Science fiction writer, journalist, and blogger Cory Doctorow writes a moving history of the recently discontinued Disneyland Annual Pass.
Says Cory: Disneyland was founded as an escape for Walt Disney, who at that time was alienated from his family and his business. The inexpensive Annual Pass allowed people who lived nearby to use the park to just hang out and walk around, and it attracted other lonely, alienated people, some of whom behaved badly. So it makes sense to phase out the pass, but it’s still sad, particularly at a time when the pandemic has alienated people from their favorite public spaces.
I never before realized the role Disneyland, and the Annual Passes, played in the local community, even though I live in San Diego, less than 100 miles from Disneyland, and have two friends (plus David) who use the park regularly, just to walk around, get something to eat, and enjoy the day.
According to one of those friends, nearby Knotts Berry Farm is looking to pick up the slack.
I grew up going to Disneyland with an annual pass. It formed so many amazing memories from my childhood. To this day, one of the most peaceful things for me is to walk around Disneyland, even on a busy day.
My closest equivalent is Comic-Con. San Diego, where I live, hosts the big one. I often don’t manage to get tickets anymore, but I don’t really care. The programming doesn’t interest me, and there’s plenty of opportunities to walk around and people-watch downtown around the convention center.
I grew up in the Los Angeles area and went to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and Magic Mountain on a somewhat regular basis. I don’t remember Disneyland’s annual passes, but I do remember when they had colored paper tickets for the rides: A, B, C, D, and E, with each letter increasing in popularity and intensity of the ride. The sedate rides for the little kids were usually the A tickets, while the major thrill rides, rollercoasters, etc., like the Matterhorn, were E. In fact, and @MacSparky may remember this, there was an expression when something was fun or thrilling, you would say “it was an E ticket ride”.
I’ve been wondering about the decision-making behind this. Maybe it’s financial (something like needing more gate revenues to offset operating costs when park attendance is going to be limited). But it floors me. I feel for @MacSparky. If I lived that close to Disneyland, I’d be there frequently. I remember one of his posts where he included a photo he took showing his “office view” over the river in Critter Country. I recognized it immediately and felt jealous to not have such a cool place to work during the day. (I’m stuck in northern Indiana where we don’t even have an open Disney Store within 75 miles.)
I too remember using “E ticket ride” to describe things. More often I’m likely to say that “it’s no E ticket ride, I’ll tell ya that.”
I’ve been discussing this with a friend who, like David, is a avid Annual Pass user. My friend put his finger on why this is a dangerous decision for Disney: It can backfire spectacularly when you risk alienating your most loyal customers to pursue a customer base that’s, by definition, one-offs. The family from Kansas making a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Disneyland will spend a lot of money … but they’re not coming back.
Apple understands the value of loyal customers, even the price-sensitive ones who upgrade their iPhones every five years and buy last year’s model when they do.
I think it’s a mistake to compare a leisure and entertainment company to a tech company. They are not the same and do not operate under the same business pressures. And while the annual pass holders may be “loyal customers” there are far, far fewer of them than folks who make Disneyland a destination vacation (1 million annual pass holders out of 25-30 million visitors annually). The annual pass holders are also likely locals who go to the park often but don’t actually spend a lot of money while they are there. The other factor is capacity. Disneyland and the other parks can get quite crowded, and I’m sure when the park is crowded, Disney would rather have folks there spending money (the destination people or one-offs as you call them) than the annual pass holders who historically don’t.
During the pandemic, nobody was traveling, and it’s likely that family vacation budgets are being saved for next year. Disney wants those people and their dollars to recoup pandemic losses for being closed, not the locals unfortunately. That said, I think the annual pass program will likely return in some form, but not for a while.
Gang — Daisy and I have fully expected this move. When they do open, it will be at limited capacity and likely a reservation system. California has millions of passholders and they won’t be able to accommodate that. My guess is that it will come back toward the end of the year or early 2022 (depending on how the vaccine and herd immunity goes).
Regardless, I’m not too worked up about it. I really do like going to the “park” but there are so many people dealing with such worse problems right now. I’ll be fine without my fix for awhile longer.