The Gentrification of Disneyland

Illustration by Andrew Khanian

The turnstiles click, the train chugs, the children laugh, and the happy music plays. You’ve now entered the euphoric world of franchised milk and honey known as Disneyland. The land that Walt Disney envisioned to be his legacy awaits everyone who enters through their timeless gates. On opening day, July 17, 1955, Disney welcomed the day dreamers and adventure seekers while describing Disneyland as “your land.” Today, “your land” costs $109 dollars to get in.

The culprit? Price hikes. Gone are the days when admission to the park was a single dollar back in 1955. Walt Disney’s Parks and Resorts department have continuously and decisively pushed the single-day rate price up significantly since opening day. Today, an adult single-day ticket costs roughly $109 on a “regular day.” According to the Walt Disney Company’s Director of public relations and external communication, Suzi Brown, the increase in price is geared to help “better manage demand” of their parks and resorts. Though these changes in pricing are aimed to benefit the Walt Disney Company, the repercussions of such actions can be disappointing. With the Disneyland Resort continuously changing, and its prices consistently rising, the evidence of gentrification is strong.

In the past couple of years, the Walt Disney Company has been going through some drastic changes. In 2009, they bought Marvel, adding a plethora of superheroes to their portfolio. Three years after, in 2012, they added another layer of cinematic goodness to their towering cake of filmmaking history with the purchase of Star Wars. These two additions to the multimillion dollar company allowed Disney to expand creatively within their movies and films. With this, inevitably, came a plan to represent their investments within the Disneyland Resort.

On May 27, 2017, California Adventure will debut the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! This is the first Marvel ride to grace its presence on the Disneyland Resort. The novel attraction is strategically scheduled to open parallel to that of its cinematic counterpart, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which came out on May 5. For many avid Disney fans, the new ride signified a bittersweet end to a timeless favorite: The Tower of Terror. It took Disney’s imagineers close to a year to flip the iconic Hollywood Tower into Taneleer Tivan’s (“the Collector’s”) galactic fortress. Despite its impressive turnaround time, Dapper Day fans, and old souls alike mourned the loss of a ride that allowed them to go back in time and interact with what was known as …“The Twilight Zone.”

Just across the way, of course, is the ever-so-famous Disneyland itself. The land of frolicking princesses and loving personified critters will soon be housing a rebel base and landing pad for none other than the Millennium Falcon. This new 14-acre addition is the largest single-themed expansion Disneyland has attempted since the opening of “Toontown” in 1993. Though Star Wars Land is the park’s most anticipated addition and is expected to open in 2019, there were a few minor iconic attractions that were demolished to make way for the future of Disneyland. According to Los Angeles Magazine, the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, and the Big Thunder Ranch Petting Zoo are two of the most significant losses that fell victim to Star Wars Land’s new territory.

Fortunately, with the success of Pandora’s recent opening at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, and the positive feedback that spread across social media, Star Wars Land has an expectation to live up to, and hopefully, follow through with. Disney imagineers promise an immersive experience that captures the essence of the Star Wars universe in a single location. Pandora’s grand opening proved that the imagineers have mastered this skill down to a science that they can apply here in California for our audiences to experience. The new technology that is necessary to create such an experience will greatly impact the cost of admission in the years to come.

The incoming attractions have greatly changed the culture within the Disneyland Resort itself. Not solely due to the inevitable transition between old versus new, but because of the cost-per-entry into the parks. “The Happiest Place on Earth” is breaking its own record with every ticket price increase. According to Disney Parks and Resorts, increases are motivated by crowd control. Because of the new attractions and the resort’s continuing popularity, they are struggling to funnel crowds in and out of the park effectively and efficiently while adhering to their world-class entertainment status. Unfortunately, this leaves low-income families in the dust due to their lack of resources to fund a Disney holiday, while middle and high-income families have easier access to the California parks and resorts.

It is my opinion that unless Disney’s profit trajectory shows any indication of faltering, the Disneyland Resort will become less and less accessible to those who cannot afford it. In the words of Walt Disney himself, “Disneyland will never be complete, it will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in this world.”