Dis­ney­land to rely on low-tech fixes for this sum­mer’s Star Wars land con­ges­tion

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY HUGO MARTIN

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 stroller­park­ing.

“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 Shang- hai Dis­ney­land in 2016 that some vis­i­tors were seen push­ing chil­dren over the gates to get ac­cess to the $5.5-bil­lion theme park.

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 has al­ready 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 have also hiked ticket and an­nual pass prices and cut back the days some an­nual pass hold­ers could visit the park.

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