Disneyland wakes up from its rain-soaked winter hibernation today as hordes of Captain EO fans descend on Anaheim to be among the first to welcome that rather kitschy attraction back to Tomorrowland. While hardcore EO fans wait in line this morning to get their
purple yellow 3-D glasses (Just how many of you in line today are reading this on your smart phones?), we'll fill you in on the latest rumors and buzz from Team Disney Anaheim and Walt Disney Imagineering, as there's plenty to catch up on around Anaheim.
Got that churro bought yet? Have you picked-up a Dole Whip
float on your way across the hub to the EO queue? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
Captain EO will of course be the big news story today, with Disneyland playing host to five hundred invited Michael Jackson fans (who will be allowed in ahead of those camping out overnight in front of the park) as well as plenty of invited media there to capture footage for countless blow-dried TV anchors to chuckle over during tonight's local newscasts up and down the West Coast. (MiceChat's coverage at this link.)
And with that grand opening, the folks in Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) will finally breathe a sigh of relief. It seemed like such a simple plan when it was hatched last summer; return Captain EO to its original 3-D theater in Tomorrowland and put the tired old Honey I Shrunk The Audience show out of its misery. The whole thing was originally supposed to be a quick and easy 90 day turnaround, with the show opening at Disneyland by October in time for the popular HalloweenTime festivities.
But then we told you about it, the lawyers got involved once they got wind of things, and some of the executives up in Burbank got cold feet over a potential public backlash regarding Michael Jackson's death. The whole plan was nearly derailed and cancelled on several different occasions in the fall of 2009, and Walt Disney World's (WDW) management backed out of a later proposal to also bring the show to Epcot, after deciding the modest cost to transform the theater was too much money to spend on what they consider Orlando's less involved tourists. (Tokyo Disneyland's management is taking a wait and see approach, after already committing to big-buck upgrades currently under construction in both DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland.)
And that just left TDA, bravely forcing the Captain EO proposal to completion at Disneyland, knowing that at the very least they've got just over a million local Annual Passholders who will want to see the show out of curiosity and then hopefully buy one of the EO t-shirts that TDA rushed into production just a few months ago.
Planning: Staggs Mulls...
Meanwhile, the crowds expected to descend on Captain EO through the spring will give fresh motivation to Disneyland's planners and executives who want to add more capacity to the crowded theme park. TDA continues to dig deeper into plans to carve out expanded space around the perimeter of the park and bolster overall park capacity by adding at least several new major attractions.
During Tom Staggs well publicized two day visit to Anaheim last month, a major stop on the Disneyland tour was an afternoon visit in the rain to the Festival Arena in the back of Frontierland. It was there that Tom got a chance to physically see the relatively large open space that could serve as the gateway to the first big expansion of the park since Toontown nearly 20 years ago. While Parks & Resorts bigwigs like Operations chief Al Weiss nodded in agreement and rattled off some figures, Tony Baxter gave his sales pitch to Tom on the creative ideas to expand the park to the north, as the rest of the TDA executives smiled at Tom from under their umbrellas with visions of high capacity flume rides and people-eating E Tickets dancing in their heads.
Part of the developing master plan for Disneyland, and something that is now quickly gaining support from the TDA team, includes a Disneyland Paris style arcade on the east side of Main Street USA. This additional walkway could then be used to alleviate the chronic problem of gridlock and overcrowding that happens nightly on Main Street during parades and fireworks. Since the whole Disneyland expansion plan is fueled by a desperate need to add to the overall capacity of the popular theme park, the expansion of Main Street to the east to allow for increased traffic flow is making a lot of sense to both the Imagineers and the executives.
Tony Baxter knows that plans can change, and funding for smaller projects can dry up in mid-stream, which is why he is pushing for a huge scope for the Disneyland expansion plans. If the budget is big enough, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the funding will need to be approved by the Board of Directors and thus be harder to raid during the inevitable budgetary problems from fiscal year to fiscal year. That's how the DCA makeover plan safely secured such a huge budget, by grouping several big projects all into one and forcing the Board to dedicate the big budget up front.
That's also how some recent projects were scaled back at the last minute, or put on hold altogether, like the original plan Burbank and WDI both had to use Disneyland's Main Street Cinema to help launch its “Mickey Mouse Initiative” of reinvigorating Mickey's rather staid corporate image. Burbank got cold feet literally days after the project started, and the original month long refurbishment of the Cinema turned into a two week project to simply replace the floor and hang new curtains. Even projects that seemingly came off flawlessly, like the newly refurbished Mr. Lincoln show, had some of the budget pulled during the middle of the construction, leaving the lobby pre-show without the original animatronic figure from the World's Fair on display in a corner as Tony had once planned.
The rest of Tom's official Anaheim visit was very tightly scripted and well-rehearsed, right down to two days of sugar-free and gluten-free catered meals served to Tom in accordance with his notoriously healthy diet. Tom's staged visit to the Candy Palace on Main Street USA on the first day was even a victim of his dietary demands, as the Candy Palace manager and chef had to rush out to purchase big bags of sugar-free chocolate and organic almonds in an attempt to create a bitter Chocolate Bark recipe that Tom would be able to sample as he helped with the cooking, all while Disney's publicity cameras clicked away.
Needless to say, don't look for Chairman Tom's Sugar-Free Organic Chocolate Bark to be on sale in the Candy Palace any time soon. The remainder of the big batch of unappealing Chocolate Bark was thrown out just as soon as Tom's tour moved on up Main Street and a few of the Candy Palace CM's could taste just how bad the leftovers were.
Tom also was shown areas of Disneyland where new investment has already been approved, albeit on a much smaller scale than what's being proposed for the back of Frontierland or the eastern half of Tomorrowland. The big Star Tours refurbishment beginning late this summer was presented, as well as Tony Baxter's current project of reinvigorating the Rivers of America with reworked scenery and additional animatronics. A pair of animatronic bobcats up on a ridge, some new Indian Scouts staring down passing Davy Crockett Canoes along the rocky rapids, and Mike Fink parking his keelboat out front and moving in to the old non-burning settlers cabin are some of the changes headed for the May debut of the refurbished river rides.
The plan now also includes adding some real animals in amongst the new animatronics, with the Indian Village at the big bend in the river planned to get a small themed paddock next to the teepees with a few live Pintos allowed to graze there and watch the tourists go by on the passing canoes and boats.
For Tom's first official visit to Anaheim, no detail went overlooked by TDA planners who wanted to put their best foot forward in an attempt to keep their property front and center with the Burbank bosses. Tom seemed to leave Anaheim genuinely impressed, and the TDA team was surprised by how friendly and engaging Tom was compared to the rather icy and famously disinterested Jay Rasulo. But the challenge now for TDA is that Tom will be visiting Anaheim a few times a year with his family in tow as his young children are already big Disneyland fans living less than an hour up the freeway in west LA.
Pardon my Sawhorse...
Across the way from Disneyland, the aggressive construction schedule at DCA is testing the limits of how much you can get done in an operating theme park. The testing for World of Color happens nightly now, which is why DCA has changed its opening time to 9:00 AM most of the week which lets them get away with closing the park earlier in the evening so that testing can begin. Not surprisingly, there are countless rumors out there about the show being hopelessly behind schedule and with a debut date being pushed back from the late April timeline we'd originally told you about to anything from May to July.
The thing to remember here is that in any big Disney project there are always reports of massive delays and setbacks, but tenured Imagineers leading such projects calmly continue with their work while sub-contractors and theme park technicians fret about the tiny details and needlessly fuel the rumor mill.
As of now, the testing for World of Color is just about on schedule and all the major elements of the show are coming together as planned. The rainy weather this winter has caused some delays to the construction of the viewing area, but those delays are minor and the construction walls surrounding the landscaped Paradise Park viewing area will be coming down next month.
However, if there are additional delays ahead that could push the World of Color debut back by several weeks, DCA Vice President Mary Niven and her management team won't complain. They are becoming increasingly panicked over how to manage the crowds (remember those million Annual Passholders) expected to descend on DCA once the show opens.
We've told you about the plan to move the Showpass ticket distribution to the Grizzly River Run Fastpass area at first, with a thousand tickets or so per day pulled out in advance to be given to tourists staying in Anaheim's new Disney Vacation Club units and Concierge level rooms at the three hotels. The DCA Food & Beverage group is also now requesting space for a thousand people per night to be carved out of the existing viewing area so that they can sell a reserved spot to stand for the show as part of a premium priced Disneyland Resort dinner package.
But it's the potentially tens of thousands of Annual Passholders stampeding on the park each night, as well as thousands of innocent tourists caught up in the World of Color frenzy, that are causing DCA's management team to really worry. Disneyland's Cast Members have plenty of experience dealing with gridlocked walkways and slowly coaxing massive crowds from one side of the park to the other, and from one major nighttime spectacular to another. But the DCA CM's have had the luxury of a far less crowded and laid back atmosphere for years, and there's no telling how they will react to Disneyland style crowds and maxed out viewing areas. Mary Niven and her team would gladly wait for Fantasmic! to return to Disneyland on May 28th before they try and host their own big water show.
While DCA's managers are understandably nervous awaiting World of Color's debut, it would be better to just rip the band-aid off as soon as possible and work through their learning curve while they still have a working main entrance and wide open parade route. In October the massive makeover to DCA's main entrance will get underway, and Buena Vista Street construction will begin from the existing California letters all the way past the Sun Plaza.
We've been telling you the evolving plans to rip out and replace the main entrance of an existing theme park, a project that is unprecedented in the history of Disney theme parks and perhaps all theme parks in general. It looks like the plan they've finally landed on is to tackle one side of DCA's main entrance at a time, and only allow people to enter the park through the half of the facility not under construction. A temporary exit for DCA would then be built on the west end of the Soarin' Over California attraction, dumping exiting park guests out into Downtown Disney.
It's not going to be pretty for the 18 months it will exist, and it promises plenty of logistical problems with rented strollers and general confusion, but it's really the best option for TDA to finally replace DCA's cheap and basic (as well as cryptic - its supposed to represent a 3-D pop-up postcard) entrance complex from 2001 with the far more lavish and luxurious (ie Disney quality and detail) Buena Vista Street experience.
Parading: Lasseter Vetoes...
The route DCA's current and future parades take through the revamped park is also causing plenty of planning headaches for TDA, and it's a factor that weighed heavily into the sudden decision to send the Electrical Parade out to WDW this summer. DCA already had one of the longest parade routes in a Disney park, and since the Carthay Circle Theater facility was going to close off the access road that DCA parades currently use to enter the park, Anaheim's entertainment team wanted the new DCA parade route to cut through Cars Land and use a new access point at that back of that new expansion to get parades in and out of the park. That plan would effectively keep the new route about the same distance as the current route.
The route through a part of Cars Land was the plan kicking around for some time, until John Lasseter saw the proposals to add curbside streetlights to the town of Radiator Springs with the hanging light racks and speakers that modern Disney parades require. The dusty desert town of Radiator Springs in the Pixar film Cars didn't have streetlights, and John Lasseter wants the big budget Cars Land expansion to be a very literal recreation of Radiator Springs, so that people feel they are literally stepping into the world of the movie. With Cars Land and its signature Mega-E Ticket attraction Radiator Springs Racers taking up half of the Billion dollar DCA makeover budget, John Lasseter's insistence that the environment remain pure to the look of the film outweighed any operational need to run a parade route through that part of the park.
The result is that the DCA parade route will now be avoiding Cars Land entirely and heading along the periphery of the Buena Vista Street entrance, and then into the Hollywoodland section of the park and back towards Tower of Terror to get backstage. That makes for an extremely long parade route, and a future challenge to any parade designer who will need to keep dancers high stepping, costumed characters perky, and float batteries sufficiently charged for an extra 10 or 15 minutes of performance time.
It was from a series of discussions springing from that decree from John Lasseter that the plan to mothball the Electrical Parade until after the World of Color crowds die down and the Buena Vista Street construction is finished in 2012 recently came about. The newly lengthened DCA parade route in 2012 will require some modifications to not only the existing floats themselves, but possibly to the dance routines and staffing of any current parade.
So earlier this winter the WDW executives in Orlando made a pitch to borrow the Electrical Parade for a bargain price during that period and use it to try and duplicate the success Disneyland had last summer with the Nightastic! promotion. The Anaheim executives are insisting that Orlando only gets the parade for just under two years, and the current agreement has the parade being shipped back to Disneyland just after Easter vacation of 2012.
Apparently Walt Disney World is rather infamous amongst Anaheim Cast Members for not maintaining their attractions, equipment and facilities to Disneyland standards, and the Anaheim entertainment team is rather nervous about sending their newly refurbished floats out to Florida. But at least the plan frees up some storage space for them as the DCA float warehouse get reworked during the Cars Land construction.
Parking: Kalogridis Detours...
It's beyond the two Anaheim parks however where George Kalogridis and his executives have plenty of work cut out for them, and nothing like the glamorous and high-profile attractions to be added inside the parks. We've detailed for you in last year's updates the horrendous problems caused by a lack of parking spaces and surface street logistical problems, mostly driven by a visitor demographic that has changed dramatically from the tourists on multi-day tickets that the DCA expansion was designed to attract and instead now tries to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders who too often arrive in cars by themselves and only stay a few hours at a time.
To George's great credit, one recent Friday evening he drove out of his assigned TDA parking space and went up Ball Road to try and park his car in the Mickey & Friends parking structure along with the rest of the Disneyland visitors. As anyone who has tried to park their car at Disneyland on a Friday evening knows, George spent plenty of time in gridlocked traffic, a long idling line for the ticket booth, and finally some time in an overcrowded tram loading area.
Needless to say, George wasn't impressed with his parking experience, and this wasn't even a busy Friday evening in summer or at Christmas or during the popular HalloweenTime promotion. It was only a relatively quiet mid-winter evening, but it was enough for George to be unhappy about. Note to George; If you really want to see ugly, try that same stunt on a late Friday afternoon in October.
The parking problem in Anaheim seems to grow worse by the week, and a temporary stop-gap measure to open up a few thousand more spaces in a new Toy Story themed lot on the old Strawberry Fields in a few weeks will barely help. If anything, it will only cause more headaches as they try and bus thousands of people per day up Harbor Blvd. to the East Esplanade, a move that has kicked out the taxi cabs from their custom built driveways there and moved them over to Downtown Disney.
TDA knows these huge satellite lots almost a full mile from Disneyland are wildly unpopular with the people forced to park there, no matter how efficient and friendly the CM's staffing the lots and buses may be. To try and make the big new Toy Story lot more convenient for people, they will attempt to sell theme park tickets before people board the buses and hope that people perceive that tactic to be a time saving tool. It won't do anything for Annual Passholders who don't need to buy tickets though, and they often make up the bulk of the people parking in those satellite lots as they arrive later in the day.
Anaheim's parking department will also be beefing up staffing in those lots, christening some Cast Members as “Parking Concierges” who will be tasked with answering questions and helping with confused visitors who feel that Disneyland must be very poorly managed to make paying customers park so far away.
The answer to this long term parking problem is obviously just to build more spaces in the form of a second large structure on the east side of Harbor Blvd., a plan that has been publicly shown on Resort expansion maps ever since the old Grand Hotel was purchased by Disney and imploded on that site back in 1998. The land purchases by Disney on the northern end of that property we'd told you of last year have been finalized, and additional adjacent land is also being eyed by Disney's property development team.
The grand plan being hatched by TDA, in partnership with some pro-Disney forces in Anaheim city hall, is to build a massive new parking facility north of GardenWalk with direct access to and from the Santa Ana Freeway. This 10,000+ space structure would also include a transit depot on its southern flank for the monorail system Anaheim wants built by the middle of the decade to connect the new ARTIC high speed rail station with the Resort District and the Convention Center. Visitors either arriving to this giant facility via private car off the freeway, or via monorail from ARTIC, would then be whisked on moving walkways across a sweeping bridge over Harbor Blvd. and deposited near the current tram loading area.
The city of Anaheim plans on launching a city owned website detailing this grand vision later this spring, and Disney's team of lawyers and developers are also working on finalizing the plan before going public with it and publicizing it as a jobs generator for the local economy. You can bet that some of these same folks have taken a keen interest in the foreclosure auction planned next month for the struggling GardenWalk mall across the street from this planned parking/transit facility.
George Kalogridis arrived in Anaheim as the new President well after the DCA expansion was planned out and kicked off with over a Billion dollars in funding, and he just gets the pleasure of being there for the upcoming ribbon cuttings. The DCA makeover is so massive and funded at such a huge scale, that it goes well beyond the scope and power of whomever is sitting in the 4th floor Presidential Suite in TDA at any one time. But it's this parking plan to the tune of a few hundred million dollars that TDA does have direct ownership of, and it gives George an opportunity to make his mark in Anaheim and burnish his career.
If Matt Ouimet was known for salvaging Disneyland's reputation from the epic failures of Cynthia Harris and then shepherding the 50th celebration to wild success, and Ed Grier was known for successfully fending off sleazy condo developers in the tourist zoned Resort District, then George Kalogridis could go down in history as the President who solved the Anaheim parking crisis and built a massive parking/transit system designed for decades of future growth. If George gets the parking problems licked by the time his current contract is up in 2012, he may get a chance to stick around after that to kick off the next big wave of theme park expansion in Disneyland, one that will be far more glamorous than big cement parking structures with moving walkways.
Wish George luck with the parking crisis the next time you are bused in from Garden Grove for your visit to Disneyland.
A few quick things before we sign off: First, thank you all for the many kind notes about the 40 Pounds of Trouble piece we ran last week. I'm glad it was apparently as much fun for you as it was for me in putting it all together.
Second, again just a quick reminder that the nice folks involved in presenting A SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC EVENING WITH RICHARD M. SHERMAN at The El Capitan Theatre on February 26 & 27 are offering MiceAge readers a special ticket rate for opening night only, Friday the 26th at 7pm. To get your discount call (818) 845-3110 and use the code DCPUB. (You do need to call as this discount is not available online).
Last, but not least, a special thanks to CaptPhoebus for all the photos today.