Vote of the week: How should theme parks deal with their holiday crowds?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leave it the way they are. Anyone smart enough knows not to go during holidays, so let the people who don't plan in,
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.....
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Disney needs to raise the prices, it's the only fair way to bring down the overwhelming crush of the holiday crowds.
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.
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 :-).
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.
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.
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
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'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.
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.
Tim: You had some good advice with some crazy advice. It seems awfully contradictory.
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.
I was at Sea World yesterday and what I saw there was abhorrent...
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.
Tim, I can educate you on a few things.
Eric, I agree with some of your observations, but there's a few places where we differ.
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.
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 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.
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.
^Thought I was logged in.
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.
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