Universal Hollywood Raises AP Prices and Drops Clue about Potter Opening

November 16, 2015, 6:38 PM · Universal Studios Hollywood has unveiled its new annual pass program, and as expected, rates are going up as the park prepares for the debut of its Wizarding World of Harry Potter next spring.

Gone is the "Buy a Day, Get the Year" free promotion that Universal has been running in the LA market for several years. Instead, USH will offer three annual pass tiers.

Hmmm... I wonder what could be happening the week of March 21, 2016? This black-out calendar suggests mid-March as a smart guess for the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood. But let's talk about value, and compare Universal Studios Hollywood's new AP structure with two benchmarks: its nearest competitor, Disneyland, and its sibling, Universal Orlando.

The most striking difference with USH is that none of its passes offer 365 days of admission (well, 366 days in 2016) and free parking for passholders, both of which are available on top-level passes at the Disneyland and Universal Orlando resorts. In addition, USH's pass includes admission to just one park, not the two parks available at DLR and UOR.

In fact, for $36 more than USH's Gold Pass, anyone could buy a Universal Orlando Preferred Pass, which includes two parks (and two Wizarding Worlds), admission everyday and free parking.

With its black-out dates, USH's Gold Pass is perhaps most comparable to Disneyland's Deluxe Annual Pass, which offers a similar number of blockout dates, and no parking benefit, either. That pass costs $599, almost exactly twice the cost of Universal Studios Hollywood's Gold Pass — appropriate given that the Disneyland pass covers two parks to USH's one.

Given the big AP price increases at both Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland, it appears that demand far outruns supply for highly-themed parks in the Southern California market. AP rates per park in Southern California far exceed those rates charged by the Orlando parks, as you can see clearly in the USH-UOR comparison above. (Want to consider Disney? Disneyland's no-blockout annual pass costs $1,049 for its two parks, while Walt Disney World's costs $749 for four parks.)

Will these higher prices do anything to diminish that demand? Or will another theme park (Knott's?) decide to get in this game by offering more highly-themed, IP-rich environments in the years to come, adding to the supply in the market?

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Replies (9)

November 16, 2015 at 7:32 PM · I don't think there is a finite demand for themed environments that increasing supply will fix. More supply will probably just increase demand. I think Universal is smart to just try to drive frequent visitors to fill up the "empty space" in the park on weekdays and other traditionally low attended weekend days. I can see a big group of people wanting to visit the Wizarding World several times per year even if they have to take a few days off of work per year to do it. I bet Friday after 5pm will be madness there for quite a while.
November 16, 2015 at 8:58 PM · Wow, that's a lot of blackout dates. I'm surprised the CA Plus doesn't have more restrictions around a possible March opening. I imagine post-Easter Spring Break is going to be crazy if residents can get an AP for only twice the price of a regular admission.

I'm bummed about the lack of a parking option. I thought they were adding another parking garage to handle the demand. I'd imagine the park will reach capacity before the new garage fills up, although I wonder if they are expecting a lot of the after 5pm crowd. I was hoping to get an AP to deal with my butterbeer addiction, but I can't image paying an extra $20 every time.

November 16, 2015 at 11:07 PM · Knott's doesn't have enough ip
November 16, 2015 at 11:23 PM · These Annual Passes offer poor choice and worse prices. There is no choice really. Just don't go. Or maybe wait a bit. I'll just be a day tripper.
November 16, 2015 at 11:39 PM · I heard rumors that USH passes may not be available at all until Fall 2016, but I'm glad to see that is not the case. These passes are not cheap, but given USH's admission price they are a reasonable value for anyone who plans to visit more than once per year and can work with the blackout calendar. As for the lack of a no-blackout pass and passholder parking, I imagine this is a necessity at a park with a capacity of around 20,000 visitors. USH will likely be hitting capacity on a regular basis this upcoming year and I'm sure they'd like to avoid the problems experienced by the Disneyland Resort due to a surplus of passholders. Lastly, based on the blackout calendars I'd say March 19th is a pretty good guess as to when Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be opening.
November 17, 2015 at 4:30 AM · I feel kinda divided on this decision. This will probably help lower crowds a bit when WWOHP opens. And considering the fact that Orlando's Hogsmeade can still get pretty crowded, this could probably help a lot. Plus, I would like to point out that when Fast & Furious opened at USH, they had unprecedented large crowds and supossedly had their parking garage completely filled. Now, mind you, Fast & Furious doesn't have as big nor as passionate of a fanbase as Harry Potter does, and it was only a segment of the Studio Tour! So imagine how crazy the Harry Potter crowds are gonna be. But on the other hand, I don't know if this pricing is justified. Just like Robert said, it's only one park, and not even a full-day park according to what I've heard. Maybe Harry Potter might make it a full-day park, but still.
November 17, 2015 at 7:25 AM · Don't forget that the cost of living is different between Florida and California. Gas prices are about a $1 cheaper in FL, and same with minimum wage/ overall pay. Housing, groceries, etc are drastically different too.

I'm just surprised USH didn't include a pass with no black out dates but at a significantly higher price, like $800 since it only covers 1 park to Disneyland's 2 parks for $1000+.

With or without a no-black-out pass, people will still buy annual passes. Not everyone works Monday through Friday, so if someone's work schedule & lifestyle allow it, these passes are still a good value. Heck, if I always had a random weekday off every week and lived in LA, I would definitely get an AP.

And since they've never offered tiered AP's, I think USH has the "convenience" to instantly apply the fact that locals just don't spend money like tourists do. Disney has to slowly increase black out dates to prevent weekends from being jam packed with AP's. It will still make people angry, and reduce the number of AP's, but in the end it's probably their goal.

November 17, 2015 at 10:42 AM · Yes more supply! I'm hoping that Universal will siphon off more visitors, so Disneyland is not so crowded, but it probably won't work once Star Wars Land opens. Knott's is ripe for improving their offerings, build a great ride through haunted attraction where the Haunted Shack/Screamin Swing used to be.
November 17, 2015 at 8:19 PM · "I wonder what could be happening the week of March 21, 2016? This black-out calendar suggests mid-March as a smart guess for the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood."

Caveat: March 21-25 of next year is spring recess for LA Unified School District's 650,000 students.

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