Theme Park Insider

Will Harry Potter Cast a Spell Over Disneyland Fans, Too?

December 13, 2015, 8:37 PM · Walt Disney World's attendance slid while Universal Orlando's surged when the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Orlando in 2010. When Harry Potter debuts at Universal Studios Hollywood next spring, will the same thing happen in Southern California?

That's the question I asked in my Orange County Register column this week: Will Harry Potter magic steal Disneyland's crowds?

In it, I look at industry attendance numbers to show how Harry Potter has helped push Universal's theme parks in Orlando and Japan to record attendance. I also note that Hollywood's park has been doing quite well over the past few years, despite all the construction in and around the park. (For comparison, Universal Orlando's attendance tanked in the years leading up to Potters' opening. But the recession then didn't help, either.)

Of course, Walt Disney World's attendance rebounded nicely after Potter's opening, and ultimately the addition of the Wizarding World brought more visitors to the Orlando area, helping both Universal and Disney.

What will happen to the Disneyland Resort's attendance in 2016, and beyond? Keep in mind that several attractions in the park will close in January, for Star Wars Land construction. That, plus the end of the Diamond Celebration and the recent annual pass price increases, could serve to depress attendance at the same time that Potter is luring more and more visitors up the 5 toward Universal City.

So let's put the question to you, theme park fans: Are you planning to visit the Disneyland Resort more or less in 2016? Are you planning to Universal more or less often, as well?

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Replies (16)

December 13, 2015 at 8:45 PM · Put me down as a maybe. I am thinking more people will go to USH that are locals just because it is a nice addition to the park. However, I do not think it will really matter for the out of LA visitors. Disneyland and USH do not compete the same way as WDW and USO. They both offer different experiences. USH's big draw is still the Studio Tour.

Take my family for example. We were going to USH for a day regardless of what rides are open. This is a historic backlot and we were left a little underwhelmed by the attractions. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I was more excited to see Alfred Hitchcock's office and the Psycho house than to ride the Mummy.

December 13, 2015 at 9:06 PM · There's a sizable audience of locals closer to Hollywood than Anaheim. They might consider visiting Universal more frequently than Disneyland from convenience. I'm sure Harry Potter alone isn't sufficient to keep people from Disneyland.
December 13, 2015 at 11:14 PM · Of course Potter will be popular at USH, but it won't have quite the same effect
as the original Potter lands in Orlando. Those attracted a ton of international visitors, particularly from the UK. So most foreign Potter fans have already visited the originals.

If Disneyland attendance does drop a little, reports of a quieter park will have the locals coming back fast anyway.

December 14, 2015 at 1:00 AM · You what is interesting to think about - I'm hoping Disneyland attendance does drop. Why? Because then the park will be less crowded on a regular basis. And slightly more enjoyable.

But here's where my mind went next - do you think Disneyland planned the massive closure of the Rivers of America to begin when it is, knowing that they will potentially be losing guests to USH once HP opens?

December 14, 2015 at 2:15 AM · Without a second gate Universal Hollywood will never be a threat to Disneyland. It just doesn't have the space to compete with Disneylands 2 parks (and maybe even a 3rd in the future). If anything I think it could hurt Knotts, 6 flags, Legoland, Sea world or the San Diego zoo, those other major So Cal destinations.

Personally after hearing about it being 3D I would much rather plan 1 big trip to Florida than to get an AP for USH.

December 14, 2015 at 4:52 AM · Mr. Niles writes that the closing of attractions like Rivers of America will probably be a bit of a turn-off for Disneyland fans, but I don't really think so. When I visited Disneyland, it was during the Rivers's last major refurb, where they were completely drained. And despite having to see those big ugly construction walls, it had no effect on my experience. I still did so many things and had lots of fun, and the park was filled with many other visitors as well. And, from my understanding, only a small handful of attractions will be closed for 2016, and the most major one of those attractions is Jungle Cruise. No big E-tickets or anything like that. If that's the case, then that means there's still plenty to enjoy at Disneyland, and most of it is the stuff that the people have come to see anyway. Lastly, Tomorrowland has it's temporary Star Wars overlay happening. That's probably really gonna help attendance, especially if Force Awakens does really well.
December 14, 2015 at 9:35 AM · Two of WDW's parks, DHS and DAK, are very weak parks and were therefore very susceptible to IOA's Potter expansion. DL and DCA are easily the best 2 SoCal theme parks, and even after Potter I'd still rank DCA above USH. DL is obviously several levels above.

The current weakest park is SoCal park is probably Sea World and I expect them to be crushed.

December 14, 2015 at 12:15 PM · I think everyone expects (with good reason) that Universal Studios Hollywood will have huge attendance numbers next year because of Harry Potter, but I predict that their annual passholder numbers will drop off significantly because of their new pricing structure. All three levels of annual passes available have plenty of blackout days and no parking included on the pass.

In fact, several Universal fans online have been talking about switching to Disneyland passes when their passes expire in 2016 because they see it as a better bargain for the cost, so conceivably former Universal passholders could contribute to an increase in visitors to the SoCal Disney parks in 2016. Some passholders saw the writing on the wall and bought the unlimited passes to activate at the end of this calendar year before Universal suspended sales in March 2015, but the numbers who did that are probably small.

But when you look at Universal's strategy, that's what they seem to want: fewer local visitors, except for those who will pay full admission price for the day, and not come back multiple times. The demand for the new Harry Potter land is probably enough to break their attendance records for 2016, but it will come at a cost in terms of their longtime passholders.

On the Disney side, my best guess is that the two Disney parks in Anaheim won't see a significant drop in attendance in 2016. I think Team Disney Anaheim will think up some kind of promotion, special event, or discount to help promote attendance next year. I agree that Disney is trying to test out how limit visitors in advance of the crush coming when the Star Wars land opens in a few years, but I can't imagine that Disney's calculation for 2016 amounts to increasing pricing to make up for an expectation of lower visitorship.

December 14, 2015 at 1:40 PM · Some interesting points raised in the comments. I agree with Daniel that it will hurt Knotts, Six Flags and SeaWorld significantly more than Disney. I also agree with others that Disney will only lose visits from local South Californians (the visits it is probably most content to lose).

Even if attendance is to drop, I believe that their overall profit will still increase. Also, slightly lower numbers improves the overall experience for those in the park with less overcrowding. In the time preceding Star Wars this may draw locals back due to this being the last years to enjoy the park before it "gets crazy", or at least until prices go up significantly again.

December 14, 2015 at 6:57 PM · I would really like to try the Star Wars version of Space Mountain, but that's not enough for my family to make a trip to Disneyland (we're locals who live in greater L.A.), either to buy day tickets or to buy annual passes.

We usually go once or twice per year to Disneyland, especially if there are promotions for local residents, but we probably will pass on Disneyland for 2016 because of the ever-increasing prices, the construction, and the crowds on weekends.

We had $92 passes for Universal Studios in 2015 and visited maybe once a month, but the new annual passes cost a ridiculous amount of money. We might make a Universal trip to see Harry Potter once the crowds die down in the fall. Probably a one-day trip, or possibly the lower or mid-level passes if we can afford it, or really like it after our first visit.

We've already renewed our Knott's Berry Farm passes for 2016. We've had them for three years now, and they are an excellent value. We consider Knott's our home park.

December 14, 2015 at 8:59 PM · I agree with Spaceman Spiff. I will probably only get a one day ticket for USH because of how expensive the pass is. I went to USH 3 or 4 times in 2015 and expect to only go once in 2016.

On the subject of hurting Disney attendance- I don't think it will. I live in southern California, so I've been asking my friends (most of whom have either Disneyland passes or always purchase FastLane when visiting Knott's) if they wanted to visit the park with me once Harry Potter opens, and they were all turned off by Universal's new expensive prices. KBF and DLR just have a lot more rides and therefore a lot more bang for your buck. In addition, Harry Potter just isn't as popular as it was when Harry Potter came out in Florida. The last movie will have come out 5 years ago by the time Harry Potter opens in Hollywood! So although I think this will probably boost USH's attendance, I don't think this will have a major impact on Disneyland's attendance.

On a slightly unrelated note, I know a lot of people who prefer USH over DLR (these people have not been informed about Universal's price increase). When I was in first or second grade, a bunch of my fellow schoolmates were making fun of my friends and I for preferring DLR to USH. I remember them calling DLR a "baby park" and that was only meant for little kids. In addition, I know someone who was visiting So Cal for the first time and chose to visit USH instead of DLR, as he thought DLR was a kids park. So over the years, I have begun to learn that USH is viewed as DLR's more thrilling and less childish counterpart. So will Harry Potter, which is a franchise aimed at kids, hurt a park that is known for being more on the adult side?

December 15, 2015 at 11:39 AM · My gut feeling is that we'll be looking at something like this in So Cal for 2016:

Disneyland: Small attendance drop
DCA: Small attendance increase
KBF: Minimal change
USH: Large attendance increase
SWSD: Small attendance drop
SFMM: Minimal change

Why? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a big deal and I have a feeling a lot of people who only make a couple park visits a year will probably check out USH in 2016, especially with all of the refurbishment happening at the Disneyland Resort. I also wouldn't be surprised if passholders to KBF and SFMM do a day trip to USH as they are getting the big addition for the region next year. However, I really don't think USH is going to sell a lot of annual passes so return visitors will be limited. The park is too small to justify frequent visits and for what they offer the passes are very expensive. Additionally, if you don't live within 30 miles of the park it can be a real pain to get to on weekdays (no joke...I'm 60 miles from USH and 87 miles from SFMM, but I can usually get to SFMM in less time than USH on a weekday). Lastly, while Disneyland may be undergoing a lot of refurbishment, DCA is opening three new attractions in 2016 and this will probably be enough to keep attendance high.

Edit: As for my personal plans, I will likely be maintaining the same visit frequency in 2016 as I have for the past few years...Disneyland visits every 1-3 months (at least as long as I keep my AP), Knott's visits every 2-3 months, SFMM visits every 1-4 months (actually, this will probably go down), and one USH visit during the year.

December 15, 2015 at 7:40 AM · If anything Disneyland's attendance is going to rise. As people flock from all over the world to WWoHP, Disneyland is going to be a guaranteed stop. All the parks in SoCal are competing to be a second stop after Disney and USH has finally created an attraction that will draw visitors.
December 15, 2015 at 9:24 AM · Re-Juan Hamilton.

While Iagree with most of your points, the one I don't agree with is that Harry Potter is no longer relevant. 5 years isn't exactly a relatively long time. Me, my sister, my cousins, a bajillion kids at my school, all love Harry Potter. We all still read the books and still watch the movies from time to time. And every time I go to WWOHP here in Florida (which I do quite frequently) I see a lot of teens like myself, and even a good number of little kids. So HP is still a relevant franchise.

Also, to answer your question, I don't think Harry Potter is gonna change anyone's mind on Universal being mature, and for a number of reasons.

1) Harry Potter has been at our Universal for several years and people still say that it's more mature than Disney.

2) a Universal has always featured attractions based on franchises geared towards kids, such as Hana-Barbera, Nickelodeon, Woody Woodpecker, and Dr. Seuss.

3) I think the reason why everyone treats Universal like it's more mature is because of reputation. They're more known for thrill rides while Disney is known for family rides. And Universal doesn't really show the same love and attention for the thrill rides than they do for the family rides.

December 15, 2015 at 11:27 AM · My Disneyland attendance certainly won't be affected by the opening of WWoHP, but my bank account will be! While Harry Potter is an incredibly consuming world, Disney Parks simply have more quality stories to draw from. Of course, the powers-that-be actually have to follow through with integrating those stories into the parks, but there's no shortage of creative minds to do it.
December 15, 2015 at 11:40 PM · ^yup pretty sure one butterbeer is going to wipe out internship money.

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