Holiday celebrations reveal the secret to Disneyland’s success

12 November 2022, 16:52 · With all the complaints about Lightning Lane and reservation requirements, how can Disney continue to fill its theme parks and earn record money?

Frustrated Disney fans ask this question every time Disney releases another record financial report for its theme parks, as it did again this week. “If I have such a hard time with the parks, why are all these other visitors still coming?” they ask. A visit to Disneyland on Friday may have provided the answer.

Yesterday was the first official day of the Holidays at Disneyland Resort. Put that at the start of Veterans Day weekend, and the crowds packed Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. There’s not much new to report this year, with the parks offering the same parades, shows, and holiday overlays as in previous years. But Disney held a media event on Friday morning nonetheless.

During its media events, Disney presents its guest journalists with a series of interviews with approved park spokespersons, which provide wonderful insight for writers and guests who have just visited the theme park or the Disney beats. While I always enjoy communicating with cast members at Parks, it’s pretty rare that these major press event interview rotations provide me with new information or ideas that I haven’t already brought to Theme readers. Park Insider. I cover this topic every day, so I already have the basic level of knowledge that most of these talks provide.

Yet journalists should take nothing for granted. Sometimes even the people who cover Disney also have “surprise and delight” moments. Mine came in the middle of my third interview of the day, after asking why fans would consider visiting Disneyland for the holidays.

“When you think of a gift, the best gift you can give someone is the gift of time,” the spokesperson told me. “Come here and spend the holidays with them.”

Yes, that’s a basic answer. But it did provide me with a lens to see what was happening around me yesterday with much more clarity. While it may confuse some of the theme park fans who read websites such as this, millions of visitors each year do not come to Disneyland and Walt Disney World to visit a theme park. They may end up on rides or see shows, but it’s not the attractions that draw them to the resorts. For these Guests, Disney is simply the most appealing place the whole family can agree on for a reunion, vacation, getaway…or party.

A trip “to Disney” is not successful by visiting a large number of attractions in one day, or because of short average wait times. This is successful if all family members spend time together in a space that makes them happy at the end of the day.

Disneyland Group
The Disneyland Band performs in Town Square

Disneyland has become a beloved vacation tradition for countless Southern California families because it continues to do so. Each year, Sleeping Beauty Castle or the Christmas tree in the town square serve as the backdrop for thousands of portraits and greeting cards from local families. If the goal is to spend quality time together, does it matter whether you spend that sitting on a blanket on Main Street waiting for the A Christmas Fantasy parade or queuing for Haunted Mansion Holiday? Or wait in a queue for something else? It’s the time spent together that counts, not the number of “experienced attractions” that result.

Let’s be clear here. Wait times at Disneyland yesterday would frustrate many theme park fans. Over an hour to Big Thunder Mountain. Two hours for Mansion. And almost three for Rise of the Resistance. Disney’s Lightning Lanes offer some relief, but far from the “no-wait” experience that many fans have come to expect from skip-the-line passes. By early afternoon, the Lightning Lane for Mansion extended to Splash Mountain. The Lightning Lane entrance for Rise of the Resistance was closer to the Black Spire Outpost market than the entrance to the attraction itself.

Expectations weren’t just for attractions. A queue for the Disneyland music box-themed holiday popcorn bucket stretched from the Frontierland popcorn stand on the banks of America’s rivers to Pirates of the Caribbean. Spending time with the family while waiting to buy buckets of popcorn that you’ll return to eBay to help pay for Christmas may not be my family’s holiday tradition, but it’s clearly now that of some families.

And that’s another part of Disney’s theme park success – casting a wide net to try to accommodate many families and many traditions. Disney still believes in the mass market. But unlike many other entertainment companies, Disney understands that the “mass market” has always been a collection of individuals, with distinct backgrounds, traditions and preferences. In an age where consumers have unlimited choices, you cannot create a mass market for your product by speaking with one voice, delivering one message.

Disney doesn’t curate its holiday celebrations narrowly to appeal primarily to a nostalgic white, American, and Christian audience, like some other parks do. Disney California Adventure’s “Festival of Holidays” is as advertised – a festival of many year-end celebrations, from Thanksgiving to Christmas/Navidad to Hanukkah to Diwali to Kwanzaa to Three Kings Day.

For your ears and eyes, Disney California Adventure has lined up musical artists from various genres, including Tina and The Sounds of Celebration, Mariachi Divas, Mostly Kosher, Blue13 Dance Company, Phat Cat Swinger and The Mistletoes. For your mouths and stomachs, Disneyland has also brought back its festival markets and special holiday menus. Fancy a turkey and stuffing sandwich, dressed in cranberry sauce? Disney has that. But Disney will also be serving a Brisket Slider, Chicken Tikka Masala, Pozole Dip Torta, or Chicken Peri-Peri so you can enjoy a taste of the vacation.

Promoting Black Panther at Disneyland
Peri-Peri Chicken ($9), bottom, among Black Panther-themed food and merchandise available for a limited time at Disney California Adventure

The latter option is on the menu at the “Flavors of Wakanda” booth in Hollywood Land, celebrating the release of Disney’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” yesterday. If your family’s holiday tradition is the movies, Disneyland is also bringing you a celebration of its latest Marvel show there. In addition to the African-inspired bites, Disney California Adventure has set up a “Wakanda Forever” photo op in the courtyard of the Hyperion Theater, as well as a daily moment with the new Black Panther atop Avengers headquarters.

Continuing its various appeals to a wide audience, for the 25th anniversary of It’s a Small World Holiday, Disneyland yesterday introduced a new character doll to the ride, which uses a wheelchair.

Wheelchair doll at Disneyland
Disneyland Courtesy Photo

If you wander through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, the chances increase each season that you’ll find something there that reflects you, your journey, and your dreams. That said, getting into these parks remains a challenge for many.

In my experience, many Southern Californians are aware that you now need an advance reservation to enter a Disneyland theme park on a specific date. But far fewer understand how far in advance you need to make that reservation to get your desired date. If you want to book on a Friday or Saturday, it is better to book more than a week in advance. (Here is Disneyland’s current availability schedule.)

You can no longer buy annual passes either, cutting off one of the old sources of affordable Disneyland tickets to those who didn’t buy new Magic Key passes when they were available. But for a special family day, Disneyland still offers value for many. In addition to regular park attraction lines, Disney continues to offer vacation overlays on Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World at Disneyland, as well as Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters at California Adventure’s Cars Land. The A Christmas Fantasy Parade and Believe…In Holiday Magic fireworks are still going on at Disneyland, joined by World of Color – Season of Light playing California Adventure, where the Disney ¡Viva Navidad! the street party also takes place during the day. Add all that live music from the guest artists listed above and the plentiful decor and holiday food and merchandise (including, yes, those buckets of popcorn), and there’ll be plenty for any family to do during the holidays. Disneyland vacation, even if they can’t hope to get to all of that.

So for all of these reasons, Disneyland continues to thrive, especially during the holidays, even if that frustrates some of its longtime fans.

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