most all locations across the parks. When Disneyland and DCA reopened, a regular (size) fountain drink was $3.99. That price bumped to $4.29 in late 2021 and recently saw its second increase to $4.59.
15.04% Increase - On the nose.
At the end of the day, how did we compare to the 15% 2021-2023 baseline?
If we ordered one of each of the items above back in 2021 (yes, that includes 2 Monte Cristos) it would have set us back $88.01. If we ordered the same items today (October 2023), we would be looking at $96.56. That works out to an increase of 9.71%.
That looks pretty good, right?
Sure, ok. There is some good in there, we’ll start with that:
Across our sample group, we saw an average increase that was over 1/3 less that our inflation baseline for the same period. That’s definitely welcome news. We also saw that more expensive meals generally had lower increase percentages, and this holds true across many other items I checked outside the ones in this article.
But with the good comes a decent helping of bad:
The more expensive meals might have escaped the largest bumps (for now), but the cheaper, iconic snacks and meals received some of the largest percentage increases. And, if you’re like me, you are probably going to be purchasing far more of these lower-price items over the course of a trip than you are having expensive table service dinners. This means you could easily end a trip, tally up your food bill and find that you’re flirting with (or have blown right by) our 15% baseline. It really depends on you.
And we’ll finish with two scoops of ugly:
First, portion sizes (editor’s note: looks like we are going to talk about it). Changes to portion sizes were not considered in any of the analysis above. Shrinking portion sizes have been reported on for well over a year now, including articles like this one at Disney Dining. When you factor in reduced portion sizes, what appears to be a relatively light touch to expensive meals might turn out to be more in line with our baseline percentage. And the cheaper snacks and meals that were already hanging out near the baseline might rocket right past it.
Second, before you can spend a dime on food in the park, you must pay to get into the parks. When the parks reopened in April 2021, the most expensive single day, single park, adult ticket was a Tier 5 ticket at $154. Now, the most expensive single day, single park ticket is the Tier 6 ticket at $179. This is a 16.23% increase to visit around holidays and peak weekends.
Where does that leave us?
I’m not entirely sure. Park food hasn’t gone up as much as I had anticipated before I started writing this article. But everything else in the Disney-sphere seems to have more than made up for it. My family will be spending a week at the parks in just a few days, our first trip back since December 2019. We are definitely taking advantage of grocery delivery to our hotel to cut down on the in-park snack purchases, but we have also booked dining reservations for Blue Bayou, Carnation Cafe and the GCH Craftsman Bar, something we have never done before. I suppose that’s good fodder for a follow-up article once we’ve had our boot (and mouse ears) on the ground.