Disneyland Resort is a place built on nostalgia. Even in the mid 1950s when Disneyland opened, everything from Main Street U.S.A. to Frontierland was a look back at an earlier time. Even Tomorowland now is about looking back at an earlier time’s view of the future. For many now, Disneyland itself is nostalgia; you back as an adult and remember what it was like to be a kid. But it feels like Disneyland is working toward a significant change that may, over the next few years, make it a very different place that nobody remembers.
Disney has two major theme park resorts in the United States, one on each coast, but they are very different places. Walt Disney World has always been Disney’s major vacation destination. While there are certainly locals that visit regularly, the park's focus has always been on vacationers. It's about people planning a major trip, usually several days long, who might not return again for years, if ever.
Disneyland, by comparison, has always been seen as the “locals park” where roles were reversed. The big vacationing families were certainly there, but locals who went frequently made up a much larger percentage of the daily guests. However, in recent months, a number of changes (some of which have already happened and others that are expected) have the potential to truly change Disneyland into a place that not only does not cater to local guests, but is specifically designed to function more like the way Disney World does now.
Disneyland Is Getting Bigger
The biggest hurdle between Disneyland becoming another Disney World has always been the Southern California park’s limited size. While Disney World has four theme parks, Disneyland only has two. Disneyland has three hotels, Disney World has two dozen. Downtown Disney at Disneyland is a pedestrian mall. Disney Springs at Disney World is a massive shopping and dining complex.
But Disneyland Resort is taking steps to remedy this problem. Disneyland Forward is a major initiative that’s designed to be a massive expansion to the entire resort. While it’s unclear if there will actually be a third theme park added, the plans, which have reportedly been submitted to the city of Anaheim, are intended to make major expansions to both existing theme parks, as well as add new hotels, extra shopping and dining, and perhaps even more.
While this new Disneyland will still be a fraction of the size of Walt Disney World, it will be much larger than it is now, and thus will require more time to fully experience. A family going to California, or even just Southern California, on a vacation that was otherwise planning to spend only some of their time at Disneyland will need to spend more to see and do everything. Perhaps it would make more sense to just make Disneyland its own longer vacation.
Disneyland Is Getting More Expensive
This week, Disneyland revealed its first price increase since just before closing down due to the global pandemic. While price increases had become a normal part of the business cycle in the parks prior to the shutdown, it must be said that this one was much more significant than most. Ticket prices went up almost across the board. A brand-new, more expensive pricing tier was introduced. Parking costs went up for all theme park guests, and even more for those keeping cars overnight in Disneyland Resort hotels.
This happened just before the launch of Disney Genie and, more importantly, Disney Genie+, which will allow guests to skip the lines on key attractions. However, unlike the old FastPass system which was free, Genie+ costs money.
Now while nobody wants to pay more for anything, the fact is that if you’re planning a big theme park vacation, you’re getting ready to spend some serious money. Maybe you’ll need to save longer and put off your trip a bit to be able to afford these additional costs, but that’s something you can do.
Meanwhile, if you’re somebody who is a local and visits frequently, or even somebody who plans more regular smaller trips, these price increases potentially are a much bigger hit. If you drive to the parks when you go, every day just became a bit more expensive. If you visit frequently, but maybe not enough to justify a Magic Key annual pass, then every ticket just became more expensive.
Magic Keys Don’t Work Like Annual Passports
For the local or just the frequent guest, the Annual Passport was an amazing way to enjoy Disneyland Resort. While many passes had blackout dates, there was always a time you could go, and if the pass was valid, it was simple and easy to enter the parks at your leisure. Want to go in at night just to watch the fireworks or grab your favorite snack? You could do that. If things got a little crowded, you could leave in the middle of the day and not feel like you were wasting your money.
But now that’s not really the case. Even the top of the line Magic Key, which is no longer available, has limited access to the parks for the rest of the year. The reservation calendar for Magic Key users is filling up and largely staying that way. One can certainly still get the value of their Magic Key, but doing so requires forethought that simply wasn’t necessary, or expected, before. You no longer can just go on a whim; you need to plan when you’re going to go ahead of time in order to be sure you can go at all.
Meanwhile, if you are that person planning a vacation to Disneyland with standard tickets, you have a decent amount of flexibility about which parks you can visit when. And, of course, you're planning this all weeks or months in advance.
The parks aren’t full, Disneyland is just leaving more space for the guest with a normal ticket. The goal isn’t to fill the park with guests. It’s to fill the park with a particular kind of guest.
Disneyland Resort Is Changing Into A Larger Vacation Destination
Those Magic Key sales are certainly valuable to the bottom line of Disneyland Resort, but Disney's own CEO has said that the vacationing guest is more valuable than those with annual passes. They spend more money, so it's in Disney's financial interest to cater more to those people.
I’m not saying that one of these ideas is inherently better than another. There are costs and benefits to both. If you’re in the “vacation” camp, these changes are good and they’ll likely make your experience better. On the other hand, if you’re the “casual visitor,” then it’s hard to see an upside to it all.
If a transformation of Disneyland Resort is what’s happening, it certainly won’t happen overnight, but we’ll likely continue to see changes that favor vacationing families rather than the regular guests. There will still be enough of the latter at Disneyland, just as there are at Disney World. There will still be Magic Key holders, but even they will become accustomed to functioning within a very different Disneyland system.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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