Spring break continues across America as we head into Easter weekend, with Universal Orlando again closing its theme parks for capacity temporarily each day this week. Legoland Florida also closed briefly for capacity on Saturday, as families enjoying the week off from school filled the parks.
Meanwhile, at the Walt Disney World Resort, thousands of fans also filled the parks - but Disney did close its gates physically the way that Universal did. And that's the difference between theme parks with advance reservations and those without. If you weren't going to get into a Disney theme park for spring break, you found that out weeks ago when you tried to make a reservation, instead of on-site when you tried to enter the park.
The pandemic forced theme parks and other venues to control capacity in order to support safe physical distancing. Even though the state of Florida has given up on capacity limits for businesses, the state's major theme parks have maintained their own capacity limits in order to keep their visitors and employees safe while the virus continues to spread throughout state and nation.
Personally, as a potential visitor from outside the state, I prefer Disney's approach. An advance reservation essentially saves me a spot in the park on the day I want to visit. I would hate to pay for a trip to Orlando only to find that I can't get into the park I came all that way to see. Now it's true that parks, such as Disney's, that require advance reservations also reserve the right to close their gates should everyone with a reservation show up at the same time, instead of throughout the day as the park anticipated. But that's rare - happening far less often than the now-daily gate closures at Universal.
On the flip side, as a local I would see the appeal of Universal's first-come, first-served system, which allows me a chance to get into the parks without having to plans weeks in advance. Universal's system also supports maximum usage of its parks, rather than keeping potential guests outside to save space for people who might show up later... or not at all.
Universal will be requiring advance reservations at Universal Studios Hollywood when it reopens, in compliance with California regulations. And Disney's not the only theme park company implementing a reservation policy nationwide - Six Flags has done the same.
It will be interesting to see if some parks keep their advance reservation requirements after this pandemic is over. After years of trying to manage crowd levels through variable pricing and pass blockout dates, the pandemic has allowed theme parks to implement advance reservation systems that pretty much solve their day-to-day crowd leveling problem, and to do it without the customer pushback that parks feared before the pandemic hit.
While I see the appeal of keeping advance reservation requirement indefinitely (especially if parks use them to keep crowd levels from ever again reaching the suffocating levels that they did in many parks on holiday weekends), I also understand that a reservation system would become unnecessary for most parks on most days of operation, once capacities safely can return closer to pre-pandemic levels. Why then make fans go through an extra step to visit?
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