Disneyland drops petting zoo to make room for Star Wars attraction: A galactic mistake?

Honey Hill Farm Mobile Petting Zoo and Pony Rides

February 15, 2016

Disneyland drops petting zoo to make room for Star Wars attraction: A galactic mistake?

Honey Hill Farm News & Blog • By Megan Powell-Larkin, Staff Writer

They’ve paved paradise to put up a parking lot. Or rather, a giant Star Wars attraction. At least that seems to be the sentiment expressed by critics of Disneyland’s recent decision to close the 30 year old “Big Thunder Ranch” and dismiss the petting zoo animals who lived there.

Michelle Legro, Culture Editor of NEW REPUBLIC, covered the topic in an article that began “Hey Disneyland, forget Star Wars, you can pry the Thunder Ranch petting zoo from my cold dead hands.” She went on to describe the decision as part of “Disneyland’s continued war against the past.”

Big Thunder Ranch opened in 1986 and was part of the larger and older Frontierland. Off the beaten path, not everyone even knew it was there. But guests (especially those with children) frequented the area because it was a reprieve from the chaos and excitement of the main attractions.

Fans of the petting zoo have taken to blogs, forums and review sites like Yelp to lament the loss of what many called their favorite attraction.

Ironically, the move away from simple, family fun is happening at a time when rival amusement park chain Cedar Fair is adding or expanding petting zoos in their parks. Cedar Point, Kings Island and several others Cedar Fair owned operations are now featuring cuddly animals in some capacity (season long attractions or at special events).

The animals have been extremely well received among park-goers and Cedar Fair seems pleased with their reception. Having been in the amusement park business since 1870, they understand that a park’s success comes from the little things, and not necessarily from the number of roller coasters or flashing lights.   Cedar Point was awarded the Golden Ticket Award for “Best Park” in the world for 16 consecutive years, and Kings Island has won the same award for “Best Kid’s Area” for the past fourteen. Clearly, they know what their guests want.

But does this mean that Disneyland is making a mistake, or moving in the wrong direction? Maybe. Maybe not. Several other park attractions will be closed temporarily during the renovation, and Disney has announced an increase in ticket prices for 2016. Still, officials express confidence that their short-term sales will not be negatively affected.

At this point, the wisdom of the decision is in the eye of the beholder. Families with small children may be disappointed, while Star Wars fans all over the world are nodding their head in approval.

Falling into neither category myself, I’m going to side with the disappointed. But then, I may be biased.