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Disneyland Prices and the Beginning of the End?

Disneyland Prices and the Beginning of the End?

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Ah, yes... the inevitable annual price increases at Disneyland. As the modern era of stockholder value demands that double digit profits continue, who can be truly surprised when these come along?

But, wait! There is a bit of a wrinkle this year. Those wily folks in the offices at Disney have decided to suspend the sales of the Southern California Annual Pass.  Depending upon who spins the tale out here in the blogosphere on the Net, this can be read as a simple adjustment or the oncoming rush of doom for this class of Disneyland Annual Passholder.

How about a few minor niggling details to cloud the view? For example, once upon a time, there was only one type of annual pass to the Park. That's right! Only one. Good for admission and all attractions, excluding the Shooting Galleries in Frontierland and Adventureland. Including parking and good during all normal dates and times of Disneyland operation.

During a period when attendance numbers dipped, a bright solution was seen to be the local populace. Those folks who lived close to Disneyland, in the Southern California area. One way to attract them was to offer a lower priced Annual Pass which allowed admission to the Park during off-peak periods. During the busy summer months, those Southern California AP's were blacked out - meaning you couldn't use that AP for admission then. As the pass system matured, many Saturdays were added to that black out calendar. Still, a good value with Sunday's available. As many of the folks who came from out of town used Sunday's as a travel day, even during peak time of year, guest numbers in the park were not crushing.

Funny thing, Disneyland has suspended sales of this class of Annual Passes once before, in 2001. And when the numbers fell off, they resumed sales. It may be in the small print but on the Disneyland web pages, you can find this text: "Pass types are limited in quantity, and may not be available."

In other words, Annual Passes are not unlimited in number. And a minor point? Disney is not eliminating these passes. Folks who currently have them or even those who had passes expire in the last 90 days can still renew their passes. Disney is just not selling any new ones, right now.

I know I have said this before, but the truth is that while the number of guests with Annual Passes is good, this is not the most desirable guest demographic. That honor lies with the mythical first time family of four, spending more per capita than the AP's. To be sure there are some AP's, such as the Premium, who may spend more than the rest of the AP world on their visits. But the problem are those AP's who don't spend, who may just visit Disneyland to hang out. Socialize with others, just even to take in being at the Park. Those folks who camp out for fireworks, Fantasmic! or World of Color.

Overcrowding at Disneyland seems to have become an issue. You could expect it during those summer/holiday peak periods. But when the gates to the Park have to be shut because capacity has been reached? Those unusual occurrences have become more in number. When even parking lots are closed and there is simply no where to park all those autos. Those times are happening far too often. And that creates a conundrum for the folks at TDA.

Yes, stock holder value is being served. Profits are good. But the quality of the guest experience? Not what is should be. When lines for food/beverages are too long - even at an outdoor vending location - people tend to become discouraged and will not wait. And when the lines for a restroom rival some attraction waits? Not "good show" by any means.

So, what to do? Suspending the sales of the Southern California Annual Passes is a good start. FastPass+ ? Still to early to tell if that experiment will ever come to Anaheim. The return of ticket books? Less likely than the return of the People Mover.

Disneyland is just too popular. As long as people continue to pay the prices for all of the experience, don't look for price cutting. If things continue so well, could the suspension of the Southern California Select AP be next? Perhaps.

Lest anyone think otherwise, there are people inside the management of Disneyland who do have a clue or three. They understand that the draw of the place is magic to guests. And they do want to know what guests think about their visits to the Park. As odd as it may seem, the suspension of sales of new Southern California AP's is a positive step in the improvement of the overall guest experience. That concept, a positive guest experience, still drives the best publicity/promotional effort that Disney can hope for - the good word of mouth. If I have a good time during my Disneyland visit, odds are pretty good (especially in today's world of social media) that I will share it with family and friends. Who will likely come to visit the Park and have their own positive guest experience.

Somehow, it seems to work. Because in the words of Mister Willy Wonka, "they're certainly not showing any sign that they are slowing!"

This article originally appeared on The Blue Parrot. For more Roger Colton goodness, just fly on over to the Blue Parrot and check out some of Roger's previous blog posts.

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  • What drives me crazy about this situation is that Disney created this problem by advertising something that was clearly going to cause a problem.

    When we first moved to LA in 2000 the first thing we looked into was getting a Disneyland Passport ($129 I think) but I was surprised that none of my LA friends had one or even knew about them. But a decade later then Disney started heavily advertising Annual Passes along with the ridiculous payment plans and now everyone I know has a pass.

    The idea of the payment plan and marketing blitz really seemed like short term thinking because it worked in bringing Disney awareness to locals who didn't previously care but now you've got all these guests who don't spend money in-park, take advantage of the lenient "outside food" rules and drag in gigantic coolers, and complain endlessly because they don't view Disney as a "lifestyle" but instead see it as a hangout.

    I really wish someone there thought more longterm about what they were doing with all the advertising because the park was infinitely more enjoyable when Annual Passes weren't so popular.

  • "I know I have said this before, but the truth is that while the number of guests with Annual Passes is good, this is not the most desirable guest demographic. That honor lies with the mythical first time family of four, spending more per capita than the AP's."

    "Overcrowding at Disneyland seems to have become an issue."

    Very, very true, Roger

    I also agree with Kitty,

    AP's are just way too popular now, and Disneyland is just way to packed with people these days, it really makes it hard to enjoy the place (and when you combine over-crowding with intense heat: YIKES!.)

    The elimination of the Southern California Pass is indeed a good start, but there seems to be a bigger issue lately;

    What is really important is that people feel that they have gotten their money's worth, and unfortunately, now more than ever that is not happening. Disneyland has a gotten a reputation of being a park that has (as one online comment put it) "ancient rides" and I'm afraid that I have to agree.

    In almost every land of the park, there are rides and attractions that are in DESPERATE need of updating. I know that the "online purists" howl in protest whenever Disneyland wants to change something, but Disney cannot let a very vocal minority stop them from updating attractions.

    For those who agree with this, be sure to e-mail the Disneyland Resort, and let them know that rides and attractions need to be updated so people can feel that they are getting their money's worth. (Or if you've just had a bad experience and think that the park is too crowded, let them know!);


  • We live out of state these days, and overcrowding is one of the main reasons we haven't been back to DL since 2008.  We would LOVE to come back again, and prices aren't what's been keeping us away - it's the lines.  Seems like DL is working to fix this, finally.  And hopefully someday soon, we'll be back!

  • Overcrowding an issue? The park only reaches capacity where it closes the gates during the Christmas/New Year holidays. I don't know when it maxed out in the other times.

    Disney's ticketing policy is awfully ridiculous. It seems to not know how to properly price their products to be more reasonable for the day guest, while restricting attendance of those who want to go more frequently. Locals just cannot afford or do not want to pay close to $100 per visit, but at the same time, they are not awarded for frequent visits. The alternative is not offered. Why not a 4, 6, 8, or 10 visits as a seasonal pass (use within 3 to 6 months) with no blockouts? Crowds may be spread more evenly if they merely go when they want and not when the blockout dates enforce attendance at certain dates like Sundays.

  • I'll never forget getting my first Annual Passport back in 1992.  It was such a special experience!  It began at the Guest Relations window outside the park.  After purchasing the pass, I was invited inside to a very gorgeous room where my photo was taken and pass made, all the while chatting with the Guest Relations Hosts inside.  I didn't notice it happen, but while they were taking my picture they reconfigured the gate.  As soon as my pass was made, they ushered me to the door and it opened into Disneyland - as if they were saying, "It's all yours!"  As pass holders, we got to know the cast and they us, and we became friends.  Hospitality was reciprocal.  

    Today's experience is the opposite of that.  Long lines, always being processed, cast members bracing for whether you're human or not...

    Yes, I miss the old days very much.

  • My last experience at Disneyland was less than desirable. With having traveled from the midwest, paid to stay on property for the first time and for two six day park hopper tickets to go at a time which I had hoped and thought was a "lesser" visited time, I felt like I couldn't have been more wrong or more disappointed. The magic was fizzled at best. Local Annual Pass holders act like they own the place and some of them do that with care and love while most of the others do it the way they don't take care of their yard or home, leaving trash and screaming children in their wake path. It was like the local mall as soon as school was out for pre-teens and teens. Families abound with two strollers apiece showed up in masses around and after 6pm for fireworks, fantastic and/or the evening parade, only to leave in an exodus and go back home leaving the rest of us dazed and trying to remember why we spent air fair, hotel, food and ticket expenses on a week of stress trying to navigate the madness versus relaxation which we tried to call vacation and validate it as a "good time" or the desire to ever want to return. I'm thankful that it was not my first nor my significant other's first visit for had it been I think we would not have ever wanted to go back. After the first day he retreated to our room and stayed there most of the time while I tried to make the best of it. Had it not been for the extra magic hours the whole thing would have been a bust, it was the only redeeming thing. Sadly we finally figured out this "local" system by our second to last day and how to best take advantage of the time when the parks were less full and when to ditch and head back to the rooms for a few hours before going out again.

    If Disney can get the "local" pass holder number to a respected and managed level, back to where when I dish out quite a few $$$ for my magical Disney vacation, then maybe someday I can return and breath easy again. Otherwise I'm going to take my hard earned and long saved money somewhere else.

  • Roger Colton, this an amazing blog post. You have shown that you have the bestessays writing skills to write consistently great posts and I hope that you continue this streak forward into the future, as well. That would be awesome!

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