Here's What Recent Changes Mean For Your Next Trip To Disneyland

That's the question that many Disneyland fans are asking, having moved from anger to a sort of mental bargaining as they work through the stages of fan grief after Disneyland's announcement earlier this week that the beloved new nighttime parade would close Sept. 5, along with the rest of the shows that debuted for the park's 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration.

While most fans seem happy to see World of Color Celebrate go, and to welcome the return of the latest version of the "regular" World of Color show, many fans had hoped that the Disneyland Forever fireworks and Paint the Night would endure as 60th birthday presents to fans — continuing to play for years to come. Instead, they're "glowing away," to be replaced by the old, much shorter and much less impressive, Fantasy in the Sky fireworks and... well, who knows what will replace Paint the Night?

One thing's for sure. Disney's not going to waste the millions of dollars it spent on this parade by sending it to a scrap heap somewhere. Some Disney park is getting this parade. The question is... which one?

Why not just keep it running at Disneyland? Allow us to take a visit into the realm of speculation, and, for many of you, into the far more chilling realm of mathematics. 

It's no secret that attendance hasn't been exactly great at theme parks this summer. Southern California is doing better than Orlando, as it tends to do when the dollar is strong and the economy isn't — as millions of Southern Californians stay close to home rather than vacationing elsewhere. But while Universal Studios Hollywood's attendance seems to be up significantly over last summer, following the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disneyland's recent attendance seems to be flat compared with the same period last year. Big price increases for annual passesseem to have led to many fans downgrading or dropping their APs, lowering the number of high-level passholders eligible to visit during the July blockout periods. The Rivers of America attractions are closed. Big Thunder Trail is blocked by Star Wars Land construction, creating nasty bottlenecks in the park during the parades and fireworks. Season of the Force has been running for months. And the Diamond Celebration has been running for more than a year now. There's just not much new to bring fans to Disneyland.

HalloweenTime starts Sept. 9, with the Christmas holiday season following almost immediately after, so Disneyland should be set for the final four months of the year, as those popular holiday celebrations always seem to draw fans to the park. But what about August? How could Disney juice attendance for this month, in an attempt to make the year-end numbers look respectable next to USH's expected big gain, not to mention an expected decline from its sibling parks at Walt Disney World?

Well, if Disney can't boost attendance by adding a new attraction at this late date, it can try to do that by taking something away. 

With fans now knowing that Sept. 5 is their last chance to see Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever, expect them to make a Disneyland visit a priority between now and then. The largest tier of annual passholders — those holding the lowest-priced Southern California Select AP — come off the summer blockouts on Aug. 22. Expect park attendance to soar on that date and for attendance to remain near capacity levels for the weekdays between then and Sept. 5. 

Yes, the final day for the Diamond Celebration is open to all tiers of annual passholders, and it's a federal holiday (Labor Day), to boot. Expect Christmas week-type crowds (more on that in a bit) on that day, as most everyone with an AP looks to send off these shows at their final performances.

If you want to see Disneyland Forever and Paint the Night before they close, we'd suggest going before Aug. 22, if you can. If you must visit on a weekday after that, go on Friday, Aug. 26, which is the one weekday at the end of August when the SoCal Select passholders are blocked out. But the best time to visit will be on the two days before the farewell — Sept. 3-4. All levels of APs save for the Signature Plus, Signature and the few remaining Premium passes are blocked out on those two days. 

Of course, if people knew that Paint the Night and maybe even the fireworks would continue indefinitely, they wouldn't have this incentive to come out to the parks so much, would they? Disney's evil genius shows. ;^)

Oh, about these "Christmas-week-type" crowds. That's another big change that Disneyland fans are facing this year. Traditionally, the week between Christmas and New Year's has been the busiest of the year at the resort, with Disneyland often closing its gates to new admissions in the early afternoon each day. That means Disney is leaving money on the table, as people who want to get into the park and spend their money, can't.

Disneyland made the big change to its annual pass program last year in large part to help ensure that never happens again. The resort eliminated its $779 Premium AP, which was good every day of the year, and effectively replaced it with two new APs: an $849 Signature AP and a $1,049 Signature Plus AP. The big difference between the two? The Signature is blocked out from Dec. 19-Jan. 2 and the Signature Plus isn't. Anecdotal reports suggest that most Premium annual passholders either opted for the Signature or downgraded to the Deluxe AP... or else let their AP lapse entirely. Disney's sold significantly fewer Signature Plus APs compared to the number of Premium APs held by fans at Christmastime last year.

I suppose it's possible that some passholders will upgrade to get into the park when Christmas arrives. But it's far more likely that, as happened over the past Fourth of July, many fans who would have come to the parks on those dates in the past, just will stay home instead. That will leave the park to the tourists on one-day and multi-day tickets — the types of visitors that Disney really, really doesn't want to turn away at the gate.

And there will be fewer of them than annual passholders, as there almost always is at the Disneyland Resort. With no new holiday attractions this season, either, we're expecting the lightest Christmas week crowds at Disneyland in years. Of course, that means those remaining annual passholders who can't get in during Christmas week will make doubly sure to visit in the weeks leading up to the holidays, meaning heavier-than-normal crowds during that period. 

After the holidays? Remember Disney's addition-by-subtraction plan for boosting attendance? With the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror closing in January, Disney should be able to squeeze some higher attendance as fans come back for a last ride on that attraction. But Disney's facing a tight schedule to get that ride converted into Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout by summer, so it won't be able to milk that nostalgia for long after the holidays end.

Once the Tower is closed, Disneyland should settle into is normal attendance pattern for the late winter and spring... keeping in mind that another annual pass hike could be coming this fall. If it's at all aggressive, expect the number of AP holders at the Deluxe and above levels to decline, and with nothing new on the horizon until next summer, attendance might continue to soften at the resort. If that's the case, look for Disney to make some short-term moves to boost sales, such as expanding the Food & Wine Festival at Disney California Adventure (which already is in the works), and adding more in-park entertainment.

Might that also include a return of Paint the Night? That's the big question at the moment, though it seems a bit cynical even for cynics like me to envision Disneyland reviving the parade so quickly after this week's announcement. Remember, Disneyland didn't say the parade was going on hiatus or taking a break. It said the parade would close. That leads me to suspect that it will be on its way to another Disney theme park resort soon, most likely either Paris or Orlando. (Hong Kong already has it; Shanghai doesn't need a new attraction yet, and Tokyo tends to do its own thing instead of taking hand-me-downs from other Disney parks.)

Whatever happens, next summer will bring Guardians of the Galaxy to Disney California Adventure and the return of the Rivers of America (including Fantasmic!) to Disneyland... and the crowds likely will follow. Until then, we hope that this little thought exercise helps you to plan the best visit to the Disneyland Resort possible over the next 12 months.

Source: Theme Park Insider

Banner Photo Credit: Christopher Fong