Main Street Electrical Parade will roll down Disneyland’s parade path nightly from August 2 through September 30, 2019. This comes after the parade made a its last farewell run less than two years ago. The last homecoming was a big, popular event for the parade that has called California home for the better part of four decades, beginning in 1972.
In this post, we’ll offer some speculation as to why Main Street Electrical Parade is returning, what this could mean for summer attendance at Disneyland, why this parade is returning instead of Paint the Night, and how Main Street Electrical Parade’s encore might be motivated by unexpectedly low attendance numbers in the month since the debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge…
What I won’t do is editorialize extensively as to my feelings about Main Street Electrical Parade (which I’ve shared at length several times, most recently here). Suffice to say, I am not a fan; this parade should’ve been permanently retired decades ago. There is something to be said for seeing its quaint floats roll down the similarly charming Disneyland parade route, but that could also be accomplished with a new parade that’s actually a spiritual successor.
At this point, it’s no secret that summer attendance at Disneyland is not meeting Disney’s expectations. To the credit of Disneyland Resort’s management, they did an exemplary job ensuring that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was not overrun with crowds, creating a chaotic situation outside and inside the park. That’s what we feared, and were shocked and elated that our post-Galaxy’s Edge visits were the best experiences we’ve had at Disneyland since the 60th Anniversary.
Arguably, Disney did too good of a job. The reservations-only period followed by the boarding pass protocol was hammered home for months. Likewise, blogs like this one (we accept our share of culpability in creating fear and blowing the crowd predictions) and breathless speculation on social media of the ‘crowdpocalypse’ played a role in scaring guests away. We cover all of this and much more in our Why Are Star Wars Land Crowds So Low? post.
Disneyland has already taken measures to bump up crowd levels. First, they unblocked Cast Members for the summer. Next, Disney introduced the “Bring a Friend” special through August 30, allowing Annual Passholders to purchase a 1-Day Park Hopper ticket for $99. (This deal is also valid for themselves on blockout dates.) Now, they’re bringing back Main Street Electrical Parade. All of this has been done in the span of the last week. At the end, we’ll circle back to assess whether this will work in elevating crowd levels…
As for why Main Street Electrical Parade is returning instead of the newer Paint the Night, there are a few possible options. A big one is that there’s still a tremendous amount of nostalgia for Main Street Electrical Parade among Southern California residents. That’s the target audience with this last minute announcement.
This is both anecdotal and speculative, but I’d theorize that Paint the Night is more popular with tourists whereas Main Street Electrical Parade tugs at the heartstrings of locals. Don’t get me wrong, both parades are popular with both demographics, but I’d hazard a guess that Main Street Electrical Parade is the sentimental favorite of more locals. That’s the audience Disneyland is trying to attract with this last-minute announcement, not tourists who mostly cannot change their plans on such short notice.
Additionally, and this is something we covered in a recent Disney California Adventure update when we questioned whether Paint the Night might return to that park for the summer to draw crowds away from Disneyland (ha!), but Paint the Night is a costly and challenging parade to run.
Float and costume maintenance contribute, plus the physical toll Paint the Night takes on performers. Of course, Main Street Electrical Parade has some of these same issues (although, apparently not to the same degree). Accordingly, we’re guessing that this decision is all about tempting the nostalgia of locals to lure them to Disneyland.
The question that remains is whether this will all work in increasing the crowds at Disneyland. I’m not convinced. For one, the parade doesn’t return until August, which leaves July as another month that’s likely to feature low crowds. In late August, the Annual Pass blockouts start to lift. (For many of those APs, late August/early September will be their first chance to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The return of Main Street Electrical Parade could actually compound heavy crowds at that time.)
I do think crowds will gradually increase as word gets out that Disneyland is unexpectedly dead right now. Even today, you can still find talk on social media about fears of huge crowds and people avoiding Disneyland due to Star Wars Land. (On our own Facebook page, this has been the case.)
However, I don’t think the “Bring a Friend” deal or Main Street Electrical Parade’s return will be the driving force. This is now Main Street Electrical Parade’s 274th farewell run (slight exaggeration) and it’s been less than 2 years since Californians last said goodbye to the parade.
Diehard fans will be excited to see it yet again, but that demo probably already has Annual Passes with dates that aren’t blocked out during its return. I don’t think this is enough to move the needle with other locals. If they wouldn’t buy single day tickets for the billion-dollar, envelope-pushing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, I don’t see a circa-1970s parade being what changes their minds.
Likewise, I don’t see the “Bring a Friend” ticket deal being a huge driver of attendance. It’d be a great idea…if the bulk of APs weren’t blocked out right now. This one doesn’t work because it would require most Annual Passholders to purchase tickets for themselves at the $99 price point. How many people will buy a ticket when they can just wait another month and a half to go “for free”?
Again, summer travelers have already locked-in their vacation plans one way or another, so there’s no getting the ones who were erroneously scared away. Doing something to mobilize the huge population of locals in Los Angeles and Orange Counties is the remaining option. I don’t think these plans will have minor impacts, but not dramatic ones.
If Disneyland wants to do something dramatic, the only real options are lifting the blockout on Deluxe Annual Passholders or offering a summer SoCal resident special for 3-day tickets, like those frequently sold in the off-season. Those moves would undoubtedly have an impact, albeit perhaps too big of one.
Finally, I don’t think any of this is a ‘sky is falling’ scenario. In the long-term, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will do exactly for Disneyland what Disney intended. If anything, the long term is benefitting from so many glowing reviews and social media posts from guests who experienced the land far below capacity. (Unfortunately, Disney is fixated on short term, quarterly numbers–which is why this is all a “bad” thing from their perspective.)
In our above-referenced post about low attendance at Disneyland, many readers speculated that fans are fed up with price increases and finally saying ‘enough is enough.’ I think that might be true to a degree, but that strikes me more as the ‘wish fulfillment’ analysis, and probably not accurate as the main explanation. More likely is that fears of high crowds drove away summer tourists and more aggressive than normal blockouts are preventing APs from making up the difference.
Although, I guess we’ll see come August 19 when the Deluxe Annual Passholder blockout lifts, and again on September 3 when the SoCal Select AP blockout lifts. Obviously, I’ve been wrong before on how Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would impact Disneyland crowds. I’ll go ‘on the record’ and say that I cannot foresee Disneyland’s attendance woes continuing to the start of the Halloween and Christmas seasons.
Are you excited for the return of Main Street Electrical Parade or is yet another farewell run too much? Are you a MSEP fan, or do you wish Paint the Night were returning instead? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment on crowds? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!