To handle Star Wars crowds, Disneyland nixes smoking areas, bans wide strollers
Disneyland Resort is too popular for its own good. Raising prices, charging extra for high-demand days and adding blackout dates for annual passholders haven’t been enough to thin the throngs that increase every year.
Now with the expected onrush of fans for the May 31 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — the biggest expansion in the park’s history — Walt Disney Co. managers are going even further to squeeze more people into the same boundaries.
They’re coming for your cigarettes and your wide-load strollers.
Disney is eliminating the last smoking areas inside Disneyland and California Adventure as of May 1. The Burbank media giant also is banning strollers wider than 31 inches, which includes some double strollers by well-known brands such as Baby Jogger, and children’s push wagons. (Wagons that are pulled, such as the classic Radio Flyer, already are banned.)
Disneyland has been a crowd-control pioneer since the park’s earliest days, when it used stanchions and tape to create the kind of line switchbacks that are now common at airports and other queue-heavy spots. The Anaheim parks, hemmed in on all sides, don’t have much ability to expand, so new ways must be constantly devised to eliminate bottlenecks.
The latest restrictions join a series of policy changes and park upgrades in anticipation of the $1-billion, 14-acre land, which features two rides, four eateries, one space-themed cantina and five retail shops. The Star Wars land is being replicated at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., which will have an Aug. 29 opening.
For the first three weeks after the Star Wars land opens, only visitors with reservations will be allowed. Guests at the three resort hotels during those three weeks will automatically receive reservations.
Everyone else can make no-cost reservations online.
But many of the details for the opening of the land have yet to be unveiled, such as when the resort will begin to accept reservations and whether those reservations will be taken on the Disneyland website, on the Disneyland app or both. Disney representatives also declined to discuss the capacity of the new land.
After the first three weeks, Disneyland will employ a “virtual queueing” system, in which parkgoers will get a boarding pass and will be called to enter the land when there is enough room, representatives said. They offered no other details on how that system would work.
To ease pedestrian congestion, the resort will slice 5 inches off its current stroller-width limit of 36 inches and will prohibit those ubiquitous wagons that many parents use to push children through the parks.
Outside the security screening areas, visitors will have some way to measure their strollers — probably with lines painted on the sidewalk, 31 inches apart, park representatives said.
If their strollers are too wide, visitors can rent strollers for $15 a day. Owners of offending strollers might be able to stow them in lockers that cost as much as $15 a day, otherwise they would probably need to trek back to their cars.
“We are not trying to be so restrictive,” said Kris Theiler, vice president of the Disneyland park. “We want to find a compromise.”
Four designated smoking areas will be removed at the resort to clear walkways and improve traffic flow, a move that will make both Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure Park smoke-free for the first time.
One smoking area, a collection of benches near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, is along one of three walkways that will serve as entrances to the new Star Wars land. The park has no other unused space where the smoking area can be moved, Theiler said.
“We have no great options to relocate this,” she said.
Another smoking area in the California Adventure Park, near the Silly Symphony Swings, one in the esplanade between the two parks, and a fourth in the Downtown Disney shopping district will also be eliminated.
Once all four smoking areas are removed, park visitors who want to smoke will have to either use the smoking areas near the three resort hotels or go to open areas beyond the security screeners near the edges of the resort.
Inside Disneyland, a walkway to enter from the center of the park into Adventureland and continue toward the Star Wars land will be widened and the queueing area for an eatery along the walkway will be relocated to make more room for pedestrians.
The resort is also adding thousands of parking spaces, but most of those won’t be available for use until June at the earliest.
Also, the most anticipated attraction, an immersive experience called Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, will not be ready for the public until later this year, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger told shareholders this month.
The second attraction in the new land, the interactive Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, will be in operation when the land opens.
In 2016, Disney adopted demand pricing at Disneyland, California Adventure and its other U.S. theme parks to better control crowds, charging less on low-demand days and boosting gate prices on high-demand days.
In January, Disneyland unveiled several other low-tech fixes to ease congestion, such as shrinking or eliminating tree and flower planters, moving lines and designating areas for stroller parking.
Despite all of the efforts, Disneyland representatives concede that queues for the attractions in the new land probably will be long.
The park has already begun discussing plans to make the idle time in the lines less frustrating by adding snack vending machines and interactions with costumed actors and others.
“We are going to be working really hard to deliver for the guests,” Theiler said.
Among other fixes to improve traffic flow:
- Curb cuts will be added to the sidewalk around the central plaza surrounding the statue of Walt Disney.
- Fixes will be made to the Fastpass ride reservation system that will change what happens when a ride goes offline. Instead of letting visitors whose ride reservations are canceled immediately get on any other attraction in the park, the system will disperse parkgoers to similar attractions in other areas, thus reducing crowding.
- A new parking structure, dubbed Pixar Pals, is scheduled to open at the end of July, adding 5,500 parking spaces.
- More than 2,000 parking spots will be freed up at the Toy Story lot by the end of June by relocating spaces used by employees.
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