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Disneyland's Summer Nightastic has begun, but opening weekend was definitely not a success. In this update we'll fill you in on why the Resort wasn't as ready as they should have been for the huge crowds, why the crowds are there in the first place for a rather modest summer promotion, and why you'll likely hear the Nightastic name for years to come.

Got that gourmet pear sliced yet? Have that Oxygen infused water poured now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al

Dumbo & Dumber

The plans for Summer Nightastic began innocently enough, as a way to boost the local visitation to both parks at a time of year that has recently seen the traditional summer day at Disneyland shift from locals to primarily tourists. Nightastic was also a way to capitalize on all of the investment that has gone into Anaheim's most popular nighttime entertainment in recent years, and has seen the dramatic freshening of aging older shows like Fantasmic and the Electrical Parade.

We'd told you last year of the initial plans to create a summer campaign built around nighttime entertainment, and how the original draft was given the working title "Tinker bell's Summer Nights." Fearing that Anaheim would overexpose the iconic fairy just as the big boys in Burbank were launching their new Disney Fairies franchise through the Studios and Consumer Products, Tink was eventually removed from the spotlight and her original role as the official summertime hostess at Disneyland was downplayed.

Buy me me me!
Lovely? Yes, but it's a Cadillac Escalade leading a parade of Honda Accords.

But the concept of a modest promotion to boost summertime attendance from locals by playing up the freshened entertainment options kept moving ahead, and the end result was Summer Nightastic. And on paper it looked great, especially the plans to spruce up the aging Fantasmic show and the comparatively ancient Electrical Parade. Of course Steve Davison worked his pyrotechnic magic and created an all new fireworks show in the form of Magical, with the flying Dumbo character becoming the sleeper hit of the entire promotion. A lineup of trendy bands and DJ's at the nightly Tomorrowland Terrace dance party, complete with free Coca-Cola and shimmying go-go girls, amped up an old summertime standby for the teen scene. And the nicely produced lighting overlay for Pixie Hollow now allows that unique setting to operate past sundown.

So what could bring the whole thing to its knees and derail the opening weekend? A few unforeseen technical glitches and huge crowds of Annual Passholders who were only there to see the new stuff and have very high standards when it comes to their Disneyland experience.

On Friday, the opening night for Nightastic, the overall attendance estimates and actual numbers for both parks were nothing to worry about. Disneyland had just over 50,000 total visitors click through the turnstiles for the day, and DCA had just over 20,000. Those are healthy numbers to be sure, but nothing compared to the 70,000 that Disneyland can receive daily on big holiday weekends or around Christmas. Even the total number of people in the park at 9:00PM on Friday night wasn't anything alarming, with just over 35,000 inside Disneyland at that time, which pales considerably to the 45,000 that have to be in the park at Christmastime before they consider closing the front gates to new entries.

But the problem was that those seemingly manageable crowds weren't there to ride Space Mountain or eat at the Plaza Inn, they were made up largely of Annual Passholders and were there primarily to see the two new entertainment offerings; Magical and Fantasmic. The management suits in the park this weekend pulled out every trick in their arsenal; opening up the gritty backstage areas as walkways, purposely delaying the start of the Electrical Parade by 20 minutes, and triggering the PA systems to play parkwide announcements declaring all viewing areas full. But it was no use, as the crowds inside the park just kept surging towards the Nightastic offerings and some bewildered tourists left thinking Disneyland had devolved into a crowd control nightmare.

Not enemy fire
Even the preview shows were crowded.

The first indication that the opening weekend wasn't going to be normal came in the early afternoon on Friday, when people began setting down blankets along the Rivers of America and in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle six hours earlier than normal. By 7:00PM on Friday, even though the number of people inside the park was still rather modest, the Central Plaza and the entire Fantasmic viewing area were already full. And once that area was full, there was simply no option for the masses of Annual Passholders still flooding in the main gate after work who also wanted to see both shows.

Main Street USA and the Central Plaza suffered its usual congestion and gridlock this past weekend, with verbal CM squabbles and random acts of Stroller Rage breaking out amongst the harried crowds. But it was the Fantasmic viewing area that was surprisingly overcrowded and frenzied this weekend. It holds 9,000 people at full capacity, but even with both shows that's still just 18,000 from the over 35,000 who were there to see if the new dragon really was broken.

The second showing of Fantasmic on Friday night was hampered even more by the fact that over a thousand people who camped out on blankets in the prime viewing areas along the riverbank didn't get up and leave after the first show as they normally do, but instead stayed in the same place and used up that viewing area again for the second show, denying the exasperated crowd control CM's the ability to move a new audience into the area for the next showing.

As bad as opening night was with 52,000 visitors for the day, yesterday was and today should be, even worse. At least on Friday there were several hundred thousand of the cheaper Annual Passes blocked out that day, but those two levels of passes have their last two days of admission this week before being blocked out for the rest of the summer on Wednesday. That created the perfect storm with 68,000 people flooding Disneyland on Monday June 15th, many of them Annual Passholders who primarily wanted to see the new Nightastic entertainment.

Fortress of solitude
Team Disney Anaheim, TDA

It's almost as if the TDA planners in charge of these things, a collection of executive leaders from Marketing, Entertainment, Industrial Engineering and Operations, never learn from the lessons of the past when it comes to the reach of the Internet and the ease with which Annual Passholders can flood the park when there's something new opening. At least TDA added a third Fantasmic for Monday and Tuesday, but since they waited until the very last minute that show time isn't listed on any of the printed materials or standard information outlets and the 11:30PM show is overlooked by many people planning their day.

If you're worried your Disneyland visit later this summer will be subject to the same type of crowds, don't ... once a few hundred thousand Annual Passholders become blocked out for the summer starting tomorrow, the daily attendance estimates drop by huge numbers.

For example, Tuesday has an estimate of 63,000 visitors at Disneyland (and likely to go even higher) with 32,000 of them forecast to be Annual Passholders, and a few thousand more being Disney employees getting their friends and family in for free. But on Wednesday, the first day of AP blockouts, the attendance estimate drops to 45,000 with only 6,000 of them projected to be Annual Passholders.

And when the Cast Member blockouts kick in from mid July through the end of August, denying tens of thousands of Disney Company employees in Southern California the ability to get people in for free, the average attendance estimates for Disneyland drop again and range from a comparatively measly 38,000 to 45,000 each day, even on weekends in July and August. But once the blockouts are lifted in late August, and Disneyland ramps up it's Halloweentime promotion again in the fall, you can bet attendance on Fridays and weekends in October will swell to a total of 55,000 and above each day for Disneyland.

Dumbo drop?
...or just a nightmare?

Now you can see why TDA would want to boost the local attendance a bit with a summer promotion and a 99 dollar three day pass aimed at Southern Californians who aren't Annual Passholders yet. Those hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders have turned decades-old theme park attendance patterns on their head, with Saturdays in July having fewer people visiting than a Friday in October or a Tuesday in June. And the sooner TDA planners finally learn to do better at planning around these patterns their own programs have created, the better for all involved.

But first Anaheim has to get through one more ridiculously crowded day on Tuesday, with punishing crowds of Annual Passholders herding through both parks mostly ignoring the attractions and focusing on the new Nightastic entertainment offerings. If Monday was any indication, with over 68,000 total visitors for the day and around 45,000 people inside the park at 9:00PM for the first Fantasmic and Magical fireworks show, Tuesday will create more headaches than smiles. Hopefully when the maddening crowds go away later this month and Entertainment gets the new dragon finally working, Marketing can try to rebuild some of the brand equity they were hoping to pump into the Nightastic name.

What hopefully happens here after these first few disastrous days is that the same TDA brain trust that plotted out the schedules and plans for Nightastic's opening weekend will have a meeting later this week and begin thinking exactly how they are going to get the 700,000 Annual Passholders in to see the massive new World of Color show next spring. If they're smart, the messy opening of Nightastic will be viewed by TDA as the warning shot across the bow.

He stares into your soul
Paradise Pier at night...

Just like Fantasmic, DCA's new custom made amphitheater for World of Color will hold 9,000 viewers in primarily standing-only sections. But unless they push DCA's closing time out to 11:00PM or later, there won't be an opportunity to do more than one show per night, especially in spring and summer when it doesn't get dark until after 8:30PM. They would need to have 75 shows just to have each Annual Passholder view World of Color once, and that's not including the park-hopping tourists who will also be interested in it.

Remember, the crush of humanity that swamped Disneyland this weekend was just from a minor local media campaign hyping some updates to existing shows that are decades old. Next spring the Disney PR machine will go into overdrive on a much larger scale to tout the radically new World of Color spectacular. Oh, and just for fun, next spring the DCA main entrance will be under heavy construction and major walkways will be closed and rerouted down narrow alleyways lined with construction walls.

Wall-E
...and Paradise Bay at night

The TDA planners had better order in some lunch and turn that meeting this week into a major think tank, because the thorough trashing Disneyland received this weekend is only a taste of what is coming for World of Color. (Not to mention the frenzy that will develop over the Little Mermaid E Ticket in 2011, and the massive Cars Land expansion in 2012 with three new untested ride systems that will go through months of teething pains after opening.)

Even though Nightastic had a less than stellar start this June, and it may be mid July until Fantasmic is fully operational with a completely programmed dragon, there's a good chance Nightastic may be part of our lingo for years to come. The concept didn't start out this way, but there's a movement now to turn Nightastic into a regularly branded seasonal offering, much like Halloweentime and the wildly popular Christmas season offerings.

The thought is to try and boost summer visits from locals who have largely left Disneyland alone during recent summer seasons under the assumption that it's too crowded in July and August. The irony is that lesser holiday weekends like Columbus Day and Veterans Day now routinely pull in bigger crowds than the 4th of July weekend, and the average weekend in July and August is now less crowded than the weekends in the fall and spring. TDA would love to move some of those crowds back towards the summer months when staffing and park operations are geared to handle them, in addition to simply pulling in some additional visitors who may need a reminder that a summer visit to Disneyland is a good bet for their entertainment dollars.

Tink who?
Much better!

Next year, as part of the 55th Anniversary, the newly freshened Electrical Parade is finally planned to move back over to Disneyland. That move isn't so much a sentimental anniversary gift for Disneyland, than it is a logistical necessity for DCA once the main entrance area is sliced apart by construction walls and the nightly attention is on the World of Color lagoon instead of the parade route.

The Nightastic "brand name" will likely be pulled out again to put all of the summer events under that umbrella, but by next summer it will be focused primarily on Disneyland instead of both parks. The focus for DCA in 2010-2012 is really going to be about rebuilding that park's image with each new attraction opening for the next three years, and they are going to try to avoid overlaying any other promotions on top of it for a while.

To help with the image boost, TDA's marketing team has recently been coming up with a revamped logo for DCA, it's third logo in 9 years. The favorites thus far have a very elegant art deco appearance to them. Disney fans will also appreciate that the team tasked with creating the new park logo was also asked to come up with several options that use the title "Walt Disney's California Adventure," in addition to the more generic "Disney's California Adventure." Although, it should be noted the official buyoff on that name change has not yet been decided upon by Burbank and Glendale.


Just drop the "California" part of the name, that's what gets ridiculed.

Work at DCA seems to gear up more and more by the week now, and there likely isn't an unused plywood wall left in Anaheim. The Blue Sky Cellar, which we told you would receive an update this summer, is now scheduled to close July 10th and reopen July 15th with new exhibits focusing on the World of Color and additions for 2011. You can also expect the new Blue Sky Cellar website run by WDI to launch at that time, bundled in with the Disneyland Anniversary events being hosted by D23 the weekend of July 17th.

In addition to the updated Blue Sky Cellar, TDA is taking advantage of the lower summer attendance figures by scheduling several refurbishments and closures in July and August, a practice that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago when attendance patterns still followed the old formula. The Orange Stinger will be closing earlier than originally planned, shutting down in mid July to begin its 10 month transformation into the Silly Symphony Swings (More walls along the DCA parade route!).

At Disneyland the Casey Jr. Circus Train and Storybookland Canal Boats will now close for 10 weeks of heavy refurbishment at the end of August, rounding out the summer rehabs rolling through the other Fantasyland attractions. Peter Pan's Flight just came out of its 5 week rehab looking fantastic, and the new boats can now seat a family of four instead of having to split into two boats, so the line is moving faster there now. Also look for improved special effects and some new tricks when Snow White's Scary Adventure reopens in July, and when Pinocchio's Daring Journey reopens in August.

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. 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 [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Al Lutz


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