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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 Studio." The Cast Members just call the place "Owl Photo," and for the sake of brevity we will too.

Private booths?
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.

Nipples to the wind!
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.

Pierced!
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 this one.


Rides that know who you are

But that notorious tagline that strikes fear into the hearts of Disneylanders, "They 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 promise.

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.

Paging extreme makeover
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.


Dragon Fly

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.

Trap for bloggers

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.

Jay and Donny are still lost

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 night long.

Jedi infested

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 and salads.


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.


Monorail Lemon

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.

Fantasyland
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.

Hot and can't be bothered
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 this summer.

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.

 

Oh-kay - that should do it for today. Remember your support is vital, as 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. Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. ;)

See you at Disneyland!

Al Lutz may be e-mailed at al[email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Al Lutz


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