Disneyland and DCA are heading into the peak weeks of Easter Vacation, and with hundreds of thousands of local Annual Passholders blocked out for two weeks the Resort is actually gliding through what used to be some of the busiest days on the calendar. The area hotels are enjoying healthy occupancy rates and there’s actually plenty of parking available this time of year with entire families arriving in full cars instead of just one or two people per vehicle.
But for local park fans the real excitement gets under way next week when the construction walls start coming down on some DCA projects and heavy steel arrives for others as work ramps up through the spring. In this update we’ll fill you in on some of the DCA unveilings ahead, some of the latest rumors from around Anaheim, as well as the Anaheim execs latest thinking on just how they are going to launch World of Color in a few months without creating riot conditions inside the park and out in the parking lots.
Got that orange peeled yet? Have that yogurt opened now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
As the World Turns
World of Color is obviously the topic on most everyone’s mind. The most rabid fans will get a better look at that snazzy new custom-built viewing area this Friday when the construction walls are finally removed. You won’t be allowed to stroll through the terraced viewing area this Friday however, as barricades staffed by perky DCA “Ambassadors” will be placed along the edges of the new park. But with the walls down, it will give Paradise Pier a much more open look while allowing the Imagineers to finish up the final details on this rather handsome looking area.
The young shrubs in the planters, which were purposely chosen varieties with prickly leaves and thorny vines to keep folks from climbing through them at showtime, all still need a full year to grow in and look better. And you don’t think they chose the scalloped and pointed fence tops just for the Victorian era theme, do you? Those are there to prevent people from sitting and standing on the railings during the show. But, when the barricades and smiling Ambassadors go away on April 9th, you’ll be able to finally enter and inspect some of the infrastructure built into this area that’s going to wow World of Color viewers later this spring.
The timing of the grand opening of World of Color is giving Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) planners fits, and the Imagineers are trying to use every political game in the book to buy some more testing time from them. There was an easy willingness from both TDA and Imagineering (WDI) to push the grand opening back from the originally planned last weekend in April to avoid hosting nightly shows in May when Annual Passholder blockout dates were practically nonexistent.
The thought of a million Annual Passholders descending on the park in the 40 days before their summer blockout dates begin created images of traffic gridlock all around Anaheim and pandemonium at the DCA entrance if they had to shut the gates. The DCA team was also happy to have the return of Fantasmic to fall back on in late May, in an attempt to give them more breathing room at night. (Funny how Disneyland’s crowd control Cast Members deal with insane crowd levels and gridlocked walkways almost nightly, but DCA’s team is still a bit gun-shy about joining the big leagues.)
It’s important to note that the testing and fine tuning of all of that show equipment in the lagoon and the viewing area is still going pretty much according to schedule. There has yet to be a major problem or some unforeseen issue erupt out of nowhere, like Murphy the infamous Fantasmic dragon last summer. Plenty of tweaking and testing new concepts is happening during those late night programming sessions, but for the most part this massive new show is coming together as designed.
Does anybody know what time it is?
What has TDA the most concerned is picking the right time for the show’s grand opening that limits the ability of most Annual Passholders to descend on the Resort in droves, while at the same time getting the most marketing bang for their buck from the local media. As of this writing, the date that TDA is most likely to keep as World of Color’s grand premiere is Thursday, June 10th. That date, while not yet set in stone, happens to be the first of the weekday blockouts for a majority of the local Annual Passholders, the SoCal and SoCal Select categories. Pushing it back to June 10th also allows them to piggyback on the Nightastic kickoff, while minimizing the remaining days available to AP’s before the summer becomes entirely blocked out for a majority of AP’s in late June.
That evening also happens to be a Grad Nite for the Resort, but just like last year’s Nightastic media event held on a busy Grad Nite, the Anaheim special events team can work around the hyper teenagers arriving to begin their graduation party in the middle of all the media frenzy. The current plan for June 10th would have DCA closing early, while the media event is held in Paradise Pier and the grads at the extra-cost Grad Nite Blast Off event are kept in the northern half of the park. This is just for the official grand opening of course, as there will be plenty of soft openings in the nights leading up to the formal opening.
Whenever and however they finally debut World of Color later this spring, it’s the daily operation of this show that is also going to offer some rather unique headaches for a park that has never seen event crowds quite big enough to fill the bleachers for an afternoon motorcross demonstration, let alone a 9,000 space viewing area. We’d told you about the Showpass ticketing concept that the Vice President of DCA, Mary Niven, has been mulling over. They are going forward with that plan, to be based out of the current Grizzly River Rapids Fastpass machines for at least the first summer.
And most nights through Labor Day weekend they plan on performing two shows per night, the first at 9:00 P.M. and the second will start just after official park closing time at 10:15 P.M., with both shows likely offering Showpass. But it’s the queuing and staging process for those thousands of Showpass ticket holders each evening that offers logistical nightmares for DCA. The current thinking is that with the Electrical Parade safely shipped out to Florida for the next two years, they will use the Sunshine Plaza area and the parade route as the queuing area where Showpass holders are supposed to report in the early evening.
If Mary’s team goes with their current plan, an army of crowd control CM’s will corral all Showpass ticket holders into that area an hour before showtime. That plaza will have a predictable iPod DJ perched above playing family friendly pop music and trying to build camaraderie and happy vibes amongst the crowds that will soon be herded down the parade route by crowd control and then elbow their way into the best possible spot in the lagoon viewing area. This tactic is both a logistical crowd control tool by park operations and part of an attempt by WDI to not allow the viewers for the second show to hang out around the lagoon during the first show, lest they see from a bad angle how the show plays out and what surprises it has in store for them. If they do go with this overwrought process, it promises to create plenty of headaches for the CM’s, not to mention some very confused visitors.
There’s no word yet on whether WDI will be positioning low-ranking Imagineers around the Pier each night to force everyone to avert their eyes from the first showing of the evening. Although there really won’t be much reason to be in Paradise Pier if you’re not seeing World of Color, as Steve Davison is insisting that all Paradise Pier attractions be shut down and silenced an hour before the first World of Color performance begins to provide the perfect atmosphere for his show.
World of Color promises to be not just a massive and game-changing night spectacular for the American theme park industry, but it also promises to throw some pretty nasty operational problems at DCA each night. We’ll keep you updated on how it’s all going to pan out, of that you can be sure.
The other side of the World
Aside from World of Color, the Paradise Pier area also has plenty of other debuts big and small headed its way, as well as new construction and a few more attractions to be retired. First up will be the reopening of the Golden Zephyr this weekend, one of the few Pier attractions that will go relatively untouched from a design standpoint owing to its look that is already old-fashioned. Also this Friday, a big crane will arrive at the Little Mermaid construction site to begin loading the steel framing that will be going vertical the following week. Then on Friday, April 16th the parade route will return to Paradise Pier with the walls either gone around World of Color viewing, or pushed back over at the Little Mermaid construction site.
By May the speakers all around the Paradise Pier lagoon will begin playing the new area music for that section of DCA. Gone will be the organ-grinder versions of 1960’s pop music, and in will be a toe-tapping medley of West Coast Ragtime. The new music is said to be jazzier than the early ragtime music played on Main Street USA, as the new Pier theme evokes the growing West Coast of the 1910’s and 20’s rather than the more conservative Midwest of 1905 that Main Street represents. Shortly after the new music debuts, eagle eyed riders on Mickey’s Fun Wheel should also get the chance to see the first car cycling over on the Radiator Springs Racers short test track, as the Imagineers hope to get their first test laps going by the second week of May. And finally this spring, the Silly Symphony Swings will open formally just in time for Memorial Day Weekend.
The Blue Sky Cellar was originally slated to close for a week in mid April to receive its next update all geared towards The Little Mermaid attraction, but WDI will now wait on that until the Resort nails down the exact date of World of Color’s opening. But by June, there should be a new exhibit in the Blue Sky Cellar detailing the work on that big attraction that has been budgeted at just over 100 Million Dollars. Even though structural steel for the show building won’t be arriving on Disney property until next Monday, the lavishly themed building is going to piece together rather quickly and the Little Mermaid complex is right on schedule and currently planned to debut next spring at a media event the third week of May, 2011.
With those additions coming to the Pier area this spring, the look and feel of the area will mostly stand pat through the summer. But in September, it will be lights out for some rather noticeable, if not particularly popular, Paradise Pier attractions that have been there since 2001.
The day after Labor Day, the S.S. Rustworthy will be mercifully decommissioned and torn out, and the Maliboomer will bleed out the air from its launch tubes for the last time. The S.S. Rustworthy, an excellent example of Imagineering’s earliest public display of fake bird poop, will be deomolished to become part of the dining patio for the new Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta restaurant replacing Pizza Oom Mow Mow. At the same time, the mothballed McDonalds Burger Invasion next door will begin its transformation into the healthier Paradise Garden Grille.
The Maliboomer will be dismantled throughout September, and that charmless and cheap cement launch pad it uses will be turned into a small park with shade trees and benches. Then, when the new fiscal year starts for Disney in early October, Mulholland Madness will close to begin its seven month transformation into Goofy’s Sky School. That entire back corner of what was once the garish Route 66 area of Paradise Pier will all reopen in mid May 2011 as the far more elegant Paradise Garden area.
You've got a space near me
Obviously there’s plenty going on inside DCA this spring, but the impact of all of these new offerings will be felt all over the Resort area. We’ve detailed extensively in past updates why it’s such a hassle to park the car and fight the crowds at the trams to get to the park. However, a big step ahead appears to have been made with the new Toy Story Parking Lots. The 3,600 spaces that are now open 7 days per week are working pretty well thus far. The circuitous bus trip can take up to 15 minutes inbound to the park, but with plenty of buses on hand it certainly beats the maddening crowds and ridiculously frustrating trams to the Mickey & Friends structure.
Even the idea to sell theme park tickets in that parking lot is resonating with day tripping visitors, as around 1,000 tickets per day are now being sold in that lot even though it’s rarely more than half full of cars. Disney is still trying to piece together as much land as possible around their current Pumbaa parking lot (and a few new parcels have fallen into Disney’s hands very recently) so they can build their next mega-structure we’ve told you about. And then of course there’s that GardenWalk foreclosure auction on April 8th that TDA will be keeping an eye on. But any new parking structure is still years away, so let’s hope the Toy Story Parking Lot is able to soak up the World of Color crowds this spring and summer.
This is it
Inside Disneyland, its business as usual this spring with big, happy crowds defying any hint of recession outside the gates. Captain EO has proven to be the hit TDA was hoping for this winter, as the daily attendance at the theater attraction maxes out its capacity nearly every day. Instead of hosting an average of 1,500 to 2,500 total visitors on busy days when it was Honey I Shrunk The Audience, Captain EO has been consistently turning in viewership figures around 15,000 or 16,000 per day, most noticeably with the teens and 20’s demographic.
Once the Disneyland stores team moved their Captain EO t-shirt display to the shop window that faces the theater exit (Talk about a bonehead merchandising mistake that first week! Cynthia would have been appalled.), the EO merchandise has been flying off the Star Trader shelves ever since. Now it’s just up to the TDA strategists to watch and see how long this EO craze lasts for them, and they are hoping it lasts through the Star Tours rehab next fall and winter.
They aren’t expecting peak crowds at EO through next winter, but anything above the miserable attendance that HISTA was generating for them will be seen as a success on top of these busy first few months for the Captain. Regardless of you feel about Captain EO returning to Tomorrowland, you have to admit that from a daily viewership and merchandise sales perspective replacing the tired old HISTA show with Captain EO was a very smart business move.
The big Rivers of America rehab we’d told you of last month also continues to remake some of the scenery along the banks, along with lots of maintenance work for Fantasmic. With the recent passing of Fess Parker, the spirited Cast Members who work Disneyland’s Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes attraction all rallied together to sign a condolence canoe paddle to be sent to the Parker family at the CM’s own expense.
As Cast Members at the last remaining Davy Crockett themed canoe ride in existence (Orlando long ago abandoned their version for budget cuts and a lack of Magic Kingdom showmanship, and Tokyo’s canoes lack the Davy Crockett references), the CM’s felt it was important to pay their respects to the man they represent at their job. A thoughtful and touching display, don’t you think? Once again, the front-line hourly Cast Members outclass the suits in TDA who should be thinking of this stuff.
Let’s hope Fess Parker’s passing can inspire Disneyland’s costuming department to purchase a new batch of coonskin caps for these Cast Members, which is an important detail that went away a decade ago and should be revived if Disneyland is truly going to be serious about operating a Davy Crockett attraction.