Here is how theme parks could host a night without children

October 24, 2018, 6:32 PM · 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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Replies (8)

October 24, 2018 at 7:18 PM

One clarification: Some "adult ride nights" you might have seen at parks over the years are actually third party buy-outs. Those third parties typically can limit admission as they see fit. What I am talking about here is how big theme parks - with enormous litigation targets on their backs - could pull off a no-kids night themselves, without massive public outcry.

October 24, 2018 at 8:56 PM

The now dead Hard Rock Park charged kids the same price as adults. That worked well. Not really. Parks that restrict kids are not looking at the big picture. Kids are extra admission fees that brings adults in. Having separate adult areas makes more sense.

October 25, 2018 at 4:06 AM

As you already wrote in your article there are already adult only private parties. It's not that difficult to attend them if you search the internet. So that itch could be scratched if you really wanted to.
In the end the product Theme Park as the 2 big ones are running them are made for a wide audience.
It's like LEGO, there is a huge community of adult Lego builders. Lego knows that but non of their communication mentions them although they could earn a ton of money from them. It's not the core of the brand so it's smart to not make that confusing for the general public.

October 25, 2018 at 8:13 AM

These events already exist, they are just not marketed as adults only. It's true that Universal doesn't restrict kids from HHN, but I have rarely seen kids infiltrate the Halloween event. If there are kids, most of them are latched closely to their parents, and typically are invisible to most guests. Universal does a very good job scaring the kids away, and the amount of alcohol served tends to keep the teens away as well since they are outsiders to the drinking aspect of the event. Additionally, the RIP and other similar tours are explicitly age restricted, preventing younger teens from participating, and making it financially unsound for those under-21 from booking because the inclusive alcohol is one of the items that brings value to the upcharge. So, while there are very few strict prohibitions on children for HHN and its peripheral events/tours, adults typically have the run of the parks on these nights.

Similarly, there are numerous events at EPCOT that don't expressly exclude children, but the price and content make it cost prohibitive to allow children to participate. I've maybe seen a handful of children over the 3 different Parties for the Senses that we have attended. With a ticket costing almost $200 now in addition to a park admission for an event that is open bar, parents would struggle to see value in paying that much for a child/teen that cannot partake in over half the items offered during the event. Other EPCOT F&W Festival, Festival of the Arts, and Flower and Garden Festival events do have age restrictions and/or recommendations, but the simple fact that the special events are inclusive of alcohol, parents would be foolish to pay an adult price for a child/teen that would miss out on one of the driving forces of the event. As with Universal, Disney doesn't stringently limit younger guests from participating, but the content of the event makes them unpalatable for little ones because so much of the cost of the events is to cover the alcohol.

I would also note that some of the bars and clubs in CityWalk and Disney Springs do adhere to hard age limits during the evening hours. While parents can't ride attractions at these entertainment districts, they can still enjoy a night out in an environment completely devoid of children. If I remember correctly, The Adverturer's Club was 21 and over, so despite the cutesy nature of the experience inside, Disney recognized that adults would have more fun without the kids mucking things up. However, I think one of the things that lead to the downfall of the Pleasure Island concept was that it was decidedly not welcoming to children. People almost always vacation in Orlando as part of a family, and the segregation of the family during the evenings, while appealing to some, did not present a profitable model on the whole.

I think this is the way to go. By placing a hard age limit on events, you end up with a Pleasure Island situation where kids are verboten, but those adults remaining are not enough by themselves to validate the expense of the events to the parks. Instead, by providing recommendations and essentially pricing kids out, parks are able to appear welcoming to all, while achieving the segregation desired by the older guests.

This is actually a pretty big topic of discussion with a local DJ in my area. He is an avid fan of visiting local breweries, and is constantly harping on about the presence of children in these decidedly adult spaces. While I agree that a brewery is not the most appealing place for a child to visit with their parents (we've taken our son to a number of breweries around the country), placing a hard age restriction on these places limits the audience. So long as the children that are there are well behaved, and parents are understanding that if their children get out of line that they can be asked to leave without a refund, it should be enough to make everyone happy. It's all about making a good impression, and being welcoming to the largest audience possible, and I think theme parks can achieve the same level of balance through pricing, soft requirements/recommendations, and the types of items/attractions offered for the admission.

October 25, 2018 at 10:11 AM

Adventurer's Club was all ages. Comedy Warehouse was all ages. The Rockin' Beach Club and that 1970s retro bar thing was all ages. I think everything at PI but Mannequins was all ages.

October 25, 2018 at 11:00 AM

I seem to recall being carded at the door, and never seeing kids at the AC. Perhaps the carding was to eliminate the need to check IDs when ordering drinks, and we simply never saw any underage guests at the AC on days we visited. I also remember ID checkers at the entrances to all of the clubs at PI, and only saw kids along the promenade after dark to participate in the NYE countdown. PI was a long time ago, so perhaps my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I definitely recall getting carded after dark at PI (and never got a wristband).

October 25, 2018 at 2:16 PM

Yeah, they had wristbands.

October 26, 2018 at 7:02 AM

When PI first opened we used to go to The Fireworks Factory. If you went before 6PM they would give you a free wristband to admit you to PI that night.

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