Spring Break is winding down quickly and it was a wild one in
Anaheim, particularly during the week before Easter when Disneyland and DCA both
had some of the busiest spring attendance days in recent history. There is now
the usual spring lull for the Resort, before things begin to ramp up again with
Grad Nites in May and the summer vacation crowds arriving in June.
We've got a
few things to update you on today that will be coming to Disneyland this summer, as
well as some of the latest wacky ideas coming out of a suddenly emptier Team
Disney Anaheim (TDA). Got that toaster strudel microwaved yet? Have that SunnyD
shaken now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
Both Sides Now
Before we dig into the juicy stuff, we should address some of the
emails we received after our recent coverage of the few hundred laid
off salaried Cast Members in March and April. Those folks who were laid off,
some of whom are very talented and who are dedicated to Disneyland and what it
stands for, are understandably upset at losing their jobs. Our sweeping
generalizations over the layoffs are not meant to single out any one person or a
specific line of work.
That said, some of the rather unflattering and widely
accepted reputations that the departments earned for themselves, and who were
then most impacted by layoffs,
weren't created overnight and weren't assigned to them randomly. And there was a
solid business case behind why those departments were singled out to carry the
brunt of the layoff numbers.
The important thing to remember through all this
is that even with the sudden loss of several hundred salaried Cast Members,
mainly in backstage support and administration, Disneyland has continued to
operate seamlessly for the paying customers. And if the past two very busy weeks
are any indication, with some of the highest attraction efficiency and food and
retail operational ratings ever achieved for the park, then Disneyland is going
to come out of this just fine.
The dust is still settling, and more integration
between Florida is still ahead, but for front line Cast Members and the paying
customers they served during the busy spring break weeks, the layoffs had little
to no impact on them. And that's a good thing.
Return to Flash Mountain
Speaking of departments with unflattering reputations, we'd told
you about the old Merchandise Operations Support group in the previous update.
They were the group in TDA that grew to obscene numbers and lopsided political
clout under Cynthia Harriss as shopping suddenly trumped attractions in
Cynthia's mythical theme park realm. And in a fitting last gasp of questionable
decision making before the layoffs dramatically thinned their numbers a few
weeks ago, that group in TDA rolled forth an edict that will simultaneously
horrify those with good taste and excite those with voyeuristic tendencies.
The decision, officially agreed to in March prior to the layoffs,
has been made to cut the Cast Member position working in the shop outside Splash
Mountain that screens every picture taken of riders going over the big drop in
their logs. The photos are sold at a little stand near the exit with the longest
store title in Disneyland, "Professor Barnaby Owl's Photographic Art
The Cast Members just call the place "Owl Photo," and for the sake of
brevity we will too.
Photo-graphic? Or should it say...
Effective May 3rd at Owl Photo, there will no
longer be anyone editing the obscene photos as "washed away" before they appear
on both the screen next to the animatronic owl as your log approaches the end of
the ride, as well as the exit viewing room with the half dozen large screens
displaying the photos for sale at the nearby Owl Photo shop.
The Cast Members staffing the screening equipment for more than a
decade, in a separate little room just past the exit, see some rather graphic
scenes on the average summer day. Admittedly the numbers of young ladies (term
used loosely in this case) who lift their tops for the cameras for their shot at
Flash Mountain infamy has lessened over the years now that the word is out that
editing of the photos is very strict at Disneyland. Not only are the CM's
looking for bared breasts, but they also catch people engaged in unsafe behavior
and displaying lewd gestures. (That singing bluebird on your shoulder is not the
only bird that can appear at Splash Mountain when the camera flash goes off.)
When that position is cut on May 3rd, the Cast Members at Owl Photo
will have no way of seeing or deleting an obscene picture until they call it up
on their monitor at the cash register. And the Cast Members from Attractions who
operate the ride have absolutely no ability to do anything there in the unload
area, as Disney's Legal department forbids them from detaining or holding a
guest for any reason.
We fell, they fell...
But those issues were of no concern to the TDA folks who made this
decision last month by looking at a spreadsheet showing the labor savings. In
fact, according to the Cast Members and supervisors working at Owl Photo for the
past few years, none of the people in TDA who made this decision have actually
ever visited Owl Photo or watched what comes through in the editing room on a
busy Saturday afternoon. In place of the actual operational experience the TDA
folks don't have, they issued forth a hilarious multi-page series of "Talking
Points" that the Cast Members were supposed to find comfort in.
For instance, the Talking Point rebuttal to the argument that it's
just an easy way for TDA to cut labor is that the labor hours used to staff the
editing room will now be used to staff an extra Cast Member out on the sales
floor to assist customers and make their retail dreams come true. Or the Talking
Point that this will lead to obscene images being displayed to guests at the
exit of the ride was brushed aside with the rationale that a majority of Splash
Mountain riders are well behaved and won't display such behavior.
The fact that
almost everyone has a camera at Disneyland, not to mention instant access to the Internet, and
the occasional naughty image can now be saved and Twittered to the entire planet
somehow wasn't mentioned in the Talking Points. Now mind you, the Cast Members at Owl Photo
will still not sell an image that is deemed lewd or obscene or unsafe if the
offending party has the guts to step up to the counter and try and buy their
photo. But that still has Cast Members worried that they are going to have to
give a crash course in taste and decorum to some angry visitors who demand to
purchase their naughty photo.
Funny, I didn't see melons for sale at the fruit cart
And for those who may be wondering, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
email photo is actually edited by Attractions Cast Members and the Attractions
team has no plan to drop that editing position. The bulky over the shoulder
restraints at California Screamin' and Space Mountain's lapbars/handgrips, as well as some serious G
forces, generally prevent anything too naughty from happening.
What might be the most interesting, and was also used as a Talking
Point, is the most infamous response for Disneyland Cast Members. And that is;
"They do it in Florida." Apparently the Florida version of Splash Mountain's Owl
Photo has been without an editing Cast Member for several months now. While the
management there is aware of a few unfortunate scenarios playing out on the big
preview screens in the exit with plenty of upset visitors, word on that change
in Florida has not really gotten out publicly yet.
We'll keep you updated on
whether or not TDA digs its heels in on this one, and what the response may be
in Florida as word gets out that the exit photo preview screens are now entirely
unmonitored. But as a parting gift to the parks Cast Members prior to the
layoffs and restructuring, TDA's Merchandise team really came up with a doozy on
Rides that know who you are
But that notorious tagline that strikes fear into the hearts of
do it in Florida", might not be such a bad thing if Walt Disney
Imagineering (WDI) gets their way on
another project. A big budget proposal fighting its way through the approval
process in Orlando involves not only adding a clone of DCA's Little Mermaid E
Ticket to the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, but also upgrading the rest of the
Fantasyland attractions with an updated look and new technology. While the tired
1970's vibe of Florida's Fantasyland could definitely use a makeover, it's the
new technology to be added to the existing attractions that has the most
Using a system of tiny Radio
Frequency ID (RFID) tags embedded in park tickets, key characters on the
attractions could interact with each passing vehicle and use personalized
information on the riders in each vehicle to embellish the storytelling with
personalized references. A Resort guest would fill out a survey form prior to
their arrival, and then that information would be downloaded onto the RFID tag
embedded in their tickets. Think of this as a much advanced version of the
gimmick in Universal's Hollywood's now shuttered E.T. attraction where E.T.
would bid you farewell by name at the end of the ride, and you've got the basic
idea. The concept has been branded "Next Generation," or NextGen for short, in
the halls of WDI and they have high hopes for it.
Not much has changed since this 2004 shot
Bob Iger has been out to Florida twice since the start of the year
to see presentations on the NextGen proposal, and has given his initial
approval of the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland plan. The implication for Disneyland
and DCA goes beyond Fantasyland dark rides however, as WDI and TDA both see the
ballooning population of Annual Passholders (APs) in Southern California as a prime
audience for this technology. WDI has been scoping out scenes and specific
animatronics in some of Anaheim's major E Ticket attractions to mock up concepts
where an RFID tag in an Annual Pass would trigger special acknowledgements and
plot twists for Passholders.
With the numbers of Annual Passholders in recessionary SoCal now
flirting with the 750,000 figure and still growing, TDA is looking for ways to
keep them coming back for more and they want to piggyback on Florida's NextGen
Fantasyland plan. Disneyland's huge AP numbers, if they hold through the spring,
are about to trigger a price increase as it is. But by making some of the parks
most popular attractions reach out to AP's by name, sometimes literally, it's
hoped the AP numbers will continue to swell regardless of the roller coaster
ride the economy may take.
Closer on the calendar, Disneyland continues to gear up for the
summer season and the Summer Nightastic marketing scheme they've now committed
themselves to. The new and far more advanced dragon mechanism for the finale' in Fantasmic!
arrived via helicopter just yesterday.
The original dragon was really just a
pivoting boom hung with shredded fabric and a head with very limited jaw and
neck movement. It was only through the use of dramatic lighting and some
good old-fashioned stagecraft that the dragon, nicknamed "Bucky" by the CM's who
controlled it, looked as menacing and impressive as it did. The new dragon
however is far more advanced, and will have fully fleshed out arms and legs and
a much more advanced robotic structure that will allow it to appear to crawl out
from the stage basement instead of simply appearing out of the darkness.
The other addition of Flotsam and Jetsam riding on camouflaged
Honda jetskis will freshen up the show nicely. Although there is still lots of
rehearsing to be done as the stunt drivers who zip around on the Hondas are
having a hard time keeping their wakes down enough to prevent waves from
crashing over the low wall and drenching the first few rows of the audience
sitting on the pavement.
When the huge and lavish World of Color show opens next March
however, direct comparisons to Fantasmic! will be hard to make as the Rivers of
America is scheduled to be drained for refurbishment for several months in the
winter and spring of 2010, with Fantasmic! returning for the 55th
Anniversary summer in June, 2010. That suits the World of Color designers and
TDA planners just fine though, as they want the new DCA show with its massive
scale to debut early in the spring and establish itself as the premiere
nighttime North American Disney spectacular without competing against Fantasmic! next door.
Great Big Beautiful Tomorrowland Terrace
The other new element for Summer Nightastic is a reinvigoration of
the 42 year old Tomorrowland Terrace complex. That facility was custom built to
host live bands and dancing under the stars, and its popularity has waxed and
waned over the years as styles change and the kids came and went. The Disneyland
Entertainment department hopes to boost the Terrace's popularity this summer
with a nightly event called the Coca-Cola Dance Party.
Hosting live bands and
go-go dancers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, with a DJ and go-go
dancers on Monday through Thursday this summer, the Coca-Cola Dance Party at Tomorrowland Terrace will be a 21st century attempt to harken back to
the glory days of the Terrace in the 1970's when infamous cover bands like
Sunshine Balloon and Sound Castle kept the dance floor surprisingly busy all
A few other tweaks coming prior to summer are being rolled out by
Disneyland's Food & Beverage Department. The booming attendance and packed park
looks good at first glance, but the spending patterns have shifted quite
noticeably over the past year. While old favorites like the Blue Bayou are still
busy, other sit down restaurants have seen their numbers slide a bit. But the
cheaper food offered from ODV carts and the fast food locations is selling like
gangbusters, with some ODV locations posting their highest sales figures of all
time in recent weeks. To capitalize on that economical trend, the old Harbour
Galley will be reopening by late May with a relatively inexpensive menu of soups
Not So Happy Trails
Meanwhile, mild panic has set in at TDA over the Celebration Ranch
Barbeque as sales and customer counts are less than half what was originally
forecast for the location. The new patio was built with a total capacity of 268
diners at any one time, but the best the location has been able to average at
mealtimes is around 50 diners at one time. During the off-peak afternoon hours
when other restaurants are still modestly busy,
there is often only a dozen people eating on the sprawling patio. The first
change was made last week, when the children's price was dropped from $18.99
plus tax and mandatory service fee, to $12.99 plus tax and mandatory service fee
by cutting out the gimmicky "gift bag" for kids.
TDA is going to watch the numbers for
a few weeks before it decides to pull the next trigger, which could be lowering
the adult price a bit by making the not very well liked dessert cupcake thing an extra cost add on.
Whatever TDA comes up with over the summer, they clearly misjudged the appetite
for premium priced outdoor dining with basic rustic service and a cute but
threadbare stage show.
More changes are ahead for the Barbeque, that's for sure.
But the mistakes made with the Barbeque pale in comparison to the
biggest headache in recent Disneyland history, the Mark VII Monorails. The new
fleet was heralded as a long overdue refurbishment of the first daily
operating monorail in America. The Mark VII trains were going to be vehicles
that would bring glamour and excitement back to the Disneyland icon. But the
reality for the park has been somewhat like discovering your new car is a lemon,
and after your seventh trip to the dealership you realize the warranty
department is closed and no one will return your calls.
Only the posters work
WDI, who designed the new monorails but then
contracted out a foundry up in British Columbia to assemble them, has basically
washed their hands of the whole mess. It's now up to the Disneyland Facilities
department to try and fabricate replacement parts and redesign the windows,
vents and drive system elements that never worked to begin with or have already
failed. That now leaves Disneyland with a ragtag fleet of half-working
monorails, one of which can't operate at all, and two trains that can't operate
in varying degrees of heat.
This weekend when the weather warmed up there were hours at a time
when the Disneyland Monorail system was simply shut down entirely, leaving the
hotel guests who paid big bucks with the expectation of taking the monorail back
to the room having to walk the entire way from Tomorrowland to the Disneyland
Hotel. That walk can easily be twice as long as the walk from Tomorrowland to
the cheaper hotels on Harbor Blvd., and you can bet the hotel's desk clerks got an earful from the tired guests.
Elvis and Walt are seen more often
What's the solution? Now that WDI and the manufacturers have
basically abandoned the project and left their lawyers to squabble over the
details, the park is trying to regroup and figure out what parts it needs to
fabricate or order to get at least two of the trains ready for minimal service
They may be pretty, but the Mark VII trains are now synonymous with
an infamous process where WDI designers don't look to decades of operational
experience in the parks when it comes to designing vehicles that work for the
people operating them, maintaining them, or riding in them.