With just three weeks to go until the biggest event since the 50th Anniversary kickoff (and using a party budget that actually surpasses what they did for the 50th), it’s crunch time for Team Disney Anaheim (TDA). Tom Staggs has been showing up in DCA weekly, and John Lasseter is now there so much to fuss over details that he should just register to vote in Anaheim. In this update we’ll fill you in on some of the details of the kickoff events the week of June 15th, as well as give some of the background info behind the recent leap in ticket prices.
As always, special thanks to Fishbulb and Andy Castro for the photographs used in this update, and another extra big thanks to all those readers who stopped by the Gumball Rally event to say hello. It was nice to meet so many of you who were regular contributors to the site (either via PayPal or Amazon Wish list) and have been following these updates over the past decade. Your support is always vital and much appreciated.
I'll pass on the Starbucks this morning (you would too if it had been the focus of your mornings for a couple of years now), but maybe we can get an OJ and a waffle or two to tide us over this update. Let’s get going shall we? - Al
The news late last Friday that Disneyland was raising ticket and AP prices by some remarkable amounts, (tacking 7 dollars onto the cost of a day ticket and up to an extra 150 dollars on to the cost of Annual Passes,) created an understandable stir online. We also hear it caught the rest of the theme park industry in Southern California by surprise over the large amounts that Disney was willing to raise their rates.
With the movie studios business adding (Avengers) or losing profit (John Carter) and leaving the studios to barely pad Burbank’s bottom line, while lesser divisions like the Interactive Media video game group continue to suck profit away, the rising attendance in Anaheim has proved yet again that the theme park division is truly the golden goose in Disney’s collection of operating divisions.
I thought it might be interesting to compare ticket pricing over the last few years,
so below are photos of the ticket booth signs in 2004/2008/2012. (Do note:
On the latest version of the sign Disney changed a couple of items and also
added monthly payment amounts. We've moved a few things to better match the
previous two signs. An unchanged copy of the sign
is included at the end of today's
update if you want to see how they reorganized it.
But the news of rapidly rising ticket prices wasn’t much of a surprise for the 1,800 salaried suits who spent 90 minutes last Wednesday in the Hyperion Theater listening to the annual “Business Update” from George Kalogridis. The annual Business Update is sort of a State of the Resort speech by whoever happens to be in the presidential suite in TDA at the time (and George’s 3 year contract is up for renewal this fall), but this year’s update took on special importance coming less than a month before the important re-launch of DCA, and the crowds were huge.
(You should have heard the complaints from those who had to climb the stairs to the Mezzanine or Balcony levels after the Orchestra section filled up! The fact that the Hyperion hosts up to five shows per day and expects thousands of paying customers daily to climb those same steps was lost on the TDA audience.)
So many steps! Better step in time then!
In his update George went to great lengths to spell out all the challenges the Resort faces with their monumental AP demographic, and almost all of the statistics and concepts George spelled out were old hat to regular readers here. As the PowerPoint slides clicked along, George explained to those in the audience who don’t read this column regularly that the amount of Annual Passholders has grown steadily the past few years, even with all the previous price increases from 2009 to 2011, and there are now a million Passholders. (Tell us something we don’t know.)
George also explained that the percentage of those who have Premium AP’s has grown the last few years and Premiums now account for well over 300,000 of that million, and on average AP’s are visiting 10 times per year. He briefly touched on the continuing experiments we’ve told you about where Disneyland hosts special after-hours events for AP’s only. The most recent example was the special Fantasmic! performances ostensibly held for the 20th anniversary of that recently plussed up spectacular, but really staged to try and siphon off AP interest from regular park hours and allow the AP’s to get in a visit for May without showing up on Friday or Sunday for only a few hours and over-taxing the Resort’s infrastructure in the process.
Once George had laid out the AP statistics, his PowerPoint show then featured a couple of slides on the recent changes to Club 33. George admitted publicly that the club membership has been hovering right around the 400 member mark for the past decade, with very little turnover. The waiting list of 900 people was to be “cleaned up” according to George, and they’ve assumed that since most of the names had been waiting for close to a decade that quite a few are no longer interested. George did spell out the new benefits, including the new limit of 50 complimentary sign-ins per year for all members.
It was that ticketing point that George explained was a key factor in the changes, as when they’d audited the number of comp tickets being distributed by members they found that most members were averaging a few dozen comp tickets per year passed out to friends and family. However, there are a few members that have been giving away over a thousand free tickets per year to the park, ostensibly under the assumption these were all friends and family coming in to dine at Club 33, which George explained with a wry smile. It wasn’t mentioned explicitly by George, but it was easy to deduce that the majority of those thousand-plus comp tickets given out annually by some members were being distributed to complete strangers who likely were paying some sort of fee to the member for the privilege of a Club 33 dinner and tickets to Disneyland.
Shifting gears back to the AP’s, George also explained the concept we first let you in on here back in mid-2009, how the average “Guest Per Vehicle” statistic that Disneyland’s Parking Department lives and dies by drops dramatically on high AP visitation days, and the Resort quickly runs out of parking when the AP’s show up in big numbers. Instead of tourist families showing up with four or five people per vehicle on average, the local Annual Passholder often arrives on a Friday evening or Sunday afternoon with just one or two people in each car. The Resort parking infrastructure, designed and built in the late 1990’s using Disneyland’s old traditional tourist demographic as a guide, simply can’t handle the crush of AP’s showing up with an average of only two people in each car. The result in 2012 is that the Resort quickly runs out of parking.
Even with several thousand new spaces added to the overall inventory with the opening of Toy Story Parking in March, 2010, there simply isn’t enough parking in Anaheim when AP visitation runs high.
Highway to Hell
After George laid out the impressive statistics on the AP’s, it then allowed Mary Niven to step in with some troubling news. Due to the shockingly low vehicle ridership of the average AP, there are now several days in the late June forcast when AP attendance will be very high and for the first time ever all Cast Member parking lots will be commandeered for theme park visitor use.
The worst days are thought to be Sunday, June 17th and Sunday, June 24th, and any Cast Member scheduled to work those days will not be allowed entry into the 2,000 space Katella Cast Member Parking Lot. The Toy Story Parking shuttle bus system will be rerouted into the Cast Member lots to ferry park visitors over to the parks. Meanwhile, the Cast Members working those days will be reassigned to park in overflow lots at Angel Stadium or the Honda Center in east Anaheim, and then bussed over to the Resort from there.
Because the surface streets around the Resort are predicted to have heavy AP traffic, if not total gridlock like on Leap Year Day, Cast Members will be instructed to show up at their assigned satellite lot at the Stadium or Honda Center at least one hour prior to the start of their shift. That will guarantee them enough time to park and wait in line for the shuttle buses that will then drive them over to the regular Cast Member entrance on Harbor Blvd.
As the audience in the Hyperion Theater let out a collective gasp, Mary Niven tried to put a positive spin on it by announcing that anyone working those days who has to be bused in to work will receive a voucher for a free lunch in the cafeteria.
(Just a side note here: The free lunch was a nice thought, if only the food in the cafeteria was actually edible. By anyone’s recollection, Mary Niven and George Kalogridis have never been spotted actually eating in the CM cafeterias in the park, probably because they know better and have better options at their disposal. If George and Mary -- and Disneyland’s Vice President, Jon Storbeck -- want to really impress the troops, they’ll be seen in an in-park cafeteria every once in a while actually trying to finish a greasy cheeseburger and soggy fries, or an overcooked chicken cutlet with a side of freezer-burned broccoli.
It should also be noted, however, that TDA is so fed up with the poor quality offered by the Sodexo-run cafeterias that they will be allowing local gourmet food trucks to come on property this summer to set up shop Backstage for Cast Member lunch periods, if they can get the trucks to show up that is. In addition, Sodexo has been instructed to rapidly install a Subway sandwich counter and Jamba Juice drink stand in the DCA cafeteria. Still, it will take a long time for the CM’s to trust the food from a Backstage cafeteria, and the meal vouchers offered on the Stadium parking days seem like a slap in the face for the impacted Cast Members.)
It also doesn’t help generate much goodwill that the blame for this scenario is being openly laid right at the feet of the AP’s, with those impacted CM’s then expected to bus into work and provide great service to them as they crowd the parks this June.
This parking nightmare has actually been brewing for months, if not years, as the Resort just hired 2,500 extra CM’s for the DCA expansion. The main Cast Member parking lot off Katella is now overflowing so often that they have been opening the 1,800 space Pumbaa parking lot across from GardenWalk for Cast Member overflow parking for the last five weeks. Unlike when the lot is open to the public, the CM’s who willingly park in Pumbaa don’t have a shuttle bus option, but instead must walk the three blocks along Disney Way and Harbor Blvd. over to the park.
With not enough spaces for all of the AP’s, the Angel Stadium and Honda Center parking scenario for CM’s is new territory for Disneyland, and what Mary Niven conveniently left out of her announcement was that the satellite parking scenario could return in late August when hundreds of thousands of the lower tier AP’s become unblocked after the summer and they all flood back to check out Cars Land and Buena Vista Street again, with the Halloween festivities fueling the fun into October when few block out dates appear on the calendar. When Cars Land and Buena Vista Street get lavish Christmas decorations this November, the AP parking nightmare repeats again. That eight story, 6,000 space parking structure planned for the Pumbaa parking lot but put on the back burner a few years ago sure would come in handy now, wouldn’t it?
Work has begun on the farm/bug's life giant mural.
Walk, Don't Walk
Ironically, the hundreds of salaried folks working in TDA couldn’t be bothered to walk the one half mile from the TDA office building behind Toontown down to George’s big meeting in the Hyperion Theater. Despite last Wednesday being a delightful spring day, the Parking department had to staff a fleet of trams to shuttle the TDA folks down and back to the Hyperion. For all Disney does to push their “wellness initiatives” and “green initiatives”, it hasn’t dawned on the executive leaders that these cubicle drones should be encouraged once a year to take a 10 minute stroll through the park to the big meeting, perhaps even answering a tourist’s question or observing the state of the parks along the way.
Instead, every tram and company car was pressed into service to shuttle hundreds of TDA troops backstage to the Hyperion Theater, and then after the meeting they waited up to 20 minutes to board a shuttle for the short ride back to TDA. God forbid any of these folks actually step foot in the theme parks they supposedly work for. It should be noted that a few TDA teams had plucky leaders who saw the long line for the trams and said “Let’s walk!” and set off into the park like brave explorers amongst the savage theme park guests. Most of them made it back to TDA before those who stood around waiting for a tram, and none of the tourists attacked them on their brave voyage of discovery through the park.
Team Disney Anaheim
Coincidentally, it’s the same distance or longer for the CM’s to walk from Pumbaa to their work locations in Adventureland or Condor Flats as it is to walk from TDA to the Hyperion Theater for George’s meeting, but no shuttle service is offered to the hourly CM’s for that daily walk from Pumbaa and back. It doesn’t help that those CM’s are often walking down Harbor Blvd. late at night and dressed in their themed park uniforms.
Until Paul Pressler arrived and tore apart the “Onstage” concept for uniformed Cast Members in the late 1990’s, a Haunted Mansion chambermaid walking down Harbor Blvd. in full uniform after her shift ends at Midnight would have been unthinkable. A Pumbaa shuttle bus for these CM’s would at least keep them off the streets, even if it meant they devolved into TDA’s anti-exercise entitlement culture.
Those theme park visitors that many in TDA are afraid of encountering will descend en masse in late June, as attendance estimates for Sunday, June 17th and the 24th are dramatically higher than Saturdays in summer, and even higher than the 4th of July holiday. At its current conservative estimate, they are expecting 100,000 people to descend on Anaheim those two Sundays, with 42,000 headed to DCA first and 58,000 headed to Disneyland first. However, since all AP’s offer park hopping, both parks will see more than those numbers for those days. But for accounting and estimation purposes, it’s the “first click” through a park turnstile that counts.
As a point of reference, the absolutely horrific crowds that gridlocked surface streets and backed up the Santa Ana Freeway for miles on Leap Year Day set an all-time high for the Disneyland Resort with almost 108,000 park visitors for the 24 hour period. While Sundays in late June are only pegged at 100,000, that’s the lowball estimate. It’s also important to remember that Leap Year Day spread those crowds over a full 24 hour period, with the biggest crowds not arriving until the evening of the 29th.
The park hours for Sundays in June are the more traditional 16 hour operating days of 8AM to Midnight, with Sunday afternoons in particular the crunch time. By comparison, the Saturdays in late June and around the 4th of July, when all but Premium AP’s are blocked out, have far more manageable attendances in the 70,000 range. And since most of those visitors are tourists from local hotels or local families traveling together, there should be more than enough parking for everyone on those days.
For those who want to be there on June 15th as Bob Iger rededicates DCA, the standard setup for previous grand openings of using Pumbaa for overnight parking won’t be enough this time. Instead, they’ll be using the 10,000 space Mickey & Friends parking structure for those arriving on the night of the 14th or early on the 15th to wait for the grand reopening and rededication ceremony. And what a ceremony it will be, taking up most of DCA’s new “Hub” in the circular area in front of the Carthay Circle Theater.
The plan is to have most of the media who have been at the Resort since the 13th set up on risers near the Carthay Circle, with a performance area directly in front of the theater. There Bob Iger will read a new dedication speech, replacing the one Eisner made in February, 2001. This will be the first time Iger gets to host a theme park dedication ceremony, and it could be his last as Iger is expected to retire from his CEO role in March, 2015 and Disney will have a new CEO by the time Shanghai Disneyland opens in late 2015. No wonder Bob has spent more days in Anaheim thus far in 2012 than he has the previous five years; he’s nearly as personally involved in the Anaheim operation now as Staggs and Lasseter are, and his name will be forever attached to the place come June 15th.
This time there will be something there to go and see
The exact timing of the opening ceremony is still in flux, as the marketing team wants to push it closer to 9:30AM but the operations teams want it as close to 8:00AM as possible to allow the park to open ASAP for what promises to be a huge day. The ceremony will feature the Buena Vista Street entertainment, plus some of the Cars characters, and the now nearly obligatory “flash mob” of Cast Members running out of side alleys to do a low-impact yet barely choreographed dance routine. (The flash mob thing was very clever on YouTube in 2008, and still had a spark of uniqueness when Disney staged them in 2009. But now in 2012 the sight of yet another flash mob of CM’s running out into a media event seems tired.)
Do take note if you plan to attend, and this is your first time at one of these events, that these productions are always staged for the media and cameras, with the public usually getting the worst/obstructed views and treated as an afterthought. Yes, you will be there, but count on terrible views and cattle drive conditions.
What should be genuinely impressive though are the plans for the Cars Land opening ceremony on the evening of June 13th, as a kickoff to the 48 hour media blitz and the red carpet debut of the land with as many B and C Listers as Disney can round up and limousine down to Anaheim for the night. The plan is to set up big billboards at the entrance to the land to serve as stages, as media are set up in bleachers in front of the winery looking down the red carpet along Route 66.
Lots of low-level pyrotechnics will be shot off during the ceremony behind the Cadillac Range (which is a term that can be printed on plaques inside Cars Land, but never uttered publicly by any agent of the Disney company lest the lawyers from General Motors pay Burbank a visit). And then one of the billboards will drop to reveal the band Rascal Flatts who will perform the Cars anthem “Life Is A Highway” as the media and celebs flood into the land for a wild party that night with all of Cars Land at their disposal. With open bars and live bands, they won’t need a messy Cast Member flash mob for this one.
Yes, these are the Rascal Flatts, as heard in countless minivans across the land
The next morning, as the B Listers nurse their hangovers and slide into the rented limousines for the trip home like a naughty prom date, DCA will remain closed to the public for the day as the media gets free run of the entire park. The last of the construction walls will have come down overnight, and people in the Esplanade should get their first glimpse of Buena Vista Street through the turnstiles that day. Late on the 14th the attention will turn from Cars Land towards Buena Vista Street as the setup for the grand reopening and rededication ceremony begins going up on Buena Vista Street. And then on the 15th the whole extreme makeover of DCA, Disney’s most troubled park with the most expensive fixes, finally opens to the public.
The 15th has a two-park estimate of 90,000, which would have been absolutely mind blowing a year ago, but after the 108,000 on Leap Year Day and the 100,000+ planned for Sundays in June, it’s nothing too serious. Of course, theme park attendance estimates can be revised up by 15,000 or 20,000 on the actual day, depending on who shows up and how quickly the parking lots fill in the morning. Regardless, the 15th should be able to rival the disastrous Sundays to come fairly easily. It will be most interesting to see what happens on the early evening of the 15th, a Friday, as that’s when most AP’s show up after work for a few hours of hanging out time.
Luckily, as we’ve told you before, several other elements of DCA’s relaunch will open prior to the 15th. The Mad T Party kicks off this Friday at 6:00PM, and will run on weekends until June 15th when it will then begin its nightly performances through the summer. The Ghirardelli soda fountain will open officially on Tuesday, June 5th with a small ceremony and “ice cream social”, and then operate daily as normal.
The rest of the new entertainment coming to DCA won’t be able to soft open, primarily because the performance areas of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street will remain behind construction walls. The Red Car Newsboys though are now planned to bring a throwback from Disneyland’s first few years to DCA’s new entrance, at least through this first summer. The newspapers they’ll be hawking in their song-and-dance shows won’t just be props, but instead will be actual copies of “The Buena Vista Bugle”, a newspaper that touts all that’s new and happening for the day in DCA.
The thought behind this concept was the brainchild of DCA Vice President Mary Niven, who had lunch with Marty Sklar earlier this year. Marty began telling Mary about how he started his career by helping write the Disneyland News newspaper that they used to hawk at the park’s newsstands out at the main entrance. With a new concept like Disneyland, Walt wanted to try to communicate to arriving guests exactly what was being offered at Disneyland and what the guests could look forward to inside the gates.
Now you know what this sign is all about.
The same thing will play out with the Buena Vista Bugle, which will be themed and written as a 1920’s Los Angeles newspaper, but provide show times and park information with special attention paid to the new offerings around the park. Unlike the Disneyland News which was sold in the 1950’s for a dime (the same price the LA Times charged back then), the Buena Vista Bugle will be free and will be passed out by the thousands each morning by the Red Car Newsboys as visitors stream into the park, after they get their Starbucks at the Pig Café, of course.
Just like the short-lived Indiana Jones/Mara decoder cards, The Buena Vista Bugle may not last beyond calendar year 2012, and will likely be a collector’s item in the future, but it’s just one more example of how serious Mary Niven’s team is about re-launching DCA correctly and doing everything they can to explain the extreme makeover the park got to arriving visitors this summer.
While the Buena Vista Bugle will use an old 20th century format to get the word out, they’ll also be tapping into 21st century technology to help the crowds get the most out of their DCA day this summer. The Guest Relations department has purchased a bulk order of new iPads to use this summer, and they will be staffing large numbers of “Adventure Ambassadors” around the park each day. Armed with an iPad tapped into the park’s Wi-Fi system that can bring up any information requested, like making a dinner reservation for World of Color packages at the Carthay Circle or checking the latest wait times at Radiator Springs Racers or Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Guest Relations Cast Members will finally have some useful tools beyond just a list of parade times and a two-fingered point.
Ride Captain, Ride
Those Guest Relations Cast Members were given another exclusive perk this past weekend, when all of them were specially invited on Saturday evening to be the very first Anaheim CM’s to test ride Radiator Springs Racers. The Guest Relations team got this exclusive preview so that they can give the most accurate information out to their high profile guests and Company execs who they will be escorting around the property this June.
And the reaction from those first test riders has been very positive. The Guest Relations tour guides were allowed to ride Radiator Springs Racers multiple times on Saturday, specifically to get a true feel for the attraction, even before the CM’s who will be trained to operate the ride had a chance to go on. The indoor dark ride portion was deemed “cute”, but it was the outdoor race portion of the attraction that was said to be the best part of the ride as it is particularly impressive after dark. (It should be noted that the dark ride portion wasn’t working entirely for the Guest Relations preview rides, as WDI continues to struggle with last-minute programming of all of the animation and projected faces on the otherwise static car characters.)
Photo of testing taken a few weeks ago
That sentiment has been echoed by the Imagineers who have also ridden the attraction during the day and at night, as they begin finally talking about this huge E-Ticket ride to their friends in Glendale. Radiator Springs Racers appears to be a ride best taken in at night, when the vast amounts of LED lighting all over the exterior really make the most impact to the outdoor race portion of the ride.
The finale’ scene through Taillight Caverns also looks much better after dark, as the huge entrance and exit portals into that cavern scene allow too much daylight in, washing out the glowing “stalac-lights” if you ride during the day. When you swing by the Fastpass machines in A Bug’s Land, the only place you’ll be able to get your Racers Fastpass from, try and make sure you get a Fastpass time that’s after sundown.
As promised, the ticket booth listing as it currently appears