Disneyland's Annual Pass Price Increase Creates an Opportunity for Universal, Knott's

October 4, 2015, 7:25 PM · Every time Disneyland raises its ticket prices, reporters ask if those higher prices will drive away fans. And many Disney fans oblige those reporters by threatening to not renew their passes and to stay away from the parks.

And then... Disneyland's attendance keeps going up — year after year, price increase after price increase.

So forgive me for not holding my breath waiting for a fan revolt against Disney's latest price increase. Yes, fans are complaining. Some might end up switching their pass levels. Others might have to make cuts elsewhere to support their Disneyland habit. A few might even stop going to the park. But in the end, Disneyland attendance won't suffer from these increases, as it has not suffered from increases in years past.

Disneyland Forever
Crowds watching the new Disneyland Forever fireworks show

Still, Disneyland's price increase creates opportunities for its nearest competitors in the Los Angeles-area theme park market: Universal Studios Hollywood and Knott's Berry Farm. With a no-blockout pass to the Disneyland theme parks now costing more than $1,000 a year, Universal and Knott's have plenty of room to raise their pass prices and create new admission products and still come off looking like an absolute bargain compared with what Disney is charging.

Right now, you can buy a 2016 Knott's Berry Farm annual pass, with no blockout dates and free parking, for $141. You can buy one pass for yourself and passes for six of your friends for less than the price of one comparable Disneyland Resort annual pass.

Universal Studios Hollywood currently is not selling an annual passes valid after February 11, 2016. (Its old no-blockout one-year pass had been available for $159 online.) With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening next spring at the park, fans have been expecting Universal to raise its ticket prices across the board, including the annual pass, whenever Universal sees fit to bring it back.

Hogwarts Castle
Hogwarts Castle under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood

Disneyland offers two theme parks to one each at Knott's and USH. And only the most loyal Knott's or Universal fan would ever think of claiming that those parks might match Disneyland for depth and quality of overall entertainment. But the price gap between Disney and these two competitors is now so wide that both Universal and Knott's could get much more aggressive with their prices and still make a claim to provide a better value for the dollar than Disney.

Both parks have been closing that quality gap with Disney in recent years, too. The Wizarding World might end up being the best themed land in Southern California, Disney's included, when it opens next year. The new Springfield and Despicable Me-themed mini-lands have greatly improved the quality of the Upper Lot in the park. And Transformers gives USH a world-class thrill ride that Theme Park Insider readers rank in the same neighborhood as many of Disney's best attractions.

Knott's Berry Farm has been improving its game, too. The recent refurbishments of the Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Ride give the park two classic, family-friendly dark rides that would fit well in any Disney theme park. This year's Voyage to the Iron Reef rivals Disney's Toy Story Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters as a fun shoot-'em-up ride. And Mystery Lodge remains one of the all-time great theme park shows.

Calico Mine Ride
Inside Knott's Calico Mine Ride

With Disneyland raising the price of its no-blockout annual pass by 35%, while at the same time closing beloved attractions such as Fantasmic! and the Disneyland Railroad for the year, Universal and Knott's at the very least have a marketing opportunity to reach out to Disney fans. They can invite Disney fans who chose a lesser-priced Disneyland AP to come to these rival parks on the days they're now blocked out from Disney. Or they can make a play for fans to take a year off from Disney and try these alternatives, instead.

But Knott's and Universal probably could take this chance make an aggressive increase in their own pass prices, too. How many Southern Californians would blink if Universal Studios Hollywood started offering a $250 annual pass, if it included the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Or if Knott's offered a $200 annual pass?

While the addition of Potter should help USH challenge Disney California Adventure in the annual theme park attendance report, Knott's still offers a half-day experience for fans looking for a Disney-quality theme park, with the rest of the park filled with typical "iron park" attractions. Knott's needs a few more unique and high-quality attractions to become a serious alternative for Disneyland fans.

As part of the Cedar Fair amusement park chain, Knott's doesn't have access to anywhere near as much corporate money as Disney or Comcast's Universal. An infusion of new annual pass income — from selling more passes to Disney fans, or charging more for passes, or both — could help Knott's pay for another Disney-quality family attraction at the park, in addition to the refurbishments of the Ghostrider roller coaster and the Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant the park has planned already for next year.

As much as fans might hate having to pay more to visit Disneyland, we should welcome the emergence of high-quality, high-value alternatives. Even if we end up going back to Disney as much as before, it's nice to have other great theme parks in the area to visit, too. Let's see how Universal and Knott's take advantage of this opportunity.


Replies (22)

October 4, 2015 at 7:52 PM · Universal will soon be in the high priced club with Harry Potter on the horizon. Knott's needs to take advantage of it's superior knowledge of Haunt attractions by doing a year round version. Bring back the Haunted Shack. Disneyland is not worth going once a month and this price increase has made me sure of it.
October 4, 2015 at 8:06 PM · My girlfriend is not into the big coaster parks so Knott's has never really been a option for us. We've been to Universal but, at least before Harry Potter, while it's a fun experience for a few hours it just doesn't come close to the Disney magic and value, especially the nighttime shows. At one point we had an AP to both Disney and Universal but that was when Disney's AP was cheaper and Universal had the Buy a Day, Get a Year. For the time being I doubt Universal will be running any value promotions once HP opens.

I suspect others like me will continue to keep there Disney pass and save money by reducing spending money on other parks. I'm hoping Universal doesn't go too crazy with their price increase since at the end of the day they're adding only two new rides. My guess is they increase the regular season pass from $119 to $149 and the no blackout from $159 to $199.

October 4, 2015 at 9:29 PM · I'm a big fan of Knott's Berry Farm, and support their recent improvements in classic themed rides and seasonal events, but it seems like they can't market themselves toward Disneyland's core fans because they made the move toward roller coasters and thrill rides 15 or 20 years ago, and that's their core fan base now.

They just don't have the money to become a Disney or Universal-level theme park, and they are satisfied with where they are in the market: a hybrid theme park/amusement park with one foot firmly entrenched in each side.

Universal has an entirely different problem: they have a relatively small park, both in physical size and in the number of rides, shows, and other attractions. They know Harry Potter is going to be phenomenally popular, both with locals in a huge population base of greater Los Angeles and regionally among people who have not visited other Universal Harry Potter lands in Orlando or Osaka.

They realize that the masses waiting for Harry Potter could very well overwhelm their infrastructure, and made the prudent decision last spring to stop selling annual passes to keep the crowds somewhat manageable once Harry Potter opens. They could very well try to sell as many Annual Passes as they can starting next spring, but if crowds are already waiting more than an hour to enter the Harry Potter area and two or three hours to ride the signature Harry Potter attraction, do they want those passholders adding to those crowds potentially every day during the spring and summer? It just doesn't make sense to start selling passes, even to disenchanted and vulnerable Disneyland fans, until the Harry Potter crowds have died down.

That's my analysis, for what it's worth.

October 4, 2015 at 9:32 PM · Knott's Berry Farm is moving in the right direction, but they need a lot of work before visitors will even consider a $200 pass. The park is a 2/3 of a day park with a few really highly themed rides, but the rest of the attractions are relatively generic amusement park rides. It's not a bad park at all and is probably the most balanced park in Southern California, but there is not enough quality to justify a pass much higher than they currently are.

Universal, on the other hand, could probably go for a pass close to $200 once Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens. However, my guess is that they won't be quite that high. My guess is that the regular pass with black-out dates will likely jump to the price of the current no black-out pass ($159) and the new no black-out pass will be $219 (or somewhere in that neighborhood). However, I would not be at all surprised if USH completely suspends pass sales until 6-9 months after Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens in order to keep from overwhelming the park. Harry Potter or not, I find it tough to think many people would pay $250 for a pass to USH.

October 4, 2015 at 9:57 PM · I think Universal can easily command $299 for a no block out day annual pass with Harry Potter. They can sell a $199 pass with Saturday block out days. I can't understand why some people think they can't get these prices. Universal was selling a $199 annual pass that included parking and front of line privileges for the tram ride. Universal offers a compelling product and Harry Potter will be the big draw to keep the customers happy with repeat visitation.
October 4, 2015 at 11:23 PM · There are so many wonderful destinations here in S. California that one has to wonder why DISNEYLAND, an over-visited, over-homogenized and under-populated with real entertainmen,t is of any relevance at all. Live entertainment is almost extinct at DL. But every reader here knows the real answer: pony up or shut up. The rest is a memory. DISNEYLAND, as we all knew it once, is slowly slipping away.
October 5, 2015 at 12:14 AM · At the end of the day the key word in all this is Disneyland RESORT. Universal and Knotts Berry are both just parks. Universal is getting a big shot in the arm with Harry Potter but it's till just a single park with relatively few attractions. Disneyland offers two parks and the whole Resort Thing, which is why, whatever the naysayers may claim, people have done and will continue to pay out a lot of money for an annual pass because there's simply so much to do there and plenty to keep people coming back again and again. If you don't 'get' the Disney magic then feel free to save your dollars and enjoy the (limited) offerings elsewhere but even with Harry Potter you're comparing chalk and cheese when you try and put Universal and Disney in California on the same footing.
October 5, 2015 at 2:05 AM · Easy to avoid high AP prices. When you crave a DLR visit pop some corn, fire up You Tube and view the on ride HD videos. OK I'm joking, kind of.
October 5, 2015 at 8:51 AM · I would like to see the Disney AP program removed entirely. Since the AP program started the evenings and weekends at Disneyland have been unbearable.
October 5, 2015 at 8:54 AM · As far as Knotts goes, I have become a huge fan. If raising prices means another top notch dark ride than count me in, but they need to be carful because they could easily price themselves out of the market.
October 5, 2015 at 9:21 AM · I really like what Knott's has been doing with their Boysenberry festival. I think this would be a good opportunity for Knott's to continue to play up its local appeal, maybe becoming the Farmer's Market alternative to Disney's Corporate Mall. However, Knott's really needs to do something about its insane food pricing first. Even if an AP is only $100, $20 for a mediocre burger is gonna kill any price benefits quickly. I know there are discounts, but I don't want to walk around with a giant plastic cup every day.

For Universal, I would easily pay $200+ a year if it includes a free parking option. Although USH also seems to have higher food prices. I believe the Simpsons area is charging about a $1 more than the Florida equivalent. It will be interesting to see if Butterbeer is more than $5 in Hollywood.

October 5, 2015 at 9:25 AM · Anon Mouse is right. Knott's should bring back the Haunted Shack as a year round attraction asap.

Disney is giving Knott's a greenlight to go after disenchanted Disney fans. Knott's should tear a page out of the Disney book and start bragging about big changes coming to the park over the next ten years. Take advantage of the social media storm to generate some enthusiasm for Knott's new improvements: a wild mouse ride like Space Mountain and additional landscaping and water features to make the park as beautiful as Disneyland Resort.

Knott's should become what Disney was in the early 80's: a beautiful park with great attractions at a fair price. Create all the IP in-house and license it to movie studios to generate additional publicity for their parks.

NFL teams often sell personal seat licenses to help generate funds for new stadiums. Maybe Knott's could generate some funds by selling ten-year annual passes? Give fans a personal interest in the success of the park.

Knott's Berry Farm is a sleeping giant. It has the right location, the right size and the right climate.

October 5, 2015 at 9:32 AM · I think Universal can really capitalize in this, but Knott's cannot. Universal has the benefit of being part of the third biggest theme park franchise, and with Harry Potter on its way, I can see the park building a couple of on site hotels. Knott's has lost a lot of their theming, Cedar Fair seems to want it shifted to their style of coaster park and lose the theMing. Universal Studios Hollywood will soon become a park that people around the world will come for, while Knott's will remain a highly popular locals park
October 5, 2015 at 10:21 AM · Shame on you Disney! Enough already! I know your parks are crowded, I know you are beholden to shareholders, but enough is enough. Your prices go up every year--twice this year. That is not alright. You are forcing families to make big sacrifices or miss out on what is a very special, sentimental place to many. The price of your Deluxe annual passes have DOUBLED since 2008, your SoCal passes have DOUBLED since 2009. Shame. Your Single Day Park Hoppers are so expensive that families are frantic to squeeze in as much as possible and usually end the day failing to feel they got their money’s worth (easily $1k/day for some families!)—but they lie to themselves and say what a “Magical” day they had. Unfortunately for all of us, that magic is fading, the lies aren’t as convincing as they used to be, that impervious shell of sentimentality you have had for ½ a century is wearing thin. Your biggest defenders are being priced out of your parks.
Now is the time to let your conscience be your guide and lower ticket prices, lower annual pass prices, lower the prices of your hotels, lower your blu-ray prices, your toy prices, lower concession prices, lower prices on your $30 t-shirts, lower prices across the board. Get the MagicBands going immediately, work harder to attract crowds to lower census days and to lower census areas of the park, stay open a little later to stretch out age concentrations, etc. Be more creative than driving up costs and becoming elitist. Every year I see fewer members of several societal groups represented in your parks. Not OK. Get back to cleaning every nook and cranny of your parks and demanding that your employees be the best—I’m tired of seeing dust and cobwebs and garbage stashes, I’m tired of rude and lazy employees (although these are not the norm, they should not exist in the numbers they do). All of the preceding is my opinion. Yes, I’ve been around for a long time but when I don my top hat and grab my little umbrella you have to stop and take heed or you will all end up sprouting donkey tails and ears.
October 5, 2015 at 11:23 AM · Knott's doesn't sell an "annual pass", but instead offers a "season pass" which is disappointing for a park that operates year-round.

Surprisingly, today's season pass at Knott's is still priced less than what the park sold an "Annual Pass" for about 10 years ago.

October 5, 2015 at 12:43 PM · @

That would be a good argument, if Disney executives actually had a conscience.

As for me, the apathy has set in. Every year the price goes up and the value goes down. Bring on Knott's and Universal. Sayonara, greedy Disney execs.

October 5, 2015 at 3:19 PM · I say raise them higher. Double it to $2000 or better yet, even more. Disney fans are truly pathetic and will pay any price.

The Disney parks are a total failure from the perspective of the guest. I'm sure that if you took a class on Amusement Park Management 101, one of the very first lessons that you would learn is that if your guest has to wait an hour or more to get on a ride, then you FAILED. Big Time!

No ride should have more than a 15 minute wait time. If it does, you either need to build more attractions OR allow fewer people into your park. What is Disney's answer? Well, they are certainly NOT going to allow fewer people into the parks - that would mean less money! And build more attractions? - Ha! The ONLY thing Disney really cares to build are more places to extract money from their guests (Think Restaurants and Gift Shops!!) Even with the recent Fantasyland expansion at Disney World, it hardly added less than a handful of new rides, but they made sure to add plenty of gift shops and restaurants!)

Disney figured something out about their guests early on though; If they're pathetic enough to wait in hour long lines (and that's if you're lucky!), then they aren't the most demanding customers and they'll likely continue to put up with it because they've been brainwashed into thinking it's all "part of the magic!" In fact, Disney has even turned "waiting in line" into a "magical experience" with interactive line queues that are designed to distract their pathetic guests from realizing just how long the line actually is! That's right! The line is now part of the attraction! Genius, right! Actually, it's pathetic, but don't tell the guests that.

Hey! If Disney can charge $20 a day just so that your car can enjoy parking in Disney World, then surely their guests will put up with anything! Parking should be a courtesy! After all, your their guest, right? You're the customer who is coming to spend money at their place of business! The least they could do is provide a place for you to park, so that you can come in and spend money. Imagine if you had to pay a parking fee to go shopping at the grocery store or any of the other hundreds of places you shop where they appreciate your business so much that they built a parking lot where they allow you to park in it free while you visit with them, and sometimes without spending a dime! Yikes! Are they crazy?

So, right on, Disney! Keep raising the prices! Parking should be $100 a day! One day tickets should be $1000 a day! And your Super Duper Deluxe Magical Spectacular Fantastical No-Black-Out-Date Incredible Stupendous Annual Passes should be no less than $10,000!

Don't worry! The Disney fans will pay it...and happily! Yes, they'll whine a little bit at first, but then they'll pay up just like they always do! They're pathetic that way, but what a glorious cash machine they make, right?

Oh, and if it's not too much trouble... Please continue to make countless reboots, remakes, and reimagining's of all the fairytale stories into movies, television shows, and the like! Please also continue to do the same with Marvel and Star Wars! Extract every last cent from every possible intellectual property you have until you've bled them all dry! There doesn't have to be any other reason to make it than it just needs to make money, right? I mean, this was Walt's original dream, right? That's why he did it too while he was alive, right? - Oh wait, he didn't. Oh well, what did he know!

Modern day Disney fans aren't very discriminating or particularly intelligent. Just make sure to put the Disney name on it or call it "magical" in some way or another. They'll buy it!

October 5, 2015 at 3:43 PM · The other parks don't need to increase their prices. They are getting all of the people that don't want to pay for Disney anymore. We would rather get Knott's, Universal, and Magic Mountain (all 3) instead of paying for Disney.
October 5, 2015 at 4:02 PM · IMO, even though I'm not a SoCal resident, if I was, I'd stick to Knott's for the next year. Even if it's not as good as DLR or USH, I wouldn't wanna face those crowds. I remember how shockingly narrow the pathways at Disneyland were, and I've heard from many accounts that there's been times when they actually had to close down the park because of overcrowding. And it doesn't help that all the Rivers of America-related attractions will be closed for a while. And USH? Well, considering that, even five years after it's opening, Hogsmeade can still be a navigational nightmare. And considering how big crowds were when Fast & Furious opened, I don't even wanna imagine what's gonna happen when Harry Potter opens. Luckily, I haven't heard any complaints involving Knott's in terms of overcrowding, and still has some pretty neat rides. So why not?
October 5, 2015 at 7:38 PM · After 55 trips to Disney World from PA over 20 years, and an annual passholder for the past 6 years, Disney has finally gone too far. Besides closing what seems like 1/2 of the Studios, now they want even more for an annual pass. Sorry Mr Iger. You just lost 2 more dedicated customers.
October 6, 2015 at 6:33 PM · Knott's and Six Flags Magic Mountain offer "meal plans" to counter the high food prices for Season Passholders. Both also offer unlimited free refill bottles good for all of 2016 (although SFMM's 2016 passes include benefits from day one if you purchase in late 2015 while Knott's makes you wait until the beginning of 2016). Disneyland is rolling out (as is Universal Hollywood) the soda cups with the single-fill microchips in the bottom of the cup. It kinda makes me mad that SFMM and Knott's are offering unlimited refills (when you purchase the cup) and Disney is implementing a rationing method to squeeze out every cent. Funny, I don't feel like a "guest" anymore.
October 7, 2015 at 6:52 AM · If Disneyland added unlimited fast passes to their new Signature Plus pass, then MAYBE it would be worth it!!!

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