As a very regular visitor to Disneyland over the last 12 years or so, I have seen a lot of major events at the park and have been there for a few customer-relations stumbles as well. In one case in particular, namely the poorly run ticket-distribution for the 1998 Candlelight Processional show, one of Disneyland’s less shining moments ended up being one of my personally most important and memorable experiences at the park.
The Candlelight Processional is a long running holiday tradition at Disneyland. It is a concert program that they typically run around the first week of December, which is a musical celebration of the religious aspect of the Christmas holiday, featuring a professional orchestra and a large massed choir formed from numerous church and school choirs as well as some Disney employees. The show also features a celebrity narrator, who tells the Biblical Christmas story in between the songs. This show has been a favorite Christmas season tradition for me for as long as I have lived out here in Southern California. It is something I really look forward to every year.
Traditionally, this concert is performed on a stage set up in the Town Square area of Main Street, with the Railroad Station used as the backdrop. In most years, there are just 4 evening performances of the show, two each on Saturday and Sunday. The majority of the Town Square area is blocked off for the stage as well as for a large seating area. Tickets for viewing the show in the seating area are mainly distributed to Disney’s corporate partners and other VIPs while regular park guests start staking out seats early to the sides and further back in order to get even an obstructed view of the show.
This can result in a lot of logistics problems and major bottlenecks in that part of the park on those days. Because of this, Disney a fairly short-lived (5 years) experiment starting in 1998 of moving the show to the Fantasyland Theater, an outdoor performance venue located across from "It’s a Small World". Walt Disney World had moved their version of the show from Town Square in the Magic Kingdom to a similar theater in Epcot a few years earlier and had eventually managed to expand it multiple shows a night throughout the holiday season, with reserved seating tickets being sold through popular dining packages. There was a lot of speculation that this experiment with a change of venue at Disneyland was also hoped to eventually lead to a similar expansion of the program, although that never materialized and the show was finally moved back to Main Street starting in 2003.