Walt Disney famously said that Disneyland would never be finished; it would always grow and change with time. That’s certainly been true with the attractions, for the most part, but it’s also true when it comes to the way the Disney Parks operate. New policies and procedures get implemented over time which change the way simply getting into the parks functions. But the new processes recently implemented at the domestic parks look a lot like the way things used to work when Disneyland first opened.
Once upon a time, entry into Disneyland did not give you access to the rides themselves. To do the rides, you needed to buy tickets, giving each ride its own cost. Today, with the advent of the Individual Lightning Lane attraction, we’re essentially back there again, and some fans wonder if the days of ride tickets will return; or if, like in the case of the tweet from @KrisMeetsWorld which inspired this piece, perhaps those days should return. It honestly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they did, because it could mean actually getting inside the parks might actually get cheaper.
Disneyland's Original Ticket System
The ticket price to enter Disneyland on opening day in 1955 was $1, but to get on any rides, you needed to buy tickets. Originally each land had their own tickets, and you bought them at ticket booths throughout the park. Some of the building structures that were once ticket booths are still standing today.
Eventually the ticket book system was introduced to create classes of rides. Tickets were labelled A-D, with A tickets being cheaper and for the smaller rides, and D tickets being more expensive. When the Matterhorn Bobsleds opened in 1959, the E-ticket was introduced. Today, the term E-ticket is still industry slang for a top tier theme park attraction.
Eventually the ticket book process was abandoned, and the decision was made to make the Disney Parks tickets have a set price, and entry would give access to all attractions. That’s how it's been since the 1970s.
Genie+ And Individual Lightning Lanes
For decades following the set price establishment, if you got into Disneyland or Disney World, you could go on any ride you wanted as long as you were willing to wait in line. And when the parks launched a FastPass system for queue skipping, the system was free to everybody, though that doesn’t mean it didn’t have issues.
Today, things are different. In 2021, Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World launched Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes. The former gives guests the ability to skip the queue on several different attractions for a flat price. However, there are one or two rides at every domestic park that require a separate purchase to get the ability to skip the line. These are called Individual Lightning Lane attractions.
These are the most popular attractions in each park, which means the lines for them tend to be long, making the interest in skipping the line that much higher. Because of the Disney Parks' popularity and the way lines can get really long all over the park, many view these additional cost options as necessary rather than the optional service they are sold as to the public.
Recently, Disney CEO Bob Chapek revealed that 1/3 or more of guests have paid to use these features. This means a lot of guests are paying to get into the park and paying again to get on the rides. Certainly a lot of people are not fans of this idea. If things continue going in this direction, what’s to stop every ride from having its own Lightning Lane price? It’s essentially a shift back to the ticket book idea, but maybe that’s not the worst idea.
Paying For Rides Could Make Getting Into The Parks Cheaper
The fact is that if Disneyland and Disney World truly did go back to a ticket system where every ride had its own cost, that could be balanced by actually dropping the current ticket price for park entry. This could mean that guests who only wanted to do limited rides, or no rides at all, could still enjoy the theme park experience, but for a lot less money.
I can already hear people complaining that even if Disney brought back ride tickets, it wouldn’t mean the current park ticket would actually go down in price, and there may be truth there. But there’s also no denying that Disney has been raked across the coals in recent years due to the constant increases in ticket prices and additional costs. It would be a PR boon to be able to say that ticket prices were now cheaper.
A lot of people would likely take advantage of this separate park entry ticket. Locals in Orlando and Anaheim who just want to have dinner in a restaurant would be able to do that. Frequent guests who have done all the rides before and just want to enter the park to enjoy being at the park could do so, while maybe throwing in one ride on their favorite attraction as well.
The Two Ticket System Could Be The Solution
There’s also a potential middle ground between these two extremes. Rather than making all rides comes with an additional fee, we could see two levels of ticket: one that includes all the rides, as the current ticket does, and one that does not include them.
This makes doing all the rides in the park as easy as it is now, while also giving guests who just want access to the park the ability to do that. If Disney Parks announced this idea tomorrow, one has to believe the unlimited ride ticket would get a slight price increase, but the other ticket would have to exist at a significant discount.
Disneyland and Disney World have both had issues since they relaunched their Annual Pass program, but it’s likely a lot of those people would be interested in something like this. Annual Pass holders are the people who have done all the rides before and might just want to visit the park from time to time. There could be APs made available that include rides and do not. Those with the non-ride AP could buy an add-on day pass that gives them ride access on a specific day for an added fee.
There's no pretending that Disney Parks are looking to make money, but the truth is there is money being left on the table. How many people would spend money on food and merchandise if they could get inside the parks without spending $100 a ticket? Those people are out there, and in many cases, I would be one of them. This could bring a consumer whose money is being spent elsewhere inside the Disney Parks.
The price of doing everything at a theme park like Disneyland or Disney World is never going to get cheaper, but it would be nice if those who didn't actually want to do everything had an option that made more sense.
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.