Forgive me for what I am about to do. I don’t mean to make the sometimes-frustrating task of visiting crowded theme parks any more difficult for anyone. In fact, I’m trying to find a way to make that a lot more enjoyable. But I am about to raise a topic that a lot of theme park fans might find far more unpleasant than a three-hour wait under a hot summer sun.
So here goes – I am going to ask the question: When is a theme park going to start charging people extra to get on their newest rides?
Longtime fans remember when you had to pay by the ride to get on most attractions at Disneyland. You bought those A-through-E-tickets and used one for each time through the queue. But the theme park industry abandoned that pricing structure in favor of one-price-for-all nearly 40 years ago.
But over the past decade or so, many parks have brought back pay-to-play in the form of paid front-of-line passes. Disney offers its Fastpass at no additional charge, but at Universal you can pay extra for Universal Express access to shorter queues. Six Flags calls its product Flash Pass, and at Knott’s, it’s Fast Lane.
If you don’t want to pay the upcharge, you can continue to wait in a standby queue at any of these parks, eventually getting you on the top rides you want to experience. So it’s not as if the parks are forcing anyone to pay extra to get on certain rides. Yet with lines for some new attractions stretching for hours when they debut, will some park eventually decide to do that?
Six Flags and other parks have auctioned for charity seats on the first ride on some of its roller coasters in the past. Disneyland sold access to a preview weekend for Cars Land to D23 fan club members. But those initiatives didn’t prevent anyone else from coming in on an attraction’s official opening day and getting on the ride, if they were willing to endure the wait.
Parks ultimately build new rides to boost attendance, so limiting access with a mandatory up-charge for an extended period won’t help parks draw extra fans unless it’s a ride that people really, really want to do. Disney’s upcoming Star Wars land probably meets that criterion, though, and that’s the project that has some theme park fans wondering if an additional charge for a new attraction is coming.
Disney could make it easy, conceptually, and just require people buy an add-on to their Disneyland tickets to get into the new land. Or it could take a more indirect approach and extend annual pass…