Six reasons why crowds are packing theme parks this Christmas season
Written by Robert Niles
Crowds continue to slam theme parks this week, with Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Universal's Islands of Adventure and even California Adventure reaching capacity, sometimes as quickly as two hours after their morning openings. SeaWorld's reporting record Christmas season attendance, too. We're seeing the largest crowds in years at the Central Florida and Southern California theme parks.Tweet
Here are six factors that are driving more and more families to America's top theme parks this Christmas week:
Many families throughout the north want to enjoy a week of warmer weather during the holidays, so they vacation someplace warm, such as Florida or Southern California. Since theme parks comprise many of the attractions in those locations, attendance soars.
...That's not too hot
Florida and Southern California have many other attractions in addition to theme parks, but when the high temperatures struggle to get into the 70s, or fail to get even that high (as it has this week in Florida and SoCal) most families won't consider spending much time at the beach, or with other outdoor attractions. That drives more families to the theme parks to pass the time on their vacations.
Not only was the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter the biggest story of the year in theme parks, it was a present under the Christmas tree of many Harry Potter fans around the world. Universal Orlando's new land continues to draw visitors to Central Florida boosting attendance for all the local theme parks, as fans make their Harry Potter pilgrimage a week-long theme park vacation.
A weak economy
Southern California doesn't have Harry Potter, but it does have 15-million-plus local residents who can't afford to fly to Hawaii, or travel too far from home, due to continued weakness in the U.S. economy and an ongoing recession in the real estate market. (Many Southern Californians paid for their vacations over the past decade with home equity money. That's gone now, thanks to the collapse of the real estate bubble.) But people still want to go someplace special during their holiday break. So what do they do? "We're going to Disneyland!"
The drug war
In the past, Mexico provided a cheap, warm holiday alternative when money was tight for Southern Californians. But with continued drug gang violence scaring off potential visitors, more and more Southern Californians are opting to stay on their side of the border, instead. What does that mean? "We're going to Disneyland!" again.
A price that's right
Not everyone craves warm weather at Christmas time. Ski resorts traditionally have welcomed large crowds over the holidays, for families who prefer snow over sun at this time of year. But skiing's grown too expensive for many U.S. families, especially in a tough economy. Skiing makes theme parks looks like a huge bargain. Daily lift ticket prices at many ski resorts equal or exceed one-day ticket costs at many theme parks, but theme parks don't require you to buy or rent extra equipment to visit, either. Just walk through the turnstiles and go. Nor is there much of the injury risk inherent in skiing in visiting a theme park. I can't remember the last time someone blew out a knee riding Pirates of the Caribbean.
Add these six factors together, and you've created an environment that steers thousands of families into deciding "Hey, a theme park visit looks like our best choice for this holiday vacation." So that's where they go, filling parks to capacity and closing gates to new visitors within a couple hours of opening each morning.
That's great news for the industry, but a challenge, as well. Because if the seventh factor on this list becomes "theme parks are *too* crowded," that perception will drive visitors away, undercutting the attendance growth that a recession-weary industry desperately needs. Theme parks will need to invest some of the cash they are earning this week in building new rides and shows to expand their capacity and serve the crowds that they hope will visit their parks next Christmas and for many holiday seasons beyond.
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