I love Disney World – it's far and away my favorite theme park to visit. Still, That's not to say the Mouse doesn't have room for improvement – on the contrary, I feel the quality of the parks has been decreasing, but that's for another post. But should we compare Hershey and Disney?
I visited Hershey Park with my family over the summer and couldn't help but notice a few things I thought Disney might consider learning from. I think it's fair game to ask Disney to improve: theoretically they say they are always trying to! Some of these are a pipe dreams, but some of these ideas could actually be implemented if Disney wanted to. I love theorycrafting theme parks, so thanks for indulging me!
1. The Hershey Park Preview Plan
One of the best things about Hershey Park is its “Preview Plan.” Simply put, if you purchase a full one day admission ticket you can enter the park 2.5 hours before closing the night before. This essentially stretches a one day ticket into a 1.25 (or so) day ticket. Better yet, you can get away with only paying for parking once (bring your parking stub from the night before).
Now Disney loves making money, so obviously this might not sound appealing at first. But at around $110 for a one day ticket, I think Disney would buy a lot of good will by doing something like this. They could recoup some of that money via parking, but I don't even think they'd need to do that.
In the last 2.5 hours before park closing, especially in the summer, you're going to be looking at a lot more young adults and a lot less families. AKA the demographic that has and spends the most disposable income. Disney could buy good will and not even lose that much money!
2. Cut down on the in park merchandising
People are going to buy Disney merchandise and souvenirs no matter what. Obviously, Hershey has a ton of merchandise, but it is concentrated in a few stores around the entire park. There also is, of course, Hershey World, which is one free ride and a gigantic store.
Disney, on the other hand, feels like it has a souvenir shop outside of every single attraction! (Exaggerating, but still). Pirates? Store. Winnie the Pooh? Store. Buzz Lightyear? Store!
By my count from the website there are 40 retail locations in the Magic Kingdom alone. I understand there are a lot of cool Disney-related things to buy, but Hershey only has 23 stores (including chocolate shops which is basically food and beverage!). I'm not sure almost double the amount of retail space is necessary, and it feels overly commercial.
I'd rather see Disney turn at least one or two of these stores into fun play spaces for kids, or something more creative. It would make Disney feel less commercial and help convince skeptics (like my wife) that it's not all just one giant cash grab.
3. Offer more thrill rides
Hershey Park offers an amazing selection of roller coasters, it would be against Disney's theme to do something like that and I'd never want that. Still, Disney could offer some more thrilling rides – they have the space for it.
They could start by finding a place for the Tron Lightcycle Power Run, a coaster that currently operates in Shanghai Disney. I'm not sure it would fit in at EPCOT unless they completely abandon EPCOT's theme, so they'd have to find a place to put it but they do have the tech for that coaster.
It's also not too late to add a thrill ride to the new Pandora in Animal Kingdom – that park has been so delayed they might as well put something new in. I'd love to see a real coaster over the currently planned simulator attraction, though that will add to the “thrill” factor as well.
When you walk around Hershey, it feels like you can't walk ten feet within running into another roller coaster. I'm not saying Disney should come anywhere close to that, but they could still add two or three more exciting rides to help spice things up.
4. Improve the App
Admittedly, Disney's app has gotten a lot better since I was last there in April. You can update FastPass+ much more easily, they finally added map functionality, and there have been other minor enhancements as well.
Still, I found the major advantage of the Hershey app over the Disney app is that wait times were accurate. Now this actually isn't the app's problem per se – I think Disney just overestimates wait times so people won't be frustrated. But I use the app in part to plan my itinerary on the fly, and inaccurate wait times really hurt that.
At Hershey using the app was a dream – checked wait times, clicked on attraction, and then the app showed me the quickest route through the park. Very little loading time or sluggishness. I haven't tried the map functionality on the Disney app yet but in general the app feels sluggish and slow (the website too, while we're at it).
Improving the mobile app would go a long way towards making the park experience even more enjoyable than it already is.
Let me conclude by making it clear: I far prefer Disney to Hershey. While Hershey may have some better rides, I really am happy to pay a premium for the Disney magic. Still, it's tough to NOT see Disney as a greedy corporation, and considering changes like these would really help with that.
Obviously Disney is never going to make changes based on one silly Traveling Dad's opinions. But I hope that overall, Disney focuses on making changes that improves the park goers experience, not just its bottom line. I'm sure that's what Walt would have wanted.
So what do you think? Is Disney perfect as is? Are there other parks Disney could learn from?
All photos courtesy of author