Two options for the transportation problem that's keeping a third park from Disneyland Resort
Published: June 27, 2012 at 9:36 PM
With Cars Land's success, a big new project at Disneyland is in the bag. The only questions now are what, and where? The two potential answers for the "where" question are in Frontierland - in the space behind Thunder Mountain where the barbecue and festival arena stand - and in Tomorrowland - which would displace Innovations, part or all of Autopia, and possibly the Finding Nemo submarine ride.
Here's the aerial view of Disneyland. You find the space for a major new theme park attraction. (Click for the Google Maps page.)
The problem with the Tomorrowland site is the monorail track, which would prevent whatever project goes in there from having clean vertical space unless the monorail were rerouted - which Disneyland didn't do for California Adventure, Buena Vista Street, or Downtown Disney, so don't bet on that happening anytime soon.
But Disney's learned the Big Lesson of Cars Land and Harry Potter, which is that if you spend big bucks on creating a well-detailed and immersive, themed environment, people pay you way more in return to visit it. Disney's not going to leave theme park fans' money on the table. It will identify a franchise to develop and, based on which of those two sites provides a better thematic fit, will proceed with building it, starting within the next couple of years.
Beyond that, many people in Disney are convinced that Disneyland can support a third theme park. But don't expect construction on that to start anytime soon.
Nothing's going to happen beyond the new land or mini-land at Disneyland until the resort addresses its major transportation issue. Disney faces a huge barrier to additional expansion at the resort - the lack of space to park additional vehicles and the road access to get those cars into and out of resort property. Disney's big problem is that too many of its visitors are driving to the parks alone. They're annual passholders dropping in for the day, perhaps meeting other APers at the park. This isn't Orlando's crowd, where entire families fill the majority of cars through the tollbooths.
It's too bad for Disney that Orange County's decided to spend its transportation dollars on expanding freeways instead of building a rail system, as neighboring Los Angeles County is doing. Disney's two other two-park resorts - Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland - have local transit train stations on property, connecting those resorts to the regions' mass-transit systems. Imagine if those old LA-area Red Cars weren't just an attraction on Buena Vista Street, but if their successors were around today to bring individuals from around Southern California to the Disneyland Resort.
There is a Metrolink line that runs near the Disneyland Resort, but its nearest stop is the Anaheim Stadium parking lot. And those Metrolink trains are scheduled to serve 9-5/Monday-Friday commuters, not tourists. Even if you could get a bus to take you from Disneyland to the station, there'd be no train coming until the next morning if you tried to use it to get home at the end of your Disneyland day.
That leaves Disneyland dependent upon cars and buses to bring people to the resort. But even if Disney spent the money to build additional parking garages to accommodate more cars, it would still face the challenge of getting those cars into and out of the resort via Interstate 5 and Anaheim's surface streets, which are often gridlocked when the parks reach their current capacity. Just imagine how bad they'd be with a third theme park.
If Disney's going to add a third theme park in Anaheim (or a fourth hotel, or an expanded Downtown Disney) it's simply got to find a way to increase the number of guests for every car that parks at the resort. Here are two options:
Option 1: Bring Disney's Magical Express to Anaheim
I have no idea how many people typically fly into the Los Angeles or Orange County airports each week on a Disneyland vacation package. But it's conceivable that some of those guests would opt not to rent a car - and take space in a Disneyland Resort parking lot - if Disney provided a free coach to take them to their hotel instead. Just like they can choose in Orlando.
As Disney mulls additional hotels and attractions in Anaheim, the lure of saving several hundred parking spaces daily might be enough to convince the company to start Magical Express on the west coast, especially if it helps sell additional vacation packages to would-be visitors apprehensive about driving in Southern California traffic. Again, it all comes down to the numbers. If Magical Express only keeps a few dozen rental cars out of the Disneyland hotel and theme park lots, it wouldn't be worth the expense. But several hundred? (I assume that if out-of-market Disneyland guests were taking up more than a thousand spaces in resort lots on a daily basis, Disney would be doing this already.)
Option 2: Restrict the parking benefit on Annual Passports to cars carrying two or more guests
If Disney really wants to get serious about increasing the ratio of guests to cars on property, this is the step to take, despite the wailing it'd provoke on Disney fan sites.
Got someone with you in the car? Fine, you get your free parking. Driving in by yourself? That'll be $15, please, no matter if you have a Premium AP or a parking add-on on another pass. If Disney wants to add a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down, it could offer free parking to any annual passholder with four or more people in a vehicle, even if they haven't bought the parking pass.
This move would encourage some Disneyland fans to carpool to the park, and might encourage some others to visit less often or to drop their annual pass. Either way, the visitor-to-car ratio would go up, as Disneyland needs.
Got any other ideas? I'm sure that some frustrated Disney executives in Anaheim and Burbank would love to hear 'em.