We are deep into the season of after-hours, hard-ticket events at some of the nation's top theme parks. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are hosting Mickey's Halloween parties, while Universal Studios in Florida and Hollywood are welcoming fans for Halloween Horror Nights. Disney World will start its annual Christmas events just as soon as Halloween passes, as it continues to offer upcharge extra-hour events in its parks throughout the year.
Universal promotes that its Horror Nights events are for ages 13 and older, but for the most part, all of these hard-ticket parties are all-ages events — just like normal operating days in the parks. Which has led more than a few grown-up theme park fans to ask:
When can we get a special event, just for us?
The idea of a child-free visit to a theme park entices many adult fans. Imagine it: No strollers. No crying kids stopping rides. No public meltdowns. (Okay, maybe we can't make that last assumption.)
Anyway, the idea is that an evening without children would allow a park to function more smoothly and create a less frenetic vibe for theme park fans who want a change of pace in one of their favorite places. I will leave to readers to debate whether the biggest fans of such an event would be childless adults, empty nesters... or parents of young kids seeking an evening of escape.
But if you accept that there's a big market out there for such an event (and I do), then why haven't the big parks tried it yet? Disney and Universal are not known for leaving money on the table and passing on opportunities to make money like this, after all.
Here are the two big problems, as I see them. First, the PR issue. Parks have devoted immeasurable effort to promote themselves as inclusive destinations. The announcement of an adults-only night would earn an enormous amount of publicity that would undercut that message. For Disney especially, fan blowback would be fierce. I cannot image the army of mommies that Disney has cultivated as unofficial brand ambassadors would sit quietly and accept this event. Woe unto any company that tells them what their children cannot do!
So why risk that hassle?
The second problem is part legal and part logistic. In the United States, you cannot simply bar entire classes of consumers from your business without some approved justification. The easiest legal justification that a public accommodation like a theme park could use to exclude children from its premises would be the presence of alcohol.
Put an open bar somewhere in the event venue, and — boom — you legally can restrict it to ages 21 and up. But that's where the logistics come into play.
First, I cannot imagine a theme park hosting any event for the public with an open bar. That's both a security and a profit-and-loss nightmare. At most, it could run like a comedy club or some similar arrangement, where your admission ticket included a drink coupon or two that you would redeem inside. Even then, a 21+ event would mean carding every single attendee as they entered the park.
And you thought the line to get into Mickey's Halloween Party was slow?
The only way to make such an event feasible would be to severely limit its attendance. To be honest, theme parks have hosted plenty of exclusive, adults-only events over the years, including media nights to promote new attractions and park buy-outs for corporate partners. But since this event would be open to the public, the parks' preferred method to limit attendance is going to be pricing it higher than the nation of Canada over the last week.
Forget about attending an adults-only night for under $100. With some amount of alcohol probably needed to be included in the ticket price to justify the age restriction, I think a $200 floor for an event ticket is probably the lowest reasonably imaginable. If Disneyland, for example, decided to do an adults-only evening in the new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge land next year, with "free" (but limited per customer) drinks in Oga's Cantina, I'd bet it could put those tickets up for auction and sell the cheapest for at least $1,000... and that's assuming that the land would have been open for a while. An opening summer event like that could fetch $10K a ticket, I'd guess.
Still, that first-for-Disneyland bar would give the park a plausible excuse for an adults-only event. Other parks would need other creative excuses for why they were booting the kids for the evening, to limit the PR blowback from what many will see as an exclusive cash grab. But, hey, if the public puts enough cash out there, eventually some park is going to try to grab it.
So, could theme parks do adults-only, no-children nights? Yes.
Will they? Maybe... but only for grown-ups with a lot, and I mean a lot of money to spend.
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