Dark Days Ahead?by David Koenig, contributing writer
Dark Days Ahead?
Rock-bottom-priced tickets have been the major reason for the healthy crowds at Disney's California Adventure over the last month. So, what does DCA do after Labor Day when its deep discounts expire?
More discounts, at least in some form, are probable. But what definitely has been decided is reducing operating hours at both parks to control costs. No one may notice if the parks are open an hour or three less a daybut can you imagine if once a week they stayed closed the whole day?
Operating hours at DCA have already been reduced. Starting last weekend, the park began closing at 10 p.m. with a single performance of the Electrical Parade through the remainder of the summer (except Saturday, which continues closing at 11 p.m. and running the parade twice).
Starting September 17, DCA will close at 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. During the weekend, the park will close at 9 p.m. Fridays, 10 p.m. Saturdays, and 8 p.m. Sundays. In addition, DCA will open at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. Fridays and Sundays.
"Basically, this shaves off from one to three hours of operation seven days a week for DCA," explained one cast member. "It's the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. operation during September weekdays, though, that has most people talking."
Operating hours at Disneyland also will be cut back. Although unconfirmed, one source claimed that on weekdays Disneyland would close its gate "at 6 p.m. or close to it."
More controversial is another proposition, purely in the "What if?" stage at this point, to close one or both of the parks for a full day one day a week. The likelihood of this actually happening is remote. But while the idea may sound far-fetched, it is not unprecedented. Long-time visitors will recall that in its early years, Disneyland closed Mondays and Tuesdays during the off-season. In time, the park began closing only on Mondays.
The move allowed the park during the low season to lessen operating costs one day a week, while (hopefully) boosting attendance on the other six. It also gave the park a full day to recover from six days of visitors, reducing the wear on facilities and providing maintenance workers with the free access, ample time and daylight to keep the park in tip-top condition.
Then, when Michael Eisner took charge of Disney in 1984, he soon realized that Disneyland might be "leaving money on the table" by having so many ticket booths, gift shops and restaurants closed for a full day. He wondered if the park was losing out on business, especially from tourists with less flexible schedulesbut looser purse strings? Disneyland would never close again for a full day.
But this fall, the time might be right to rethink the policy. The conditions are different:
(1) The Disneyland Resort now has two parks, which currently compete with each other. During the spring, Disneyland regularly outdrew its new neighbor three guests to one. DCA's recent promotions, especially the current free admission for small children, have siphoned thousands of visitors a day from Disneyland.
Now, if DCA were closed one day a week, guests wouldn't have a sale-priced alternative to Disneyland. And, if Disneyland closed one day a week, visitors might have no choice but to visit the less popular second gate.
(2) Gate counts at the Southern California parks are heavily inflated by the mass numbers of annual passholders, who pay only once for admission. Whether the parks were open seven days a week or six, they should be able to make the same amount of money from selling annual passes.
And, annual passholders typically make more frequent yet briefer visits, meaning they spend less money per visit on food.
(3) Finally, the parks could use the rest. Maintenance crews are understaffed and overburdened. Facilities and equipment are aging. Remember, even God rested on the seventh day. Disneyland hasn't had a day off in over 15 years. What better way to rejuvenate the park as it nears its 50th birthday, than by giving it a dozen or so days off a year to recuperate?
Cast members had mixed reactions to the reduced hours. "I think this was to be expected (at DCA)," said one employee. "The part I'm more concerned with, however, is that two of (the three managers I asked) indicated that Disneyland will also close early. On top of all that, those two sources also let us know that Monday is being considered as a dark day again. Now, I really have no problems with having a dark day since most of my life there was always at least one dark day during the week, but I am rather outraged by the idea of the new hours. It seems a deliberate stab at annual passholders and cast membersmaking us even more expendable after the summer season."
"I hadn't heard about possibly closing the parks one day a week," another park worker said. "If it's true, it is getting bad!"
Added a co-worker: "Somehow, it wouldn't surprise me if the operating hours got even funkier, or one of the two parks began closing a day or two a week during the off season."
"I haven't heard anything about closing entirely on certain days," said another cast member. "But, at this point nothing is sacred anymore. DCA has under-performed horribly this year. Attendance is one piece, but sales per cap at the stores and restaurants were way under projections as well. Plus people just didn't seem to want to buy much with 'DCA' on it, and instead seemed to save their money for trinkets that said 'Disneyland' on it from the Emporium or Star Trader. (DCA merchandise) just wouldn't move off the shelves."
Finally, an old-timer said, "I have heard the rumors from time to time. Closing either park at 6 p.m. is shafting the public because they never lower the prices. Why spend money to see either park for eight hours when during the summer, you get 16? But I wouldn't put anything past them. Bottom line is what it's all about."
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