Disneyland Resort is more like Disney World in some ways, and that’s bad news for some guests

Disneyland Resort is a place built on nostalgia. Even in the mid-1950s when Disneyland first opened, everything from Main Street USA to Frontierland was a throwback. Even Tomorowland is now about looking back to the future of an earlier era. For many now, Disneyland itself is nostalgia; you come back as an adult and remember what it was like to be a child. But it feels like Disneyland is working on a big change that could, over the next few years, make it a very different place that no one remembers.

Disney has two major theme parks in the United States, one on each coast, but they are very different places. Walt Disney World has always been Disney’s premier vacation destination. While there are certainly locals who visit regularly, the park has always focused on vacationers. These are people who are planning a big trip, usually lasting several days, who might not return for years, if ever.

Disneyland, by comparison, has always been seen as the “premises park” where the roles were reversed. Large vacationing families were certainly there, but locals who visited frequently made up a much larger percentage of daily guests. However, in recent months, a number of changes (some of which have already taken place and more are expected) have the potential to truly transform Disneyland into a place that not only does not cater to local customers, but is specifically designed to work more like Disney World does now.

World of color

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Disneylandnews.com/Disney)

Disneyland is growing

The biggest obstacle between Disneyland and becoming another Disney World has always been the limited size of the Southern California park. 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 street. Disney Springs at Disney World is a huge shopping and dining complex.

But Disneyland Resort is taking action to address this problem. Disneyland Forward is a major initiative which is designed to be a massive expansion to the entire complex. While it is not clear whether there will actually be a third theme park added, the plans, which have reportedly been submitted to the city of Anaheim, aim to significantly expand the two existing theme parks, as well as add new hotels, additional stores and dining, and maybe even more.

While this new Disneyland is still a fraction of the size of Walt Disney World, it will be much larger than it is now and therefore require more time to fully enjoy. A family heading to California, or even just Southern California, on vacation that otherwise only planned to spend part of their time at Disneyland will have to spend more to see and do it all. It might make more sense to just make Disneyland its own longer vacation.

Radiator spring racers

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Disneylandnews.com/Disney)

Disneyland becomes more expensive

This week, Disneyland revealed its first price increase since just before it closed due to the global pandemic. While price increases had become a normal part of the business cycle in parks prior to closure, it must be said that it was much more meaningful than most. Ticket prices have gone up almost everywhere. A whole new, more expensive pricing tier has been introduced. Parking fees have increased for all theme park guests, and even more for those keeping cars overnight at Disneyland Resort hotels.

This happened just before the launch of Disney Genie and, more importantly, Disney Genie +, which will allow customers to skip the lines at major attractions. However, unlike the old FastPass system which was free, Genie + costs money.

Now, while no one wants to pay more for anything, the point is, if you’re planning a big theme park vacation, you’re set to spend a lot of money. You might need to save for longer and delay your trip a bit to be able to afford those extra costs, but it’s something you can do.

Meanwhile, if you’re someone who is a local and visits frequently, or even someone who plans smaller, more regular trips, these price increases are potentially a much bigger hit. If you go to the parks when you go, every day has become a little more expensive. If you visit frequently, but maybe not enough to warrant an annual Magic Key pass, then each ticket has just gotten more expensive.

Sleeping Beauty Statue of Partners and Castle at Night

(Image credit: Disneyland)

Magic keys don’t work like annual passports

For locals or just frequent customers, 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 straightforward and easy to enter the parks at your leisure. Want to come in at night just to watch the fireworks or have your favorite snack? You could do that. If things were a bit crowded, you might leave in the middle of the day and not feel like you’re wasting your money.

But now that’s not really the case anymore. Even the Premium 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 fill and remain largely so. One can certainly still get the value of their magic key, but it requires some thought that just wasn’t necessary or expected before. You can no longer leave on a whim; you need to plan your departure in advance to be sure you can go.

In the meantime, if you’re that person planning a Disneyland vacation with standard tickets, you have some flexibility as to which parks you can visit when. And, of course, you plan this weekly or monthly in advance.

The parks are not full, Disneyland just leaves more space for the guest with a regular ticket. The goal is not to fill the park with guests. It is to fill the park with a particular type of guest.


(Image credit: Image courtesy of Disneylandnews.com/Disney)

Disneyland Resort turns into a bigger vacation destination

These magic key sales are certainly valuable to Disneyland Resort’s bottom line, but Disney’s own CEO has said that vacationing guests are more valuable than those with annual passes. They’re spending more money, so it’s in Disney’s financial best interests to respond to these people more.

I’m not saying that one of these ideas is inherently better than another. There are costs and benefits to both. If you are in “vacation” camp, these changes are good and they will likely improve your experience. On the other hand, if you are the “occasional visitor” then it’s hard to see any benefit in all of this.

If a Disneyland Resort transformation is happening, it certainly won’t happen overnight, but we’ll likely continue to see changes that favor vacationing families over regular guests. There will still be enough of these at Disneyland, as there are at Disney World. There will always be Magic Key holders, but even they will get used to operating in a very different Disneyland system.

About Brad S. Fulton

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