World of Color's opening weekend has finally passed, although the busiest days are still ahead before the summer blackouts kick in for over 500,000 of the lower tier Annual Passholders. Some of the logistical hurdles the Resort faced went extremely well, and some new problems no one had ever thought of cropped up immediately.
Nearly the entire executive team for Parks & Resorts has been in Anaheim pulling 16 hour days since Thursday, and by Sunday many of those executives were looking a bit rough around the edges. (John Lasseter, on the other hand, was having the time of his life with his family as he spent another relaxed weekend at Disneyland hitting all of his favorite attractions.)
In this quick update and show review we’ll fill you in on what went right with the opening weekend, what went wrong, what still has some in a panic, and what the rest of the summer should look like for World of Color and Disney California Adventure.
In honor of last night's quake, let's order some scrambled eggs and a bloody Mary, shaken - not stirred, shall we?
The debut of World of Color started predictably enough on Thursday, with a splashy media party and the usual collection of B and C List celebrities that are rounded-up by the company PR machine to attend such events. Although the infamous Orange County June Gloom overcast skies rolled in by late afternoon and the evening was chilly and damp, the party generally went off without a hitch. Bob Iger and Tom Staggs dutifully performed their lines on stage in that forced-casual tone that is always a tad painful to watch, and the new talking Mickey Mouse made his public debut and impressed the audience. Some fireworks and Disney showmanship, plenty of cocktails and fancy finger food, and Disneyland Cast Members brought in as shills - um, screaming fans - rounded out the event.
The only real drama came during the show itself, when one of the water-whip rotating fountains near the stage misread its computer cue and aimed directly at the audience instead of the Fun Wheel, soaking a section of C Listers who, even drenched, were probably happy not to be judging yet another Disney extreme cake challenge on the Food Channel.
That runaway fountain scenario has been known to happen during testing, and WDI (Imagineering) recently had to fess up and let the DCA operations team know that it could happen on occasion during the show, potentially dousing a large swath of the audience before the fountain can be manually disabled from the control booth. It is for that exact reason that the stores in Paradise Pier are now stocking adult underwear behind the counter to help the “Guest Service Recovery” tactics if a gaggle of tourists unexpectedly meet the business end of a World of Color water-whip fountain and need to be comped with dry clothes, including undergarments.
By Midnight on Thursday, the die-hard fans were circling the streets around Disneyland waiting for the Pumbaa parking lot to open for the all-night wait to grab the first World of Color Fastpass tickets in the morning. While the lines by morning were huge, the process went well for most folks, with the Grand Californian guests being let in first, and then a parade of day guests slowly led from the main entrance. Although throughout the day there were quite a few angry Annual Passholders to be found at the Grand Californian gate into the park.
The standing policy of that gate being for hotel guests only has been mostly over-ridden for the past 9 years in an attempt to provide good customer service at an underused gate. But now the hotel and park management has to crack down and go by the book now that DCA and World of Color Fastpasses are a high demand offering. The managers summoned to that hotel gate repeatedly throughout the weekend to talk to fuming Annual Passholders stood their ground, and made anyone without a valid Disney hotel room key walk around to the regular main entrance gates. By Monday morning, they were letting the hotel guests in through the Grand Californian gate to grab Fastpasses about 40 minutes before the main entrance gates opened for the morning, ensuring that any Disney hotel guest that wanted one could get a World of Color Fastpass.
As Friday rolled along at both parks, the crowds built steadily at DCA, but never quite approached the magic 25K number that would require them to start closing the gates and stop selling tickets. However, just as we told you a few weeks ago, by 10:30AM the formal announcement of DCA’s park hours being extended to 11:00PM was made, and a third show was added at 11:15PM. Again, this has been the plan all along, and all hourly Cast Members working in DCA have already been booked for this schedule that TDA is still trying to play off as a daily surprise “due to overwhelming demand”.
All three shows on Friday were packed, and the DCA Cast Members struggled a bit with their crowd control operation. Dozens of Disneyland managers were sent over to DCA in force to help out their neighbors who aren’t used to such crowds, and the Disneylanders stuck around for the entire weekend to help plug holes and try to educate the confused visitors who had no idea you had to have a Fastpass to get in to the viewing area. The confusion peaked at the 11:15 PM show, as the parkwide announcements earlier in the day only mentioned that a third show had been added, but didn’t say a word about needing a Fastpass to get in. That mistake was quickly fixed with some new voiceover work the next day.
But the biggest surprise on Friday wasn’t the crush of humanity around Paradise Bay, or the predictable confusion of a new crowd control setup. The biggest surprise was what was happening over at Glow Fest, because it turned out to be extremely popular and very busy. As regular readers know, Glow Fest evolved over the spring as a way to pull people out of the closed Paradise Pier section of the park and give them something to do before their World of Color Fastpass time.
DCA’s Vice President Mary Niven made the unusual decision to get this street party in fast and easy by hiring an outside contractor to design and staff the event, instead of using the Disneyland Entertainment Department. The end result is a vaguely Disney-themed and very garish event that people either seem to love or hate. And on Friday night, with a park full of some of Annual Passholders and some the most passionate Disney fans, the crowd that didn’t like it was there in big numbers. The biggest controversy seemed to surround the placement of large bars in the middle of the street serving “glow-tinis” and other flashy drinks. The liquor certainly does flow at Glow Fest, and some people were concerned with the mixing demographics of tipsy adults, dancing teenagers, and some very young children out past their bedtime.
The wild environment of Glow Fest sent some puritanical types rushing to look up the number for the Orange County department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), and several complaints about loose enforcement of the drinking age were phoned in. The ABC officers called their contacts at TDA’s (Team Disney Anaheim's) restaurant department offices, and a visit was scheduled for Saturday evening to investigate the complaints. The TDA executives, already frazzled from the World of Color opening weekend, went into overdrive to make sure the visit by ABC officers went well.
The visit by ABC on Saturday, when the park crowds were much lower with the AP blockouts in place, went extremely well and it was determined that Disney’s setup was far more restrictive and safer than other So Cal summer street party events like the Orange Street Fair or San Diego Street Scene. The ABC officers left Saturday night satisfied with Disney’s management of the event, but TDA is now aware that they will be dealing with some cranky people who don’t like Glow Fest to begin with and may use any means necessary to make life difficult for the new concept.
But TDA is going to be very committed to make Glow Fest work for the entirety of its summer run. The reason is because the ratings it has been getting its first few days are nearly off the charts. TDA sent out hordes of its Guest Research Cast Members with their little survey pads to question DCA park visitors in huge numbers about World of Color and DCA’s other new summer offerings. They were all over the park Friday night, particularly under the Golden Gate Bridge or near the Grand Californian as people left the park. And the results they gathered on Friday evening were quickly tabulated and sent to the executive team huddling in DCA around Midnight on Friday, and those results were a stunner.
World of Color ranked very high on the scale of 1 to 10 that the Disney Research CM’s use to poll visitors, and the overall response to World of Color was pegged at 8.5, a very high rating for a show swimming in hype. Glow Fest, however, came in with a solid rating of 9 on the same scale of 1 to 10 that first Friday night, officially moving to first place in the list of new offerings DCA has this summer. The TDA executive team was stunned, and they instructed Guest Research to continue the same polling throughout the weekend to make sure that wasn’t just a fluke. And consistently, Glow Fest is being ranked by DCA park visitors as being just as good as, or slightly more entertaining, than World of Color.
The popularity of Glow Fest with a broad range of park visitors, even though some Disney traditionalist fans hate it, has Anaheim’s Entertainment Department practically seething. The entire Glow Fest production was created by an outside company, and many of the folks in Entertainment were furious that they weren’t allowed to stage this show instead. The Entertainment team has a reputation in Anaheim for being full of talented folks that could also easily be classified as “divas”, and their claws were quietly drawn when Glow Fest began to take up residence on property last week. The Glow Fest DJ, the go-go dancers, the lighting designers, even the funky catering truck, are all being staffed by outside contractors.
So when the Guest Research numbers came rolling in Friday night showing it was wildly popular and highly thought of by a majority of the customers, no one’s jaws dropped farther than the folks in Entertainment. This has all brought back memories of the backstage drama surrounding the wildly popular Power of Blast show that replaced the struggling Steps In Time in the Hyperion Theatre back in 2002. Just like Glow Fest, Blast was not only an outside production company brought in to a Disney park, but it was also extremely popular and very highly rated by most park visitors. The Entertainment team back in ’02 became very catty about the whole thing, and they couldn’t see Blast leave town fast enough when Aladdin finally got the green light.
Some numbers to keep in mind...
Now that World of Color and the summer season is officially kicked off, the gaggle of TDA and Burbank executives (and Al Weiss out from Florida) who were swarming the park that first weekend will thin out a bit. But the biggest crowds yet are just arriving, with Monday and Tuesday both this week and next slated to be the highest attendance days of the entire summer for DCA. The figures for the in-park attendance for DCA at 9:00PM tell the story, as they rise and fall with the number of Annual Passholders blocked out for the day. Saturday’s crowds were relatively light and pleasant, and they actually had empty space in the Paradise Park viewing areas, and that’s how most of the summer should pan out once the blockouts kick in for the summer on Wednesday, June 23rd. But Monday’s crowds were epic at both parks, with the in-park attendance at DCA swelling to well over 25,000 people crammed in at 9:00PM, which was almost exactly 10,000 thousand more than the relatively manageable 15,500 people that were in DCA on Saturday night at 9:00PM.
Disneyland didn’t escape the AP crowds either, as there were just 29,000 people in Disneyland on Saturday night for the first Fantasmic!, but that number had skyrocketed to 41,000 at the same hour on Monday night. It didn’t help when the rolling motion of a 5.7 earthquake south of the Salton Sea temporarily shut down many rides in Disneyland and DCA right as the first World of Color show was ending, adding to the crush of the crowds and raising the frustration level even higher. The Glow Fest contractors were left scratching their heads over this first weekend, as they had assumed the Saturday crowds would be the busiest day of the week for them, only to see their street party packed beyond belief on Monday night. But logic and decades of theme park experience are turned upside down when there are 1 Million annual passholders and a Monday far outstrips a Saturday when it comes to crowds and attendance.
The numbers and crowds there on Saturday are going to be the norm this summer if the long-range attendance estimates pan out, but first Anaheim has to get through the insane crush of Annual Passholders that will swarm DCA to see World of Color through next Tuesday. Pity the poor tourists this week who plan their Disneyland visit for a Monday or Tuesday, thinking the big crowds will be at Disneyland on a Saturday. The real test for World of Color, and the hope to keep selling all of those dinner packages, will come after June 23rd when the passholders become blocked out for the summer and the Resort is left primarily to much smaller crowds of tourists and less fanatical visitors. September, however, should be a nightmare all over again.
What did I think of the show?
After what seems eons writing about it, I was finally able to see World of Color on Saturday night. I have to agree with my colleague Sue Kruse, there are some wonderful things to behold in the show and there are some amazing special effects. It is certainly dazzling eye candy. But this particular version has an empty spot where it's heart should have been.
Steve Davison at his best not only thrills you but also can bring a tear to your eye. Despite the crowd control problems it creates with its Castle centric presentation, I still see people get misty-eyed whenever they run the 50th anniversary fireworks at Disneyland. The carefully chosen soundtrack excerpts from the attractions, and lush orchestral arrangements of classic Disney melodies not only make for a slick show, but a heart tugging experience too. World of Color has lots of pretty scenes, and a few "how did they do that" moments. But since it doesn't build thematically (because everything is so jumbled) it's not something that stays with you for any time afterwards. It's especially disappointing after having followed all of Davison's presentations leading up to it. It's painfully obvious that he didn't get to deliver what he had been carefully working so hard on these past few years.
The good thing is that this versatile show system allows for ongoing changes to the program. We can probably expect holiday shows for example, and continued tweaking of the current presentation. Who knows, maybe even D23 could offer a private director's cut of the show for its members since all the elements already exist. One glaring missed opportunity; not using the Mickey on the Ferris wheel, it wouldn't have been that hard to animate his eyes and mouth via projections.
A few observations that may help; if prices hold ($15 each) a picnic box package which includes a fastpass for the viewing area is not a bad deal and can be purchased in advance online. We had the chicken, which was decent quality but in reality a snack size as opposed to a dinner portion. The cast members on Saturday night working both the show and dinner were terrific, helpful and pleasant to deal with.
Disney is playing games with the assignment of fastpass colors to the different viewing areas, no matter what shade they choose, the view is still lousy by the Golden Zephyr. If you arrive early enough you will get to choose which part of the viewing area you can stand in. The closer to Paradise Bay the more you'll get wet, ideally you should be in the middle of your section, and in the front by the row's railing. Don't bother taking pictures, most cameras can't handle the low lights -- you really need to see the size of this thing and not from behind a viewfinder or via the Internet.