Theme Park Insider

Disneyland Plays to Locals for its Diamond Celebration

January 29, 2015, 10:50 AM · What do you think about the Disneyland Resort's announcement last night of its 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration?

First, let's get out of the way any disappointment that Disney didn't announce some big new attraction for its 60th birthday. As theme park fans, we're insatiable. We always want new attractions! But let's consider the nature of a theme park's anniversary and how parks can take advantage of these events.

Tom Staggs
Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs announcing the Diamond Celebration at Disneyland, last night.

Any park that wants to remain viable over time needs to be refreshing its attraction line-up with new rides and shows, whether it's celebrating an anniversary or not. While an anniversary provides a nice excuse for building a new ride, and might help amplify its publicity campaign, a new ride represents an investment in a theme park's future more than a celebration of its past. A great new ride will encourage fans to visit for years to come. But unless a fan is one who just has to ride something when it first opens, fans don't have any compelling reason to come visit during the anniversary year. The ride still will be there in future seasons.

Instead, let's consider the anniversary as an event unto itself. Seen this way, the point of the anniversary isn't to create a reason for someone to visit at some point in the future, it's to create a reason for someone to visit right now — during this anniversary season.

Disneyland's 50th
Disneyland's 50th, in 2005

Of course, a park that wants to have a successful anniversary, with lots of additional visitors, needs to create special, anniversary-only events and promotions that help entice those visits. So Disneyland's decision to rely on entertainment to celebrate its 60th makes sense. Beyond that, though, the specific shows that Disneyland has chosen to "plus" for its anniversary reveals something interesting about Disneyland's understanding of its audience.

Last night, Disneyland announced a new version of World of Color, an expanded fireworks and projection show, and a new "Paint the Night" parade. What do all of these shows have in common? They take place at night. And that reveals the smart move that Disney is making to take advantage of the 60th within its core audience.

Unlike its younger sibling Walt Disney World, Disneyland relies heavily on repeat visits from locals to drive its attendance. Disneyland sells hundreds of thousands of annual passes every year, which results in a sometimes radically different visitation pattern that theme park fans encounter when they visit the Walt Disney World Resort. Attendance levels at Disneyland reflect how many passholders are blocked out on any given day as much as they reflect the school vacation seasons that drive attendance at WDW. Longtime Disneyland visitors know to make their weekend visits on Saturdays instead of Sundays, due to the larger number of passholders being blocked out on Saturday, holding down attendance on that day. Sure, the week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest of the year at Disneyland, as it is at Disney World. But for many years, some of the nest-busiest weeks of the year have been the ones in mid- to late-August when the Southern California and SoCal Select passes emerge from their summer blockouts, but before all local schools have opened. Meanwhile, in Florida, Disney World is enjoying some of its least-crowded weeks of the year during that time.

Disneyland's 40th
Disneyland's 40th, in 1995

On a day-to-day basis, the large number of local passholders often leads to a surge of visitors in the evenings, after work. Someone who's only visited Disney World before might be surprised to see the crowd at Disneyland not only fail to thin later in the day, but actually to get bigger. If you wanted to reward and encourage these fans during an anniversary season, a bunch of new nighttime shows would be the perfect way to do that.

With three new nighttime shows, the Disneyland Resort clearly is trying to encourage repeat visits during its anniversary season, so that guests can see all three. Not only that, the new "Disneyland Forever" fireworks show will include projection shows upon Sleeping Beauty's Castle, the Matterhorn, and the buildings of Main Street USA. With unique experiences in multiple locations around the park, fans will need to visit multiple times to experience them all.

This is the perfect way to reward loyal Disneyland passholders and to encourage other visitors who want to see all of these events to upgrade to an annual pass. Sure, the Diamond Celebration might entice some theme park fans from outside Southern California to make the trip to Disneyland later this year (or during the early part of the next) to be a part of the festivities. But Disneyland knows that its core audience is locals — and this Diamond Celebration is aimed at making them want to be part of the party.

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Replies (13)

January 29, 2015 at 11:52 AM · Ya, I don't think this alone will encourage people to fly cross-country or plan a new trip. I don't think DLR really needs more guests at the moment :) This will encourage APs to continue paying their monthly subscription fees, though. Paint The Night and the new Grizzly Peak Airfield might be enough to encourage me to check out the park this summer.

However, this announcement also reiterates what I've been fearing for the past couple of years and why I didn't renew my AP. I don't think DL park will have any major improvements until 2020. I don't even care about a new attraction, but there are some real eyesores in the park right now and it's depressing to think they will still be there for many more years. Maybe I'll renew in 2021.

January 29, 2015 at 2:14 PM · The begin date of May 22nd is conveniently outside the Southern California Residents Pass discount. If they wanted to play for locals, they lost one opportunity. Perhaps they should do a soft opening on the weekend before.

They should offer an upgrade to an Annual Pass from the SoCal Residents Pass as one option. Or offer at least one return trip at a discount after May 22. The Annual Pass deals are not so good since they no longer offer the SoCal AP. Either you get the Select pass with half the year blocked out or go to the more expensive Deluxe pass. No thanks.

Locals have one free option. Stand around the central plaza. You can see the fireworks for free. You'll miss the projections, but that's okay.

January 29, 2015 at 2:32 PM · I don't know Robert. It seems to me that the 60th Anniversary additions skew to the entertainment and nighttime shows because that's all they could pull together at the last minute. The fact that they've just started the preparations for the 60th Anniversary should tell you that they really don't care. They're doing these rushed enhancements because guests were constantly bombarding staff with questions about what they could expect. Disney probably wasn't planning on anything special aside from a few special events here and there (many other "significant" anniversaries of other parks have come and gone with little mention).

Perhaps Disney raised the bar too high with the 50th Anniversary Celebration, but this to me seems more of a "satisfy the mob" move than something that deliberately plays to locals. In the end, I think this is all they could do under such a short timeline.

January 29, 2015 at 2:58 PM · As a theme park fan that lives about 2 and a half hours from Disneyland, I'm in a odd place where I can feel both like a local and a tourist. I tend to alternate between weekend day trips (long day) and multi-day trips with a hotel stay. I had an AP after Cars Land opened, but dropped it the following year when there didn't appear to be much new on the horizon. While I understand that many of the true locals enjoy night festivities like this, entertainment without new attractions just isn't enough reason to make me want to visit again.

For me, I don't even need Disneyland to announce a new attraction, but even just an upgrade to an existing one would make me want to schedule a trip (for example, the change to the ending of Big Thunder and the enhancements for Alice in Wonderland were enough to grab my attention). However, if all that you have is a parade I can already view online, a new fireworks show with similar effects to previous shows (just more of them), and an updated World of Color (which I'm sure isn't much different from the original and Holiday iterations), it just doesn't sound appealing enough for someone who enjoys entertainment, but primarily visits for the rides/attractions.

I'm close enough in proximity that Disney should have been able to lure me back with Anniversay plans. So far, they've unfortunately fallen short. Give me a reason to come back Disneyland! Otherwise you'll just see me checking out your So-Cal competition who is able to provide new attractions in 2015 (Twisted Colussus, Voyage to the Iron Reef, Fast and Furious, etc.)

My only hope is that there is more to come regarding attraction improvements...

January 29, 2015 at 3:13 PM · Eyesores? Seriously? Are you kidding me? I went to no fewer than seven themed parks in SoCal this past summer, including ADL and DCA and I couldn't help but observe over and over again, at all the other parks, that not one of them even comes close to the level of care and upkeep that the Disney parks do. The place continues to be immaculate. Maybe you meant that some of the rides don't appeal to you. Maybe you meant that you're not a fan of Disney design. You could have meant a lot of things, but eyesores? Really? Can we be a little less hateful?
January 29, 2015 at 3:35 PM · I went on several rides yesterday before the announcement, and thought that Thunder looked amazing. Pirates and Mansion were in fine shape, and Buzz and Midway Mania were as good as ever. (It was nice to see Mr. Potato Head operating again.)

The one thing that I think Disney could have, and really should have, done for the 60th is to supplement the new entertainment with a giveaway of some sort. I think that birthdays need presents and that parks should give the presents to their visitors during these celebrations. Movie Blu-rays, free theme park tickets, annual passes, meals, Club 33 dinners, chef's table dinners with Andrew Stanton, nights in the Dream Suite, Disney Cruises, Aulani vacations -- that's all stuff that Disney has in-house that it can give away.

January 29, 2015 at 4:46 PM · You can't give Club 33 dinners. It's a private club and you need to be a member or be a guest of a member. There is nothing that would anger me more than to have Disney grant access to non-members. I'm sorry I didn't pay $27k plus $11k more in annual dues to have the public be granted access to this exclusive club.
January 29, 2015 at 4:47 PM · One more point. Disney has built a lot of new attractions in Anaheim over the past 14 years. How can one forget what they've done at Disney California Adventure park. The additions in that park have more than made up for the lack of new attractions in Disneyland.
January 29, 2015 at 10:56 PM · Disney has given temporary access to Club 33 to non-members in the past, so that precedent has been set. Heck, it's Disney's club, and Disney sets its rules.
January 29, 2015 at 11:09 PM · After thinking about it for a bit, I'm not quite sure what Disney is trying to gain by these additions. While a new parade or nighttime spectacular may help to keep passholders renewing and may encourage them to visit more often, I doubt it is going to convince anyone else to visit, especially with the upcoming price increases. I've got a feeling most visitors who aren't total Disney fanatics don't differentiate too much between the various parades and firework shows Disney has offered, and a new version of World of Color doesn't sound any more appealing than the original. If Disney really wanted to appeal to locals, they should have offered something more appealing like discounted admission ($60 one-day, one-park ticket for Southern California residents would definitely do it).

I'm guessing I'm completely wrong about this, but it almost seems like Disney has intentionally decided not to compete with Universal Studios Hollywood in 2016. The 60th anniversary celebration seems to be merely an attempt to convince people to visit Disneyland before Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens next year, with additions that weren't planned until it was too late to get a new ride or major refurbishment done in time. Since Cars Land isn't really marketable as a new attraction any longer, I wonder if Disneyland's attendance will plateau or even decline beginning next year and lasting until they actually add Star Wars Land (or a similarly sized addition).

January 30, 2015 at 2:07 AM · I can definitely say that as a 1st time visitor last year from the UK, we had a wonderfully quiet day with minimal lines, headed later to the Rivers of America and our jaws dropped at the sheer number of people waiting for Fantasmic!
As I've been going to WDW for 25 years it was a real culture shock. So now feeling 'in the know' I read the 60th reports thinking, smart...very smart....

(On a side note we were near some incredibly friendly locals while we waited for the show and they bunched together to let us have a better view. I love Californians! In WDW I wouldve expected the child of the group to go on the shoulders and block us entirely)

We have a big family Orlando trip this year and I am now plotting to see if I can fly to LA for 2 days to see the 60th attractions. They are winners all round!

January 30, 2015 at 10:36 AM · Disney could have done something spectacular and chose to do the bare minimum instead.

AJ raises the good point that Carsland is hardly new. Disneyland Anaheim has not added an E-ticket attraction in the last 5 years. Will we have to wait another 5 years for the new Star Wars E-ticket attraction? 10 years between E-ticket attractions, is that the new norm?

February 1, 2015 at 12:08 AM · As someone who is located in Colorado, I'm excited about the announcements for Disneyland's 60th Anniversary, and am planning a trip now, when previously I wasn't. For me I love the magic that Disney at night provides and want to see it first hand, not through a YouTube video (though I definitely relive the magic between visits).

While I was hoping for more, I also want to be a respectful consumer and appreciate what Disney is doing, and enjoy it. There are no hard and fast rules (other than those that we impose) that say what a company must and must not do, and it's exciting that Disney is doing something other than banners and merchandise to commemorate the anniversary.

Would I love some additional events (such as give aways, or extended EMH?), absolutely. However, after Limited Time Magic, I'm not convinced that this is all that Disney will be doing in 2015. I think there is more to come and smartly, they are holding out and releasing it little by little.

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