Understanding AP Blockouts and Impact on Crowds

HydroGuy

A Pirate's Life For Me
Joined
Jun 5, 2005
Recent years have seen a huge growth in Annual Pass (AP) holders at DLR now approaching one million. There have also been many discussions on this forum about the impact on crowds of all these AP holders. I decided to consolidate this information into a single thread to provide an explanation to those unfamiliar with the issues. In addition I will give some practical advice on working around crowded times.

Before I start I want to be clear that I am making no ethical statements about AP holders. My intent is to focus on the practical results of the AP program and how it affects crowds. AP holders should visit DLR whenever they want and as many times as they want using their APs. :)


Abbreviations

AP - Annual Pass
DAP - Deluxe Annual Pass
PAP - Premium Annual Pass
SoCal AP - Two types of APs are available only to SoCal residents at a large discount


The DLR AP Program

Historically DLR has been primarily a locals resort. Roughly 70% of visitors are made up of the 20 million Southern California residents. This is a good thing in that it provides a good base for year long stable operation of DLR.

DLR has reached out to these SoCal residents with two special and inexpensive AP options - the SoCal AP and SoCal Select AP, only available to those with a SoCal zip code. Two APs available to anyone are the highest level, Premium AP (PAP), and the second level Deluxe AP (DAP). Thus there are four AP categories at DLR.

For those interested in AP comparisons check Disney's website.


AP Blockout Days

PAPs can visit DLR any day of the year. DAPs have certain days blocked out - typically Saturdays and holidays. Sometimes blockout days are called blackout days. They mean the same thing.

It is my understanding that 90%+ of the DLR AP holders are of the two SoCal kinds. That means nearly a million people today and growing rapidly. These are cheaper but have many more blockout days.

You can see the blockout schedules on the DLR website here:

SoCal Select AP Blockout Dates

SoCal AP Blockout Dates

Deluxe AP Blockout Dates


And also MousePlanet keeps a calendar:
MousePlanet's Integrated Blockout Calendar

Note that the SoCal AP is less restrictive than the SoCal Select AP. All SoCal Select blockout days are also blocked for the SoCal AP. For planning purposes you just need to pay attention to the SoCal AP as that covers both.


Why Are Blockouts Important?

Well, if you are an AP holder blockouts are important because they dictate when you cannot use your AP. If you are not an AP holder, or maybe are a PAP or DAP holder, you should understand the crowd impact of the SoCal APs because they have caused some crowd surges the last few years not seen previously.

Some AP holders who live in SoCal and near DLR are very dedicated fans and have a whole different set of priorities than the average visitor. Since they can drive to DLR relatively easily, they can stop in for new rides and shows and spend many hours waiting just for that ride or show. They do not care what else they might be missing because they can easily come back on other days to experience those other things. This is discussed further here: "The Psychology of the DLR Annual Pass Holder" http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2244322.

So the number of SoCal AP holders and their dedication level can lead to huge crowds when they are not blocked out. The experience in 2009 was documented in a series of news updates by the respected Al Lutz on MiceAge. Here are some links (note that in post #2 of this thread I have taken excerpts from the below articles so you do not have to read all of them to get the idea):

1/5/2010
(E)Ticket to Ride
New E-Tickets, World of Color/DCA Update, Mickey on Main, EO, More...

12/1/2009
Thanks a Million (APs)
AP numbers climb - parking doesn't, EO update, DCA update, More...

10/13/2009
Hello George & Starbucks
Good-bye Ed & Easy Parking, World of Crowds, More...

7/28/2009
Michael, Murphy & Marty
Captain EO May Rise From the Dead, Fantasmic Dragon Update, 800,000 Passholders, More...

7/7/2009
Murphy, Abe & Ed
Dragon Drama, Presidents Prepped & Snobby Suits; Plus a Disneyland Timeline

6/16/2009
Dumbo & Dumber
Fantasmic + Fireworks + WWW + APs = Nightmares; Electrical Parade returns to Main Street, More...

1/6/2009
Auld Lang Dollar Sign
Disneyland's next New Year: $50, Annual Pass sales up, DCA, More...


Planning Advice

First, if there is something new or majorly refurbed at DL or DCA, expect the SoCal AP holders to visit in droves during their non-blockout times. So one thing to understand for planning is what new things are on the horizon. This is discussed below.

Further, understand that long blockouts like those during the summer for two months means that many SoCal AP holders try to squeeze in one last visit before the blockouts go into effect. And when the blockout lifts a surge in crowds again occurs because of the AP holders who have not been able to visit for an extended time.

When the above dynamics are coupled with something new happening right before the blockout, you have a formula for insanely long lines at DLR - especially for the new show or attraction. That is why when FNSV opened in June 2007 and POTC re-opened in June 2006 the lines were four hours long. And why when the refurbed Fantasmic and new summer Magical fireworks opened in mid-June 2009 there were huge crowds to see them during the non-blockout days. And why you see people camping out overnight in the Esplanade to be first in line for something new. Yes, campers.

If one pays attention to this forum one will see a lot of comments by DLR vets trying to fit their trip into SoCal AP blockout periods.

The biggest new thing in 2010 will be the night time spectacular World of Color show at DCA. This will bring unprecedented crowds into DCA after it opens in late April. There will then be crowd spill over into DL as a result. Therefore, I would recommend avoiding the non-blockout days in May and June or waiting until the summer blockout starts in late June. Also, avoid going in late August after the blockouts lift.

Also new in 2010 was the return of Captain EO in February to DL. The final showing of the excellent Aladdin show at DCA will reportedly happen in August.

In 2011 new things on the horizon are the new LMAA ride at DCA (and lots more) and the refurbed Star Tours 2 at DL.

In 2012 there will be the new CarsLand area at DCA and the completion of the $1 Billion park refurb.

Information on this can be found on MiceChat here:

Disney's California Adventure Project Tracker IX

Disneyland Project Tracker II


Other Resources for Choosing Dates to Visit


o Weather is an issue for some people. Heat, cold and rain. Here is some data to work with: "Detailed Weather History for DLR" www.disboards.com/showthread.php?p=23004158


o Park hours and refurbs - DLR is very late in posting park hours and refurb schedules. Sometimes only four weeks in advance. Here is some information to help figure out what to expect before DLR posts its calendar:

"Historical DLR Park Hours, Entertainment and Refurbs" - www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2291124

For longer range refurbs go to the refurb section of the most recent MousePlanet park update here: MousePlanet Weekly Park Update


o Holidays - if you live outside the US you should know when the holidays happen - "List of American Holidays" www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=1937849


o Off-Season Visits - There are some downsides about DLR off-season that some visitors do not find out about until after they have locked in dates. See "What You Should Know About Off-Season at DLR" www.disboards.com/showthread.php?p=18462889


o Magic Mornings - choosing days of the week to visit should also account for Magic Mornings at DL. See "Magic Morning (Early Entry) Super Thread" by DLR29 www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=1675403


o General advice on hotels, dining, etc. can be found in MaryJo's super-sticky thread at the top of the forum:

**ºoº DLR FAQ-MAPS, HOTELS, DISER HOTEL REVIEWS, HYDROGUY'S TIPS, DINING REVIEWS, ETC
 

HydroGuy

A Pirate's Life For Me
Joined
Jun 5, 2005
Excerpts from AL Lutz articles (bolded text is mine - added for emphasis):

1/5/2010
(E)Ticket to Ride
New E-Tickets, World of Color/DCA Update, Mickey on Main, EO, More...

With almost all of the Annual Passholders blocked out in late December, the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) executives pushed the limit of people allowed inside the park at any one time from the previous cutoff of around 45,000, and instead let that in-park number float just above 50,000 repeatedly for several hours per day during the week between Christmas and New Years. The thinking behind that higher in-park number was that Disneyland's attraction and entertainment roster has never been fuller or working more efficiently and they should try to push the envelope on how many people they can fit.

The other factor was the daily cash register tallies, as casual tourists and day trippers spend a great deal more money per person on food and souvenirs than the average Annual Passholder who visits once a month or more. On New Year's Eve, TDA gave the go-ahead to try a novel new approach to ticket sales, when just after Noon they shut down ticket sales to Disneyland, but gave anyone willing to spend the entire day in DCA a free ticket to return to Disneyland later in January.
The construction on the World of Color amphitheater fell behind schedule, and they weren't able to get the walls down by the time the Electrical Parade returned for Christmas as they had hoped. The work in the lagoon on the show itself is running on schedule however. The big media event and celebrity grand opening is still pegged for the last weekend in April as we'd told you earlier, and unscheduled soft openings and plenty of preview shows are currently planned to begin by the Easter Vacation weeks in late March.

While the creative types begin a long winter of testing and adjusting on all of their new toys out in the lagoon, it's the logistical planning of getting nearly 1 Million Annual Passholders in to see the show, plus plenty of the bigger spending tourists staying in Disney's hotels. The plan to create a new show ticketing system called Showpass continues to move forward, as Mary Niven, the Vice President of DCA, and her team feel that's the only way to prevent AP's from camping out in the amphitheater all day long this spring and summer.
There's also the Annual Passholder problem, as most of them won't arrive to see World of Color until the late afternoon. The Showpass concept is set up to favor a person arriving in the morning and spending the entire day at DCA, and Showpasses will also be pulled out of the system in advance and given to people staying at Disney's hotels as a Disney Travel Company and Disney Vacation Club perk. The plan is to try and offer two shows on nights the park stays open until 10:00 PM, but that will leave many spring evenings with just one planned show that can't accommodate the arriving AP's, unless they allow people to remain in an otherwise closed DCA to stay for a second show.


12/1/2009
Thanks a Million (APs)
AP numbers climb - parking doesn't, EO update, DCA update, More...

The crowds this past Thanksgiving week were huge, but not on the days you would expect them to be. We've been documenting for you the meteoric rise in the numbers of Annual Passholders the past few years, and it seems almost quaint that we once breathlessly announced that Anaheim had passed the 500,000 mark. That number hit 800,000 coming out of the summer season, and as of late November the number of Annual Passholders has now nudged over 925,000.

With the busiest Annual Pass buying weeks of the year still ahead around Christmas and New Years, TDA planners now fully expect the numbers of Annual Passholders to break the million mark just as the calendar flips over to 2010. That huge number is good news for the sharp pencil boys tallying up TDA's ticket receipts, but it's bad news for anyone trying to find a place to park, get a Fastpass for Indiana Jones, or buy a Dole Whip once they get into the park.

The Thanksgiving week illustrated perfectly how the huge numbers of Annual Passholders have turned half a century of theme park operations on its ear. From Sunday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving, none of the cheaper Annual Passes which make up the bulk of the 925,000 figure were blocked out. Those days were pegged for huge daily Disneyland attendance numbers of 60,000 and above, with AP's making up 35,000 or more of those daily visitors.

For instance, the day before Thanksgiving had an attendance estimate of 61,000 and by the end of the day around 64,000 had shown up. Of that huge number, nearly 40,000 were Annual Passholders, all arriving in their own personal cars and stretching the Resort infrastructure to the breaking point. The park itself was slammed with crowds in the days leading up to Thanksgiving; walkways ground to a standstill, trashcans overflowed, lines were long for everything from E Tickets to bathroom stalls, and the tempers of both the customers and the Cast Members flared at the slightest provocation.

But then Thanksgiving arrived, with all but the Premium Annual Passes were blocked out, and the daily attendance figures plummeted. Even the day after Thanksgiving, which has traditionally been one of the busiest days of the year for decades at Disneyland, barely saw 47,000 people through the gates. By Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, the attendance at Disneyland had slumped to 38,000, ranking as one of the slowest Saturdays of the entire year.

As anyone who was there on Saturday can attest, Disneyland performs beautifully at that easy attendance level, with wait times nearly nonexistent, the Custodial team staying ahead of the curve, and the park open until Midnight and the full roster of holiday entertainment offerings available. This same pattern will play out in December, with the first few Fridays and Sundays dealing with record crowds, but in late December when the blockouts kick in the attendance will decline noticeably.

TDA is now grappling with how to best manage the growing number of Annual Passholders. It's had to spend millions of dollars over the past year to set up alternate parking at GardenWalk and the Convention Center, and then contract out private buses to transport those grumpy folks left waiting in the satellite lots back up to the park entrance. The cost of the massive shuttle bus operation won't be going away in 2010, with World of Color promising to bring in epic crowds to DCA this spring and summer.
On paper it would seem the Resort had enough parking space available, currently around 29,000. But as we've told you before, those figures were all compiled in the 1990's using a formula that assumed the visitors would be falling into patterns set in place in the 1950's through 1990's when the average family arrived in a group of four or more and stayed in the park for at least 8 or 10 hours. The average Annual Passholder today is arriving with just one other passenger in the car, and is staying for only three or four hours, with many Passholders arriving on their own and staying even less time. The end result is complete havoc out in the parking lots and surface streets, and near pandemonium in the parks on days when all of the Annual Passes are unblocked.

Meanwhile, the new Disney Parks executive structure has leaders out in the boonies of Orlando that are only seeing the huge dollar signs attached to the growing number of Passholders here in Anaheim. With WDW attendance slipping by single digits, the double digit attendance gains that Anaheim has made in 2009 has them giddy with excitement.

Nevertheless the Disney Parks and TDA team has been dragging their feet on building a new 8,000 space parking structure just north of GardenWalk, and that has caused several important permits to lapse with the local governments. The permits can be reissued eventually, but it's caused more delays on a parking structure that should have been finished before they wiped out 2,200 spaces in the Timon lot for CarsLand construction. The Anaheim leaders are left to clean up the operational mess nearly a million Annual Passholders are causing, while the Orlando leaders count the cash that Anaheim is now padding the bottom line with. It's all causing a bit of tension between the coasts, as the Orlando folks seem incapable of getting it.
Meanwhile at DCA, or 'Disney's California Adventure' as park Vice President Mary Niven is still trying to get everyone to say, things are moving furiously along on every project except the Buena Vista Street entrance makeover. The TDA planners and DCA executives are simply beside themselves with worry over how to get a Million Annual Passholders, plus a few casual tourists, into and out of the park over the next two years while World of Color and then Little Mermaid open to huge demand and epic crowds. We've told you of the plans to move the entrance to the Hollywood side of the park, then over to the west side of Soarin', and then by simply trying to do half of the entrance at a time leaving the other half open.

The end result is a project that has been delayed many times now, and won't see any work begin until further along in 2010. And what they've landed on now is a mish-mash of those different plans with some turnstiles and main entrance facilities remaining open while the other half is worked on, while simultaneously running a park exit and auxiliary entrance alongside the Soarin' building. It was going to be a headache regardless, but the rebuilt entrance to DCA and the heavily themed Buena Vista Street area won't make its original 2011 timeline and now will finish up in 2012 just as Cars Land is being completed.


10/13/2009
Hello George & Starbucks
Good-bye Ed & Easy Parking, World of Crowds, More...
When George does arrive in Anaheim, he’s lucky that he has a reserved parking spot for his company Cadillac, as parking at Disneyland is devolving into chaos this fall as the parks are packed to the rafters. Since TDA bundled up some new Halloween themed offerings at Disneyland and DCA and branded it as HalloweenTime a few years ago, the promotion has grown in popularity every year. Just five years ago the conventional wisdom was that Knott’s Berry Farm owned Halloween with their Scary Farm offerings, but Disneyland owned Christmas and New Years and Disney wouldn’t be able to crack the Halloween market with locals, nor should they try.

But after they were prodded into trying again by Matt Ouimet in 2006, Disney has now successfully carved an entirely new niche amongst locals looking for a less gory and intense but lavish theme park offering for Halloween. And when the market research in 2008 told TDA that their growing HalloweenTime was in danger of skewing just a bit too young, they gambled in ‘09 and won big by greenlighting the new PG rated Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and a spooky new fireworks show. And next door at DCA, the very successful Mickey’s Trick or Treat Parties continue to sell out all 6,000 extra-cost tickets each night.

You would think that’s good news, right?

Wrong!

The problem is that ever expanding base of Annual Passholders, who are now at the 850,000 mark and still growing, have thrown a monkey wrench into the resort infrastructure that was designed and built 10 years ago for a different visitor demographic. For instance, during the period of 1998-2000, Disney expanded their parking and intra-property transportation based on mid 1990’s research when Annual Passholders numbered fewer than 100,000 and there were no plans to grow that population much beyond that.

The Mickey & Friends parking structure, the largest in North America, was built to handle 10,000 cars that were then assumed to have an average of nearly 4 passengers per vehicle. But in 2009 the passengers per vehicle average slumps to less than 2 passengers per vehicle when tens of thousands of Annual Passholders descend on the resort, often driving solo or with just one other person, with plans to meet up with friends once they get in the park.

And instead of arriving in the morning, being directed to a specific section and row in the parking lot and then leaving the car there for most of the day, as nearly all Disneyland visitors did from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, Annual Passholders now are driving in alone or with a friend just to spend two or three hours in the park before they head home.

The end result is that the sprawling Disneyland Resort parking operation which seemed so comprehensive as planned almost 15 years ago, is now chronically short of spaces and continually behind the curve when it comes to shuffling cars around into the few remaining empty spots.

This is not news for anyone who has tried to park a car at Disneyland in recent weekends, with Friday’s and Sunday’s being the worst. Parking managers are now forced to play a resortwide game of Automotive Stratego where they purposely close the Mickey & Friends Structure for most of the afternoon, even though there are still thousands of open spaces on multiple empty levels, in order to force afternoon arrivals into the far-flung surface lots around the property and borrowed space at GardenWalk and the Anaheim Convention Center. That allows them to reopen the Mickey & Friends structure in the early evening and have a few thousand spaces for arriving passholders, even though those still aren’t enough and all of their parking options are maxed out by mid evening.
Once you’ve parked though, there’s still no guarantee that Disneyland will be able to let you in for HalloweenTime due to overcrowding inside the park. That happened multiple times this past weekend, with the Disneyland ticket booths suspending ticket sales for hours at a time, and the unusual dictate of not even allowing arriving Premium Annual Passholders into Disneyland. TDA, in a bit of a panic by early October, even had to convince the Burbank corporate office to send out an unheard of update to the company complimentary admission passes all Disney employees receive. When DCA closes at 6:00PM every Friday to get ready for the trick or treat party, (not a wise move on the planners part), the evening crowds are then funneled to Disneyland and the whole property reaches critical mass.

Effective immediately, all Fridays in October, plus Saturday October 31st, have become employee blockout days where the main gate admission pass for employees and their families is no longer valid in Anaheim. The employee blockouts will prevent around 3,000 or 4,000 free admissions on the average Friday.

The numbers on who the other visitors are tell the story. This past weekend for instance, Sunday had a projected attendance of 62,000, of which over 35,000 were Annual Passholders. That type of split between passholders and more traditional tourists and day trippers is fairly common now, but when Disney was planning the new resort expansion in the 1990’s that type of attendance mix was unthinkable. Back then, Disney was building the second park and expanding the resort amenities to attract big spending tourists on multi-day visits, and only Downtown Disney was considered to be a more casual offering for locals spending just a few hours on property.

With the numbers now stacked against the Anaheim resort, it was the one-two punch of this year’s new HalloweenTime offerings that pushed it all over the edge. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy has been very popular and hit it’s Tween to Young Adult demographic right on the nose, while the new Halloween Screams fireworks are pulling in big crowds of all ages. Primarily because of that, Disneyland has had to unexpectedly extend its weekday operation to 9:00 PM every day for the last two weeks, with all remaining weekdays for the rest of the month already scheduled for closing at 9:00 PM or later. A third nightly Fantasmic! was added this past weekend to help as well. You can expect to see the same madhouse parking strategy, restricted theme park entry, and gridlocked crowds in Disneyland and Downtown Disney for the next three weekends until HalloweenTime mercifully comes to an end on November 1st.

And don’t think TDA isn’t already planning on starting the Halloween festivities earlier in September next year, and getting more blockout dates onto the 2010 employee passes sent this December. And of course, the stats and figures behind this latest HalloweenTime mess are being noted by the executive committee we’ve told you about that has been set up to study Disneyland’s Annual Pass program. You can bet price hikes are in the cards for Christmas, and again in 2010.
It’s exactly those huge crowds of Annual Passholders, 850,000 strong, that has Mary Niven, the Vice President of DCA, and her managers running scared as the debut of World of Color gets closer every week. While the complicated installation of this massive and revolutionary new show is currently running several weeks behind schedule, the delays are minor and aren’t yet jeopardizing the planned grand opening for the weekend of April 24th.

But, the new amphitheater viewing area is being built for 9,000 people and DCA managers are realizing it’s going to take them almost a hundred performances before each Annual Passholder can see the show just once. There’s also going to be a few thousand park-hopping tourists in DCA each day, exactly the people that the Billion dollar DCA makeover was really supposed to lure with their fatter wallets. The realization has now sunk in that for at least the first few months, and likely through the rest of 2010, World of Color is going to be a show with demand that will far outstrip its ability to satisfy everyone in sufficient numbers.

What to do about this problem, especially from May to August when the late setting sun won’t allow but one show per night on many evenings? The current plan is to make World of Color the first ticketed nighttime spectacular in Disney theme park history. Using standard Fastpass technology, DCA managers are fine tuning the idea of a new concept called Showpass; a ticket that would be required to get into the viewing amphitheater.


7/28/2009
Michael, Murphy & Marty
Captain EO May Rise From the Dead, Fantasmic Dragon Update, 800,000 Passholders, More...
It's those swarms of Annual Passholders that give TDA pause when it comes to crazy stunts like bringing back Captain EO. Just this summer the total number of Disneyland Annual Passholders has now solidly risen above the 800,000 mark, and it's still rising by thousands every month. You can bet that price increases are on the way this fall, but it's those huge numbers and the problems they increasingly cause for crowd control, parking and any number of operational issues that have forced TDA to take a step back. In response, a new TDA executive committee was just formed that has been tasked with taking a hard look at the Annual Passholder program to try and quantify exactly what kind of impacts it now has on the compact Resort area.

We've detailed for you in previous updates the irony of having summer weekends in July and August that are less crowded than weekends in February and November due to simply blocking out hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders. And we've also told you how difficult it is to get a parking space at Disneyland on a Sunday when all of the Annual Passholders push the passenger per vehicle ratio down to nearly one person per can, instead of the casual tourists who have an average of over three people per car.

Anyone who has been caught in the ridiculous crowd control and overwhelmed facilities whenever something new opens in Anaheim or during the final days leading towards an extended blockout period knows that there are obviously more Annual Passholders than the 54 year old park was designed to accommodate. But with the nightmare crowd control this past June for the opening days of Nightastic, and the overwhelming new World of Color show just seven months away, TDA has decided it can't keep on growing the Annual Pass program as it has for the past decade.

Price increases are obviously a focus from this new committee, but they'll also be looking at phasing in blockout periods more gradually to prevent giant spikes in attendance on certain dates, as well as other pricing and demographic options that could cut down on the sheer volume of people that could descend on the Resort at any one time. The whole point of the Billion dollar DCA expansion is to increase the attractiveness of the Resort to multi-day tourists who spend far more money than local Annual Passholders. But an overcrowded park full of locals killing a few hours of leisure time at steerage rates certainly makes those tourists think twice of ever returning to Disneyland, and TDA knows they've reached the breaking point and something must be done. We'll keep you posted on the outcome of that new committee, if the price increases on the way don't tell the story enough.


7/7/2009
Murphy, Abe & Ed
Dragon Drama, Presidents Prepped & Snobby Suits; Plus a Disneyland Timeline
Of course Main Street and the Hub area in front of the Castle were its usual gridlocked self this 4th of July weekend at fireworks time. But at least the crowd control for Fantasmic! has been greatly improved since the opening weekend of Nightastic! caught them entirely unprepared for the swarms of Annual Passholders. It also helps that TDA has finally been adding a third Fantasmic! show each night when attendance creeps into the danger zone. Meanwhile, DCA had another lazy summer weekend with small crowds. That will change for DCA by next year's 4th, hopefully. But until then, the DCA boosters will just have to dream of the day huge crowds actually want to get into that park on purpose.


6/16/2009
Dumbo & Dumber
Fantasmic + Fireworks + WWW + APs = Nightmares; Electrical Parade returns to Main Street, More...
The plans for Summer Nightastic began innocently enough, as a way to boost the local visitation to both parks at a time of year that has recently seen the traditional summer day at Disneyland shift from locals to primarily tourists. Nightastic was also a way to capitalize on all of the investment that has gone into Anaheim's most popular nighttime entertainment in recent years, and has seen the dramatic freshening of aging older shows like Fantasmic and the Electrical Parade.

We'd told you last year of the initial plans to create a summer campaign built around nighttime entertainment, and how the original draft was given the working title "Tinker bell's Summer Nights." Fearing that Anaheim would overexpose the iconic fairy just as the big boys in Burbank were launching their new Disney Fairies franchise through the Studios and Consumer Products, Tink was eventually removed from the spotlight and her original role as the official summertime hostess at Disneyland was downplayed.

But the concept of a modest promotion to boost summertime attendance from locals by playing up the freshened entertainment options kept moving ahead, and the end result was Summer Nightastic. And on paper it looked great, especially the plans to spruce up the aging Fantasmic show and the comparatively ancient Electrical Parade. Of course Steve Davison worked his pyrotechnic magic and created an all new fireworks show in the form of Magical, with the flying Dumbo character becoming the sleeper hit of the entire promotion. A lineup of trendy bands and DJ's at the nightly Tomorrowland Terrace dance party, complete with free Coca-Cola and shimmying go-go girls, amped up an old summertime standby for the teen scene. And the nicely produced lighting overlay for Pixie Hollow now allows that unique setting to operate past sundown.

So what could bring the whole thing to its knees and derail the opening weekend? A few unforeseen technical glitches and huge crowds of Annual Passholders who were only there to see the new stuff and have very high standards when it comes to their Disneyland experience.

On Friday, the opening night for Nightastic, the overall attendance estimates and actual numbers for both parks were nothing to worry about. Disneyland had just over 50,000 total visitors click through the turnstiles for the day, and DCA had just over 20,000. Those are healthy numbers to be sure, but nothing compared to the 70,000 that Disneyland can receive daily on big holiday weekends or around Christmas. Even the total number of people in the park at 9:00PM on Friday night wasn't anything alarming, with just over 35,000 inside Disneyland at that time, which pales considerably to the 45,000 that have to be in the park at Christmastime before they consider closing the front gates to new entries.

But the problem was that those seemingly manageable crowds weren't there to ride Space Mountain or eat at the Plaza Inn, they were made up largely of Annual Passholders and were there primarily to see the two new entertainment offerings; Magical and Fantasmic. The management suits in the park this weekend pulled out every trick in their arsenal; opening up the gritty backstage areas as walkways, purposely delaying the start of the Electrical Parade by 20 minutes, and triggering the PA systems to play parkwide announcements declaring all viewing areas full. But it was no use, as the crowds inside the park just kept surging towards the Nightastic offerings and some bewildered tourists left thinking Disneyland had devolved into a crowd control nightmare.

The first indication that the opening weekend wasn't going to be normal came in the early afternoon on Friday, when people began setting down blankets along the Rivers of America and in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle six hours earlier than normal. By 7:00PM on Friday, even though the number of people inside the park was still rather modest, the Central Plaza and the entire Fantasmic viewing area were already full. And once that area was full, there was simply no option for the masses of Annual Passholders still flooding in the main gate after work who also wanted to see both shows.

Main Street USA and the Central Plaza suffered its usual congestion and gridlock this past weekend, with verbal CM squabbles and random acts of Stroller Rage breaking out amongst the harried crowds. But it was the Fantasmic viewing area that was surprisingly overcrowded and frenzied this weekend. It holds 9,000 people at full capacity, but even with both shows that's still just 18,000 from the over 35,000 who were there to see if the new dragon really was broken.

The second showing of Fantasmic on Friday night was hampered even more by the fact that over a thousand people who camped out on blankets in the prime viewing areas along the riverbank didn't get up and leave after the first show as they normally do, but instead stayed in the same place and used up that viewing area again for the second show, denying the exasperated crowd control CM's the ability to move a new audience into the area for the next showing.

As bad as opening night was with 52,000 visitors for the day, yesterday was and today should be, even worse. At least on Friday there were several hundred thousand of the cheaper Annual Passes blocked out that day, but those two levels of passes have their last two days of admission this week before being blocked out for the rest of the summer on Wednesday. That created the perfect storm with 68,000 people flooding Disneyland on Monday June 15th, many of them Annual Passholders who primarily wanted to see the new Nightastic entertainment.

It's almost as if the TDA planners in charge of these things, a collection of executive leaders from Marketing, Entertainment, Industrial Engineering and Operations, never learn from the lessons of the past when it comes to the reach of the Internet and the ease with which Annual Passholders can flood the park when there's something new opening. At least TDA added a third Fantasmic for Monday and Tuesday, but since they waited until the very last minute that show time isn't listed on any of the printed materials or standard information outlets and the 11:30PM show is overlooked by many people planning their day.

If you're worried your Disneyland visit later this summer will be subject to the same type of crowds, don't ... once a few hundred thousand Annual Passholders become blocked out for the summer starting tomorrow, the daily attendance estimates drop by huge numbers.

For example, Tuesday has an estimate of 63,000 visitors at Disneyland (and likely to go even higher) with 32,000 of them forecast to be Annual Passholders, and a few thousand more being Disney employees getting their friends and family in for free. But on Wednesday, the first day of AP blockouts, the attendance estimate drops to 45,000 with only 6,000 of them projected to be Annual Passholders.

And when the Cast Member blockouts kick in from mid July through the end of August, denying tens of thousands of Disney Company employees in Southern California the ability to get people in for free, the average attendance estimates for Disneyland drop again and range from a comparatively measly 38,000 to 45,000 each day, even on weekends in July and August. But once the blockouts are lifted in late August, and Disneyland ramps up it's Halloweentime promotion again in the fall, you can bet attendance on Fridays and weekends in October will swell to a total of 55,000 and above each day for Disneyland.

Now you can see why TDA would want to boost the local attendance a bit with a summer promotion and a 99 dollar three day pass aimed at Southern Californians who aren't Annual Passholders yet. Those hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders have turned decades-old theme park attendance patterns on their head, with Saturdays in July having fewer people visiting than a Friday in October or a Tuesday in June. And the sooner TDA planners finally learn to do better at planning around these patterns their own programs have created, the better for all involved.

But first Anaheim has to get through one more ridiculously crowded day on Tuesday, with punishing crowds of Annual Passholders herding through both parks mostly ignoring the attractions and focusing on the new Nightastic entertainment offerings. If Monday was any indication, with over 68,000 total visitors for the day and around 45,000 people inside the park at 9:00PM for the first Fantasmic and Magical fireworks show, Tuesday will create more headaches than smiles. Hopefully when the maddening crowds go away later this month and Entertainment gets the new dragon finally working, Marketing can try to rebuild some of the brand equity they were hoping to pump into the Nightastic name.

What hopefully happens here after these first few disastrous days is that the same TDA brain trust that plotted out the schedules and plans for Nightastic's opening weekend will have a meeting later this week and begin thinking exactly how they are going to get the 700,000 Annual Passholders in to see the massive new World of Color show next spring. If they're smart, the messy opening of Nightastic will be viewed by TDA as the warning shot across the bow.

Just like Fantasmic, DCA's new custom made amphitheater for World of Color will hold 9,000 viewers in primarily standing-only sections. But unless they push DCA's closing time out to 11:00PM or later, there won't be an opportunity to do more than one show per night, especially in spring and summer when it doesn't get dark until after 8:30PM. They would need to have 75 shows just to have each Annual Passholder view World of Color once, and that's not including the park-hopping tourists who will also be interested in it.

Remember, the crush of humanity that swamped Disneyland this weekend was just from a minor local media campaign hyping some updates to existing shows that are decades old. Next spring the Disney PR machine will go into overdrive on a much larger scale to tout the radically new World of Color spectacular. Oh, and just for fun, next spring the DCA main entrance will be under heavy construction and major walkways will be closed and rerouted down narrow alleyways lined with construction walls.

The TDA planners had better order in some lunch and turn that meeting this week into a major think tank, because the thorough trashing Disneyland received this weekend is only a taste of what is coming for World of Color. (Not to mention the frenzy that will develop over the Little Mermaid E Ticket in 2011, and the massive Cars Land expansion in 2012 with three new untested ride systems that will go through months of teething pains after opening.)

Even though Nightastic had a less than stellar start this June, and it may be mid July until Fantasmic is fully operational with a completely programmed dragon, there's a good chance Nightastic may be part of our lingo for years to come. The concept didn't start out this way, but there's a movement now to turn Nightastic into a regularly branded seasonal offering, much like Halloweentime and the wildly popular Christmas season offerings.

The thought is to try and boost summer visits from locals who have largely left Disneyland alone during recent summer seasons under the assumption that it's too crowded in July and August. The irony is that lesser holiday weekends like Columbus Day and Veterans Day now routinely pull in bigger crowds than the 4th of July weekend, and the average weekend in July and August is now less crowded than the weekends in the fall and spring. TDA would love to move some of those crowds back towards the summer months when staffing and park operations are geared to handle them, in addition to simply pulling in some additional visitors who may need a reminder that a summer visit to Disneyland is a good bet for their entertainment dollars.
1/6/2009
Auld Lang Dollar Sign
Disneyland's next New Year: $50, Annual Pass sales up, DCA, More...
We'd mentioned before that the online registration for free birthday admission was blowing past all initial projections by the hundreds of thousands. That has continued for Disneyland early in the campaign, while Walt Disney World has seen far less demand for the birthday promotion. The use of the free tickets to upgrade to Annual Passes also has TDA pleasantly surprised, yet at the same time is causing many TDA planners to worry they may soon have too much of a good thing. The problem with rising AP numbers is that they use the Resort facility in a much different way than the average tourist family from Seattle or Sydney. The average AP only visits the Resort for three or four hours, and spends far less money on food and merchandise than their tourist counterparts who typically stay in the parks seven or eight hours per day.

The growing ranks of AP's at Disneyland also create opening day nightmares for new attractions, such as the debut of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean that saw the line of excited fans go down Main Street USA, or even the reopening of the small Castle walkthrough that quickly developed lines more than an hour long to the bewilderment of Cast Members and tourists alike. The thought of the swarms of AP's that will descend on lavish new E Ticket attractions that have never been seen before, like DCA's Little Mermaid ride and the Cars Land expansion, are already sending shivers down the spines of park managers.
 
  • LavenderPeach

    <font color=darkorchid>Didn't understand how you c
    Joined
    Aug 28, 2008
    Before I start I want to be clear that I am making no ethical statements about AP holders. My intent is to focus on the practical results of the AP program and how it affects crowds. AP holders should visit DLR whenever they want and as many times as they want using their APs.
    I just had to say that I love the disclaimer, especially the last line. :thumbsup2 Wouldn't want to start another debate about that. :)
     

    PHXscuba

    Mouseketeer since birth!
    Joined
    Jul 7, 2008
    This information might help me squeeze in a day trip next summer, if I can tell DH that the week of the 4th of July will likely be LESS busy than when we were there over Columbus Day in October. Who knew?

    I had been leery of going then because my last experience with being at Disneyland on a 4th of July weekend was in the '80s when I got on maybe 4 rides and you couldn't hardly move in the park. Might have to give it a try.

    Now it's off to find that magic volunteer opportunity in our area that will take my 7-year-old as well as her older siblings. I can't believe the only person I would be paying for is the 4-year-old. Weird ...

    PHXscuba
     

    monicatb

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 8, 2005
    Great infomation. So if my park dates are 04/01, 04/02, & 04/03, I don't really have to worry too much (with a good touring plan, of course) except for 04/01 which is the last day blocked for deluxe APs? I was planning to do MM that day.
     

    HydroGuy

    A Pirate's Life For Me
    Joined
    Jun 5, 2005
    Great infomation. So if my park dates are 04/01, 04/02, & 04/03, I don't really have to worry too much (with a good touring plan, of course) except for 04/01 which is the last day blocked for deluxe APs? I was planning to do MM that day.
    I think DAP's are too small in number to have much of an impact. It appears to be the SoCal APs which cause the impact and they are blocked out.

    Spring Break is a busy time at DLR. But it will not be busy because of AP holders. Just regular visitors.
     
  • goofycathy

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2008
    Wow great information, I guess I never really thought about what an impact AP's (of all types) really have on DL! Thanks for putting this all together!
     

    wirki

    If only I lived closer<br><font color="red">Looks
    Joined
    Jul 19, 2003
    Thank you for making all this info available for all of us. It has been wonderful. I do have a question for you if that is ok. We are going May 8-15 2010. It seems that the blackout dates are only on Saturdays in May. So does that mean that Sunday's will be nuts??
     

    MVBowers111

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Dec 3, 2006
    I totally agree with everything that Hydroguy has said! My sister and I took our kids to DL last summer. I was nervous about going in July because I was afraid that the crowds would be ridiculous. But, we went anyway and were AMAZED that the crowd level was so low. We were there Monday thru Saturday and never had a problem with crowds until friday late afternoon. But, it still was nothing like we had anticipated. Now I tell everyone to check the blackout days for the southern california annual passes so that they don't get caught in those crazy busy days right before the passes blackout. I'd totally go in July again since it was such a great experience last year!
     

    HydroGuy

    A Pirate's Life For Me
    Joined
    Jun 5, 2005
    Thank you for making all this info available for all of us. It has been wonderful. I do have a question for you if that is ok. We are going May 8-15 2010. It seems that the blackout dates are only on Saturdays in May. So does that mean that Sunday's will be nuts??
    Yes, Sundays and Friday nights especially. Because of the WoC show.

    If I was going those dates (I went mid-May 15 last year) I would:

    1. Go to DL on Friday night and Sunday and stay away from DCA because of the AP holders and WoC

    2. Assuming entertainment is only on weekends that week - probably true but WoC may be different - I would see WoC on Saturday when APs are blocked. Saturday last mid-May was amazingly light on crowds. I was shocked.

    3. Get in lots of rides on the weekdays and whatever entertainment is available. If you want to see Aladdin - and you should if you never have - see it on Thursday.
     
  • wirki

    If only I lived closer<br><font color="red">Looks
    Joined
    Jul 19, 2003
    Yes, Sundays and Friday nights especially. Because of the WoC show.

    If I was going those dates (I went mid-May 15 last year) I would:

    1. Go to DL on Friday night and Sunday and stay away from DCA because of the AP holders and WoC

    2. Assuming entertainment is only on weekends that week - probably true but WoC may be different - I would see WoC on Saturday when APs are blocked. Saturday last mid-May was amazingly light on crowds. I was shocked.

    3. Get in lots of rides on the weekdays and whatever entertainment is available. If you want to see Aladdin - and you should if you never have - see it on Thursday.
    That is what I was thinking. This is our first trip so I am trying to figure this out. Been to the World tons (even worked there as a CP) But Disneyland is foreign to me :lmao:

    What is Aladdin? I thought is was a show but people are asking for tickets for it??:confused3
     

    HydroGuy

    A Pirate's Life For Me
    Joined
    Jun 5, 2005
    What is Aladdin? I thought is was a show but people are asking for tickets for it??:confused3
    Aladdin is a 40+ minute Broadway-quality stage show at DCA. Be prepared to laugh until you cry! The Genies are hilarious. The schedule over the last year has it showing on Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun.

    In my opinion (and most everyone else's) it is better than any of the WDW stage shows. And sadly it is closing in August after a long (9 year?) run. A new Toy Story musical will take over in 2011. See http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland/en_US/parks/entertainment/detail?name=AladdinEntertainmentPage

    No tickets are required. Some folks get priority seating ticket perks.
     

    Koda

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 27, 2005
    Thank you SO MUCH for this information! We were planning on going to DLR 6/30-7/3, however surprisingly, the only one of those days that is blacked out is 7/3. I am going to re-arrange our itinerary, and be at DLR 6/24-27 instead. That way all of the days except 6/27 will be blacked out. I am so glad that I read this thread while I still have time to plan and re-arrange our schedule.:)
     

    Silly Little Pixie

    <font color=blue>My name is Inigo Montoya. You kil
    Joined
    Oct 3, 2007
    I've held either a Deluxe or Premium AP since 1994 - 16 years tomorrow! As a local I have watched these changes with interest over the last several years. Disney has gotten itself almost into a mess with the So Cal APs. They have agressively marketed them, and for a few years, the APs kept DLR afloat after 9-11. At one point, the So Cal APs still were relatively few, compared to today. Among friends and aquaintances, they were considered far inferior to the DAP or PAP because of the blackout days. Nearly the entire summer was blocked out, and what good is that if you have school age kids?

    However, over the last 2 years many Southern Cal school districts have changed their school schedule. In my area all the districts have now an "early start" calendar, where they begin around August 7-10ish and end around June 1... leaving June wide open for lots of Disneyland visits. I know many, many people who have since purchased SoCal Select APs at a ridiculously cheap price, because NOW the APs fit their children's school schedule. Many districts are still with a post-Labor Day start, but the early start is spreading.

    In addition. DLR is now offering "montly payments" to purchase APs, rather than requiring the entire price upfront. Again, I know many people who either had let APs expire several years ago due to cost, or who always wanted an AP but could never afford one, now buying APs with this program. It's $8.09/mo for a SoCalSelect and $12.25/mo for a SoCal AP. I expect the APs to really rise with this. Knowing the traffic patterns was never really an issue for me before- but now, I pay attention to the days we go. Or don't!

    Good thread, Trey!:thumbsup2
     

    dnamertz

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 23, 2009
    I understand that SoCal Pass non-blackout days can be busy right before the black-out periods begin (such as right before summer), but does this thread mean it's usually better for non-passholders to plan trips during blackout days than during non-blackout?

    I thought those dates were blacked out because they are already busy days. Is this thread saying its less crowded on a mid-summer weekday (during the SoCal blackout) than on a weekday in March (during SoCal non-blackout days)?
     

    HydroGuy

    A Pirate's Life For Me
    Joined
    Jun 5, 2005
    I understand that SoCal Pass non-blackout days can be busy right before the black-out periods begin (such as right before summer), but does this thread mean it's usually better for non-passholders to plan trips during blackout days than during non-blackout?

    I thought those dates were blacked out because they are already busy days. Is this thread saying its less crowded on a mid-summer weekday (during the SoCal blackout) than on a weekday in March (during SoCal non-blackout days)?
    Good question. My take is that if one subtracts all the AP holders there is a base level of crowds that occur. Spring Break, Summer and Holidays would typically have the highest base crowd. Disney then offers the AP program and SoCal APs in particular as discussed in this thread and blocks out days with hugher base crowds. Because the AP numbers have grown so much the lower base crowd plus the APs has often exceeded the higher base crowd without them.

    So in answer to your question, it is definitely the case in today's current situation to plan for blockout days during high season. July with blockouts is better than June without blockouts especially after something new comes out. During low season (such as right now) that is less true.
     

    Liltx

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 27, 2001
    So since you mentioned the peak time issue, we are planning a one day visit either Friday, March 12 or Saturday, March 13. Saturday is a blackout day but also a Magic Morning. Ride Max still says to do most of FL first on MM's which is important to us as our kids are 4 and 6.

    What would you suggest in this case since it is Spring Break?

    TIA

    Monica
     

    geekypeach

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Feb 27, 2009
    So, my head hurts a little. I generally "get" the info, however, is it just me or is the Captain EO thing still a little vague? We don't have an official open, do we? We are going to DLR 2/26-3/1, and while I myself am super excited about seeing EO, I really don't want to deal with its crowds since we rarely get to visit (or vcacation for that matter). I wonder, will there be a flood of people? Will they just be flooded in to see the show and leave the rest of the parks out if the madness?
     

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