What do ticket changes at the Disneyland Resort mean for theme park fans?

May 19, 2014, 11:46 AM · What do the ticket changes at the Disneyland Resort mean for theme park fans?

By now, fans should have gotten used to annual price increases at Disney theme parks. Disney raised ticket and annual pass prices at both the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts last June, and with Disney World raising prices in February, a Disneyland increase was imminent. But let's take a closer look at the specific changes Disneyland has made, because they tell us some interesting things about how Disney's trying to change the direction of its Anaheim resort.

Disney California Adventure, in Anaheim

The big change that people are discussing is Disney's decision to suspend new sales of the Southern California Annual Pass. Disneyland offers five levels of annual passes. The cheapest level is the Southern California Select pass, which is valid for admission only on weekdays during the school year, and not during the summers and holidays. The Southern California pass is one step above that, also allowing park admission on non-summer Sundays as well as a few extra weeks of shoulder season around the summer and spring break.

As a result, many locals bought the SoCal pass and crammed the park on those non-summer Sundays. People who now have that pass may renew it (though at an increased price), but no one else can buy that pass, at least for now. If you want to get a new Disneyland annual pass, you either have to go with the more restrictive SoCal Select pass and visit on a weekday, or you need to spend more for a Deluxe or higher annual pass, which gives you the ability to visit on a Saturday instead of just on Sundays.

Of course, with a Deluxe or higher annual pass, you could visit on one of those crowded Sundays, but people who hold passes at that level know better than that. Deluxe, Platinum and Premier passholders long have known to restrict their weekend Disneyland visits to the less-crowded Saturdays, and stay away from Sundays, when the SoCal passholders crowd the parks.

With these changes, Disneyland's trying to hold non-summer Sunday crowds at their current levels, while driving new pass sales that will lead crowds to visit on other days of the week. More than that, though, the price changes at Disneyland suggest that the company is trying to further shift future growth patterns away from local day visitors and annual passholders toward out-of-market visitors buying multi-day tickets.

Take a look at the prices for those three-to-five day Disneyland Resort passports. They hardly changed, with the top increase coming in around two percent. That's just half the four percent increases for the annual passes and one-day, one-park ticket.

As we've written many times before, Disney is working to position itself as a lifestyle brand, and its ongoing changes in pricing to promote the value of multi-day visits over single-day trips at its theme parks reflects that. So why, then, would Disney discourage sales of a type of annual pass, if the company wants people to visit its parks more often?

Let's remember that Disney is not trying to reduce the number of its annual passholders. If Disney wanted to do that, it would do away with the monthly payment option on annual passes, and require customers to pay the full price up front. Pass sales would collapse! But Disney doesn't want that. It simply wants to move future sales of annual passes to its other products, instead, to alleviate the developing crowd problems on non-summer Sundays.

To do that, Disney had three options: 1) Jack up the price of SoCal passes relative to the other passes, 2) Reduce the number of days available to SoCal passholders, or 3) Stop selling new SoCal passes. Frankly, the third option — the one Disney picked — is the best one for current SoCal passholders, because it spares them from a substantial price increase on, or loss of value from, their passes.

Looking long-term, the massive demand for visiting Disneyland illustrates that Disney needs to commit to building a third gate in Anaheim, as well as adding hotel capacity at the resort. Disney is swimming in IP [intellectual property] with underutilized Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar franchises, as well as a Frozen juggernaut that could drive much more than a parade float and a character meet-and-greet. But Disney doesn't have abundant empty space upon which to build in Anaheim, and a multi-billion dollar resort rebuild and expansion isn't the sort of thing that CEOs approve on the way out the door, as Disney CEO Bob Iger is supposed to step down within the next few years.

Pricing tweaks and suspensions of AP sales can help steer Disneyland's market growth in slightly different directions in the short term, but the long-term issue remains that Disney's leaving money on the table by not expanding resort capacity in Anaheim to meet large and growing overall demand. At some point, Disney will need to move beyond these small price changes and address the big development changes needed at the Disneyland Resort.

Replies (11)

May 19, 2014 at 12:37 PM · This tactic worked great at WDW where it's entrance price for their most beloved park increased more then the crappy other 3. Sure they got less (less fortunate) "guests" but in the end they got more money without investing a cent (less "guests"= less work = less money spend). Why not do that on the west coast.
There is even a worst pest at that west coast, it are the "cheap" locals that take up space from wealthy "guests" without spending a lot of money. It's great Disney is getting away with these "guests", it's what Walt would have wanted, it's Disney showing it's Disney side and it's great. Not for the 99% but that precious 1% that actually deserve a Disney vacation.
May 19, 2014 at 1:13 PM · I'm not familiar with the various properties surrounding DLR, but if land is scarce, what are they supposed to do? I mean, they already have their Cast Members parking far away and taking buses to work.

Does Disney own enough land for a third gate? Are there any older businesses that they could buy up and redevelop (tear down) to expand their footprint?

Opening a third gate is definitely the ideal long-term solution (as it is with Universal Orlando Resort), but the cost of more land just seems too high.


May 19, 2014 at 2:09 PM · To build the third park, they can free up existing land currently used for the employee parking off Katella and Harbor Blvd. They should quickly build at least 2 new multi-level parking lots, 1 for employees, and 1 for guests. They own the parking space next off Harbor Blvd.

They should consider Downtown Disney and Resort Hotel expansion off the Downtown Disney flat surface parking lots. Build a second parking structure adjacent to the existing Mickey and Friends parking structure.

DCA still has expansion space left over in the remnants of the Disneyland parking lots. Why not build another land adjacent to Carsland?

Disney should consider other ticket options for locals to spread out the crowds. The AP's should not be the only way to buy the ticket for locals. Expand the existing 2 day or 3 day SoCal tickets to a 4 day summer pass. They done this in the past like at Costco. The difference with a regular 4 day pass is it can be used beyond the 14 day window since locals must still work around their weekly schedule.

May 19, 2014 at 6:21 PM · Predictably, people will accuse them of doing this out of greed, but the suspension of the most popular AP is really a move to deal with overcrowding. It's ridiculous and unfair, especially for us tourists, that people paying pennies on the dollar can jam the parks for a big chunk of the year.
May 20, 2014 at 3:42 AM · It seems like the price increase for non-pass holders is all in the park hopping. I think previously there was a one time $35 charge over a 1 park ticket for park hopping no matter if you bought a 5 day or one day ticket. Now park hopping is $39 total over a 1 park ticket if you buy a 2 through 5 day ticket. But if you buy a 1 day ticket park hopping is $54 more than the 1 park ticket. There must be a lot of people who go only one day and they want to go to both parks because both are so popular now so it looks like Disney is charging what they think people will pay.

The SoCAl select pass was still more than a 5 day pass, so you can still get at least one 5 day pass and go on 2 consecutive weekends with no restrictions and it would be less money than you spent before. Yes, you don't get as much value for your money, but that is what everyone in NorCal and the rest of the country face, but the SoCal residents don't face as many travel and lodging expenses. I don't think this was a money making plan where the SoCal pass is concerned as much as a crowd control measure. Since Disneyland reaches capacity on some days then in some sense you are spreading the Disney availability to more people by reducing the number of spots across many days that a relatively small number of people are taking up.

As far as the third gate suggestion, they are a for profit company so they can't really build another gate to increase capacity for annual pass holders to get more value for their money. If they build a popular third gate they'll probably charge even more for annual passes and be more restrictive with the dates because there will be more demand since it will take longer to do everything and Star Wars/Marvel have very dedicated fans (many who probably aren't Disney super fans and didn't previously hold an annual pass) who will pay a lot to be able to visit those themed worlds often. Just like they've done now that DCA is a park people actually want to go to now. They'll definitely charge more than for WDW because there are so many more people that live close enough to Disneyland to drive there vs WDW.

May 20, 2014 at 5:05 AM · O T's sarcasm is sad to see and does him/her no credit.

Far from the "1%" who "deserve" a Disney vacation I would venture to suggest that the percentage of vacation visitors to local visitors is nearer the opposite way around. Certainly the vast majority of guests to Disney parks tend to be tourists - those people who save their hard-earned money for a special vacation and keep vast numbers of American citizens in a job by bringing their money to the USA and spending it. If AP holders have become so numerous that they negatively affect the experience of tourists then Disney is absolutely right to move to control those numbers. There is no magic entitlement to cheap access to a Disney park just because you happen to live close by and Disney knows that the majority of its income comes from occasional or even once-in-a-lifetime visitors. They need to keep that market happy and they are moving to do just that.

I pay more than OT to visit a Disney park and experience the same attractions so why should my experience be diminished in order that OT can continue to enjoy the parks at a fraction of the cost?

May 20, 2014 at 11:16 AM · @OT, @David Brown. I thought both of you all were from Europe? Not sure who would have to dish out more euros to come to the US to get their Disney fix, but it looks to be a close competition. As far as too many locals clogging the parks, I'm in a bit of a Disney boycott (a slowdown, actually) these days due to the slow pace of attraction development, so you're welcome to my days in the parks. ;^)

@OT. The sarcasm(?) was confusing. Care to clarify the situation? I can't figure out if I agree with you or disagree with you.

May 20, 2014 at 5:20 PM · Here's another way for Disney to lighten the crowds in Anaheim and Orlando: build a 3rd Magic Kingdom resort in the USA. Disney hasn't added a Magic Kingdom in the USA since 1971. The country has added 100 million people since then. Of course the parks are going to be overcrowded.
May 21, 2014 at 1:26 PM · When I went a couple of months ago I noticed an ugly empty eye sore of a lot next to the cast member parking. There were also a few run down motels there. They should just buy all of that and build a second multi story parking lot next to mickey & friends parking structure.
May 21, 2014 at 3:25 PM · OMG, why are so many non SoCal residents complaining and/or bashing on SoCal residents? I respect the fact that you are frustrated with the crowds, but please don't blame us. If you hate it so much then move to SoCal so you can enjoy the experience more often. Blaming locals for your life choices is a little silly. Also, to say that out of towners are "hardworking" is also silly. Are you saying that locals aren't? When I go to Hawaii should I blame the locals for jamming up the surfing line? How about when I go skiing in Colorado, should I get pissed at locals for packing the slopes? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding no. Again, so why dump all over SoCal residents? If you don't like living in a fly over state then bring your hardworking yourself out to SoCal for a better life and/or more of what you want? That's what I did......
May 24, 2014 at 2:31 PM · "Field of Dreams" did not quite get it right. The quote should be, "If they charge it, we will come."

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