In just five short weeks, Disneyland will cease to exist as we know it.
Oh, sure, it’ll still be a state-of-the-art theme park with a rich history and diverse entertainment and dining offerings, but it’ll also be a statewide, if not worldwide beacon for Star Wars’ immense fanbase.
As a self-described member of that fanbase, I couldn’t be more ecstatic to have a little corner of my favorite theme park fully devoted to the lore and characters that populate galaxies far, far away. But as eager as I am to finally get my hands on the controls of the Millennium Falcon or slurp down a frosty blue milk at Oga’s Cantina, I’m also bracing myself for the unprecedented crowd levels expected to overwhelm the resort this spring.
Disneyland may be the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ on a rainy Tuesday in mid-September, but that feeling of happiness is inevitably and exponentially reduced during the park’s busiest seasons.
Take Disney’s last annual 24-Hour Day in 2015, for example. After a red-eye flight into LAX and a five-hour wait outside the Esplanade, I finally made it into Disneyland around 5:00 a.m. and was herded onto Main Street, U.S.A. to wait for the rest of the park to open. Guests were packed shoulder-to-shoulder on the street, with little more than inches between them and no feasible way of making it over to the lockers, restrooms, or Market House (for a much-needed cup of coffee). By noon, the park had reached capacity; by midnight, the thinned-out hordes were sleeping in whatever room or attraction they were permitted to lie down. (I say this without judgement, as I accidentally dozed through four consecutive showings of the Enchanted Tiki Room around 3:00 a.m.)
In many respects, it was a disaster, albeit a somewhat enjoyable one. How many times do you get to say you spent a full 24 hours in Disneyland, after all? Disney elected not to bring back the event in 2016, and hasn’t made any promises to repeat it in the years since… for good reason. There’s no way to control a crowd of that size, let alone safely shepherd them away from any unforeseen accidents or emergency situations that may arise. There’s also no way to control the quality of experience guests have at the parks — something on which Disney stakes its reputation when it comes to their theme parks.
And, if reports and rumors can be believed, Disney is planning quite the immersive experience at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Guests will get to interact with familiar Star Wars characters, obscure alien personalities, and their very own droids; take command of the most famous Corellian freighter in the galaxy; sample foreign cuisines; and align themselves with the Resistance or First Order in creative and new ways. That’s an impossible thing to deliver to guests when they’re all packed into the park’s walkways like an alien species of sardine.
It certainly makes sense that Disney would take the appropriate steps to manage crowd levels when Galaxy’s Edge premieres next month, but it’s not yet clear whether their reservation-only system is the best way to go. In one of my recent pieces for Theme Park Tourist, I took a closer look at some of the pros and cons for this system and theorized about the ramifications it may have for future Disney projects:
“Regardless of your personal feelings toward the Star Wars franchise, there’s no denying that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is poised to be the biggest thing to happen to the Disneyland Resort in, well, a very long time. This is the first major expansion the park has seen since Mickey’s Toontown was tacked onto the back end of Fantasyland in 1993, and coupled with the immense popularity of the science fiction series, Disney has a recipe for absolute pandemonium on their hands…”
Find the rest of the article here and let me know what you think of Disney’s new direction.