Disneyland Resort kicked off its 59th summer season with not just a 24 hour party cooked up by the marketing department, but also by a ticket price increase and restrictions on Annual Passes approved by stressed-out executives in the Team Disney Anaheim building. On Sunday, May 18th the Resort rolled out increased pricing for both Annual Passes and basic tickets to Disneyland and DCA, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to most Disneyland fans as a price increase in the late spring happens like clockwork every year.
It’s a Twist!
The twist to this annual ritual was the sudden suspension of sales for the Southern California Annual Pass, the popular mid-tier level of pass that allows SoCal residents to visit on many Sundays and Friday nights throughout the year. As the number of Annual Passholders held steady at about the 1 Million mark since Cars Land opened, the TDA planners have been increasingly nervous about the impact several hundred thousand of the SoCal AP holders have been inflicting on the Resort during Sundays in the spring and fall.
The concern is that parking spaces around the Resort often run out by Sunday afternoon as too many AP’s arrive with only one or two people per car, and both parks become packed to the rafters with locals “dropping by” to wander the parks and ride a few attractions, many of whom do so without spending any significant amount of money on meals or merchandise. The Resort’s infrastructure, particularly it’s parking and internal transportation systems, are simply not designed to handle such an inefficient crush of humanity on Sunday afternoons or Friday nights. With the numbers of Annual Passholders continuing to drift slowly upwards throughout 2014 after 2013’s price increases, TDA had to take the unprecedented step of suspending sales of some AP’s and raising prices on everything else to try and manage the growing demand.
Of course the news of yet another ticket price increase at Disneyland was met with howls of protest on internet message boards and in the local media, with vocal complaints from locals who swear they’ve just been priced out and will look elsewhere for entertainment. But those complaints are as predictable as the annual increases themselves, and the numbers of people swarming the Resort continue to grow every year. In particular, TDA has been thrilled to see increasing demand from big-spending Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders in the last two years.
Summer is Here!
The official kickoff to the summer season was the 24 Hour Party bundled under the rather odd “Rock Your Disney Side” marketing tagline, and it was a clear example of why price increases and rationed Annual Passes are needed in Anaheim. The 24 Hour Party, a feature of several events back in the 1980’s, was first brought back in February, 2012 as part of that year’s Leap Day celebration, “One More Disney Day,” on February 29th on both coasts. But while that first 24 Hour event was manageable in Orlando, it went viral in SoCal and caught Disneyland management totally off guard. On the evening of the 29th the freeways and surface streets leading to Disneyland became choked with traffic as people poured in to spend the night at Disneyland. Shuttle buses full of Cast Members were stuck in gridlock on Harbor Blvd. for hours, the Santa Ana Freeway backed up to the LA County line, and Disneyland closed its gates by Midnight as thousands of people swarmed the Esplanade trying to get in. The California Highway Patrol and the City of Anaheim were both furious at Disneyland at the mayhem the Leap Year Day event created, and Disneyland President George Kalogridis had major damage control to do for weeks afterwards.
Since then, Disneyland has hosted two more 24 hour parties, but now they over-plan accordingly and the events go off almost flawlessly, although parking for both visitors and Cast Members is still a real headache. This latest overnight party last Friday was the busiest event thus far, and shows just how much Annual Passholders can drive attendance at these unique marketing events.
The attendance patterns for the last three parties tell the story here, realizing that a paying customer is only counted once per day by Disney at whichever park they enter first:
One More Disney Day 24 Hour Party – 2/29/2012
Disneyland open 6AM to 6AM – Attendance 88,000
DCA open 10AM to 8PM – Attendance 17,000
Combined Event Attendance – 105,000, with 63,000 Annual Passholders (60% of the total)
Monstrous Summer All Nighter 24 Hour Party – 5/24/2013
Disneyland open 6AM to 6AM – Attendance 71,000
DCA open 6AM to 6AM (with a Grad Nite) – Attendance 44,000 (including 7,000 Grad Nite guests)
Combined Event Attendance – 115,000, with 65,000 Annual Passholders (56% of the total)
Rock Your Disney Side 24 Hour Party – 5/23/2014
Disneyland open 6AM to 6AM – Attendance 74,000
DCA open 6AM to 6AM – Attendance 48,000
Combined Event Attendance – 122,000, with 73,000 Annual Passholders (61% of the total)
Then compare that last 24 Hour Party day that ended at 6:00 AM to the next day’s Saturday operation, when both parks reopened three hours later at 9:00 AM. The Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend featured a triple blockout of Annual Passholders, very typical throughout summer and during busy seasons, which causes a sudden demographic shift as out-of-town and international tourists flood the parks. Just three hours after the 24 Hour Party ended both Anaheim parks hosted a full day with the following attendance:
Saturday, May 24th, 2014
Disneyland open 9AM to Midnight – Attendance 51,000
DCA open 9AM to 10PM – Attendance 30,000
Combined Days Attendance – 81,000, with 15,000 Annual Passholders (18% of the total)
A Saturday like that is quite average for summer or peak holiday weeks, and those are the days when the Resort rakes in revenue from every corner of the parks. Merchandise sales skyrocket as tourists snap up t-shirts and souvenirs by the bagful, food sales swell at all three meal periods since tourists rarely eat beyond the berm, and demand for extra-cost revenue generators like guided tours and Photopass shoot through the roof, not to mention the big money to be earned as Disney’s hotel occupancy rates swell to 95% or higher. It also helps that the majority of visitors inside the parks on Saturday entered via a full-fare ticket averaging $80 per head, instead of the $30 per visit the Annual Passholders are entering the park with via their monthly payment plans.
Those varying party attendance levels over the past two years also tell the story of DCA’s wild success after its re-launch and the opening of Cars Land in June, 2012. DCA is now pulling in a healthy chunk of Anaheim’s combined daily attendance, and playing host to happy crowds for an entire day with its full roster of rides, attractions and major entertainment. It’s no wonder that DCA’s annual attendance for calendar year 2013 crested the 10 Million mark for the first time in its history, mostly due to the first full year of operating with Cars Land and its instant-classic E Ticket, Radiator Springs Racers. Annual attendance over 10 Million will leapfrog DCA beyond the annual attendance of both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom at WDW, and get it within striking distance of overtaking Epcot. The transformation of DCA into a very worthy second park for Disneyland has been stunningly successful, and has produced results beyond Burbank’s wildest dreams.
But the worry behind the recent price increases is not just the crush of Annual Passholders who are content to roam Anaheim’s successful parks, usually without a merchandise bag in sight as they nurse a drink or churro as their sole purchase for the day. TDA is now dealing with years of deferred decisions on expanding its parking inventory, while their Anaheim neighbors have pushed forward with expansion plans of their own. Hotel occupancy in the Anaheim Resort District continues to climb faster than the average nightly room rate, and Anaheim’s healthy statistics have been outpacing the national averages. The growing tourist demand for the Disneyland Resort hasn’t gone unnoticed by the big hotel chains, as Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt all have over a thousand new hotel rooms now under construction within a 10 minute walk of Disneyland’s turnstiles.
Most worrisome for TDA is the project coming this summer to expand the Anaheim Convention Center by demolishing the big underground parking structure and the 1,000+ parking spaces it contains along Katella Avenue. The Anaheim Convention Center will be adding a 200,000 square foot multi-story expansion where that parking structure currently stands, connected to the main convention center by a skybridge. Disneyland routinely uses hundreds of extra parking spaces at the Anaheim Convention Center on busy Sundays, but soon the convention center won’t have any room to spare and will be limiting the number of days and amount of spaces it will be willing to offer Disneyland’s parking department. TDA hopes to buy some breathing room by quickly converting the RV park it just bought on the corner of Harbor and Ball Road into 1,400 Cast Member spaces, but that still leaves a parking deficit on the busiest Sundays in the year ahead.
Disneyland’s Diamond Anniversary Celebration
TDA is also concerned about the crush of Annual Passholders that will descend on the Resort in less than a year when the 60th Anniversary party kicks off. Now that TDA has clawed back some of its funding from Burbank, while Orlando suits continue to scramble for cash, clout, and excuses as they crisis-manage the MyMagic+ debacle, the Anaheim team is confident they can pull together a solid roster of offerings for the 60th Anniversary party. As we’ve mentioned before, the 60th is now slated to feature a re-Imagineered fleet of Fantasyland dark rides, a stunning new night parade and new fireworks show at Disneyland, and kitschy temporary offerings throughout the year playing up a nostalgia-fueled marketing campaign designed to appeal to sophisticated locals and casual tourists alike. The year-long event will be marketed as Disneyland’s Diamond Anniversary Celebration, with faux-diamond encrusted décor used liberally around the Resort.
TDA’s marketing team, often a tad disconnected from the reality of resort operation, is plowing ahead with plans to hype the Diamond Anniversary Celebration as if there was plenty of parking and waning demand at the ticket booths, which obviously isn’t the case. To kick off this Diamond 60th Anniversary and to bring us back where this update started, TDA’s marketing team is now proposing to host a 60 Hour Party in early 2015 to begin Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary. Both parks would open on a Friday morning and continue to operate for 60 hours straight all weekend long. And regardless of how many people complain about the latest price increase, you can bet both Anaheim parks will be packed that weekend and likely break attendance records once again. Start looking for your parking space now.
If you’ve got an hour or so to spare, join the MiceChat Podcast crew as we take a field trip to Disneyland. As we walk through Frontierland, New Orleans Square and Critter Country, we chat about what’s new, what’s coming, history, trivia and more. Then we transport back to the MiceChat Studios to examine the question, which Disney resort has the most rides . . . Disneyland Resort with its two parks or the Walt Disney World Resort with four parks? You might be very surprised by the answer.
Well, that does it for this update. Are you ready for a 60 hour party? Would you be able to say awake for the whole thing? Would you even try?
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