It might seem hard to believe if you were among the tens of thousands of fans crammed into the Disneyland Resort last weekend, but we are entering a calm before the storm at Southern California’s theme parks.
The Mickey and Friends parking structure filled to capacity on Saturday and Sunday last weekend, and wait times for attractions at Disneyland climbed to holiday-week levels. Crowds also packed Universal Studios Hollywood, which sold out nights of its Halloween Horror Nights event. As often happens at Disney and Universal these days, there’s not much “off” in the off season anymore.
Neither park has much in the works for next year that would push crowd levels even higher. Disney California Adventure is putting a Pixar overlay on its Paradise Pier land and bringing back the Paint the Night parade, while Universal Studios Hollywood is reopening its former Shrek 4-D theater as DreamWorks Theater, which will show a new Kung Fu Panda short film.
But after that? Watch out.
In 2019, Disneyland finally will open its much-anticipated “Star Wars” land, Galaxy’s Edge. A duplicate version opening at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida might take some of the pressure off Disneyland’s installation, but with construction progress clearly more advanced in Anaheim than in Orlando, it seems likely that Disneyland will get the honor of opening the world’s first Star Wars theme park land.
When Universal Orlando opened the world’s first Harry Potter-themed land in June 2010, crowds snaked for more than a quarter mile through the resort’s CityWalk entertainment district just to get into the park. Once inside, visitors faced waits of up to eight hours just to get into the land, which drove a 30 percent increase in park’s annual attendance over 2009.
Disneyland is a much more popular park than Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure park was before Potter’s arrival, so the Anaheim park likely won’t get anywhere near that percentage increase for annual attendance. But Disney is not spending untold millions of dollars to entertain the same number of visitors as Disneyland now attracts. Disney is expecting its Star Wars land to lure millions more visitors to its already-crowded Disneyland.