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    Niles: Price hikes show that Disneyland needs some changes
    • October 17, 2023

    October brings a new fiscal year — and a new round of theme park price increases — for The Walt Disney Company. But Disneyland visitors have every right to question why they got it so much worse this year than fans of Walt Disney World.

    At Disneyland, the company raised the price of daily tickets up to 15.7% and Magic Key annual passes up to 21.5%. Meanwhile, at Walt Disney World, annual pass prices increased up to just 10%, while the Florida resort held the line on daily ticket prices.

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    Walt Disney World also further relaxed reservation requirements for its parks while bringing back all-day Park Hopping, starting in January.

    One is tempted by these numbers to assume that attendance has been much stronger in California than in Florida. The company has suggested as much in its recent earnings calls, even though Disney does not release specific attendance numbers for its theme parks. While that’s good news for the Anaheim-area economy, Disneyland’s Magic Key holders may be left wondering if they ever will get the freedom from reservation requirements that Walt Disney World’s annual passholders soon will enjoy.

    Personally, I hope that they won’t.

    Removing Magic Key reservation requirements would create a disaster for Disneyland fans. The reservation system has helped the park avoid much of the evening gridlock that plagued Disneyland before the pandemic lockdowns forced Disney to change its annual pass system. One way or another, Disneyland needs to cap the number of people in the park, and it does not want to risk turning away out-of-town visitors. That makes capping Magic Key attendance a must.

    But there is another way — just do away with annual passes. With date-specific daily tickets and no Magic Key, requiring advance reservations would become unnecessary. Without tens of thousands of Magic Key passholders visiting the park daily, Disneyland likely would have to reduce daily ticket prices to fill its parks, making the resort a more attractive destination for lucrative out-of-town tourists and infrequently visiting locals.

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    Theme parks introduced annual passes to encourage loyal fans to visit more often. Their fixed price means that the cost per visit drops each time a passholder returns to the park. But when Disneyland is raising ticket prices the way that it just did, an annual pass system becomes counter-productive. Why raise daily ticket prices and potentially drive tourists away so that the park has space for passholders who are visiting 30, 40 or 50 times a year?

    Disneyland can serve its loyal local fanbase with seasonal discounted multi-day tickets, such as it offered twice earlier this year. And if it really wanted to reward frequent visitors, Disneyland could introduce an annual pass for vehicles, charging something like $150-200 for parking on non-holiday dates throughout the year. Implement license plate reading for that, and the resort could speed up the lines at its parking tollbooths, too.

    I would hate to see Disneyland become a place that welcomes wealthy Magic Key holders dozens of times a year while no one else can afford to visit. But that seems to be the resort’s future if something doesn’t change.


    ​ Orange County Register