Post-Mortem: Three Things Disneyland Could Have Done Better at the 24-Hour Party

May 23, 2015, 11:49 AM · Disney's wrapped another 24-hour party, but the most memorable part of this year's event for many fans will be the massive crowds, waits, and confusion that left many fans frustrated and angry throughout the day and into the evening.

Disney24 Crowd
The early-morning 24-hour party crowd at Disneyland. Photo courtesy Disneyland

Disneyland closed to new entrants around 1:50pm yesterday, due to the large number of people in the park — many waiting already on the parade route for that evening's public debut performance of the new Paint the Night electrical parade. About three hours later, Disneyland closed to re-entries, meaning that no one could enter the park.

When Disneyland has closed due to capacity in the past, visitors have been directed to Disney California Adventure instead. Yesterday, however, as crowds filled the esplanade between the parks, Disney slowed, then stopped, the flow of guests through the checkpoints on either side of the plaza, effectively closing access to California Adventure by people who wren't already inside the checkpoints.

That, in turn, created a massive backup of guests waiting to pass through the checkpoint — lines that extended well into Downtown Disney on one side and down Harbor Boulevard on the other.

Disneyland began to clear out after the parade and the debut performance of the Disneyland Forever fireworks, at 9:30pm. But even as fans online watched live feeds showing the park's crowd diminish to moderate levels, the gates remained closed. No one could enter the esplanade, or Disneyland Park, until after 2am, when Disneyland began admitting guests from California Adventure. Several minutes later, Disney opened Disneyland to new entrants once again, for the first time in about 13 hours.

Fans online vented anger at Disneyland for keeping fans waiting in massive lines outside the park while entire lands within it appeared vacant, as shown in photos posted by fans inside the park to social media. Rumors flew that Disney management had ordered the park gates closed for the remainder of the event, no matter what the crowd situation. Ultimately, after the second and final showing of Paint the Night, at 1am, Disneyland relented and reopened its gates.

Obviously, the kickoff of the 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration during a 24-hour party was going to be a popular event. But no one, inside Disney or its fan community, wants anyone to experience the frustration that thousands of fans did yesterday.

Could Disney have done anything better? Here are three ideas:

Paint the Night

1) Run more showings of Paint the Night

People began claiming space on the parade route by 9am. With just two showings of this well-reviewed new parade scheduled, fans rushed to the park early to ensure that they could see it. Perhaps if Disney had scheduled more than the usual number of showings for the parade, people would have had the opportunity to plan to see later shows, reducing the crush for the first one. Yes, Disneyland was going to hit capacity at some point yesterday afternoon. But with two or three additional shows after the initial run, Disneyland might have been able to reopen the park earlier, getting people out of the lines and into the park, while not overwhelming the parade route.

2) Make it official that California Adventure was closed

Some fans wondered why Disney seemed so reticent to make it official that the resort's second gate was closed to new entrants when it was essentially impossible to get there to get in. If Disney was concerned about disappointing fans with two closed parks, well, plenty of fans ended up disappointed anyway. One wonders if a public acknowledgement that both parks were closed to new guests would have dissuaded more people from trying to come to the resort in the afternoon and early evening, reducing the crush of people in Downtown Disney and on Harbor Boulevard.

3) Don't do so many things at once

A 24-hour party, the start of the Diamond Celebration, and the debuts of Paint the Night, Disneyland Forever and World of Color - Celebrate. That's five promotions in one event. That's a lot, especially for Disneyland, which is always a popular draw in Southern California. Disney probably could have gotten away with kicking off the 60th during a 24-hour party, and might have been able to throw in the World of Color debut, as that happened over at California Adventure. But debuting two new shows at Disneyland at the same time sealed yesterday's fate. Disney probably could not have gotten away with debuting the new parade and fireworks at a later date without complaint, given how they are so closely associated with the 60th. But a soft opening a week or so ago, at least for Paint the Night, could have taken some of the pressure off yesterday's event. Disney likely would have had to run more than two showings of the parade yesterday, anyway, but anything that would have reduced yesterday's crowd would have helped reduce the frustration.

Were you are the Disneyland Resort yesterday? Please tell us about your experience and share your suggestions.

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Replies (34)

May 23, 2015 at 12:46 PM · My mom and sister walked right in to DCA around midnight. There were no lines, and they weren't stopped anywhere. However, they could not enter DLR until 3am.
May 23, 2015 at 1:16 PM · Maybe the 24 hour thing has run its course.
May 23, 2015 at 1:23 PM · I had to leave Disneyland to go to dinner at DCA and use my WOC fastpasses. My plan was to meet my family back inside Disneyland for Paint the Night at 1. I wasn't allowed to even go meet up with my family. I was trapped inside DCA until almost 3:30 am. By the time Disney let us into Disneyland all the rides were pretty much closed and obviously we had missed the parade and fireworks. What angered me the most was that I was seeing pictures of an empty park and low wait times but I was still not allowed entrance. By them I was let over, it honestl didn't really matter anymore haha. First world problems, I know but it still really put a damper on things. Had to sacrifice two great shows.
May 23, 2015 at 1:30 PM · I wasn't there but I watched the live streams for Paint the Night and DL Forever and then switched my feed to show WDW for the final run of Main Street Electrical Parade of the night (less then 15 mins after DL Forever finished). And things I noticed that if I were there would have had me disappointed: 1) no Soundsational performances, I don't think there is a good enough reason to not show the daytime parade; 2) Paint the Night needed to run at least 4 times, MSEP was scheduled to run 3 time in MK and in the past Disney has run the parades multiple times; 3) The live feeds were awkward to watch anything at night, I think they should have used the same type of cameras that were being used at MK where I could make out the individual lights on MSEP, with PTN it was mostly washed out, they also should have had a camera atop Little Mermaid in DCA aimed at the pier capable of showing World of Color: Celebrate (w/ sound) and then another in Buena Vista Street aimed at Carthay Circle where it could have shown the Red Car Newsboys as well as Pixar Play Parade.
May 23, 2015 at 2:35 PM · I was there, and I disagree with much of this story. Yes, many of the rides had very short waits because of three shows happening inside Disneyland itself. But the entire parade route was a mob scene from 2pm until after the 2nd Paint The Night performance. Food lines were insane throughout the park. I waited an hour at Market House/Starbucks before the first parade. There was nothing they could do about this. Disney was absolutely correct to close the park. I can speak for DCA because I didn't get back in there until 1:30am, but that park was very, very busy through the 3am World of Color. I'm not sure if Disney was overly ambitious with so many events in one day or not. Maybe doing a "hard ticket" event would have helped with the capacity issues.
May 23, 2015 at 2:51 PM · What they need to clarify is no in and out privileges during event. They should disallow camping during parades and fireworks. They should kick everyone out of esplanade. This is an event marred by disorganization, but I don't feel sorry for the fools still trying to get in after capacity was reached.
May 23, 2015 at 3:22 PM · People will find something to complain about with anything. They have been doing the 24 hour thing for a few years now and anyone with half a brain would know if you're not there by noon, you're likely S.O.L! The vocal minority always seem to have the loudest bullhorn. Disneyland is a privilege, not a right. Quit whining or go to Universal.
May 23, 2015 at 3:39 PM · From the reports I've heard, it sounds like it was everyone camping out for the parade and fireworks along main st. that caused the early closure, essentially bottle necking the entrance of the park prevented a safe in/out route for guests. It makes sense Disney would want to prevent more guests from entering the park if this was the case.
May 23, 2015 at 4:34 PM · I agree that Disney should not have premiered the 60th Diamond Celebration events on 24 hour Disney Day. It was overkill. We stayed at the resort so we were allowed the luxury of entering DCA through the hotel. Cast members would not allow entry into the Grand California without a room key, so everyone else had to go through the main security check, which by around 6:30 pm, had lines all the way to the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. By 7 pm, even re-entry into Disneyland was restricted. Our plan was to go over to Disneyland around midnight after the park cleared enough to allow us in, to find a spot to watch Paint the Night at 1 am. Unfortunately, Disneyland was still too full and we were simply redirected to exit through Downtown Disney. Realistically, we knew that the crowd levels would eventually close off both parks so we cannot be surprised at having our night limited by the parks being at capacity. As an annual passholder, I know we'll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy Disneyland's Diamond Celebration attractions, so I can't be too upset about the situation. I know there has to be a reason behind why Disney chose not to re-open the park until 3 am. Ultimately, we still enjoyed our night. We caught the fireworks from our balcony, World of Color in DCA, rode Soarin' and even got on Radiator Springs Racers thanks to a family who gave us their fastpasses. We ate dinner at the hotel where there were no crowds at all and had a pretty good night's sleep. It's better to just roll with the punches instead of allowing your night to be ruined by things beyond your control.
May 23, 2015 at 5:10 PM · my 2 sisters, daughter and I left Disneyland at @230 pm, right after they closed the main gates to go to downtown Disney to eat and get away from the massive crowd just sitting around waiting for the parade. The lady that stamped our hands should have told us that if we left that we wouldn't get back in. We didn't know that they closed the main gates. NO ONE TOLD US. We wouldn't have left. It took us until after midnight to get back in the park. I even had a Disney employee tell me that these tickets were nonrefundable and I had to explain that our tickets said READMISSION. And that we came from texas, paid full price, got our hands stamped, had fast passes, paid for a decently expensive lunch for four at Blue Bayou and just wanted what we paid for. They finally made some kind of concession and let us back in almost 8 hours later. What really chapped my ass was the whole we are only letting back in Disney hotel guests. Well you know what? I booked my hotel on the Disney site with a good neighbor hotel because Disney hotels were full, ate at The Napa Rose and Blue Bayou and bought four 5 day passes not including all the other food and souvenirs. WE ARE ALL DISNEY GUESTS. If you don't have the capacity then don't sell me a ticket. And for damn sure INFORM YOUR GUESTS that if they leave that they might not get back in. 8 hours of our 5 day trip was spent in frustrating lines, with no ability to get food, water, or use restrooms. That was for sure not the happiest place on earth. FULL DISCLOSURE AND CUSTOMER SERVICE PLEASE. WE PAID THAT COURTESY. Crystal Eash, Arlington Texas
May 23, 2015 at 5:26 PM · I will agree it was too many things going off at once. We started the day in disneyland, but when it was over an hour wait for a sandwich, we went to DCA, and we enjoyed the rest of the evening. All the premiers going on were too much. The anger I heard from people who were seperated or locked out made me think that disneyland management has a lot to learn from WDW. My experiences there have been nothing like the issue filled messes I've seen disneyland lately.
May 23, 2015 at 6:10 PM · I was there and imbed it. I had solo much fun, watched the parade. the fireworks, and world of color...loved ALL three. YES.. The crowd was crazy, but in true Disney style, the cast members were incredible!!! Yes, it was crowded and we waited hours... For everything, but we planned accordingly and found the fans...waiting with us were AMAZING!!!

Sooooo ready for the next 24 hours!!!! Disney, you got my vote!!!'

Zulmara Maria

May 23, 2015 at 7:29 PM · I don't understand why Disney was not expecting this. They have been pushing the Diamond celebration on local and national news shows all week. Oh yeah, and the premiere of some minor movie called Tomorrowland starring some 2-bit actor.

What I find most puzzling is that people were already complaining about the crowds at the esplanade, but Disney was still tweeting that DCA was open.

May 23, 2015 at 7:37 PM · I too was there, they were correct in their decision to hold at security. The front of the park was packed through the second parade. Evacuation would have been extremely difficult had there been an emergency. I planned ahead, arrived early and stayed in the park. They scheduled events specifically concurrent so you had to choose which one was more important to you. This was not just ANY 24 hr event.
May 23, 2015 at 8:23 PM · I was there. I knew, given what they had planned, that DL would close early afternoon, so we planned accordingly. We did not leave until 2 am to cross to DCA for WoC. As we exited, we were informed we wouldn't be able to get back in, so we had to turn around and empty our locker before leaving, but I couldn't understand why they weren't letting people in them because the park was no where near capacity--probably less than 50%. I think they had too many things going on the same time. We even discussed thus during the day. My recommendation would have been to have a soft opening of the parade a week before, even AP preview events (sign up for particular day) 1-2 weeks before to offload the park for tourists. Have the premiere of the FW and opening of 60th a few weeks before 24 hour event. Have soft opening and AP preview for WoC (did AP preview for winter WOC in 2013), however I understand they weren't finished with that show until right before the opening because they cancelled the CM preview on Wednesday. They also should have had a LOT more food options, especially in the morning. The Lines for the few restaurants open before 10 am were at least an hour long. Disneyland really missed out on more food sales with their limited breakfast offerings Friday morning.
May 23, 2015 at 9:43 PM · They definitely should have had more showings. For a "24 hour" event, there should have been entertainment offerings at more of those different than normal hours, too.
May 23, 2015 at 10:18 PM · Completely agree with the comment someone said about how there should have been an AP preview of the shows. Combining Premium, Deluxe, and tourists, it was insane. And the food lines were shocking. I stood in line for 30 minutes for bottled water from a cart!! The popcorn cart lines were 90 minutes all because of the new buckets that were also released yesterday. And don't forget about the lines for the women's restrooms. There were actual roped off queues for the 30 minute wait just to go in. For people wondering why they weren't allowing more guests in, these are the reasons why. Not because of the rides!
May 24, 2015 at 12:03 AM · My family and arrived at 11am and chose to go to DCA first. We had lunch went on rides lines we're short for a while and we had a blast. We spent most of our time there. At 6 we thought we'd check out Disneyland, but had seen that the gates were closed. I told my family we should go back to DCA before it closes its gates too. That's what we did. We knew it was a big event. We knew the lines were going to be long and that it would be crowded like we'd never seen before, and it sure was. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the atmosphere, but everyone I saw at DCA had a smile on their face and were enjoying themselves.
It's their 60th anniversary, everyone should just get over it. You know it's a big deal, you know it's going to be crowded, be prepared and look around! No one anticipated the parks to close, first time for everything.
May 24, 2015 at 12:03 AM · Allowing guests to stake out spaces in the park for parades and fireworks is crazy. It bottlenecks what is already a tight space. Even just for a regular weekend day, special events notwithstanding. The plans for future overflow areas can't happen fast enough, but it won't be enough. The traffic on main street has to keep moving at all times. Maybe a ticketed reviewing stand on the roofs might be an option. Same goes for Fantasmic. Traffic through Adventeland and Frontierland is abyssmal on weekends before and after it.
May 24, 2015 at 12:18 AM · I agree that soft openings earlier and/or AP previews might have helped the crowds a little. Another complaint I have is that there special screenings and shows in Disneyland like the Mary popping sing a long etc.. Things planned for just that night but in DCA were many fans found themselves there was nothing really special planned. The 3am WOC was really the only thing going on that was out of the ordinary. Why not use bugs life theatre for a special screening like they did with Opera house and Magic eye theatre in Disneylan
May 24, 2015 at 6:08 AM · Why anybody subjects themselves to this punishment is beyond me. Every year its the same madness at these 24 hr "parties". I'll gladly wait, go next week and actually enjoy myself.
May 24, 2015 at 8:49 AM · We were there at 5:30 AM. Went to DCA at 1 for lunch. Back at DL at about 4:30. I agree that DL was at or near capacity. DCA was maybe half full.
Apparently the Fire Marshall ordered no more into DL. Eventually that pushed everyone into DCA where it reached way over capacity.
It seems like nobody understands what the Fire Marshall order means. If DL holds 60,000 and reaches capacity fine, but when 30,000 people leave you are no longer at capacity and you can let in 30,000 before you return to capacity. That didn't happen. If someone at DL management made the decision to permanently close the park once it reached capacity, that person should be reduced to financial ruin and be fired as well as have their name and information posted for everyone to sue them for gross negligence and false advertising.
We went on five major rides between about 1 AM and 2 AM inside DL. We essentially walked on all five. The park was empty.
Up to that point 20 hours into our day we were happy. After that it fell apart as we tried to get to the 3 AM WoC show. The ineptness of gate workers as well as their management was unbelievable. The number of ticked off potential patrons was overwhelming. The damage that Disney's greed did to their brand was massive. Many long time season pass holders said enough is enough.
My suggestion is to issue a wrist band like Halloween. Have a line for wrust Mandes people to re-enter both security and the parks. Stop letting unbanded guests into the secure area when you reach capacity and officially close the park until after the parades and fireworks. Only allow more through security after that as space opens up. Above all , publicize the plan and make it well known to all.
May 24, 2015 at 9:57 AM · I've been to all the 24 hour parties and this was the best one yet. Maybe that is because I was in the park by 1 o'clock. The biggest change was the cast members. There were a lots of them and they seemed in high spirits. In past years they have seemed overworked and stressed. Also there was a relief in the park because they closed it down. Half of my party didn't make it into the park they came around three and got into California adventures. That was disappointing but understood. I say well done Disney.
May 24, 2015 at 10:09 AM · Daniel, this was far in excess of the 24 hour parties. It was a perfect storm of all the new events, the 60th anniversary, and memorial day weekend.
May 24, 2015 at 3:01 PM · If I may add a few more post mortem suggestions....
I may be wrong, but was the livery path ever opened up? If not, Personally I think it probably should have been, as it would have definitely helped people get out of the park, and past main street.
Of course, the other thing, that a friend suggested, was that they do two 24 hour events for the sixtieth, back to back, with one blocking out some of the deluxe pass holders. To be honest, part of me even thinks that another event like this might end up being an extra ticket.
May 24, 2015 at 4:06 PM · Actually I was there last year for the 24-hour event and it wasn't nearly this bad. We were able to start at Disneyland and get into California Adventure later that night with no issues. This was waaaaaay to much for one night: 60th Anniversary, new Disneyland parade, new Disneyland fireworks show, new World of Color show, reopening of the Matterhorn with the new Yeti, limited edition collectible pins and Pinocchio dolls that went on sale the day of, giveaways to people in line at 4am, new foods, etc. So OF COURSE this year was a madhouse! I'm surprised they didn't expect this much to happen. What we were told was Anaheim Fire Marshals made them close off Disneyland due to fire hazard, and they couldn't reopen until Anaheim PD gave the ok. How did they not have those people arranged ahead if time to continuously monitor this? Anaheim should've known the potential for this and Disney should've worked with them ahead of time. We were inside the park and after the fireworks, the park cleared out. Ride times dropped to 15-20 min for all the rides and it was empty and got emptier after the second parade. They really could've started letting people in after 11pm but waited til 2:55 am. Next year won't be as bad I bet because there won't be so many new things. They'll be better off by releasing the new stuff on a different date or slowly over the year. They blew this big time.
May 24, 2015 at 5:49 PM · They made a ton of money in one day without having to expense for ride operators, food venue openings, and the expenses to run these parades and shows. They did not have to hire additional performers or technicians to cover this one day event that would have died down by the next day (because they will only do 1-2 shows daily, not that many people wouldn't show up if the did 3 or more).

I wonder if they had an evacuation plan for all of DLR, DCA, and all the other locations filled with Disney Fiends?

Oh the conversations could go on forever... heck this event may have been the LAST 24 hour event Disney ever does.

May 24, 2015 at 6:05 PM · Reading all these posts is very frustrating. I've been to other 24 hours celebrations and I was at this one. I had a great time. It was crowded...insanely crowded. I've never seen lines of 50 people for popcorn. And that was at every concession stand...all day. Here's what I did: took the day off and arrived early. I had read online and I had seen on news reports that it was absolutely known that the park would reach capacity and close. This article is right on one point: there were a lot of news things going on and everyone wanted to see them. But everyone wanted to see the FIRST one. To say that they were there when... Yes more runs of Paint the Night would have been nice, but wouldn't have made any difference in the crowd for the first one.
The second thing I did to prepare was follow @Disneyland on Twitter. All the park information about re-entry only, full closure and reopening was all tweeted on their account.
When the fire marshal says "shut it down", they have to shut it down until the fire marshal says they can reopen. That might have taken more time than people may have wanted but it is what it is.
Here's what I've heard about all this, and it's been pretty consistent. People who came early and stayed, had a great time. People who came early and left or people who came later had a miserable time, if they got in at all.
And lastly, the absolute most irritating thing I heard all day was, "they're not even letting in AP holders."...Why would they? AP holders are no more special than people who are there on a 2 or 3 day park hopper. As a matter of fact, they're less important. And before anyone says anything, I am a premium AP holder. I'm from AZ and come to the park so much that what I paid for my AP was a severe discount from day passes. Not to mention all the discounts that being an AP holder afford me. People who came to the park on day tickets may only have this one trip to have a good experience all year or longer. They're the ones that should have a special time. AP holders, let's face it, come to the park as much as humanly possible and will have many opportunities to see these new shows.
It's a shame that this event didn't go better for everyone. This is supposed to be the Happiest Place on Earth and it was less than that for a large group of people that came later. But realistically, we don't have all the information yet and many people are speculating as to why this happened.
May 25, 2015 at 12:38 AM · I flew down from Canada to last year's event and this year's. And the difference was staggering. Co-sign to everyone who mentioned the lines. 50 deep for popcorn at 10:30am at DL?!

Started at rope drop at DCA and hopped DL mid-morning. Left at 6pm and were warned we might not be let back into DL due to capacity. Were we supposed to abandon our WOC dining package resos?!?Conflicting/lack of info from CM didn't help the chaos around 1-2am. I was at the front of the line when they opened the DCA gates for DL and was so worried I would be crushed. It was dicey at best.

Suggestions for future events:
1- shut down BOTH parks when you reach this level. Why keep selling tix for DCA at 1am when they realistically still have to line up for security and then entrance for several hours more? Does Disney really need $155 that badly?
2- limit AP entrances eg. wristbands for the Halloween/Christmas parties, or have a reso system. How can you plan for 100,000 guests when several thousand will head over on a whim because they can?
3- no lining up for parades 12hrs in advance. Seriously?? It made walking down Main Street a chore at 11am bc you couldn't cross from one side of the street to the other without having to circle around a shanty town of blankets and umbrellas and strollers. Crowd flow was bottle-necked and I believe that ultimately led to the shutdown decision.

Legally, I understand the need to hold the crowd via the Fire Marshall. but Disney did nothing to alleviate the tension surrounding the decision. In fact, I'd wager they really stoked the fires of frustration by promoting people to buy tix/enter DCA either in person or on Twitter. What is the guy in the back of the line at DTD (which reached ESPN Sports Zone btw) supposed to do when he's told that even though DL is closed, it may open at any minute so maybe you should wait in this interminable line-up bc there's always DCA? (Fictional: I never waited in that crazy line.) As well, the dire warnings to not leave the park created a feeling of being trapped. Ultimately, I did some of the things eg rides and food that I had set out to do but the whole experience was disappointing.

May 25, 2015 at 8:45 AM · My favorite comments are the ones that are blasting Disney for being greedy. No logic or merit behind their anonymous comments. Disney would have much rather had more people in the park rather than outside of it. Stores and food vendors don't make money when guests aren't allowed to visit. Peoples logic is just ridiculous at times.
May 25, 2015 at 2:45 PM · Here is the big thing the park has a total number of guest capacity. Whether they congregate at Main street or through out the park it doesn't matter once that number is reached the park closes until enough people leave to allow the reopening. I have been through similar closing at Magic Kingdom although not as bad. Remember that there are building codes that Disney must follow to allow for the safety of all guests and cast members. Unfortunately disappointment happens when these closures happen. Look at it this way it is a good thing for Disney to have to do this as that means they are still a hit and will be around for a long time.
May 25, 2015 at 6:33 PM · I new it was going to be a nightmare when I saw that there were only 2 showings of the parade and 2 showings of WoC. Disney used to schedule extra showings of it's signature shows when they knew it was going to be extra busy (i.e. New Year's Eve) but the entertainment schedule looked like the normal schedule (with abnormally late showings of the parade and WoC). 4 Fantasmics, 4 parades, and at least 4 showings of WoC would have done much to keep the crowds happy.
May 27, 2015 at 3:29 PM · Seems like the harder disney "tries" the harder they fail. Bad publicity no doubt. Disney is the theme park equivalent to Walmart now. Terrible customer experience but it's the staple place to go.
May 28, 2015 at 4:53 PM · We were guests at the Disneyland Hotel and had a visitor from Canada who was extremely disappointed after she and my son stood in line for over 5 hours just to get through the security line even though they didn't have a bag to check. We were hoping, since we were staying at the resort there would be some special accommodations, NOT! My disappointment came because there were absolutely no Disneyland representatives providing information or managing the lines at any time during the 8 hours we were among the crowds/lines in Downtown Disney. We went the next day and had a great time, but I still think there could have been a better way to handle this event.

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