That's the question I asked in my Orange County Register column this week: Will Harry Potter magic steal Disneyland's crowds?
In it, I look at industry attendance numbers to show how Harry Potter has helped push Universal's theme parks in Orlando and Japan to record attendance. I also note that Hollywood's park has been doing quite well over the past few years, despite all the construction in and around the park. (For comparison, Universal Orlando's attendance tanked in the years leading up to Potters' opening. But the recession then didn't help, either.)
Of course, Walt Disney World's attendance rebounded nicely after Potter's opening, and ultimately the addition of the Wizarding World brought more visitors to the Orlando area, helping both Universal and Disney.
What will happen to the Disneyland Resort's attendance in 2016, and beyond? Keep in mind that several attractions in the park will close in January, for Star Wars Land construction. That, plus the end of the Diamond Celebration and the recent annual pass price increases, could serve to depress attendance at the same time that Potter is luring more and more visitors up the 5 toward Universal City.
So let's put the question to you, theme park fans: Are you planning to visit the Disneyland Resort more or less in 2016? Are you planning to Universal more or less often, as well?
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If Disneyland attendance does drop a little, reports of a quieter park will have the locals coming back fast anyway.
But here's where my mind went next - do you think Disneyland planned the massive closure of the Rivers of America to begin when it is, knowing that they will potentially be losing guests to USH once HP opens?
Personally after hearing about it being 3D I would much rather plan 1 big trip to Florida than to get an AP for USH.
The current weakest park is SoCal park is probably Sea World and I expect them to be crushed.
In fact, several Universal fans online have been talking about switching to Disneyland passes when their passes expire in 2016 because they see it as a better bargain for the cost, so conceivably former Universal passholders could contribute to an increase in visitors to the SoCal Disney parks in 2016. Some passholders saw the writing on the wall and bought the unlimited passes to activate at the end of this calendar year before Universal suspended sales in March 2015, but the numbers who did that are probably small.
But when you look at Universal's strategy, that's what they seem to want: fewer local visitors, except for those who will pay full admission price for the day, and not come back multiple times. The demand for the new Harry Potter land is probably enough to break their attendance records for 2016, but it will come at a cost in terms of their longtime passholders.
On the Disney side, my best guess is that the two Disney parks in Anaheim won't see a significant drop in attendance in 2016. I think Team Disney Anaheim will think up some kind of promotion, special event, or discount to help promote attendance next year. I agree that Disney is trying to test out how limit visitors in advance of the crush coming when the Star Wars land opens in a few years, but I can't imagine that Disney's calculation for 2016 amounts to increasing pricing to make up for an expectation of lower visitorship.
Even if attendance is to drop, I believe that their overall profit will still increase. Also, slightly lower numbers improves the overall experience for those in the park with less overcrowding. In the time preceding Star Wars this may draw locals back due to this being the last years to enjoy the park before it "gets crazy", or at least until prices go up significantly again.
We usually go once or twice per year to Disneyland, especially if there are promotions for local residents, but we probably will pass on Disneyland for 2016 because of the ever-increasing prices, the construction, and the crowds on weekends.
We had $92 passes for Universal Studios in 2015 and visited maybe once a month, but the new annual passes cost a ridiculous amount of money. We might make a Universal trip to see Harry Potter once the crowds die down in the fall. Probably a one-day trip, or possibly the lower or mid-level passes if we can afford it, or really like it after our first visit.
We've already renewed our Knott's Berry Farm passes for 2016. We've had them for three years now, and they are an excellent value. We consider Knott's our home park.
On the subject of hurting Disney attendance- I don't think it will. I live in southern California, so I've been asking my friends (most of whom have either Disneyland passes or always purchase FastLane when visiting Knott's) if they wanted to visit the park with me once Harry Potter opens, and they were all turned off by Universal's new expensive prices. KBF and DLR just have a lot more rides and therefore a lot more bang for your buck. In addition, Harry Potter just isn't as popular as it was when Harry Potter came out in Florida. The last movie will have come out 5 years ago by the time Harry Potter opens in Hollywood! So although I think this will probably boost USH's attendance, I don't think this will have a major impact on Disneyland's attendance.
On a slightly unrelated note, I know a lot of people who prefer USH over DLR (these people have not been informed about Universal's price increase). When I was in first or second grade, a bunch of my fellow schoolmates were making fun of my friends and I for preferring DLR to USH. I remember them calling DLR a "baby park" and that was only meant for little kids. In addition, I know someone who was visiting So Cal for the first time and chose to visit USH instead of DLR, as he thought DLR was a kids park. So over the years, I have begun to learn that USH is viewed as DLR's more thrilling and less childish counterpart. So will Harry Potter, which is a franchise aimed at kids, hurt a park that is known for being more on the adult side?
Disneyland: Small attendance drop
DCA: Small attendance increase
KBF: Minimal change
USH: Large attendance increase
SWSD: Small attendance drop
SFMM: Minimal change
Why? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a big deal and I have a feeling a lot of people who only make a couple park visits a year will probably check out USH in 2016, especially with all of the refurbishment happening at the Disneyland Resort. I also wouldn't be surprised if passholders to KBF and SFMM do a day trip to USH as they are getting the big addition for the region next year. However, I really don't think USH is going to sell a lot of annual passes so return visitors will be limited. The park is too small to justify frequent visits and for what they offer the passes are very expensive. Additionally, if you don't live within 30 miles of the park it can be a real pain to get to on weekdays (no joke...I'm 60 miles from USH and 87 miles from SFMM, but I can usually get to SFMM in less time than USH on a weekday). Lastly, while Disneyland may be undergoing a lot of refurbishment, DCA is opening three new attractions in 2016 and this will probably be enough to keep attendance high.
Edit: As for my personal plans, I will likely be maintaining the same visit frequency in 2016 as I have for the past few years...Disneyland visits every 1-3 months (at least as long as I keep my AP), Knott's visits every 2-3 months, SFMM visits every 1-4 months (actually, this will probably go down), and one USH visit during the year.
While Iagree with most of your points, the one I don't agree with is that Harry Potter is no longer relevant. 5 years isn't exactly a relatively long time. Me, my sister, my cousins, a bajillion kids at my school, all love Harry Potter. We all still read the books and still watch the movies from time to time. And every time I go to WWOHP here in Florida (which I do quite frequently) I see a lot of teens like myself, and even a good number of little kids. So HP is still a relevant franchise.
Also, to answer your question, I don't think Harry Potter is gonna change anyone's mind on Universal being mature, and for a number of reasons.
1) Harry Potter has been at our Universal for several years and people still say that it's more mature than Disney.
2) a Universal has always featured attractions based on franchises geared towards kids, such as Hana-Barbera, Nickelodeon, Woody Woodpecker, and Dr. Seuss.
3) I think the reason why everyone treats Universal like it's more mature is because of reputation. They're more known for thrill rides while Disney is known for family rides. And Universal doesn't really show the same love and attention for the thrill rides than they do for the family rides.
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Take my family for example. We were going to USH for a day regardless of what rides are open. This is a historic backlot and we were left a little underwhelmed by the attractions. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I was more excited to see Alfred Hitchcock's office and the Psycho house than to ride the Mummy.