Disneyland can’t work its magic on wait times

The line at the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on June 30, 2017. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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The line at the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on June 30, 2017. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like scores of other Disneyland fans, Craig Yoshihara has developed his own time-tested technique for avoiding long wait times for rides in the park.

The pastor from Dinuba, Calif., who visits at least once a month, rushes in as soon as the gates open and quickly heads to Space Mountain and Star Tours before hitting other popular rides. He walks in a counterclockwise direction around the park — against the tide of visitors — and avoids the queues between lunch and dinner time, when the park is most crowded.

“I don’t think most people spend the time looking at flow patterns in the park,” Yoshihara, an annual pass holder for nine years, said of his strategy. “It’s really good to do your research first.”

There is good reason for such efforts. Average wait times at the Disneyland Resort have been on the rise over the last few years, despite efforts by the park to ease crowding by raising ticket prices on peak demand days and expanding a ride reservation system, among other changes.

In fact, Disney has faced queuing problems for so long that it has become a pioneer in line management, dating from the early days of the park when it used stanchions and tape to create switchbacks that are now widely used at airports and theme parks worldwide.

A Los Angeles Times analysis found that the average wait time for the resort’s most popular rides in the first six months of the year was 24.4 minutes, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2015 when the park posted record-high attendance numbers.

In the first six months of the year, the ride with the longest average wait time at Disneyland was Space Mountain, at 65 minutes, up from 48 minutes in the same period in 2015, according to the analysis.

The ride may have gained popularity because the park revamped the attraction in late 2015 to include characters and scenes from “Star Wars” movies. The “Star Wars” overlay ended June 1.

At adjacent California Adventure Park, Radiator Springs Racers had the longest average wait time, 86 minutes, up from 73 minutes in the first six months of 2015.

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KEY FINDINGS ON WAIT TIMES 

Among other findings since 2015, the data show:

The shortest wait times are typically on Thursdays.

Saturdays have the longest average queue times: 25 minutes.

September and January are the best months to avoid long lines at the resort. On Jan. 22 of this year, the average wait time for the most popular rides was the shortest, only 7.6 minutes

The longest average wait times have been at the end of December and July as well as mid-May, around the start of spring break for most area schools and colleges.

Over the last 2 1/2 years, the day with the longest average wait times was May 20, 2017, when it took 42 minutes on average to get on a ride. The park hosted one of several graduation night parties on that date.

Only one of the popular attractions had a wait get shorter: Splash Mountain (down by about 11 minutes).

The long queues reflect strong demand for the park’s attractions, say Disney officials, who note that the park has made several efforts to reduce wait times. They also pointed out that when attractions are closed for upgrades or construction, wait times increase for the rides that remain open as demand continues to grow.

“We continue to work on managing demand by expanding the resort and adding new attractions, balancing offerings at our two theme parks, and providing seasonal pricing to help spread visitation throughout the year,” Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said.

But simply adding more attractions to feed the surging demand isn’t so easy. The 157-acre Disneyland Resort is hemmed in by a freeway and major thoroughfares on all sides. To make room for the new 14-acre Star Wars land, Disney has had to demolish three attractions, a restaurant and several office buildings.

“In Disney’s defense, Disneyland is tough, logistically, with the size of the property, and the footprint they are working with tends to hamper things a bit,” said Aaron Goldberg, author of “The Disney Story,” a book on the history of Walt Disney and his parks.

Even higher ticket prices to visit the “Happiest Place on Earth” have not dissuaded the Disney faithful — many of whom visit the park dozens of times a year and contribute to the crush.

One-day ticket prices have jumped by nearly 70 percent at Disneyland since 2007, to $124. An annual pass with no blackout dates now sells for just over $1,000. Prices are so high that the resort began a few years ago to offer California residents a monthly payment plan for annual passes. And sales of some passes have been temporarily cut off at times to help thin the crowds.

Despite the rising cost, attendance at Disneyland has jumped 20 percent since 2007, to nearly 18 million visitors in 2016, according to an estimate by the Los Angeles consulting firm Aecom.

“People are going to Disneyland in droves regardless of lines, prices or weather, and Disney knows this,” Goldberg said. “They have a captive audience.”

To calculate average wait times, the Times analyzed more than 4 million snapshots of the online Disneyland app and data posted on “wait time” signs installed throughout the resort.

The snapshots were collected by Touringplans.com, a website that offers subscribers planning tips and crowd predictions for Disney and Universal Studios resorts, among other tourist destinations.

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