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Disneyland's new Holiday tradition: the Annual Candlelight ticket sales fiasco

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After Disneyland borrowed the concept of a Candlelight Dining Package from Walt Disney World, I wrote of the 2003 offering "Those visitors who did book the dinner package reported hassles with their meal and crowd control challenges at the theater. Despite these issues, it looked like Disneyland had the foundation for a successful Candlelight program. With a few tweaks, everyone would know what to expect, and the event should run smoothly."

Unfortunately the communication and registration process are not really all that much improved, and issues that were understandable in those earlier years are unforgiveable when they haven't been resolved six years later.

In 2004, dining managers first said that there would be no repeat of the dining package program, then finally made the tickets available without prior announcement. Details were equally sketchy in 2005, and after strong demand once again overwhelmed the Disney Dining phone lines, the decision was made to move to an online-only reservation system starting in 2006.

Demand for these tickets crashed the ticket sever within minutes that first year, forcing the company to twice postpone sales in an effort to sort out the mess of completed, duplicate and partially-completed registrations.

There was a rumor that Disney would bring in an outside ticket firm to handle the 2007 ticket sales, but that proved to be false and the Disney system still crashed just moments after sales began last year.

The 2006 scenario was repeated when Candlelight Dining Package sales opened last night, and the Disney server crashed just minutes into the registration. Some MousePlanet readers reported spending more than two hours trying to buy tickets last night, only to receive a series of error messages.

Whatever happened, it was enough to force the Florida-based department that operates the reservation system to reschedule the ticket sales for this evening.

This just leaves me shaking my head and wondering WHY this has to be so difficult every year. With six years experience under their belts, the Candlelight Dining team has to know how strong demand is for this package. They know potential customers are going to overwhelm the phone system and crash the computers. So why is the same failed process being re-implemented year after year?

As I see it, one of three things is happening here:

1) The Powers That Be really don't understand how frustrating and difficult they are making this for potential customers.

2) The Powers That Be know that, no matter how frustrating or difficult they make this process, they are going to sell out and so have no incentive to invest money to improve the infrastructure.

or (and I'm afraid this might be the real issue)

3) Candlelight is a low-profile project, being championed by a few dedicated people who don't have the support of The Powers That Be, and who therefore can't get the resources they need to fix what is clearly a flawed system.

So, to the Powers That Be: the time has long since come to decide what Candlelight means to the Disneyland Resort. If it's really intended to be an private event, a "thank you" of sorts for corporate sponsors, senior executives and Club 33 members, then hold it after park hours on a December week day, much as you do the Cast Member holiday parties, and be done with it.

But, if Candlelight is going to remain a public event, then it's time to get serious about making this truly a Disney experience.
  • Officially announce the date in advance, so guests can make travel arrangements.
  • Announce the narrator in advance, so people can make an informed decision.
  • Upgrade your registration systems, or to hand this entire process over to a company that does this professionally.
  • Allow Candlelight Dining Package customers to eat dinner at dinnertime. If you really need to keep them out of the restaurants during dinner hours, offer a brunch instead.
  • Improve communication so that those who aren't purchasing the Dining Package know how they might obtain space in the Standby Viewing area.
But treating customers the way you have for six consecutive years is absolutely unacceptable, and completely beneath the standards the Walt Disney Company has set for itself. I hope that tonight's ticket sales go off without further incident, and that those who have been so inconvenienced by this process at least receive an apology for the hassle you've subjected them to.


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Updated 11-20-2008 at 08:42 AM by AVP

Disneyland , Featured


  1. olegc's Avatar
    i actually think it's a combination of reason 2 and 3
    Reason 3 ...
    and then when asked for funding, Reason 2 is given to the internal staff...
    All about the CASH dontcha know!
  2. THpoohbear's Avatar
    You go, AVP! Well written conclusion. I hope the Powers That Be read this and take it to heart.
  3. mousemomma's Avatar
    I have been on the phone all day trying to talk to someone in the know...but no one seems to "know" who is in the know.
    After 3+ hours last night we are now into 1.32 trying to get tickets. I actually was in the system at 6:01 pm tonight with my time and location and ticket number request punched in...when I went to kicked me out of the system. I have yet to get back in. My daughter and her boyfriend are still on the site, on two other computers, but nothing is happening to allow them to get tickets. There HAS to be a better system. All the people I spoke to today at Disney do nothing but say they are sorry. I have some phone numbers for those in the leadership positions...if nothing comes about tonight...I will be happy to post those phone numbers so others can call to SPEAK with someone
    in charge. I will await return calls tomorrow from those I left messages with today. Of course, they begin the online
    ticketing at 6:00 pm which is when everyone leaves the office as well. Not much customer service if you ask me. Anyone know what we can do to get this system into this century...come on you know Disney has the bucks to upgrade this system.
  4. jlkerr50's Avatar
    Wow-this has been such a mess!
    I was in on Tuesday and kept getting kicked out or sent to WDW to buy tickets(!) before seeing the notice that I was to return on Wed.
    Got on on Wed just after 6pm, then kicked out. I then opened up 3 web sessions and kept refreshing them. Around 7ish there displayed a note to 'try again' later due to the call volumn.
    Then around 8pm, the site started to display the sold out times. All but Yamaguichi were sold out for Sat times. I wanted Sunday and magically, at 8:40pm, got in.
    It took a while to select, enter my info, etc. but it was all finally done 3 hours later. I think all of storyteller & hook's pointe were booked by this time and steakhouse was pretty much done as well. This happened to me last year as well but I didn't get tickets either!!
  5. RStar's Avatar
    Yeah, you tell em, Adrienne!

    Too bad they don't seem to listen.

  6. Winky's Avatar
    I have been to WDW a couple of times for the Candlelight and it ran as smooth as clock work. Although WDW a bigger park to move people. The castmembers are wonderful in knowing What, Who and Where their guest need to go and how to get there. If you book for dinner and the show, the people who even answer the phones will tell you the times you should book dinner to make it to the show on time. Disneyland needs a lot more practice to make things run as smoothly as their younger brother (WDW).