Nemo: The Line
First up on the list today to discuss, obviously, is the high-profile Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. That flood of muddy water that swept through Tomorrowland back in January that we told you about has in fact impacted the original construction schedule for the submarine ride. As we told you then, when old 1950's schematics were transferred into the computerized world of today's construction techniques, something got lost in the translation and an underground pipe that wasn't supposed to be important to the new version of the facility ended up being a direct line from the recently refurbished water filtration plant outside the berm. (The park really misses having Van France around when these kinds of things happen.)
The watery mistake has required the construction teams to go back and rework that plumbing setup near the loading area, and the lagoon did in fact have to be drained during a time the original construction schedule had it slated to remain full. This hiccup in the schedule has only intensified the frenzied 24 hour a day pace that the entire project now works under. Whether or not the ride can make its June 11th grand opening date is still not certain, but the WDI project managers are trying very hard to keep everything on track, regardless of how much overtime they are now paying to get it there.
Even if the opening date slips a week or two, the ride will still be opening sometime this summer and TDA planners are focusing their energy like a laser beam to ensure the opening and subsequent daily operation go as smoothly as possible once the voyages begin. Unlike recent new attractions at Disneyland, there will be very little time for extensive "soft openings" in the weeks before the grand opening. As it stands now, there may only be one or two days of soft opens before the press descend for the grand opening ceremonies currently scheduled for June 10th and 11th.
The current plan calls for a sign off by the state DOSH inspectors in late May and early June, and no one who isn't on the Disney payroll or a specifically invited guest will be able to ride on the completed attraction until that DOSH inspection is completed. Once DOSH gives its blessing to the attraction, two days of Cast Member previews will be held on June 3rd and 4th. TDA realizes it needs to offer the huge pool of Annual Passholders at least a shot at a preview ride, so it's planning on offering two days of dedicated AP Previews June 6th and 7th. Slot in a day or two of fine tuning and tweaking supervised by John Lasseter himself, and a big WDI wrap party on June 9th, and there's not a lot of elbow room left for soft openings.
But here's where it gets real interesting. That pesky topic of ride capacity that we've been following for a couple of years on this project will rear its ugly head right away. The current estimate for an average hourly capacity for the subs is in the 950 to 1,000 riders per hour figure. Let's be optimistic and call the hourly capacity an even 1,000 for the sake of the mathematics of this story. The two 8 hour Cast Member Preview days, currently scheduled from 4pm to Midnight on both days to allow a full shift of training and WDI work earlier in the day, are going to allow 16,000 Cast Members a shot at getting a seat in a submarine. But in early summer there are 20,000 Cast Members in Anaheim, so not everyone is going to get to ride, and unlike previews for Buzz Lightyear or Tower of Terror, the Cast Members won't be able to bring family or friends. Certainly not every single Anaheim Cast Member will want to attend the preview, and that's a good thing as the number of seats available simply won't permit that.
A peek into the
lagoon (above) provides a look at some familiar moments from
Now that we've got at least most of the Cast Members out of the way and they've had one ride in a submarine, it's time to let the Annual Passholders in to the party. But those numbers are staggering, with over 650,000 Annual Passholders at last count, and that has some TDA planners simply terrified. Even with a slightly expanded operation from the Cast Member Previews with Disneyland scheduled to be open from 9:00 A.M to 9:00 P.M. on June 6th and 7th, that is still just 24 hours of operation for an optimistic total of around 25,000 riders. That's less than 4% of the total number of Annual Passholders. Do you see where this is going?
Staring at those statistics, TDA planners are trying to figure out how to distribute 25,000 tickets for a seat on a submarine to 650,000 people. The current scenario gaining favor in TDA is a lottery, since an online reservation system for the limited number of seats would only result in overloaded servers and plenty of angry phone calls to folks who couldn't get an online reservation. But how do you handle one member of a family who wins a ticket, while the rest of the household doesn't win? TDA is trying to figure out if they could allow families or groups of friends to pool their combined AP's into one entry, with either all of the entrants in the group getting a ticket or all of them being shut out of the preview. There's also a scenario that only limits lottery entries to Premium Annual Passholders, but since there are more than 100,000 of those types of AP's out there, that still will leave a majority of those folks without an invite to the preview. Regardless of how they handle this troublesome task, there are still only 25,000 preview seats to go around for over 650,000 Annual Passholders.
But after the big media party and grand opening ceremonies conclude on the morning of June 11th, that leaves the attraction wide open for anyone with a ticket to Disneyland able to get in line for the ride. As chaotic and panicky as the Cast Member and AP Preview days will have been, they certainly won't compare to the next 10 weeks of summer. As if someone was trying to brew up the perfect storm, June 11th and 12th are not blockout dates for even the lowest tiers of annual passes, and that means a pool of 650,000 people will be able to stop by Disneyland for a submarine ride. It's not until you get to early July that the SoCal Select and SoCal levels of annual passes are finally blocked out, although the Deluxe and Premium levels pretty much have free reign of the calendar through the entire summer.
We've seen this AP effect happen with new rides before, most recently with Monsters Inc. at DCA, where the hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders descended on the new facility to see it for themselves and caused huge lines disproportionate to the actual draw of the attraction. For the first two months of Monsters Inc. operation the line routinely stretched over 90 minutes long and the Attractions Cast Members struggled to create temporary queues and switchbacks for a line longer than anyone had imagined could be possible. Visit Monsters Inc. now, and the line rarely exceeds 10 minutes.
But back at the Submarine Voyage, the line this summer will make the Monsters Inc. experience look like nothing. Assuming all goes well and they can keep all eight subs up and running at full capacity, on a typical 8am to Midnight summer day at Disneyland only around 16,000 people will be able to get a seat on the subs. Considering that an average summer day at Disneyland has around 50,000 or 55,000 people visit the park, that means less than a third of the paying customers will get to ride the subs each day. And that only intensifies the problem when an extra 10,000 or 15,000 Annual Passholders drop by the park each day specifically to ride the submarines, creating a demographic niche that is far different from the average tourist from Seattle who wants to get on as many rides as possible in addition to the submarines.
The good news here is that this incredible demand for the new attraction is going to be driven by an extremely impressive ride experience with a level of showmanship unseen since the Indiana Jones Adventure or the glory days of Disneyland in the 1960's. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage will definitely have people talking, and that will only fuel the demand even more. While the recent opening of the Finding Nemo omnimover ride out at Epcot, the pleasant little C Ticket ride Imagineers jokingly call "Nemo Lite", gave a glimpse at some of the technology to be used at Disneyland, there's much more headed our way than what Epcot's version offered.
For one thing, there's the length of the ride itself. The Epcot Finding Nemo ride takes just a couple of ticks under four minutes to experience from beginning to end. The version of the Submarine Voyage that operated at Disneyland from 1959 to 1998 took exactly nine minutes to experience from the time your sub left the dock until it returned. But the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage has a total trip time of just over fourteen minutes, five minutes longer than the old version. No, they didn't add an extra section of secret track under the Autopia freeways. Instead, all of John Lasseters additions and tweaking he's done over the past year have created a scenario where the subs are going to be going a bit slower to give the passengers a better chance at taking in the entire underwater spectacular.
The 20th century version of the Submarine Voyage had the sub vehicles leaving the dock at a speed of about 2.8 feet per second, and then varying their speed through the rest of the ride between 2.4 and 2.8 feet per second. In comparison, the 21st century version will have the sub vehicles leaving the dock at about 2.2 feet per second, and then varying their speed through the rest of the ride between 1.8 and 2.2 feet per second. That adds the extra five minutes of ride time to the new version. And yes, those Cast Members in the skipper outfits really were controlling the speed of the submarine, and their driving skills kept the show scenes synced up properly with the audio track. The new version uses dramatically more advanced technology when it comes to the onboard audio and new special effects, but it still will require the Cast Member to hit the timing marks perfectly in order to get the best show. Since John Lasseter is a former Disneyland ride operator himself, he knows full well how a Cast Member at the controls can make or break the ride experience for the passengers. There will be plenty of training for each new skipper, but it only adds to the need to use every last minute for training during those early days in June.
The end result here is going to be a classic E Ticket experience of truly impressive proportions. Just the extended fourteen minute ride time alone will help alleviate some of the pain felt by waiting in a three hour line for this new ride. In comparison, the Doom Buggy portion of the Haunted Mansion takes about seven and a half minutes to ride through, while Anaheim's Splash Mountain is a nine minute long ride. The Disneyland version of it's a small world takes about 13 minutes to ride through, the epic version of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean is 14 and a half minutes long, and a trip on the Mark Twain sternwheeler takes 15 minutes exactly if the steam engineer has had his morning coffee. At fourteen minutes in length, the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage will take its place as one of the longest E Tickets in Disneyland history. That the showmanship to be seen through the portholes has been strongly beefed up by John Lasseter over the last year, at no small price, is also going to make this ride worth the wait. For example, where once there was one single robotic angler fish encountered on the journey as at the Epcot version, now there are a half dozen robotic angler fish installed along the track to make that darkened deep water scene even more dramatic.
Now for the bad news. While the 1,000 riders per hour capacity is measly and will create a line currently planned to stretch up to the Small World Mall, there was an opportunity three years ago to increase the capacity to something closer to 1,800 an hour. Back in early 2004, when Matt Ouimet had just taken over from the suddenly departed Cynthia Harriss, there was a proposal to substantially increase the capacity of the ride. The version of the submarines used at Walt Disney World had employed a much more efficient boarding process wherein riders could be disembarking from a staircase at one end of the ship while new riders boarded down a staircase at the opposite end. This sliced a couple of minutes off the boarding process, and allowed for a few more available seats as well. The proposed changes back in '04 would have required the nose and tail to be sliced off of each sub, a couple of additional feet of hull to be grafted on, and then the nose and tail reattached to the longer sub with the more efficient stairwells in place. The quicker boarding process would have also allowed an additional submarine to be placed on the line, and a new ninth submarine would have been added to the fleet to allow this more efficient operation.
Unfortunately, the cost of this entire upgrade would have added about 10 Million dollars to the price tag of the new ride. It's important to realize that back in '04 the total budget for the submarine redo was coming in right under 50 Million, and an additional 10 Million would have been a substantial amount of the entire budget. Matt Ouimet gave this proposal a great deal more consideration than his immediate predecessor had, and he actually kept it alive for a period of time in '04. But this was also before Michael Eisner left the company and Bob Iger ushered in radical change to the stifling corporate culture, John Lasseter had none of the political clout he now carries in Burbank, and Matt Ouimet's first priority at the time was to get Disneyland back in shape for the approaching 50th anniversary. Back then, throwing money at the submarine ride simply wasn't as fashionable as John Lasseter made it in 2006 so the proposal was shelved.
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