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Spring has bloomed at Disneyland, and the wide-eyed realization is setting in at Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) that the billion+ makeover of California Adventure is really just ten weeks from its formal debut. Daily countdown billboards have gone up all over the backstage areas of Disneyland, and these final weeks should be a whirlwind of activity for everyone.

In this update we’ll fill you in on what to expect in the way of early peeks and previews, what will be happening prior to June that Disney hasn’t fessed up to yet, and some of the things Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) has planned through the end of the year to keep the interest up for their newly re-launched park.

Keeping to the Cars theme here - let's drive-thru the local McRestaurant and splurge on the Big McBreakfast and McCoffee. I would have suggested a stop by Starbucks, but they are just so slow... ;) (And before I forget, a big thank you to Andy Castro and the sasakitime.com site for the use of their photos.) Let’s get going shall we? - Al

American Idle

One of the biggest question’s on the minds of Disneyland fans is “When will Cars Land have previews and soft openings?” The answer for most people who don’t work for Disney won’t be encouraging. Most of the construction fences around DCA will remain up through early June, and the walls for Buena Vista Street and Cars Land won’t come down before the park is closed to the public on June 14th.

Why? TDA’s goal is to keep the secrecy up for as long as possible, and create a dramatic grand re-opening reveal at a ceremony on the morning of the 15th. The following dates are subject to change by a day or two, but the latest planning calendars floating around TDA have the Cars Land and Buena Vista Street pre-opening events beginning the first weekend in June still behind all of the walls.

A special thanks to sasakitime.com for the aerial photos taken 3/22 -
a click on the photo will take you to higher resolution versions on their site

Saturday, June 2nd is the first preview party for both Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, held exclusively for the team (and their families) from Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale. Sunday, June 3rd a similar party is to be held for the teams from Pixar up in Emeryville and the corporate executive teams from Burbank. Both of the preview parties that weekend will be lavish and offer up fancy catered buffets, open bars and champagne toasts, plus big speeches to the assembled troops from John Lasseter and Tom Staggs. The fancy dining rooms of the Carthay Circle Theater will get their first real workout that weekend, as both Staggs and Lasseter are scheduled to host special VIP dinners for top Burbank brass and Pixar talent during the course of each evenings preview.

While the Imagineers and Pixar crew nurse their hangovers, Monday, June 4th is when all of the temporary merchandise carts around DCA begin to be packed up. With the walls around DCA all still in place, much of the extra signage and temporary setups of the last few years will begin their removal that week. Also that week is when the official Cast Member Previews for Anaheim employees and their families will take place. Those previews will be far less lavish than the earlier events held for Pixar, WDI or Burbank employees, and the Cast Member Previews will basically just be an opportunity for Anaheim employees to visit Cars Land without using their regular complimentary park tickets.

The Cast Member Preview days are slated to run through June 8th, and it’s also around that date that the walls in front of the Carthay Circle Theater will finally be removed. The walls up at DCA’s main entrance and on the northern perimeter of Buena Vista Street will remain however.

Now to Marry a Millionaire

But with the Carthay walls down by early June there will be an opportunity for the Entertainment department to run a few unannounced showings of the reworked Pixar Play Parade. As we noted before, DCA will soon have the longest parade route of any Disney theme park, and the parade team can’t wait to see how it works for them logistically. The Pixar Play Parade will begin twice-daily performances at 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on June 15th. Even though DCA’s very long route offers enough viewing space to only have to offer one parade per day, DCA Vice President Mary Niven wants to run two per day just to help mitigate crowd control issues and provide everyone a chance to see it comfortably.

By the weekend of June 9th and 10th it will finally be time to allow some of the Annual Passholders in to see all of DCA’s new offerings. But with the numbers of AP’s recently on the rise again and now cresting the 960,000 mark (with a record number of those belonging to the Premium level), there’s no way they could even begin to meet the Cars Land demand with traditional AP Previews. Instead, the plan now is to put that intense demand to good use and turn the AP Previews into a charity event and charge several hundred dollars per head to only a few thousand APs.

A special thanks to sasakitime.com for the aerial photos taken 3/22 -
a click on the photo will take you to higher resolution versions on their site

The official Annual Passholder Preview on June 9th and 10th will become a charity event for Children’s Hospital of Orange County where a big cardboard check for at least $250,000 will be presented to CHOC on behalf of the APs who bought a ticket for the Cars Land preview that weekend. There is one additional day planned for a traditional AP Preview, on Monday the 11th, and tickets to that day’s event will be distributed via lottery.

By Tuesday, June 12th both Cars Land and Buena Vista Street get locked down again as prep work begins for the grand reopening, and no events are planned for that day aside from yet another lavish dinner and the official visit from Disney’s worldwide Parks & Resorts Executive Team. Wednesday, June 13th the media arrives in Anaheim and DCA will close early to prepare for that night’s schmoozy celebrity party to kick off the opening festivities. Late on the night of the 13th and into the early morning of the 14th the walls around Cars Land and Buena Vista Street will finally be removed, and the new DCA will be revealed. Thursday, June 14th DCA will be closed to the public as the entire park is turned over to assembled media from around the world, and they’ll be the only ones who get to see it without walls for the first time. Only Disneyland will be open to Anaheim visitors on the 14th, and with that night being a Grad Nite for Disneyland it’s probably a day casual visitors should avoid.

Tall Tale

With all of the media setups they have planned for DCA on the 14th, for TV, print and online media from around the country and major Pacific Rim countries, it will be difficult to maneuver through the park so it was a wise move for TDA to keep the park closed that day. Cars Land in particular will be chock full of camera set-ups and media staging areas. The park closure on the 14th also allows them a bit of theatricality for their Grand Re-Opening ceremony on the morning of the 15th.

Of course one of the favorite shots for the media will be the glamour view of Cars Land down Route 66, or the even more impressive vista of the rockwork as seen through the entry portal off of the Pacific Wharf. But when Disney starts referencing that impressive sight, one thing they won’t be doing is calling those mountains the Cadillac Range.

Notice Stanley, Radiator Springs Founder, now installed in front of the court/firehouse.

Even though that title was used repeatedly by the characters in the Cars movies, and Disney had been using the term previously in Cars Land material, it’s now off-limits. It seems that Disney’s lawyers in Burbank and the General Motors lawyers out in Detroit couldn’t come to an agreement for the use of that phrase, and calling the mountains behind Cars Land the Cadillac Range is now strictly forbidden for Disney marketers or executives speaking in public. Instead, if the mountains in the shape of six Cadillac tailfins from 1957 to 1962 have to be mentioned, the approved phrase around TDA is now “mountains that evoke the luxury car tailfins of yesteryear.”

Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? You have to wonder if anyone has contacted Ford’s lawyers in Dearborn about the big billboards in the Radiator Springs Racers loading area that tout the Comfy Caverns Motor Court and their “Lincoln Continental Breakfast.” Let’s hope Ford has a better sense of humor than GM does.

Green Light

June 13th will be the last day park visitors will use the backstage alley behind Soarin’ to enter and exit DCA. Later in June they will have to put up a few more construction walls on the west side of the new entrance in order to quickly build and install the landscaped planter that will frame the new park entry. But once that planter is completed later in summer, there won’t be any construction walls left in DCA for 2012.

Warning shot?
A joining of two shots offers a closer look at Sarge's neon.

June 15th, however, is the day everyone will be waiting for. The plan now is to brand that day as an official Grand Re-Opening, something that has never happened to a Disney theme park before, and a new park dedication speech will be made by Bob Iger on Buena Vista Street that morning. Due to the planned Grand Re-Opening ceremony, DCA will not open to the public until 9:00 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. that day, but once it does the rush will be on to explore Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. TDA is making contingency plans to allow overnight parking in the 10,000 space Mickey & Friends parking structure on June 15th, and after the total gridlock the area freeways and surface streets faced on Leap Year Day the plans for enough parking are becoming a hot topic again with the event planners.

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

While the plans for DCA’s grand reopening receive a nearly unlimited budget and talent pool thrown at it, the weak link here is the nearly complete lack of previews for Annual Passholders, aside from the spendy charity events. TDA’s answer to that problem is a novel one and you’ll need to set your alarm clock to take advantage of it. For the first time, DCA will be included in the structured early entry program for certain ticket and hotel packages, dubbed Magic Mornings and previously exclusive to Disneyland.

Disneyland will maintain an early entry hour at 7:00 a.m. four days per week, while DCA offers the hotel customer base a 7:00 a.m. early entry the other three days per week this summer. But on the four days per week that Disneyland is open early for Magic Mornings, DCA will be open at 7:00 a.m. for Annual Passholders only as an AP-only Magic Morning offering.

A special thanks to sasakitime.com for the aerial photos taken 3/22 -
a click on the photo will take you to higher resolution versions on their site

The hope is that at least a couple thousand Annual Passholders per day will take advantage of that sunrise offer, and get in early to rush to Radiator Springs Racers before the park opens officially at 8:00 a.m.  From June 15th through the end of summer, Disneyland will operate from 8:00 a.m. to Midnight seven days per week, while DCA runs an 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily schedule. Although, a scenario where DCA remains open until Midnight and mirrors Disneyland’s operating hours is also being thrown around as a new summer option. Perhaps they are being just a bit too optimistic, this is still DCA after all, but if the crowds descend in big enough numbers they will have a scheduling template ready to go for Midnight closings at DCA.


For those APs who aren’t morning people or can’t make the Magic Mornings, a few of DCA’s other new offerings will quietly begin previews by Memorial Day weekend. While Disney is officially claiming the Mad T Party begins on June 15th, there is actually a plan to soft open the nightly party on Friday, May 25th and then offer it at least on weekends until the 15th. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and soda fountain will see its construction walls and scrims come down by the second week of May, and it could be selling its first Gold Rush Sundae by the first few days of June.


One of the Tall Tales shorts ("Air Mater" on the Cars 2 release) features Mater's visit to
Propwash Junction. I wonder if it's in the same neighborhood as Condor Flats?


It serves as a teaser for the Planes movie. Coming to video later this year.

Hmmm again

With the grand re-opening on June 15th, a favorite DCA staple for the last four years will suddenly become obsolete. The Blue Sky Cellar preview center will continue to operate this summer, and most of the current Cars Land displays will remain. However the Cars Land movie playing in the screening room will be swapped out and replaced with an idea John Lasseter came up with recently; a constant loop of the popular Mater’s Tall Tales shorts from Pixar. The result will be John’s answer to the Main Street Cinema in Disneyland, where people can wander in to the darkened air conditioning for a bit and enjoy a cartoon or two on a hot summer day.

Later this year the Cars Land exhibit will be removed entirely and replaced with displays on the new Fantasy Faire meet n’ greet pavilion and the plans for an upgraded Fantasyland Theater hosting a full-scale stage show starring Disney’s Fab Five characters in 2013.

"Flounder;" not "Floundering"

There’s other good news arriving even earlier this spring, as the Little Mermaid ride is now scheduled to close for rehab for the first week of May. John Lasseter has bought off on the plans to rework some of the weak links in the ride (he doesn’t just care about Anaheim’s Pixar rides), and the updated attraction should open by Saturday, May 5th. As we noted before, new hand-drawn animation of Ariel is coming to the projection screens near the beginning and end of the ride, and the computer animation has now been scrapped for the Florida version as well. Additional projection bubble effects are being added in the descent and ascent tunnels, and reworked lighting and additional props are being added to the Under The Sea and Kiss The Girl scenes. And, most noticeably, a new animatronic hairdo will be installed on the swimming Ariel figure in the middle of the ride, erasing her similarity to a Soft-Serve ice cream cone.

Dole Do!

Skeptical critics may not believe it, but the Little Mermaid continues to get rave reviews on the Guest Research feedback for DCA, especially from its target demographic of families with young children. With its 2,000 riders per hour Omnimover capacity, it continues to maintain short 5 to 10 minute waits and not only hosts twice as many riders per day as Toy Story Midway Mania, but it pulls in slightly more riders in a 10 hour operating day than Star Tours does next door with its longer 16 hour days. It was those huge ridership numbers that helped convince John Lasseter that spending money on purely cosmetic tweaks was the right thing to do for this newer attraction. The crowds descending on DCA this summer will appreciate the short waits for Mermaid, whether or not they understand the wonders of an Omnimover ride system and the cost of new animatronic hair.

Throughout April and May a number of new period-specific costumes will appear for Cast Members working at older DCA attractions like Grizzly River Run, Flik’s Fun Fair, and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Plus there’s the continuing Project Sparkle, a massive undertaking in its own right not seen since Disneyland was getting ready for the 50th back in 2004 and early ’05. The Project Sparkle team will be aiming their paint brushes next at the Hyperion Theater stairwells and the big Bugs Land murals and facades, among many other smaller locations getting the Sparkle treatment this spring.

That's Entertainment

With the summer kickoff on June 15th, DCA will also begin its full entertainment schedule. All of the new entertainment coming to Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, plus the Mad T Party and return of the Pixar Play Parade, has been discussed previously. But the planners in the Entertainment department are also looking at making some tweaks to existing offerings for this summer. One option is to attempt to use the World of Color fountains in the afternoon again, but with a gaggle of Disney characters dancing and greeting with guests in the amphitheater area instead of that unloved Disney Channel Rocks show that was canned last year.

The other tweak could be heading to the popular Phineas & Ferb show. Instead of using it as a mini-parade on a parade route that will already be hosting two full-sized Pixar parades per day, the Phineas & Ferb car would head to the Backlot Stage in Hollywood Land and a larger stage show would be presented there to a bigger audience. This would also cancel the painfully unhip Disney Dance Crew show by summer, with the talking Mickey head from that show slotting in to the musical Newsboys performances on Buena Vista Street instead. (A singing and dancing Mickey would jump off the Red Car Trolley as a knickers-clad newsboy, under the current proposal.)

Happy Fun Ball, really

Since it takes up half of the 1.2 Billion dollar budget, the Cars Land project is obviously the most important part of the re-launch of California Adventure. John Lasseter’s increasingly regular multi-day visits to Anaheim have seen him focus almost exclusively on Cars Land lately, and Imagineers marvel at how there isn’t a detail too small for him to comment on or question. The Luigi’s Flying Tires attraction, one of the two smaller C Tickets planned for the land, has come under scrutiny lately as hundreds of hourly and salaried Cast Members have been sent over to ride the attraction and then be thoroughly quizzed on their opinions afterwards.

Just last week a group of hourly Cast Members were scheduled to ride the attraction for an hour while the perimeter fence was ringed with spectators in the form of nearly every major executive from both Anaheim and Glendale. Several of those Cast Members who were sent over for that test report that they felt under intense pressure being stared at by all of the TDA suits, and the scene was made even more bizarre by the presence of a dozen six-foot tall beach balls rolling around the attraction’s vented floor while speakers blared the toe-tapping Italian opera hit “Funiculi, Funicula”. After a few ride cycles where the CM’s were too scared to do much but just sit there in the tires staring at the giant beach balls, several of the TDA suits, including Disneyland Vice President Jon Storbeck, were sent out to ride with the CM’s to try and convince them they could bat at the beach balls and actually have a bit of fun with the ride.

Do not taunt happy fun ball.

Only after the CM’s were convinced that they could disobey the posted warning signs without being written up for unsafe behavior did everyone loosen up a bit and get into the bizarre spirit of the test. Even the TDA suits were spotted with their hands and arms far outside of their vehicles hitting the beach balls as they floated and rolled around the newly musical attraction. In Anaheim’s current climate of intense safety-standards that carry the weight of immediate discipline for anyone who disobeys, that type of behavior by TDA executives was rather shocking for the assembled Cast Members.

As those test CM’s headed back to their regularly-scheduled duties, word spread fairly quickly amongst them that WDI was making some last-minute changes to the attraction. It seems that while much has been made of the square dance music to be used at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, the Flying Tires weren’t actually planned with any music past the interior queue. The lack of music for Luigi’s is being fixed quickly, and the giant beach balls have been added to try and get riders to interact with each other in order to up the “fun” quotient of this rather slow-moving ride with a low 32 inch height requirement. Now it’s up to Imagineering to write some sort of contrived backstory for why Luigi and Guido would want beach balls rolling around in their tire yard. Getting the paying customers who have just waited an hour or more to have fun isn’t something that can be scripted though, so wish them luck.


As if just opening Cars Land this summer wasn’t enough, TDA is also planning its marketing campaign for the new land right through 2013. One way they plan to keep the heat up is by having Cars Land become the first area inside DCA to get the full-tilt decoration package for Christmas.

Early this November, Anaheim’s Resort Enhancement department of top-notch decorators and designers will descend on Cars Land with a lavishly budgeted set of custom Christmas decorations. Each shop, restaurant and ride in Cars Land will be decorated for the holidays, in automotive themed designs unique to the Cars character that inhabits each location.


Christmas is a big part of the Cars universe - there are also holiday die-casts.

Who knew?

Christmas is big business for Disneyland, and with the Cars Land Christmas overlay the goal is to help establish DCA’s growing piece of the holiday pie. With a holiday version of World of Color still up Steve Davison’s sleeve, plus a jazzy Christmas décor package for Buena Vista Street, TDA knows it has to spend big on DCA to help spread out Anaheim’s infamous Christmastime crowds. And Cars Land will jump head-first into the holiday season this November.

Kids won't Matter

While everything this spring seems to be aimed squarely at DCA, there is one new project that also debuts on June 15th, the refreshed Matterhorn Bobsleds. The 15th was picked on purpose for Matterhorn’s reopening, in a rather futile attempt to spread out the crowds of curious APs who will surely descend on the Resort that day.

Parents with small children will be in for a shock however, when they discover on June 15th that the new fleet of bobsleds for the Matterhorn has required an increase in the height requirement for the ride.

Sorry kids.

For the first 45 years of Matterhorn’s operation, the requirement was only that a rider must be 3 years of age or older. Then about ten years ago the requirement was changed to 35 inches. But with the locking lap bars and redesigned seats in the new bobsleds, the Matterhorn will have a new height requirement of 42 inches when it opens on June 15th. That’s two inches taller than Space Mountain or Splash Mountain, but the same height requirement as Goofy’s Sky School.

Attraction height requirements are based on a combination of factors, including the point on a seated torso at which a restraint can reasonably be assumed to contain the rider in the vehicle. With the taller height requirement, the Matterhorn Bobsleds will cease to be one of the first big-kid rides that young Disneyland visitors have conquered since 1959. At least the lawyers and the state inspectors should be happy with it, even if the Cast Members and paying customers aren’t.

Oh-kay - that should do it for today. Remember your support is vital, your donations to PayPal help keep the bills paid. We’re only here due to all of your kind efforts.

Keep in mind updates only get posted when there is something to report on, and not before. It takes time to confirm things, and even then we can only offer a snapshot of a continually evolving story. (People do change their minds you know.) Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. ;)

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Al Lutz may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Al Lutz did not receive any payments, free items, or free services from any of the parties discussed in this article. He pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

© 2012 Al Lutz