Should Disney bring hard-ticket holiday parties to Disneyland Park?

October 13, 2009, 10:55 AM · HalloweenTime at Disneyland's become a huge success, making parking at and entering the resort area on weekend evenings a nightmare for many Southern California theme park fans. Al Lutz at MiceAge today details the mess that I also tweeted last weekend: Annual Passholders are flooding into the parking areas on Friday evenings and Saturdays, forcing Disneyland to close the parks to all visitors. It used to be that main gate shut-downs only happened during the ultra-busy week between Christmas and New Year's. Now, it's a weekly occurrence in October (and December, too, but I'll get to that in a few minutes.)

Haunted Mansion Holiday
HalloweenTime at Disneyland

Disneyland's cut off sign-in privileges for cast members on Fridays in October, and will probably use this as an excuse for yet another price increase on annual passes. But I believe that there is a much more elegant, effective... and, frankly, lucrative, solution that Disneyland's missing:

Disneyland needs to go "hard-ticket" on Friday and Saturday evenings in October.

Close the park at 5 pm on those days, then reopen at 7 pm for "Mickey's HalloweenTime Party." Bring the trick-or-treating over from Disney's California Adventure, sell great Halloween-themed street food throughout the park, run Fantasmic! at 8 and 10, blast the special Halloween fireworks at 9 and - here's the highlight - stage an all-new "Disney's Villains Parade" at 10 or 11.

Sell 25,000 tickets per night, priced at $55 for adults and $45 for kids, and this would become yet another cash cow for the Disneyland Resort. (If the parties don't sell out immediately, Disney could give APs a $10 discount. Trust me, at $45/$35 this event definitely would sell out.)

Disney sells thousands of tickets for its trick-or-treating event at DCA, but nowhere near as many as it could sell for this event at Disneyland. In addition, AP are far more likely to drive out to visit Disneyland than DCA, if given a choice. Having the hard ticket event at DCA simply overloads Disneyland on weekend evenings, as we are seeing now. Switching the hard ticket event to the original park not only makes the company more money, it helps eliminate the traffic flow problems that now plague the resort.

Right now, APs are drifting into the resort throughout the afternoon and early evening, making it hard for Disneyland parking staff to efficiently pack the resort's parking areas, as Lutz described. With a hard ticket event at Disneyland, there is a much smaller "after work" crowd showing up to the resort between 3 and 6. The evening crowd comes in a wave before the party begins at 7. And most of the day-time crowd will have left the resort early, clearing space for those evening party-goers.

A hard-ticket event allows Disney to limit the number of attendees without turning away APs or employees sign-ins, whose passes would not get them into the event anyway. It also maximizes the ticket revenue in a crowded Disneyland, replacing APs with ticket-buying visitors (who very well might be APs, but they had to buy an extra ticket to get in).

So what's it this for theme park fans? A more orderly crowd, easier entry into the park, free candy for the kids, a cool new parade and a "special event" feel that Disneyland deserves during a holiday season. To me, that would be worth the extra charge, Heck, hundreds of thousands of visitors pay that at Walt Disney World in October and December.

Magic Kingdom at Christmas
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World

To that end, I'd bring "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" to Anaheim, as well. We're going to see the same parking and crowd-control problems in Anaheim on weekend evenings in December as we are seeing now. A hard-ticket event will be the best way to handle that then, as well.

The holiday overlay attractions - Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and It's a Small World, would continue to be open to day-time guests, who also would enjoy the park's holiday decor. So the addition of these hard-ticket parties would in no way diminish the enjoyment of the season for Disneyland guests who visit during the day. But they would provide wonderful new creative challenges for Disney's entertainment, foods and Imagineering teams, funded by a lucrative new source of revenue for the resort.

It's rare when theme park fans suggest that parks to charge them more money. But in this case, I think that hard-ticket Halloween and Christmas events at Disneyland Park would benefit fans as well as the park.

What do you think?

Replies (16)

October 13, 2009 at 11:48 AM · Implementing a hard-ticket event certainly makes sense. It ensures that crowds are under control and at the same time brings in more money and hopefully more guests.

As you've mentioned, including the holiday overlays on attractions for regular day guests will ensure their experienced isn't diminished, which is of course integral at a Disney Park.

I'm honestly very surprised Disney haven't figured this simple solution out yet.

October 13, 2009 at 2:34 PM · It's funny, I was just down at Disneyland this morning on a my day off and I was thinking about how recently my wife and I have been taking afternoon/slash evening trips down to try and catch the new "Fantasmic". During these late day trips we have found parking to be horrendous. Mainly because there is no one to guide the way. There are not even signs to tell you how many parking spaces are available on each level of the Mickey and Friends structure.

The Century City Mall added a light system last year to their parking garage. Green means available. Red is taken. Yellow/Orange is loading 15 minutes. Blue is handicap. You can read more about their system by clicking the link below.

And why not make Halloweentime a hard ticket event? Every other park does. I think it's a great idea. Regular day guests won't miss out on too much during the day. And if you wanted to see the extra events, then you pay more for them. 25,000 total tickets is a decent size crowd that will have average waits for rides. Could it even be run like extra magic hours. Guests with a hard ticket could get a bracelet at Guest Services and stay in the park the entire day and not vacate at a certain hour to return a few later. (i.e. Knotts Berry Farm)

Also, I've never been to the DCA hard ticket event, but I found Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy rather lacking. The pinnacle of the effects for me was on the second lift hill. And from there, it was all down hill, except for the 3rd lift hill. All the effects felt like riding the Mummy coaster at USH. The ghostly appearances did not blend in well with the ride.

October 13, 2009 at 4:24 PM · As a stockholder, I agree, yes, they should.

As a Disneyphile, I have to say no. Satisfaction with the hard-ticketed events (Mickey's Not-so-scary Halloween Party/Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party) at MK in WDW seems to be at an all-time low.

I'd hate to see the same thing happen at the Mother Park...

October 13, 2009 at 4:58 PM · As a premium annual pass holder I wouldn't want to pay extra for any event at Disneyland Park. And for non annual pass holders I would think that the cost of admission would have to drop significantly since the event is only for a few hours in the night and not for the entire day and night.
October 13, 2009 at 7:29 PM · Yeah, I'm a west coast guy, but I submit that Disneyland has had a better record of execution in recent years than WDW. So I would expect that standard of quality to extend to hard ticket events as well.

Furthermore, if Disney wants to limit the number of its APs, I'd rather it do so through "soft" price increases such as segregating hard ticket event evenings, than raising prices across the board.

October 14, 2009 at 8:08 AM · We go to WDW around Christmas time and we always plan our trip around Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party. We love it. You can ride all the major rides with little or no wait. The special fireworks and shows are a plus. You get hot cocoa and cookies at different places free. You used to get a picture but not this past year when we visited. You get to see more characters dressed up with little wait. I recommend doing this party to all my friends.
October 14, 2009 at 8:51 AM · Disney needs to significantly jack up the prices of APs, it's gotten out of control. An across the board 50% increase on all APs would thin out the crowds a bit. If they can't do that, then make it a hard ticket for APers only, and let the people who bought a ticket for a day at the park stay the entire day at the park. That would be much fairer.
October 14, 2009 at 11:05 AM · My family and I all went this last Sunday and didn't have a problem finding parking and got good seats for the Fireworks (we entered at 8:30p.m.) and Fantasmic. Additionally they added a 3rd show at 11:30, for which we got even better seats. One of the reasons we have the Annaul Pass is for the special events which we usually go to more than once. So I would have to say NO to a hard ticket since we enjoy going on the off evenings because of our whacked work schedules.
October 16, 2009 at 1:18 PM · Disagree. One hard ticket event at DCA is enough. It's ridiculous to inconvenience the Disneyland patrons just because of bad parking. Also, the message is wrong. It sounds like you're working for Disney and not an advocate for guests and fans. There are already so many inconveniences for fans that I wonder why anyone should bother!!!
October 16, 2009 at 1:57 PM · My family has Premium/Deluxe Annual Passes for a reason. We go to Disneyland on Friday nights as a treat for my daughter when she's had a good week in school. As it is we miss DCA during the fall and winter due to the early closing time. Were they to institute a hard-ticket policy we would have to seriously re-think our AP level. If I'm going to have to give up Fridays, I may as well pay less and purchase So Cal Select.
October 16, 2009 at 2:44 PM · For the record, I would see a massive decline in the number of APs at Disneyland as a plus for the park, not a negative. I think that the user experience would improve if the number of guests in the park matched natural school and holiday schedules, instead of being dictated by AP blockout days.

In addition, fewer APs would clear space for additional day guests, who spend more per capita per visit than APs, as well as clearing the crush of APs who overwhelm any new ride or show at the resort.

The tradeoff for customers, however, should be the elimination of expiration dates on multi-day tickets.

I would much rather buy 10-day park-hoppers with no expiration, like I have at Disney World, than Disneyland APs for my family. I visit often, since it is my job, but don't take the kids often enough to justify a premium or deluxe AP. Since I want to take them on Saturdays, I don't end up getting them the SoCal or Select APs, either. So I end up taking them once a year, if that.

Under Disneyland's current ticketing system, there's simply no attractive option for me to visit the park with my family more than once or twice a year, even though I'd love to bring them down four or five times a year.

I'd be happy to buy them 5 or 10-day tickets for Christmas every couple of years, if DL would sell them. I think that a lot of people are in the same situation, folks who would be happy to buy multi-day tickets but who, because of the 14-day expiration policy, end up buying heavily blocked-out APs instead.

Also, I absolutely would buy tickets to a DL Christmas party, or older-skewing Halloween party. That would be a much better deal for me and my family than buying day tickets on days when the parks are overfilled with low-spending AP-holders.

October 17, 2009 at 9:11 AM · As a frequent visitor to WDW FLA,I HATE the idea -- and I look at it as corporate greed at its ugliest. To spend the enormous amount of money to travel to WDW, purchase the resort/park pass combo, only to be evicted from the park early b/c of the "special event," is beyond frustrating. WDW has more than just the Halloween event and the Christmas event, it also has Pirates and Princesses events and goodness knows whatever else. It is another way to squeeze money out of its visitors, in my opinion. I hate the practice.
October 17, 2009 at 2:21 PM · Let's look at this one more way: from an economics perspective.

1. Demand clearly exceeds supply on weekend evenings in October and December, given Disneyland having to close the entrance gates.

2. Since Disneyland is limited in its ability to increase supply for specific short periods (it can throw a few more ride units in rotation, but that's about it), Disneyland more efficiently can address the inequity by reducing demand.

3. A price increase is the classic way of doing that, but since the demand is coming from annual passholders, the more effective result would be to block out those days.

4. But the demand doesn't persist through the day. It is hitting in the late afternoon and evening. In the morning and early afternoons on those days, the parks are nearly empty.

5. So the best solution isn't to block out those entire days; it is to find someway just to block out the evenings. How can the park do that? Close early, and go to a hard ticket event.

The alternative is to start the block-out date at, say, 4 pm, allowing APs admission before that, and requiring that they buy a hard ticket afterward. But the evening party accomplishes the same thing, and gives ticket-buyers something extra beyond a regular day in addition.

That is why I support hard-ticket parties in this situation. It provides an efficient economic solution to the problem of an overcrowded park while delivering a premium experience to the people who do wish to pay to get into the park.

October 17, 2009 at 4:48 PM · No, absolutely not. However, implementing a complete (and I mean COMPLETE) AP blackout around the holidays and lowering the price of a one-park, one-day ticket to $55 for everyone is something I wish Disney would experiment with. Instead of free-entry AP visitors, every single person would have to pay an entry fee, increasing attendance revenue, decreasing overall crowds and increasing per-capita spending. APs would scream and holler and cry out, but they'd be crocodile tears, as the true Disney fan would still go.

This would allow the park to remain open to everyone for the holidays, while diminishing management concerns about costs and spending.

October 18, 2009 at 3:05 PM · "So the best solution isn't to block out those entire days"

No, the best solution is for you to GIVE IT UP.

Disney is selling both the Annual Passes and Single Day tickets with the assumption that it is good for the entire day, meaning it's regular operating hours. Unless Disney wants to change it, then go ahead.... change the time in which those tickets are good and then everyone will know in advance what it means. Also, charge less for an abbreviated day (but we know Disney will never do that.)

When People are confronted with park closures, it ruins their trip especially with so-called special events. Your proposal makes it even worse by saying only 25,000 can attend.

I'm sure Disney has optimised the ticket prices to get the most dough. Attendance is very very good, but the real problem is the parking problem. Most people can fit into the park.

People already assume the park is crowded on the weekends. The fact that people ARE be diverted to Disneyland instead of DCA means they has to improve the situation where people are kicked out of a relatively unpopular theme park, DCA, and allowed to enter into the much more popular Disneyland. It's a bad situation all around.

Why not eliminate the kicking out people from DCA. Instead, allow everyone who entered into DCA earlier in the day to also enjoy Mickey’s Trick-or-Treat Party events for free. The hard ticket event is half the price so Disney can charge additional amount for new arrivals.

Disneyland overcrowding and bad parking should not be an excuse to make things more difficult for customers. The other issues you discussed will not result in better value, but more money for Disney, which is good for shareholders and executives, but nothing for customers and it creates unnecessary scarcity.

Why should Disney bother with making their parks SO ATTRACTIVE, that it has to make it EXCLUSIVE. Just eliminate all theming of Halloween and Christmas, then Disneyland will return to the boring and uncrowded conditions of years past, then no one will be turned away. Are you then happy Robert?

October 18, 2009 at 10:44 PM · Here's the comedy: DL set the standard for hard ticket events back in the 60s/70s with Gospel Night and a few private parties extending into the early 80s. With the advent of the "Passport" and "Annual Pass" the hard ticket concept slowly went away on the West Coast only to be slowly (and successfully) implemented on the East Coast.

Hard ticket Halloween and Christmas events would be HUGE hits at DLR - especially if both took place at DL. It would also be great if the Candlelight Ceremony could be included in the holiday party.

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