Troubled Disneyland expands parking, but experts skeptical of move

| June 9, 2014

Even “The Happiest Place on Earth” has parking problems. With guest attendance rising every year from 2004 to 2012, Disneyland hasn’t been able to keep up with parking demand. As a result, annual pass holders and tourists consistently find themselves hunting for parking in remote structures, especially on Sundays.

Walt Disney Co. is addressing the problem by expanding parking. It’s buying a corner lot at Harbor Boulevard and Ball Road that will house 1,400 parking spaces. The lot will be reserved for employees, freeing existing parking for visitors.

disneyland parking lot

A high proportion of Disneyland’s parking is massive surface lots like this one. Via micechat.

Critics believe Disney would be better off building a third park to complement Disneyland and California Adventure, which joined the legacy theme park in 2001. California Adventure failed to meet expectations until the $1-billion addition of Cars Land in 2012. Its success now has fans and industry experts recommending the construction of a third park, an idea Disney explored in 2000. At the time, the company considered a 78-acre site just south of its complex on Harbor Boulevard.

“Maybe they’ll do Star Wars Land or Indiana Jones Adventure or Marvel characters,” mused Todd Regan about the site. Founder of MiceChat.com, a Disney blog, Regan may not be too far off the mark — the company acquired Marvel Entertainment Inc. in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012.

Disney may have its hands full for now, though. The company is currently at work on a $4-billion resort in Shanghai that’s scheduled to open in 2015.

Until Disney can turn its full attention to its parks in southern California, the company is trying other tactics to relieve overcrowding besides expanding parking. Last month it raised single-day ticket prices by $4 to $96 and suspended sales of its popular $379 Southern California Annual Passport, which offers park access 215 days of the year — Sundays included.

The suspension is temporary, an attempt by the company to reduce its attendance counts on Sundays and to encourage locals to instead visit the parks during weekdays, when crowds are smaller. Residents tend to fill the parks, crowding the out-of-town guests that Disney hopes to woo because travelers typically stay at its hotels and spend more on souvenirs.

Fans of the park worry that Disney may suspend sales of its other passes, such as the $289 pass that excludes weekend access. “By and large, annual pass holders have a very strong emotional connection to the park and know the history,” said Ken Bruce, who holds one of the $289 passes. “To go for that blind money grab seems they are not paying attention to us.”

Increasing prices without introducing new attractions also seems like a poor tradeoff. “Nothing has really changed or been added in years,” Bruce pointed out.

It’s unclear when sales of the Southern California Annual Passport will reopen or if sales of other passes will be closed. In the meantime, Disney reports rising attendance: between October 2013 and March 2014, operating income from its theme parks and resorts rose 18 percent. The increase coincides with higher spending rates as the nation continues to recover from the recession and the bad winter weather that plagued the East Coast and Midwest, curbing travel.

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