As of today we are now into week 3 of Wizarding World being open at Universal Studios Hollywood. Calculating in the 1 1/2 months of "Technical Rehearsals" we are now a full 2 months from the first guests being in the land.
And as of yesterday (Sunday) the wait times inside the land were still averaging less than an hour.
While at this point we aren't willing to say Wizarding World is a failure (if you could see the money being spent on merchandise (even for non-Potter merchandise) you wouldn't say that) it's safe to say the crowds haven't materialized. And this can pretty much be put on one issue, Annual Passholder Blackout days.
Written by Gregg Condon
Let's look back about 11 months ago. In preparation for Wizarding World Hollywood Universal Studios Hollywood stopped selling "Annual Passes" and started selling "Season Passes" that all expired in mid-March 2016.
Even the "Premium Star Pass" was discontinued and we got in the last week of that pass which expired on March 18, 2016.
Fast forward to November of 2015 and the park reinstated "Annual Passes" with a wide variety of blackout days, most not even available on the weekends and still no "Premium Pass". This meant that anybody who wanted to see Wizarding World would have to get one of these passes and plan weekdays to see it.
It wasn't until February that Universal Studios Hollywood reintroduced the "Platinum Annual Pass" at a rate of $600. Not bad as far as we were concerned, but this constituted an approximate $350 increase over the previous year (and still not allowing parking past 5:00pm).
So this meant that anybody who had purchased an AP in November, December, January now had to upgrade their pass to get weekends added.
So here is where the issue is and why the crowds haven't materialized (yet) for Wizarding World.
If you look at the blackout days on the Universal Studios Hollywood website, EVERY PASS other than the Platinum Annual Pass is Blacked Out every weekend in April. The first weekend the $300 Gold Pass is not Blacked Out is May 7.
The first day the CA Resident Plus Annual Pass is available is Sunday May 8.
So basically the last few weekends since Wizarding World opened the park has been relying on daily ticket holders and the Platinum Annual Pass.
So here is what Universal needs to realize, and it's something that Disney had to realize with Disneyland "Resort".
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PARKS ARE DRIVEN BY LOCALS (annual passholders). When people come to vacation in Southern California there are so many options for them other than theme parks. Sure many may tack on a day or two but other than theme park fans most people don't come to Southern California JUST to visit theme parks.
This is obviously not the case in Central Florida.
By aligning blackout days in this way they were pretty much banking on tourists to be filling up the park every day. And while yes, the amount of 1-day ticket holders has increased since Wizarding World opened (don't let anybody tell you different) the park isn't getting the local crowd due to the lack of Annual Passholders that can currently access the park.
Wizarding World is a success. But the fact that this conversation is taking place is indeed troubling. This is a park that is going through growing pains and not quite sure how they are supposed to handle this. I mean, this was the same park that insisted that Fast and Furious was a ride, even after having the same issues with people complaining to Guest Relations after their "King Kong Ride" a few years back.
But all is not lost. It hasn't even been 3 weeks yet. Wait times do not come even close to telling the whole story. Stores are always crowded and Three Broomsticks has lines out the door on a daily basis.
Let's wait and see what happens that first weekend in May. And this summer when two other tiers of passes are able to go to the park.
In the meantime if you have the means, get the Platinum Annual Pass because you can go to Wizarding World without a lot of crowds. That's going to change, it's going to get busy, but due to school being in and blackout days it's a great time to check out the park.
Sure, there are a few things the park could do to remedy this now such as lift some blackout days (as they did in February) but that may cause people with higher tier passes to complain their passes are no longer worth it.
We don't anticipate that happening anytime soon, at least not until after the summer.
One other thing that could benefit the park right now would be to adopt a payment plan. We all know that it wasn't until that plan was instituted at Disneyland that they started seeing the day-in/day-out numbers they are seeing now. And the fact is Universal is the only major park in Southern California without a payment plan option.
But unlike Disney, Universal is probably happy to see less people in the park who are tourists who are spending a lot of money (and they are spending a LOT of money) than 10,000-15,000 Annual Passholders who come in and don't spend any money.
It's going to be interesting to see the long-term impact of this (if any). We don't anticipate this delaying any future expansion at the park and it will just take a few tweaks to get the numbers where the park wants them.
What do you think? Do you have a Universal Pass and just can't use it now? Would a payment plan help you make the decision to upgrade or get the non-blackout day pass?
Let us know in the comments below.