A tale of two Disneys: What happens when an attraction closes?

August 6, 2017, 10:03 PM · Disney this month is closing attractions at its theme parks in Florida and California. But Walt Disney World and Disneyland seem to be taking very different approaches to handling its most loyal fans' last visits to these rides and shows.

In Florida, Walt Disney World announced that it is waiving blockout dates for annual passholders to allow them to ride The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Ellen's Energy Adventure at Epcot before those rides close permanently on August 13. Silver AP holders had been blocked out through Aug. 10, but were able to return to the parks on Aug. 1 this summer.

Meanwhile, in California, Disneyland is bringing back its Blockout Day tickets for annual passholders, allowing AP holders to purchase a $79 one-day park-hopper on a day their pass is not valid. Those tickets typically sell for $165. The offer is effective through Aug. 20, which is the day that the Main Street Electrical Parade wraps its run at Disneyland.

Okay, so annual passholders at Disney World get extra days for no extra charge, while APs at Disneyland get to pay $79 to visit an extra day on their passes? As a California resident... ouch!

Why would Disney treat its most loyal fans so differently on each coast? Let's consider some context. First, Disneyland revealed the Aug. 20 closing date for the Main Street Electrical Parade months ago. In fact, Disneyland originally announced an earlier closing date for what it always had promoted as a limited engagement for the returning parade. So Disneyland's SoCal Select Annual Passholders had an opportunity to "say goodbye" to the parade before their summer blockouts started last June.

But Disney hadn't announced the closings of The Great Movie Ride and Ellen's Energy Adventure until the D23 Expo last month, well after the summer blockout period had started for Disney World's annual passholders. Those fans hadn't had a chance to get a last go on those rides, so presumably there would have been a rush of those fans to get on in the three days between their blockouts lifting on Aug. 11 and the rides' closures on Aug. 13.

By shortening the blockout period, Disney World hopes that the AP crowd trying to get on those rides will spread across nearly two weeks instead of being concentrated on three days. Selling Blockout Day, a la Disneyland, tickets wouldn't be nearly as effective in accomplishing that goal. Disney needed to offer extra free days to disperse the crowd.

In California, Disney's just trying to bank a few extra bucks by selling its lower-tier annual passholders on an extra day at the parks before the parade "glows away again" (and school starts). There's no real crowd management need here like in Florida — just a marketing opportunity. In fact, Disneyland just reopened its Rivers of America attractions and Disneyland Railroad after a 15-month hiatus, so crowds at the park are already quite robust. There's no business case for Disneyland to be giving away extra "free" days to anyone at this point.

But at Disney World? While Pandora: The World of Avatar drew huge crowds to Disney's Animal Kingdom at the beginning of the summer, Walt Disney World has so many other new projects debuting in 2018 and beyond that it's becoming harder to sell to people on visiting this year... rather than put off a vacation until Star Wars land, or many of the attractions announced at D23, open. So why not goose the attendance numbers with a show of goodwill to the annual passholders the resort will be looking to to keep spending as out-of-market visitors postpone their trips?

And, of course, Disney World sells nowhere near as many annual passes in Central Florida as Disneyland does in the far more populous Southern California. So the expense to Disney from increased park load and potentially lost ticket revenue in lifting a blockout day in Florida is much less than it would be in California. Of course, more people in the park means more money on food and merchandise sales, but Disneyland's per guest spending by lower-tier APs also is said to be slipping, too, so there's less upside to letting them into the park in the hopes that they spend a lot while they are there. (FWIW, Disney officially doesn't release any of these numbers.) At Disney World, the parks are hawking a line-up of new merchandise themed to the closing attractions, so the resort clearly is hoping that it can entice its APs to spend more on their "free" days there.

So... different situations on each coast help explain the different approaches to managing the last days of these attractions at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

Replies (16)

August 6, 2017 at 10:55 PM · I actually think now is a great time to visit Disney World. There are a lot of awesome new things coming soon, but once they open, attendance will skyrocket. As crowded as Disney World already is now, it's only going to get worse. I'm sure Star Wars and the other new attractions will be awesome, but they won't be worth the parks being completely full. Enjoy the parks now while they're still enjoyable. They're going to be uncomfortably crowed for at least two years once Star Wars is complete.
August 7, 2017 at 12:48 AM · WDW are just giving free tickets to sell more ride closing merchandise. Nothing is free with Disney anymore.
August 7, 2017 at 8:38 AM · Weather-wise, this is a brutal time of year in Central Florida. The blackout dates just didn't make sense given the current state of the Studios park and EPCOT.

The bus schedule to/from Animal Kingdom has probably been cut waaaay back as part of the lifting of the blackout dates. Disney is making a big deal in local media about a "shortage" of bus drivers -- I'm thinking there is a connection.

August 7, 2017 at 10:49 AM · Seems like Disney World APs got the better deal. Free is better than paying for admission. I already anticipated the Main Street Electrical Parade closure by seeing it prior to the June blockout dates. Disney World never had advanced announcements for the attraction closures so it was a nice touch due to a late decision.
August 7, 2017 at 11:11 AM · >>> WDW are just giving free tickets to sell more ride closing merchandise. Nothing is free with Disney anymore.

I must have missed where they forced people to buy the merchandise...

August 7, 2017 at 12:46 PM · I think it's apples and oranges here. The MSEP has been coming and going from Disneyland in slightly different iterations for the past 2+ decades. So the expectation from a passholder would be that a trip just to see a parade is not needed outside of your typical visits. Disney is trying to "sweeten" the pot to get those APs into the park one time during their blackout period by leveraging the parade departure, but they don't want to break the bank or set a dangerous precedent for APs expecting deep discounts when parades/shows are going on hiatus. This is akin to Disney marketing movies they release from the "Disney Vault" for a limited time, only to see the same movie come out in the Gold-and-Diamond-Encrusted-Platinum-Coated-Super-3D-HD-BluRay-DigitalCopy-4K-Lenticular-Special-Edition-Cover-Silver-Tin-Foil-Hat-Edition with a new "never before seen" interview of Michael Eisner's cat two years from now. Some Disney Drones will buy it all up, but most smart consumers will either upgrade if it's worth it to them (pay the upcharge to see the parade one last time) or just live with version they currently have in their collection (pass because they just saw the parade a year ago).

On the other coast, Disney is closing two actual rides that are not coming back in any form FOREVER. It's a rare situation when Disney (or any other theme park for that matter) closes a ride that will never reopen (granted not so rare these days at DHS). Giving WDW APs a shot to experience these gone for good rides one last time is just good customer service to ensure repeat businesses from your most loyal guests.

I think drawing any comparisons between these two initiatives is a bit dubious because of the nature of the closures, and has little to do with the makeup of the passholder base.

August 7, 2017 at 12:49 PM · Instead of just extending APs, Disneyworld should re-think or delay getting rid of the iconic Great Movie Ride...

1. GMR is a classic attraction and is central to the theming of DHS, so it is crazy to close it. It should be refreshed not replaced. (Why can't the Mickey ride be built somewhere else there?)
2. IF we have to accept that it is replaced, closing it before Toy Story land opens turns DHS into even less than half a day park, like a 3rd rate carnival. This should be a huge embarrassment for Disney. How can we influence Disney into keeping it open until Toy Story land opens?

August 7, 2017 at 1:11 PM · It's closing next week. There's nothing that anyone can do to change GMR's demise. We can certainly roundly criticize Disney for crippling DHS while still charging guests full price to visit, but that's unlikely to change the current course of events. You can avoid DHS or WDW altogether to voice your displeasure through Disney's pocketbook, but I doubt that will have any impact on the company's decisions moving forward.

There's no doubt that DHS is no longer a "studios" park, and that at some point they will give the park a new identity as they noted when the MGM brand was cut.

August 7, 2017 at 5:34 PM · The MGM brand was cut bc their partnership had expired then they had a partnership with TCM which expires next week, hence the closing of the GMR
August 7, 2017 at 8:56 PM · @Swiftwater

I can understand how closing GMR will have a significant impact on his, but up until this point, they've just closed a very poor attraction (back lot tour) that was almost a waste of time and an extremely average attraction, Lights, Motors, Action. I really didn't care about those two at all, and closing them didnt diminish the value of the park at all, IMO.

GMR is a completely different issue though - the loss of hourly capacity alone will seriously hurt the park.

August 7, 2017 at 11:44 PM · @ChadH no one is forcing but Disney does stats on their demographics for pass holders and holiday makers, and their relative purchasing behaviours. They would know that opening up those days to frequent visitors would increase the merchandise sales for the (really freakin' awesome) exclusive merchandise ranges they have put out. Disney are smart.
August 8, 2017 at 2:25 PM · As a silver pass holder, I greatly appreciated the extra days and made use of one of them.

Sucks those on the west coast didn't though.

August 8, 2017 at 2:47 PM · It wasn't clear in the article but the extra APs days at WDW are good only for Epcot and DHS, not for MK or DAK. APs of whichever type are good for all 4 parks when valid (except that after 4pm Epcot pass).
August 8, 2017 at 5:36 PM · Disneyland is also significantly smaller so they need massive crowd control.

August 8, 2017 at 6:36 PM · @Tony Duda- For Disney World there are no more block out dates for August for any Annual Pass. Please don't mislead people.
August 9, 2017 at 12:01 PM · Yes, Star Wars Land will create a feeding frenzy, but that should draw warm bodies away from the other parks.

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