If Disneyland’s prices are so high, why don’t more theme park fans just switch to Disney’s competition? Many analysts might ask that question, but I suspect that fans’ answer will be same as it is for consumers of many businesses across the economy.
Theme park fans have plenty of other choices across Southern California, but none come close to offering the quantity and quality of attractions that appeal across generations that the Disneyland Resort does. That gives Disneyland the power to raise prices at will, since Disney management knows from years of experience that fans will continue to fill its theme parks no matter what Disney charges.
Universal Studios Hollywood comes closest to offering a Disney-caliber experience, but even after its highly-anticipated Super Nintendo World opens early next year, Universal will remain, at best, a one-day experience for most fans. For locals, Universal lacks the extra attractions, table-service restaurants, parades and spectaculars that makes Disneyland a compelling buy for an annual pass. For visitors, Universal Studios Hollywood’s on-site hotels are “out of sight and out of mind,” unlike the delightfully themed and well-connected on-site hotels that Universal offers at its multi-gate resort in Orlando.
Knott’s Berry Farm also misses an opportunity with its hotel. Knott’s California Marketplace stops short of the hotel, forcing visitors to walk across a parking lot to get to the back of the hotel. Imagine if Knott’s did a redesign that connected its hotel to the marketplace the way that Downtown Disney flows into the Disneyland Hotel. Inside the park, Knott’s would be more enticing with a parade and more high-capacity dark rides to complement its Disney-style Mine Ride and Log Ride. A much-rumored new hyper coaster might help keep Knott’s ahead of Six Flags Magic Mountain, but it won’t help the park take one step toward winning Disneyland fans.
Legoland California does offer a complete package that makes the park a viable Disneyland alternative, but only for families with preschool or elementary-age children. When teens age out of Legoland, few want to return until they have children of their own.
SeaWorld San Diego once rivaled Disneyland, but animal acts have fallen out of public favor. The company’s new focus on roller coasters might appeal to Disney fans if SeaWorld would add richly themed and decorated stations and show scenes, like Universal did with its recent Harry Potter and Jurassic World roller coasters in Orlando. Unshaded rides on a gravel patch, such as SeaWorld’s new Emperor coaster, do not hit the mark.
Six Flags’ new CEO wants the company to go after Disney’s customers, but cutting discounts and raising prices before actually adding Disney-level attractions is just causing Six Flags’ attendance and revenue to drop faster than its thrill rides.
If dedicated theme park fans want to support an alternative to Disney, they need to decide which, if any, of these potential competitors is most likely to spend their money on smarter design choices — and not to pad their corporate bank account. Otherwise, it’s just back to Disneyland — despite the cost.