With Disneyland expecting a surge in attendance when it opens its Star Wars land this summer, the Anaheim park is relying on a plan to ease congestion by improving or eliminating visitor chokepoints, rather than putting strict limits on attendance.
Dubbed Project Stardust, the magical-sounding but actually pedestrian project was quietly launched two years ago in the often jammed amusement park, introducing tweaks such as shrinking or eliminating tree and flower planters, moving queue lines and designating areas as stroller-parking.
“We are preparing our legacy as we welcome a new galaxy,” Kris Theiler, vice president of the Disneyland Park, said during a recent tour of the park that unveiled some of the improvements, which are ongoing.
In terms that Southern Californians might understand, Disneyland is widening its pedestrian freeways to improve flow instead of limiting the number of travelers on those roads — though it has the ability to do so.
Visitor congestion has long been a problem in the theme park industry, but it has reached a crisis level in the last few years, with parks worldwide launching new lands and attractions based on characters and story lines from blockbuster movies and books.
When Universal Studios Hollywood opened its Harry Potter expansion in 2016, based on the hugely popular books and movies featuring the boy wizard, visitors arrived long before the gates opened only to stand in hours-long lines.
A line of cars trying to get into the parking garages extended all the way to a nearby freeway exit.
The crowds in China were in such a frenzy before the opening of Walt Disney Co.’s Shanghai Disneyland in 2016 that some visitors were seen pushing children over the gates to get access to the $5.5 billion theme park.
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An exact opening date for the 14-acre themed land known as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has not yet been announced. But the new land — the biggest expansion in Disneyland history — could spark crowds that rival those of Universal Studios and Shanghai Disneyland.
“You have several more generations that followed Star Wars than you have with Harry Potter,” said Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York.
“If anything is going to top Harry Potter at Universal Studios, this is it.”
The $1 billion Star Wars expansion — located near the banks of the Rivers of America in the northwest corner of the park — will feature a space outpost, dotted by hoodoo-like rock towers, trees and domed buildings.
The land is expected to draw a surge of visitors to a park that already has been reporting increased attendance nearly every year since the economic recession a decade ago.
Besides adding physical improvements to ease crowding, Disney officials have conceded that they also have hiked ticket and annual pass prices and cut back the days some annual pass holders could visit the park.
A daily ticket to visit either Disneyland or the California Adventure park rose to $104, from $97, for low-demand days. The price of a daily ticket for peak-demand days jumped to $149, from $135.
Still, an analysis of wait times at the Disneyland Resort in 2017 by the Times showed that higher ticket prices have not reduced attendance.