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Vote of the week: How should theme parks deal with their holiday crowds?

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Published: December 28, 2012 at 1:11 PM
If you've visited any of the Orlando or Southern California theme parks this week -- or during any Christmas holiday week in past years -- you've experienced the busiest that theme parks can be. Packed queues. Hours-plus waits. Closed parking lots and park gates by mid-afternoon. Even frayed nerves and conflicts among those who came in without reasonable expectations.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. Parks take several steps to cut down on the crowds during this week. But you might not like those alternatives any better than a three-hour wait to ride Toy Story. Let's take a look at a few of them.

Christmas Minnie Mouse

Raise the price

Economists' favorite way to reduce what they call "an excess demand problem" (in plain English, "really long lines") is… to raise the price. Surely, a lot fewer people would end up coming through the front gates of the Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme parks if their daily tickets cost, say, 50 percent more than on a "typical" day. If parks hit the right price point, they can create an atmosphere that's downright comfortable for all the guests who get in, while allowing the park to make almost as much, if not just as much, money as it would by keeping the front-gate prices the same and packing the place, as they do now.

But parks make money on a lot more than just the front-gate charge. There's parking, food and merchandise. With fewer people in the park, that means less income from those sources, even if the park's attracting a, uh, "higher end" clientele. And who buys their tickets at the front gate, anyway? (Not you, dear Theme Park Insider readers. You know well enough to buy your tickets in advance.) Are the parks going to ask people using no-expire tickets purchased long ago to fork over extra cash to get in? Not unless the parks want to face a nasty class-action lawsuit.

And I'll bet that many of us would argue that theme parks have gotten expensive enough as it is. Jacking up the price at Christmas only serves to make the parks appear even more elitist.

Require reservations

Even if parks wanted to try raising ticket prices for this holiday week, they would need a way to distinguish holiday-week tickets from "regular" theme park tickets. That would be the only way to keep people who've bought regular-priced tickets in the past from using them during the high-demand holiday week. But even without a price increase, parks could use "holiday-only" tickets to limit crowds.

Tokyo Disney already sells tickets for specific dates only, so this wouldn't be a revolutionary concept. Walt Disney World could require people who wish to visit between Christmas and New Year's to register in advance online, either by purchasing tickets specifically for those dates or by reserving those dates for use with an existing no-expire theme park ticket. Annual passholders would have to claim their days in advance, too. (Disneyland and the Universal theme parks don't sell no-expire tickets, so this isn't an issue for them, except for the APs.) When a day is sold out, that's it. No one else is getting in.

To make this system an improvement over the current one, parks would need to set reasonable caps on daily attendance. Again, there'd be some math wizardry involved in setting the number where crowds wouldn't become overwhelming, but the park wouldn't take a hit on food and merchandise sales. I suspect that if parks did implement a reservation system, it'd come hand-in-hand with a price increase for those days, too.

In effect, Walt Disney World already has implemented a twist on the reservation model with its Very Merry Christmas parties. Those provide another option for visitors who want to enjoy the holiday festivities and atmosphere at the park, but on an evening when park capacity is controlled more tightly than usual, as advance reservations are (usually) required. I suppose that annual passholders could argue that the parties represent a price increase, too, as admission to the parties is not included with their passes. But for people without an AP, the parties actually represent a price decrease, as the party ticket is less than the cost of a one-day, one-park ticket.

Close the gates earlier

Long-time visitors to the Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts have learned to expect the gates to the Magic Kingdom parks to close each day around noon or so to new visitors, during Christmas week. But what if the parks were more aggressive about restricting access, and closed the gates earlier, to further limit the number of visitors in the parks? Would that make the experience of visiting during this week more comfortable for those who arrived early? Would an earlier close encourage more guests to visit other parks and attractions at the resort? Or would closing the gates earlier just transfer the location of angry, hostile lines of people - from inside the park to just outside the front gates?

Leave it alone

Sometimes, the best alternative in a bad situation is to quit looking at even worse alternatives. Leaving things the way they are means continued massive crowds in the parks, but it saves both the company and visitors the hassle and expense of dealing with a potentially complex new ticketing system. Or having more visitors get left outside on an expensive theme park vacation. People who don't want to deal with this week's crowds can stay home, and visit another time. And people who do will learn to either accept the crowds, or become one of those who chooses to visit another time.

The danger for the parks in doing nothing is that many of the people frustrated by this week's crowds won't choose just not to come back during future Christmas weeks. They might choose not to come back ever, at all. Parks don't want to be in the business of making customers mad. If Christmas week crowds are turning too many customers off of theme parks altogether, that's a problem that they must address.

So which of these would be your preferred option? Should parks do something to address the attendance issues that seem to be inherent in this week? Cast your vote below:


Please share your thoughts on this issue, in the comments. And I wish everyone a very happy holiday week. One programming note: I will be on the Rose Parade route here in Pasadena on Jan. 1, taking photos of the Disney Cars Land float, which I will post here on Theme Park Insider. So please stay tuned for that, next week.

Readers' Opinions

From Todd Daniels on December 28, 2012 at 2:11 PM
I think that raising prices on that week would actually work quite well. I don't see the theme parks at getting more "elitist" overall. I think if anything this particular week is for the "elitist" crowd and I would not begrudge the parks from making extra cash on this week and having it be a blackout date for anyone with annual passes as well as any passes that have not expired. This is a "premium" week for the parks and I believe that if they were to do this they would bring in plenty of extra cash (as I believe that the crowds that show up would not be reduced all that much). Most annual passholders I know usually avoid this weekend like the plague anyway as most of them live rather close to the parks and prefer going on less crowded days when possible.
From Dominick D on December 28, 2012 at 2:18 PM
Leave it the way they are. Anyone smart enough knows not to go during holidays, so let the people who don't plan in,
From David Brown on December 28, 2012 at 3:29 PM
There will always be weeks which attract more crowds than others - that's just life. Anyone with any common sense at all knows to avoid those weeks if they want to enjoy crowd-free parks. On the other hand other people are happy to trade crowds for added atmosphere at holiday festivals. It's horse for course as we'd sway in the UK and I don't think there's anything you can do about it. It's like trying to make the first day of the sales a pleasant experience. Not possible.....
From 71.129.47.228 on December 28, 2012 at 3:41 PM
I can't help but be cynical and think that parks like Disney, with their marketing and statistical departments, have calculated A) the maximum amount of revenue a park can earn in terms of ticket sales, food, merchandise, and preferred seating, as well as B) how crowded the parks would have to alienate a specific percentage of their non-passholder customers to the extent that they would not want to return. I believe those two factors determine what the cutoff is for the number of people allowed in the park.
From AJ Hummel on December 28, 2012 at 4:14 PM
Ski areas have holiday rates, so it would make sense for theme parks to do the same. However, I've got a feeling that this would anger visitors, especially if it results in online tickets not being valid those days. What I think would be best is this: If purchasing online at the regular rate, guests must reserve a day at least a week in advance, and must also decide which park they will be visiting ahead of time if it is a multi-park resort. The same rule applies to passholders who wish to visit during the holiday period, with the addition that they may only reserve one day for their visit during the period (or one day per park at a multi-park resort). Otherwise, visitors must buy a ticket at the park and pay the holiday rate. Ticket sales would be limited to keep crowds at an acceptable level. Additionally, park hopping at multi-park resorts would be restricted to those staying on-site during holiday periods.

Holiday rules would be in effect during the following periods:

-The week before and week after Easter
-The Friday before Christmas to the Sunday after New Years
-President's Weekend
-The week of July 4th

From Anthony Murphy on December 28, 2012 at 5:49 PM
I kinda like that Disney World doesn't raise their prices because it is a certain day during the year. Of course, they usually can afford this because they have four parks and multiple other entertainment outlets.

I think trying to do something is going to cause more bad than good. One thing you did mention was the extra ticketed/VIP events. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is an excellent example. Plus, I think it is worth the extra ticketed price for what you get.

One of my favorites (and I am not sure if they do it like this anymore) is the Candlelight Processional Priority Dining/Seating. For a little extra, you make Dining reservations for an EPCOT restaurant and get front seating for the Candlelight Processional. Its a similar concept to Fantasmic Dining, but it works better because its EPCOT, the park with at least ten restaurants where you can get an excellent meal. I also recall that you used to get 10% off in the stores. While that isn't much, its something! I really enjoyed it because you can make a nice evening out of it.

From parker reave on December 28, 2012 at 7:03 PM
I sure would be disappointed if I decided I wanted to visit at the last minute and couldn't because I didn't have a reservation. Quite often I make a spur of the moment decision and I go in knowing it will be very busy.

I guess charging more might be acceptable. But there are so many people who simply cannot travel except over holidays and making them pay more seems like poor business.

That's why I voted to keep things as they are.

From 204.210.184.146 on December 28, 2012 at 8:16 PM
Expand the park hours and early and late ticket options so the park can see just as many guests, but it would be speard out over more hours.
From Justin Knight on December 28, 2012 at 8:36 PM
I think that parks hould hold special sensonal attractions to deal with the crowds. Kind of like Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland. Like take rides that arent so popular this time of year and add holiday themes to it. IT would draw crowds to it since many people dont ride it other times and it would cut down on waits to an extent. I also would prefer it if Disney would add seasonal Fastpass to rides that arent so popular in the downtimes but get packed during holiday and summer monthes (ie. like The Great Movie Ride and Spaceship Earth). That would help to have guest experience and do more with their day.
From Tony Perkins on December 28, 2012 at 9:11 PM
Disney needs to raise the prices, it's the only fair way to bring down the overwhelming crush of the holiday crowds.
From 216.53.168.58 on December 29, 2012 at 6:52 AM
I have been at Disneyworld all week and have had no problems getting on everything my family has wanted. Just get to the parks at opening, start fast passing immediatetly and save all shows and movie attractions for the afternoon. Very few people are in the parks in the morning but a giant wave seems to appear every day at any of the parks between 11 and noon.
From 84.56.123.72 on December 29, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Wait a second, variable pricing and maximum number of people admited are only related topics, not exactly the same. One might well introduce variable pricing and just lower prices on every day exepcet the peak 10 days untill as many people visit on everyday as right now between Christmas and New year :-).

Id be quite alright with the most extreme form of variable pricing, the yield managment system used by low cost airlines (minus the hidden cost aspect ofc). Either way, for profit companies will never ever set a welfare maximicing price levels for any product with high fixed and low variable costs, even before considering that humans are no perfect informed homo oeconomicus.

From 65.47.250.230 on December 29, 2012 at 3:11 PM
I choose the reservation path. Disneyland used to offer a seperate ticket event for New Year's Eve and once I had the extra money I would get tickets for that as a Birthday present for Dad as the 31st was actually his birthday and we continued to do that until the 1st year Disneyland discontinued that option. We have since gone twice to Disneyland for New Year's Eve and both times have been a mess the only high point is at Midnight EVERYONE was trying to get into the hub for the fireworks and we mananged to walk onto 3 different rides during that time. We have not gone back to Disneyland for the post-christmas time in 15 years and we don't plan on doing so any time soon.
From Eric Fisher on December 29, 2012 at 4:14 PM
They should fall on their knees and thank God, as they see Him, for their abundance. And use part of it to organize visits for those who cannot always afford their prices.
From Celestine ononye on December 29, 2012 at 5:07 PM
I am a Violin Teacher and looking to take my family to the Disney in 2013 Summer - Really looking forward to ity but a little concerned by your article

Many thanks
Celestine
http://www.howtolearnviolin.info

From Anon Mouse on December 29, 2012 at 6:15 PM
You make it seem like if they don't solve the problem, they never will and the public will forever be alienated and won't return. So they never come back because the park is always crowded. Sort of like nobody goes to Disneyland because the park is always packed. It's a weird argument to make because it makes no sense.

I think they can do plenty to alleviate the situation like you said, close gates early, and sell appointed tickets, but you're still dealing with high demand and low capacity. The park should simply lower expectations of guests. Tell them hours waits are typical. Come back another day if possible.

From Tim Hillman on December 30, 2012 at 10:30 AM
I've been going to the Disney World parks during the Christmas break since Disney World opened in 1971, and I can see the problem getting progressively worse. When the parks were less crowded (a relative term) during the Christmas holidays, it was a pleasant experience. Recently it has been miserable. It was so bad during my last visit at Christmastime 5 years ago, that I swore I would never go again at that time of the year unless something changed, and I haven't been back at that time of the year since then.

For those of you who don't see a problem with the current situation, I'd be willing to bet you're a local and/or you're an AP holder, and you don't deal with the situation like the vacationers have to. It's also easy to say that people should know better and should expect the crowds and the corresponding degraded park visit at that time of year, but that's a callous attitude that still doesn't properly address the problem.

Disney is providing an experience, and when the expectations of that experience are not met then they have failed; especially when they have a great deal of control over the situation. To blame the patron for the problem is patently ridiculous, and a complete denial of reality.

Since I view Disney in the same way that I would a fine restaurant or a top-notch hotel or a first run Broadway show, here's what I would do to make the peak seasons more fun.
1. Double the prices during the holiday seasons
2. Exclude the holiday seasons from the APs unless they pay a huge premium.
3. Require people to make reservations for park entry.
4. Ban park hopping during the peak time periods as it overloads the transportation system.
5. Allow early entry to all Disney hotel guests. The lodging prices are so jacked up during the holidays, there should be some benefit to staying on site.
6. Lower the max capacity of the parks - period! I think I read somewhere that the max capacity for the Magic Kingdom is 75,000 which is an insult to the patrons. Put a reasonable cap on it.

Disney might also want to consider building a third resort somewhere in the US. The population has grown somewhat since 1971, and it is time to see a third venue somewhere other than Florida and California. For those of you who say that would be brand dilution, I disagree. If enough of the rides are different, Disney patrons would travel from all over the country and the world to visit.

From Tony Duda on December 30, 2012 at 11:39 AM
I like Tim's comments and they seem good but not for the short term, say for the next 5 years. I don't like variable pricing, though, because there are so many ticket types that this would be a nightmare to implement. In the short term I think some simple, easy to implement actions can be done. These are suggested for Walt Disney World Christmas-New Year's time but can be adapted for other times and other parks.

No complimentary (non-work shift) cast member entry for them or their guests or family from Dec. 15 to Jan. 7. If they want in, they need a regular paying-guest ticket. I don't know what current restrictions are, this may be in place.

No day of visit ticket sales (close the ticket booths) from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3. Only people with tickets purchased ahead of time (regular, MYW or AP, etc.) can only enter the parking lots and parks.

And as an AP holder this hurts a lot. No free AP parking Dec. 24 to Jan. 2. A large segment of the crowd is only 2-4 hour locals wanting to see parades or fireworks. Make parking less for AP, maybe $10. Keep it simple.

From Anon Mouse on December 30, 2012 at 3:36 PM
Tim: You had some good advice with some crazy advice. It seems awfully contradictory.

"1. Double the prices during the holiday seasons
2. Exclude the holiday seasons from the APs unless they pay a huge premium.
3. Require people to make reservations for park entry.
4. Ban park hopping during the peak time periods as it overloads the transportation system.
5. Allow early entry to all Disney hotel guests. The lodging prices are so jacked up during the holidays, there should be some benefit to staying on site.
6. Lower the max capacity of the parks - period! I think I read somewhere that the max capacity for the Magic Kingdom is 75,000 which is an insult to the patrons. Put a reasonable cap on it."

Number 1 and 5: Holiday season pricing should reduce demand, yet now you want compensation to increase park attendance with early entry. Will hotel guests get priority with early entry? Thus park admission is already impacted.

Number 2: Premium APs get no block out days. They already pay a premium. What premium are you referring to?

Number 3: Reservations is not how special event ticketing works. They could consider special event ticketing during Christmas and New Years.

Number 4: Perhaps the only practical advice so far.

Number 6: That maximum capacity is based on some formula. The park is never completely full at any moment. People are coming and going. They should stop with fast pass when the park is at capacity to reduce traffic and crowd flow. Keep the excessive crowds in the standby lines. They must add extra shows and parades to soak up the crowds.

In the future, they need to add more rides and attractions. Tell guests to visit alternative parks.

From Tim Hillman on December 31, 2012 at 8:16 AM
Well, Anon, since I've never had the pleasure of visiting the Disneyland Resort during the Christmas holidays, my comments were intended only for the Disney World Resort. Maybe one day I'll get to California during the holidays, but the all of my family members are on the east coast, so I can't use them to justify my desire to go back to Disneyland after 40+ years.

Anyway, here's the reasoning behind my proposals which I should have put in my earlier post, but I heard breakfast calling me (gotta have your priorities) and I got a bit hasty.

1. Double the prices during the holiday season - (I really should have said that Disney needs to double the gate prices during the peak holiday season.) The impact of this would be to discourage attendance and push more people with the capability of visiting the parks while they are decorated for the holidays into the time period after Thanksgiving and before the schools go on Christmas break. Obviously this hurts the people who have kids who are in school, but the locals and the day-trippers can visit on the weekends before the peak season kicks in, so the only people this impacts are the folks considering a fun, family vacation to Disney World during the holidays.

2. Exclude the holiday seasons from the APs unless they pay a huge premium. - Unless I'm mistaken, the Premium Annual Pass and the regular Annual Pass for Florida residents do not exclude the peak holiday season. There's a $130 difference between the Seasonal Annual Pass and the regular Annual Pass, but that excludes the summer months as well, so my guess is that far more people opt for the regular pass over the seasonal pass. The peak holiday season needs to be excluded from the regular Annual Pass or the difference between the passes needs to be increased. Either way, the desired impact would be to encourage the AP holders to visit at other times during the holiday season.

3. Require people to make reservations for park entry. - Disney has got to stop treating the Magic Kingdom like it is a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. Even though we all may want to be in the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day or New Years Eve, we all can't be there and still preserve the ambiance of the moment. Let people pick their days that they plan to be at a particular park with the folks staying onsite at Disney getting first shot and/or guaranteed access to the park of their choice. They are the ones putting the dollars in the register at Disney.

4. Ban park hopping during the peak time periods as it overloads the transportation system. - I think park hopping is a bad idea - period. Maybe one day we can all debate it on another thread, but I think park hopping should be discouraged during the rest of the year and banned outright during the peak holiday season.

5. Allow early entry to all Disney hotel guests. The lodging prices are so jacked up during the holidays, there should be some benefit to staying on site. - Maybe I think differently than some people, but I feel that early park entry for Disney hotel guests would reduce the crowding in the parks. Hotels guests would get to the parks early get in a few rides on the premium attractions and then gravitate to the lesser attractions as wait times for the premium attractions increase. In a best case scenario, they would end their day around dinnertime and return to their hotels to enjoy other activities on Disney properties and leave the attractions in the parks more available to other visitors.

6. Lower the max capacity of the parks - period! I think I read somewhere that the max capacity for the Magic Kingdom is 75,000 which is an insult to the patrons. Put a reasonable cap on it. - I don't know how Disney comes up with their max capacity figure, but it is ridiculous. Lower it and enforce it and give the patrons the experience they pay for and deserve.

I also like your idea of special event ticketing, as long as the locals and AP holders don't monopolize the tickets and shut out the true vacationers who have paid big bucks to travel to Disney, stay on Disney property, and are looking for the full Disney experience.

From 66.194.235.5 on December 31, 2012 at 10:40 AM
I was at Sea World yesterday and what I saw there was abhorrent...
I have never been around such a rude mass of people in my entire life.

It appears that the new strategy is to get yourself a stroller and push it through the crowd ramming everything in your path in order to get where you want to go and be first in line.

I actually stood still for 2 minutes and was run into 7 times in that 2 minutes. (Apparently I have the "cloak of invisibility")

This is not on the park to rectify, this is on the people whom choose to be rude and obnoxious to resolve...

From Rob Pastor on December 31, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Strollers at theme parks have gotten out of hand. Even during the regular season, many stroller parents aggresively push through people. I don't mind when strollers have small children and the parents are polite. But, it really gets my dander up when I see parents aggresively pushing strollers whose occupants are 6, 7 & 8 year old kids. No way kids that old should be pushed around in the passage artery clogging strollers. If the strollers were limited to very young small children and those with disabilities there wouldn't be so many of them in the parks.
From Eric G on December 31, 2012 at 8:56 PM
Tim, I can educate you on a few things.

Passholders are not the problem in Orlando. Passholders make up the minority of the attendance at Walt Disney World. Furthermore, Disney already blocks annual passholders from accessing the parks during busy periods unless they pay a premium. The lowest priced pass is a "Seasonal Pass" available only to Florida residents with 100 days of the year blocked including the Christmas holiday period. The "Annual Pass" and "Premium Annual Pass" with no blackout days are appropriately priced at a premium to reflect the fact that there are no blackout dates.

Park hopping isn't overloading the transportation system either. The transportation system is overloaded simply because there is so much demand and not enough capacity. This is a week where all of the hotels are at 100% occupancy. It's also a fact that park hopping declines during busy periods because it's harder to move from park-to-park. The solution is to increase capacity of the transportation system, not ban park hopping, which again is a ticketing option that Disney charges extra for. During busy periods I would actually discourage purchasing park hopping option as you're better off staying in one park for the entire day.

Reservations again isn't going to solve anything. It would just assure your admittance, but it wouldn't reduce the crowds as it doesn't address capacity.

Doubling the prices is just a ridiculous suggestion. Disney essentially charges full-price, year-round based on what they think they can charge for what they deliver. If you raise prices during the holidays then you're essentially discounting your admission the rest of the year. Disney for the most part doesn't discount.

The real issue is just the excess demand during the holidays and that leads to the real culprit park capacity.

Park capacity is based on the number of operating attractions, length of the operating day and a goal of having the average visitor experience so many attractions. Disney doesn't reveal the actual capacity largely because it fluctuates based on the number of operating attractions and a target of having the average guest experience X number of attractions during their visit. I've heard that 10 attraction experiences is the goal and when it falls below that survey scores decline and guest complaints increase.

To accomplish this goal and to meet demand during peak periods Disney increases the length of the operating day and they make sure attraction refurbishments are done during other periods of the year so all attractions are open and operating at maximum capacity.

Yes, Disney could lower the park capacity, but that would angry those who plan a trip to Orlando and then are declined access to the parks.

I've been at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom on days when they've closed the gates and I've still had a great time. Yes, the walkways are crowded and lines can be rather long, but if you go with the expectation that it's going to be crowded and you plan your day wisely you can still have an exceptional experience. On one of the busiest days I've ever seen at Magic Kingdom I still got on 29 rides and attractions between 7:00 am and 1:00 am.

If you're one of those people who hates the crowds then I have to ask why are you visiting at this time of year? Spare yourself the agony and pick another time to visit.

From Tim Hillman on January 1, 2013 at 8:48 AM
Eric, I agree with some of your observations, but there's a few places where we differ.

The difference between the Florida resident Seasonal Annual Pass and the Florida resident Annual Pass is about $134 per year. If you pay the $134 extra for the regular pass, you get 15 additional weeks during the peak times of the year. I'm not sure which type of pass most Florida residents purchase, but I'd pay the extra amount for the 15 additional weeks just so I could go whenever I wanted to.

On the issue of whether or not the AP holders are contributing to the crowding in the parks, I tend to agree with you since the population within easy driving distance of Disney World is nothing compared to the population within easy driving distance to Disneyland. However as a resident of Florida, I have a hard time remembering a Christmas or Thanksgiving when I haven't had out of town visitors staying with my family for the holidays. Since I live in NW Florida, my visitors can't stay with me and visit Disney World during the day, but I'd be willing to bet that a not inconsiderable number of AP holders in central Florida go to the parks during the holidays with visiting family members. I'd be willing to bet that these day trippers contribute considerably to the attendance figures in the parks. How that fits into the argument, I don't know, but it is worth considering.

Limiting park hopping may not make a huge difference, but anything that helps an overloaded transportation system is a good thing.

Despite what you may think, reservations would make a huge difference. Airlines require reservations. Hotels require reservations. Top notch restaurants require reservations. Why can't Disney World? A Disney vacation is one of the most desirable things to do in this country, and you shouldn't just show up at the gate and expect to be let in like Clark Griswold. Many of us on this site emphasize the importance of educating yourself about the parks you're going to visit, so why can't that education start with how to get in the front gate?

Saying that doubling the prices for three weeks out of the year is equivalent to discounting the other 49 weeks is silly. Disney doesn't discount? Are you kidding me? The prices for the hotel rooms on Disney property go up drastically during the peak periods; does that mean that we are seeing a discount during the non-peak periods? However you may label it, Disney adjusts prices according to demand with the hotel rooms, and the same process should take place with the park admissions.

You're also killing me with saying that you visited 29 attractions between 7 AM and 1 AM on one of the busiest days of the year at the Magic Kingdom. While I applaud you on your ability to hang in there for 18 hours, how many families are going to want to spend more that 8-10 hours fighting through peak holiday crowds? I also suspect that a disproportionate number of those attractions were visited before 10 AM and after 8 PM when the crowds were thinner. Visiting a Disney resort should be about having fun and not comparable to Hell Week in SEAL training.

You have nailed the most important issue in the situation though - lack of capacity. Disney needs to add more attractions, build more parks, and even go to the extent of building a new resort somewhere else in the United States. There's too much demand and too little capacity.

From Russell Meyer on January 2, 2013 at 8:07 AM
I don't think raising prices is the solution. In effect, the increased crowds devalue the price of admission, so by raising the price, you're effectively double-taxing the guests.

I think the key to managing crowds is through information. Many Disney fan sites have crowd expectation meters that let you estimate the intensity of crowds on given days based on past attendance and experience. Disney should provide their own crowd estimates to guests who may not know about these websites ahead of time to temper their expectations or at least make them reconsider taking a Holiday vacation to the Disney Resorts. If more families know how crowded the parks were this time of year, I would expect a small percentage (10% or so) may shift their vacation to another time of year.

The other means that would be reasonable to control holiday crowds would be to increase the stringency of blackout rules on passes and older non-expiring park hoppers. Regardless of how much someone wants to pay for an AP, there should be days that they are just not allowed in the park. You would think AP holders with half a brain, especially those shelling out nearly $1,000 a year, would avoid the most crowded days of the year, but they spend that kind of money for the exclusivity of being able to jam the park on those days just to sit around and people watch. Afterall, the price of the Annual Pass is paid for if you go to the park for just the days between Christmas Eve and New Years Day.

Another way to control without raising the price would be to institute blackouts for non-expiring park hoper passes over a year old. This would directly affect someone like me who buys Disney Days in bulk (10-day non-expiring hoppers), and uses passes that I bought 10+ years ago. Now, you don't necessarily need to turn guests like this away at the gate, but shift them to customer service and force them to pay the price differential between when they bought the pass and when they use the pass, so someone who bought a 10-day hopper 10 years ago would have to pay somewhere around $20-30 premium to enter the park during this week.

What these types of policies do is to allow the resort to more accurately judge and control the number of guests coming into the parks. Essentially the only people showing up this week would be guests who are taking a Disney Vacation and likely staying on-site or paying current ticket prices. Not only that, but by making it more difficult for AP holders and ticket squaters to get in this week, those guests would be more likely to visit in the first 2 weeks of December to experience the Christmas decorations and special holiday events, boosting attendance on those less-crowded days early in the holiday season.

From Eric G on January 2, 2013 at 3:42 PM
Tim, if we’re going to have a discussion don’t twist my words and apply them to things that you nor I were discussing- specifically hotel room prices. Your suggestion was that they double the ticket prices during the holidays and my reply that Disney for the most part doesn’t discount was specifically about admission prices NOT hotels. Hotel pricing is a very different topic.

I would gather that most Florida locals avoid the theme parks during the holiday periods. My cousins lived in Orlando for a number of years and they avoided the parks during peak periods unless they had out-of-town visitors. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter because passholders aren’t causing the overcrowding.

Once again you tout reservations, but you’ve failed to provide any explanation on how this will help with overcrowding. A reservation policy is only going to be favored by the visitor who showed up at 2:00 pm and was turned away because the park was at capacity. Reservations do nothing to alleviate overcrowding.

Lastly, Disney has built parks in the two markets where the weather is favorable to supporting year-round operations. The only other market I can think of that Disney might look at would be Texas, but I don’t think another resort is necessary because demand will always exceed capacity for peak periods. If you get to the point where you have overcapacity or just the perfect amount during your busiest weeks then you have way too much capacity the rest of the year.

The problem is simply that demand really exceeds capacity for several weeks of the year, but for the rest of the year Disney has few issues with accommodating the demand. Clearly, you shouldn’t visit the parks during these busy periods because it really bothers you personally.

Russell, blackouts on non-expiring park hopper tickets. Are you kidding? A few pay a significant premium for the no expiration option and in some cases it nearly doubles the per-day price of the ticket. Again, this is not a problem. Most people don’t pay for the no expiration option and we know that a large majority of the no expiration tickets end up never being used. I can guarantee you that very few tickets purchased a decade ago are being redeemed frequently at the park.

A wise person once said that buying Disney days in bulk, as you suggest lots have done, is a horrible investment. That person who said that was right on.

Also your suggestion that all AP’s should be banned from the park on some days is as well ridiculous. Disney charges a premium price for full access. Maybe they should raise prices more if passholder crowding becomes an issue, but I would gather that the usage data suggests that passholders aren’t overcrowding the Florida parks on peak days and thus the current pass pricing is appropriate.

Your suggestion is basically saying that Disney should eliminate the expensive passes and only sell discounted ones and if a passholder wants to go on a blackout day they can just purchase a one-day ticket. It’s a lousy suggestion and here is why.

Disney is taking a gamble with the higher priced passes. They charge more for it up front, thus collecting more revenue and the gamble is the chance that the passholder won’t even use the pass on those days when the lesser pass is blocked out. Personally, Disney is wise to get the extra revenue. I was a passholder for 19 years and never had anything less than a premium or premier pass, but I rarely used it on the peak days. In fact, I would’ve saved a lot of money buying the cheaper passes and paying for a one-day ticket or the blockout day charge. I’m the perfect example of the person who pays the premium for the privilege but rarely uses it! You want to take advantage of people like me.

From Russell Meyer on January 3, 2013 at 8:14 AM
I question where you're getting your data from Eric...Emperically, it does appear that premium AP holders are indeed the ones clogging the parks during the holidays. Many of the crowd reports and pictures of park overcrowding are coming from AP holders, not casual visitors. Why would people pay a premium for a no-blackout AP if they weren't planning on visiting during these peak times? I NEVER visit during peak periods, but have read numerous stories about trips during peak periods, and everything that I have read suggests that it is the Premium AP holders that cause the parks to overflow. Many AP holders not only visit during the holidays, but they bring their families and friends (at a reduced admission in most cases), and clog the system, because there are an increased number of people in the park that know all of the tricks to make a visit more pleasurable.

The passes are very lucrative, not only for the lack of blackouts, but also because of the increased discounts. However, I don't think Disney would lose a lot of money if they eliminated the no-blackout passes, because those guests that really wanted to visit the parks during peak times would just buy regular admissions. Common sense would dictate that AP holders would avoid these weeks like the plague, but they don't because not only do they pay extra to visit during peak times, but they don't feel like they're being ripped off visiting on a day when they can only get on one ride and see one show because they can always come another day for free. From what I can tell, AP holders are a strange breed, and visit Disney on peak days like moths to a flame, and if Disney wanted to make the parks more accomodating for those actually paying money to visit on specific days during holiday season, they should consider further limiting AP access during this week.

I think you're also gravely mistaken about non-expiring passes. DVC members, another large group of guests that flood the parks during the holidays, buy Disney tickets like a commodity. Again, Disney wouldn't offer the upgrade of the non-expiring option if people didn't buy it. Your suggestion that people buy non-expiring passes and then let them rot is pretty far fetched. DVC members usually visit the parks at least once a year, and these non-expiring passes make the trips far less costly than pay ala carte.

All I'm suggesting is that instead of letting people walk into the park at $30 or $40 on tickets bought years ago, force them to pay the price differential during the holidays to discourage those visitors from coming or make them pay the going rate to get in the park on those days buy purchasing a new ticket. They may just increase admission sales during this time of year, because many DVC members are programmed to purchase 10-day non-expiring park hoppers, and would just buy a new one of those instead of a 1 or 2 day pass to cover their holiday visit.

The point is that people who are using premium APs and long-ago non-expiring passes aren't as concerned about the crowds as new visitors. Those new visitors could be soured by their first visit to Disney if they visit during these peak times. Disney should work hard to hook these guests and make them want to come back, and not just because they weren't able to get on an E-ticket ride because it was too crowded. If you weed out the guests that don't care about the crowds and are not paying full fare to enter, you not only make the park more managable to new potential fans, but you increase your profitability during the busiest time of the year, and it doesn't require raising general admission prices or shifting to a variable pricing scheme.

I think you're an extreme anomoly Eric. In general, I believe the average Disney visitor is a very value-focussed consumer. They are not interested in paying for something they are not going to use. There are dozens of websites devoted solely to maximizing your Disney vacation, and some have even created businesses around the fact that people paying $100+ a night and $80+ admission want to get the best bang for their buck, and that extends to the AP holders and DVC members. I'm sorry that you don't take advantage of things that you purchase, but I think a majority of Disney guests do.

From 98.183.35.195 on January 3, 2013 at 8:33 AM
Eric, my apologies if you feel I'm twisting your words, because I'm not trying to do that at all. I agree with you that Disney doesn't normally discount their park admission price beyong a very limited range, but the point I'm trying to make is that they vary the price of many of the other commodities they provide according to demand, so why not theme park admission? I don't view that as discounting. I view that as seasonal variation.

If Disney wishes to improve the patron experience during the holidays (which I seriously doubt that they do) and maintain the same cash flow, they are going to have to reduce the number of daily visitors or add capacity. Since it is fairly obvious that they are not extremely interested in increasing capacity and adding attractions, I went with the reduced number of visitors and increased gate entry price approach.

You're right that I did a poor job of explaining my thoughts on requiring reservations. What I failed to say was that gate resrvations would:
1) spread the visitors out between the parks,
2) be automaticly given to patrons staying on Disney property (and assigned to specific parks at the time of room reservation),
3) be available in a limited number to the general public, and
4) hopefully keep people from showing up at the park and be denied entry since the reservation requirement will be widely publicized.

I'm also not sure why you find it necessary to comment on my personal feelings about overcrowding in Disney World during the Christmas twice in this thread. Wasn't that the whole intent of the thread? Making comments like "Clearly, you shouldn’t visit the parks during these busy periods because it really bothers you personally." is condescending. I let the first one pass, but the second time you threw it in there crossed the line, and you really need to stop doing it.

Enough said! Back to debating the issues!

From Tim Hillman on January 3, 2013 at 11:19 AM
^Thought I was logged in.
From Russell Meyer on January 3, 2013 at 11:50 AM
I think a park reservation system would be a disaster. It's bad enough that you have to reserve dining 180 days in advance, but to then plan your specific park experience far in advance would be extreme. You will ultimately end up with families that will book 2-3 months in advance of Christmas, only to find out that the Magic Kingdom is sold out during every day of their trip. It's just not a good way of doing business, and while it would solve the issue with the gates closing midday, it wouldn't eliminate the fact that total park capacity would still not change.

Not only that, what do you do when guests don't show up for reservations? Do guests pay a reservation fee like you do for dining now, and is it refundable if you cancel within a certain period? You would likely end up with the same problems that the dining system is wraught with, lack of available tables at the most desirable restaurants and a bunch of annoyed guests that don't understand how people can plan their vacations to the t 180 days in advance.

The real problem is that there are too many people entering the park and too few things to do. So, the only ways to fix these problems would be to add more things to do (very costly) or to discourage people from coming to the park on the high volume days. If you start with the people that are paying the least to enter the park on these days (AP holders and older non-expiring tickets), that would cost the least amount of money and ultimately get the biggest reward.

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