A Tale of Two Parks, Al Lutz's Disneyland Update, MiceAge.com
Disneyland Resort heads into the Dog Days of summer working under a radically changed set of operating philosophies, with the success of Cars Land and the re-launched DCA turning on its head a decade worth of assumptions how visitors to the resort will use the property. In this update we’ll fill you in on exactly what is going on with overall resort attendance, where the happy throngs are spending their money this summer (as well as where they aren’t), and how TDA will now try to walk a tightrope between the political problems in Anaheim and the economic problems in the rest of the world.
Hmmm, with the Tomorrowland news in the update today, maybe we should theme our snack this morning. You can still buy Tang in some countries, but I think Space Food Sticks are long gone. Well, there are always PopTarts... Special thanks before we begin to Andy Castro for the use of his photos, as well as Fishbulb. Let’s get going shall we? - Al
Life is a Highway...
We should begin with the topic most regulars have already noticed, and that’s the theme park attendance numbers and how the vibe of the entire resort has changed on even the busiest days. The executives in TDA knew they would have a hit on their hand with Cars Land and its headliner E Ticket ride Radiator Springs Racers. TDA’s hope was that multi-day tourists (the biggest spending demographic of Disneyland visitors) would extend their visit by an additional day, or at the very least spend more money while they were trying to cram all of DCA into one of their two or three days at the resort. The original attendance projections for DCA were modest increases of five to eight thousand per day compared to year ago figures. The longer term goal is that DCA would see an additional million visitors per year during calendar 2013, with Disneyland standing pat on its already lofty attendance that pushes that crowded park to the breaking point on too many days each year.
What actually has happened in the last six weeks is something far more dramatic and far more impactful to Disneyland Park and the entire resort itself than anyone could have imagined. Instead of DCA increasing attendance by 5,000 to 8,000 and Disneyland staying flat at its breaking-point numbers, DCA has seen its daily attendance figures skyrocket by 14,000 to 23,000 compared to the same dates last summer. Even more dramatically, next door at Disneyland the attendance has declined by 7,000 to 15,000 per day compared to last summer, and the reduction of those crowds have made a huge impact on the overall feel at the 57 year old park with its much older facilities and much narrower walkways. There are now several days per week, often on Saturdays, when DCA gets higher daily attendance numbers than Disneyland.
The combined daily attendance for both parks still ends up meeting the slightly increased overall attendance projections for the resort as a whole, with the big ticket price increases from this past spring making the sharp pencil boys smile. But the crowds are now so perfectly balanced between the two parks and so effectively spread out that the result is a theme park operation that looks and feels much less busy, which delights the visitors finding shorter lines than they had expected and thrills the operations teams who suddenly have a much easier job to do.
The attendance numbers from a recent Friday and Saturday compared to the year ago figures illustrate this dramatic change quite well, as a mid-summer Friday produces a good mix of tourists staying in hotels and locals coming in after work with many Annual Passes unblocked (although fewer than in Fall when all AP’s are unblocked), while a mid-summer Saturday produces a different mix of those same tourists in hotels along with more casual locals spending the entire day on a full-fare park ticket.
Friday, July 15th, 2011 / Friday, July 13th, 2012
Disneyland: 49,000 / 41,000 (-8,000)
DCA: 20,000 / 34,000 (+14,000)
Total: 69,000 / 75,000 (+6,000)
Saturday, July 16th, 2011 / Saturday, July 14th, 2012
Disneyland: 52,000 / 37,000 (-15,000)
DCA: 18,000 / 40,000 (+22,000)
Total: 70,000 / 76,000 (+7,000)
We should remind you that Disney uses a process of counting attendance that only considers the “first click” of the turnstile of whichever park you enter first in the morning. If a visitor enters DCA at 8AM just to ride Soarin’ Over California, and then retreats back to Disneyland by 8:30AM and spends the rest of their day inside Disneyland, DCA will get the turnstile click counted as part of its daily attendance while the “second click” of the person entering Disneyland for the rest of the day doesn’t count towards daily or annual attendance figures. There is an attendance figure tracked which counts the total number of people inside the parks at any one time, but that is used primarily for operations teams managing to a particular crowd number.
But just by looking at those numbers you can see how the unprecedented and massive shift in attendance over to DCA has turned the entire resort on its ear. Disney’s own industrial engineering department was just as surprised as anyone, as they are typically consulted on what they feel the parks can handle logistically from a purely scientific engineering perspective. The engineers had assumed along with everyone else that DCA would need to close its gates due to over-crowding if daily attendance got past 40,000, but that number is now handled with relative ease and without major impact to the customer feedback statistics.
And remember as those numbers only count the first click, there are an additional 5,000 to 12,000 people per day that begin their day at Disneyland, but then hop over to DCA later in the day for hours spent in Cars Land and at World of Color or Mad T Party, just as a similar number begin at DCA but end up at Disneyland 10 hours later for fireworks or Fantasmic.
The result is that Disneyland Park has had to entirely recalibrate the attendance estimates it uses like a Bible to plan for staffing and capacity, impacting everything from how many Davy Crockett Canoes to run on the river, to how many windows to open at Tomorrowland Terrace, to how much back stock to deliver every night for the next day’s rush at The Emporium. The operations teams inside the parks have reacted quickly, although the sharp pencil boys in TDA and up in Burbank have been much slower to respond and come to grips with the new attendance figures and crowd patterns.
Things have certainly changed from when these shots were taken in 2002.
As eyecatching as the sudden drop in Disneyland attendance has been for both the TDA planners and many old-timers at Disneyland who long assumed DCA would never amount to anything of any significance, what is even more notable is how smoothly and effortlessly DCA is soaking up those crowds. We’d mentioned this in the June updates, but the battle plan that TDA and the DCA operations teams had drafted to close the park turnstiles and create massive holding pens to enter Cars Land never needed to be activated, even as DCA attendance soared way beyond original estimates. On even the busiest days when upwards of 30,000 people are now inside DCA at any one time, the wide walkways and modern amenities of DCA soak up the crowds with ease.
There is now so much to see and do in DCA, with so many top-ranked attractions and entertainment options, that to many visitors the park never feels as busy or over-crowded as the sky-high attendance figures would seem to suggest.
It was primarily for the above reason that TDA lifted the original Cast Member sign-in block out that had been planned to last through Labor Day weekend. The complete block out this summer for Cast Members and other Disney Company employees (there are tens of thousands of them in SoCal who don’t work for the Parks division, remember) was unprecedented. The standard practice in recent summers was to block out Disney employees only on Saturday, and only for Disneyland, while DCA was and weekdays were wide open.
But the complete block out was very unpopular with Disney employees, not so much with Anaheim Cast Members who understood the strategy and quite frankly can’t get any time off in summer, but with the Studios teams and the armies of cubicle drones Disney has working in office parks and corporate towers in Burbank and North Hollywood. The employees from outside the Parks division are used to their standard summer vacations and free admission for their friends and families into the parks at their whim, so the summer block out infuriated them and sent many griping to their HR reps and cubicle lieutenants.
After TDA had seen that the new resort crowd dynamic was working smoothly for several weeks, the Burbank bosses who were growing tired of the block out criticism around their offices quickly approved TDA’s plan to lift them, with one exception. The employee sign-in privileges this summer would only begin after 10:00 AM each day, ensuring that all of the Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers would first go to tourists who paid to get in. The line for Racers Fastpasses forms inside the park at 7:30 AM, and they are all gone for the day by 9:30AM. The 10:00 AM delayed entry also allows the Fastpasses for World of Color, Indiana Jones and Space Mountain, all of which go quickly in summer, to go primarily to the same paying park visitors.
It took a few days for the news of the lifted block out to register with everyone up in Burbank, but by the third week in July there were several thousand additional free tickets padding the attendance figures each day. Most of the sign-ins head to Disneyland first, and luckily both parks soaked up the few thousand extra freebies each day without a hiccup.
The numbers after the Cast Member block outs were lifted, which pad the numbers by a few thousand per day, looked like this;
Wednesday, July 27th 2011 / Wednesday, July 25t1h 2012
Disneyland: 54,000 / 43,000 (-11,000)
DCA: 19,000 / 39,000 (+20,000)
Total: 73,000 / 82,000 (+9,000)
The radically changed attendance numbers are still making for changes and impacts to scheduling and staffing all over both parks, but the trend is clear. Anaheim suddenly has two theme parks that are nearly equal in their ability to pull in big crowds and keep them entertained all day long. TDA will be watching this new phenomenon closely for months to come, with the next big test being the traditionally busy Halloween parties at Disneyland and then some of the very busiest days of the year at Thanksgiving and that always surround the two weeks of Christmas and New Year’s.
The operating hours for DCA this fall and in to 2013 are now planned to stick with the basic format of this summer. DCA and Disneyland will almost always open at the same hour each morning, and then DCA will either match Disneyland’s closing time up to 10:00 PM, or call it a night at 11:00 PM while Disneyland stays open one extra hour until Midnight on weekends or any holiday or vacation period. The early entry hour will also continue for DCA into 2013.
Orlando: So Value-Engineered
Who is also paying attention to Anaheim’s radical attendance shift are the executives in Orlando. Imagineering, buoyed by the huge success of DCA’s extreme makeover, has put together a proposal to do the same type of massive multi-year makeover for the floundering Disney Hollywood Studios park out in Disney World. It may not get the nearly 1.5 Billion that was spent on DCA from 2007 to 2012 (with Midway Mania, Pixar Play Parade, and World of Color paid for separately and on top of the 1.2 Billion dedicated to the makeover), but Imagineering would love to tear in to DHS and give the muddled theme of that park a fresh start and new look, bolstered with at least one new mega E Ticket and a smattering of smaller rides.
Wish them luck though, as the TDO executives are already inquiring how the park makeover can be value engineered, what might be eliminated, and how it could all be stretched out over more fiscal years than WDI’s bold 3 year extreme makeover proposal. Sheesh.
Back in Anaheim, TDA is also smiling at the astronomically high customer feedback coming in from the survey forms collected by the ubiquitous “Guest Research” department. The glowing feedback for the re-launched DCA rolls in for everything from Radiator Springs Racers, which is now garnering the highest rankings of any E Ticket that Disney has ever opened anywhere (even with all the downtimes), to the food quality and variety at all the new restaurants, to the courtesy of the DCA Cast Members who come across as proud to be working in this suddenly successful theme park.
That’s not to say everything is a home run hit at DCA. The Carthay Circle Theater continues to struggle to both fill its tables and find its footing in the high-priced fine dining scene in Anaheim. While they were smart to start very slow for the first few weeks and limit the reservations per night to only a fraction of the tables available so that the kitchen and staff could ramp up smoothly, the interest just hasn’t been there now that they are able to fill the entire restaurant.
Disney’s crafty social media team has worked wonders to bury the poor reviews coming in on Yelp and TripAdvisor that tell of shaky service and unpolished staff, but the high price points on the menu are enough of a deterrent to most tourists and locals alike who are watching their pennies in this economy. The food itself generally gets raves online, even when the reviews aren’t impressed with the service.
DCA’s restaurant team tried for months to recruit new employees from other fine dining restaurants in Southern California to staff the Carthay, even offering up to a $500 bonus for any existing Cast Member who could recommend someone with outside experience in fine dining. Almost amusingly, the Carthay Circle Theater management was hoping to snag employees currently working at Newport’s Pelican Hill or the Laguna Ritz-Carlton, as that was the service standard they had originally hoped to achieve.
But the reality is that very few of the Carthay’s CM’s have outside experience in fine dining, and many of the Cast Members now working at the Carthay Circle Theater are transfers from other theme park table service locations like the Carnation Café, Cafe Orleans or Storytellers Café. While those restaurants do a good job at delivering solid and smiley service, they simply aren’t up to competing in the AAA Four Diamond fine dining world that the Carthay Circle Theater was originally aiming for (they never really thought they could achieve a Five Diamond service level, but they were originally aiming for Four Diamonds).
Luckily for the management, many hardcore Disney fans splurging at the Carthay are happy to just gawk at the Snow White ceiling and ogle over the Walt pictures or marvel at the novelty ice cubes in their cocktail. But long term for the Carthay, they’ll be trying to up their game and develop a reputation for highly polished service that matches the stunning interior and excellent food quality. We wish them luck, but they’ll need to build a better buzz quickly if they want to fill the tables when the summer tourists disappear in September.
Open a New Door...
And of course there’s the ongoing problems keeping DCA’s new merchandise in stock, particularly in Cars Land and on Buena Vista Street. TDA’s merchandise team had frantically pulled forward all of the summer and fall shipments into late June and early July. Now that the second and third backup shipments of the Cars Land merchandise has arrived and sold out, there won’t be much available until the emergency re-orders from the Chinese factories can arrive before Christmas.
The stores along Buena Vista Street are doing fine, but don’t seem to be hitting their targets at night when tens of thousands of people pass by on their way out of the park. We’d told you previously how Disney’s new corporate green standards dictated that all store and restaurant doors must remained closed to lower air conditioning bills, and all of the new facilities in DCA were built with this concept in mind.
The closed door mentality is a complete change from Disneyland where the older shops and restaurants were designed to keep their doors wide open, and where stores like The Emporium have some of the highest grossing sales per square foot of any retail store in America. That green concept only lasted a few days in Cars Land though, when during the first previews the stores were completely empty because they simply looked like closed set pieces with all their front doors closed.
The Cars Land doors were propped open almost immediately, but the doors for most Buena Vista Street stores aren’t designed to stay open as easily. The fix is on the way though, as small kickstands that lower into newly punched holes in the sidewalks will soon prop open the doors for all the major shops along Buena Vista Street. The corporate green police are not happy, but the sharp pencil boys insist that the lost sales cost more than the increased air conditioning bills.
The other issue recently brought to light is the need for additional shade and seating for the huge crowds DCA now pulls in. We’d been following the Project Sparkle program for the last year that repainted and spruced up almost every nook and cranny of the 12 year old park. But what was left out of the Project Sparkle program was an inventory and status report on seating and benches throughout the park.
The result is that DCA Vice President Mary Niven noticed in June that in too many areas in the park there weren’t enough benches or chairs for people to sit on. Dozens of extra tables and over a hundred chairs were added by late June to the popular patio of Flo’s V8 Café, but 50 additional themed benches have been ordered for placement around other areas of the park just as soon as they can be fabricated and delivered. Extra tables and chairs are to be added to the most popular restaurants and café patios, like the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical facing the Carthay Circle. Additional umbrellas and shade structures are also on the way for some areas of Cars Land, Paradise Pier and Hollywood.
With the wild success of Cars Land and the re-launched DCA quickly becoming more popular and more efficient than anyone had hoped, the endless stream of happy news this summer was probably too good to last. It was in this happy environment that Disneyland suddenly found itself being dragged in to the controversy around several police shootings in Anaheim’s northwest neighborhoods. What was surprising is how off-guard the protests in downtown Anaheim caught TDA two weeks ago. On Tuesday, July 24th the afternoon protests in front of Anaheim City Hall devolved that evening into a small riot with smashed store windows and general mayhem across several city blocks.
Just a block away from Anaheim’s City Hall and ground zero for the protests sit the apartments that Disney uses to house hundreds of its College Program Cast Members, and they along with thousands of other Cast Members leaving their shifts late Tuesday night were caught in the middle of closed streets with hundreds of police in riot gear closed north Harbor Blvd. as a main commute artery for Cast Members. As it was after five there was no one in TDA’s Cast Communications department to issue a communication to Cast Members working that night, and the CM’s were on their own for information or instructions on safe ways to get out of Anaheim or get home, while police helicopters hovered overhead. You can bet that more than a few College Program parents were on the phone the next day demanding answers and assurances that their children were safe in downtown Anaheim.
Caught flat-footed and unaware last week of the civil disturbances directly impacting thousands of their Cast Members late at night, the resort’s executive team went into overdrive this past weekend to make sure they were paying better attention, even during the inconvenient evening hours after five o’clock. While the sidewalk protests this past weekend were very small, with journalists outnumbering protestors at times, the resort moved hundreds of College Program Cast Members out of the Anaheim apartment building for the weekend. The College Program CM’s were bunked together in empty rooms at the Disneyland and Grand Californian hotels, and even provided meal vouchers for food at hotel restaurants since they’d left their stocked pantries and refrigerators behind for the weekend.
TDA is now working closely with Anaheim city departments, and the executive team was served notice that they need to be aware of what is happening around their property beyond the weekday banker’s hours that TDA generally keeps. The organized protest movement thus far has also shown a clear misunderstanding of how to make the most impact to the resort, as they mass in small numbers on the Harbor Blvd. sidewalk during the middle of the day when tourists on modest budgets staying in Harbor Blvd. motels (definitely the 99% demographic there) have already arrived inside the parks. Even the original meeting place for the Saturday protest at Harbor Blvd. and Disney Way had to be moved north a few blocks, as they apparently didn’t realize Disney had taken down the big marquee there last year. The protests aimed at Disneyland specifically have thus far proven to be very small and not well thought out, which is a good thing for both Disney and the city.
Aside from Anaheim’s summer of discontent, the radically different theme park environment TDA is now working with, which flipped so suddenly with DCA’s re-launch on June 15th, has them pausing for just a moment to confirm that the plans they had for the next few years are the correct ones. The sudden shift of the crowds over to DCA, and the very strong satisfaction ratings they are giving that park, seem to lend support to TDA’s plan to add several Disneyland expansions including at least two E Ticket rides to the park from the 60th Anniversary in 2015 through the end of the decade. But TDA now wants to make sure that the second E Ticket will be enough for Disneyland this decade, or perhaps there may be a need to shift funds and attention back to DCA for an additional ride or expansion there to maintain sufficient capacity in that increasingly busy theme park.
Those decisions will be made by the end of the summer and the start of Disney’s new fiscal year on October 1st, but the first big project in Tomorrowland that will gut Innoventions and remake the eastern flanks of the land in time for the 60th Anniversary year is still moving quickly forward. What also exists out there are Disney’s needed plans to add additional hotel capacity, and fix the overall parking and internal transportation system for the resort. The hotel expansion plans are cooling a bit as the global economy bumps along while the plans for additional luxury hotels at GardenWalk also struggle to get off the ground. That concept Jay Rasulo nearly got off the ground before the economic collapse in late ’08 for Disney to operate two hotels at GardenWalk has never been deader.
What likely will be beefed up are shorter term additions for Disneyland, most notably the launch of the 15 million dollar Princess Fantasy Faire next to the Castle and the upgrades and new Character show for the Fantasyland Theater. Also being thrown around for months now is the concept of bringing the Electrical Parade back to Anaheim. While that parade had played for a decade in DCA, the thought now is that it needs to return to Disneyland next spring as a way to balance crowds better. The parade’s return would be lumped in with the Fantasy Faire and the new Fantasyland Theater as a modest marketing campaign to remind people that while DCA may have all the new flash and pizzazz, Disneyland still has the traditional Disney Princesses and your favorite 20th century memories. There is an increasing thought both within TDA and WDI however that Disneyland has coasted on that tired formula for too long, which is why WDI really wants to wow people with its new ride concepts for Tomorrowland. After setting the bar so high with Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers, in addition to the detailing on display with Buena Vista Street, it's relatively clear whatever they add to Disneyland needs to be a home run.
Prior to Disneyland’s princess and parade hype for 2013, there will be several new offerings coming this fall and winter, primarily aimed at DCA. First up will be a new Halloween promotion this fall for DCA that features the Tim Burton film Frankenweenie. The underutilized MuppetVision theater will receive a themed overlay for the film and a 3-D preview will be shown, while across the way at the Animation Pavilion an art and technical exhibit will be set up explaining how the 3-D stop motion process works, and how Tim Burton creates his unique film environments.
The Frankenweenie offering will depart just after Halloween, and then DCA will get ready to celebrate its first big Christmas season in its new park format. The small pedestrian plaza just to the southeast of the Elias & Co. department store is where DCA will set up its main Christmas tree, and Buena Vista Street will get a 1930’s holiday decoration package from the turnstiles to the Carthay Circle Theater. As we’ve told you earlier, Cars Land will also get a very thorough Christmas décor package, with each shop, restaurant or ride getting a different look as if the Cars characters themselves did the decorating. Cars Land is already the most photographed location at the resort, second only to the Castle, and the sight gags and eye candy coming to Cars Land this Christmas is designed to make all those amateur photographers drool. (Not to mention give the Annual Passholders a reason to return again and again.)
Behind the Scenes...
With just a few short weeks of downtime in early September before Halloween begins, Disney will be hosting its annual “Service Celebration” for Cast Members and Imagineers who have worked for Disney 10 years or more, marking a major milestone of their career. We’ve told you in past years how these events, which started with Walt Disney hosting a lavish “Tencenial” dinner dance at the Disneyland Hotel in 1965 to honor everyone who had been at Disneyland since the beginning, have been devolving into cheaper and cheaper events as the ranks of dedicated long-term employees grows. After several years where Anaheim’s Cast Activities department hosted messy and disorganized events that had party goers lined up in satellite lots for over an hour waiting to board a city bus to the park, only to discover the plastic chicken buffet lines had run out of food, the line for a drink stretched down the block, and the plaques or trophies to be passed out that night were MIA due to production problems or shipping errors, the event takes a different tack this year. But yet again, the details are already coming apart at the seams and anyone attending for their 10th, 15th, 20th, or higher service anniversary at the event on September 6th should keep their expectations low.
Gone is the maddening hour long wait for a bus from a satellite parking lot, as the Cast Activities group has finally realized that their shrinking budget and poor planning skills simply can’t move a thousand people to and from the park in a timely manner. (Although Anaheim’s own Parking Department can do just that on a much larger scale every day.) So now that they’ve thrown in the towel on a separate parking lot, party guests will be parking in the Mickey & Friends structure and packing on to a regular parking tram to and from the park with the tourists. Disneyland will clear out New Orleans Square and Critter Country by 5PM, and the west side of the park will have the usual rubber chicken and pasta salad buffets set up for dinner by 7PM (industrial strength rolls and giant bowls of Caesar salad round out the buffet, while platters of chocolate blobs and sticky fruit tarts pass as the dessert course, typically).
A few of the rides will operate, and they’ll use the Fantasmic! mist screens to show a collection of music and video, much like they do now for private corporate parties and Grad Nite. Add in a few shots of low-level pyrotechnics after the obligatory fawning speech by the executive du jour, and a wait through a long line for a watered down vodka tonic in a plastic glass, and that sums up the “special night” for these long term employees.
Just to keep things consistent, there are yet again more problems with fabrication of the plaques and trophies to be distributed this year. Those Cast Members who are supposed to receive their 15 year trophy this year, for instance, have already received a note in the mail alerting them to the same old “production delays” and a delivery sometime this winter of the statue they were supposed to get in 2012. That is the exact same message this same group got back in 2007 when their 10 year plaques were six months or more behind schedule. At least they are consistent in using the lowest bidding and least reliable vendor for the awards, even five years later.
Breaking free from this rather sad tradition is Walt Disney Imagineering. The Imagineering group had been lumped in with the Parks & Resorts group for these parties earlier last decade, and they’d been forced to attend the same anniversary party in Anaheim with the other west coast Parks departments. The Imagineers made it no secret they disliked this Anaheim format, and a bit of class warfare often leaked through the criticism as the white collar creative types from Imagineering chafed at standing in the long buffet lines next to career ride operators, fry cooks, and other blue collar types from the Anaheim parks.
Partly under the guise of a more convenient commute, the Imagineering group and the Parks & Resorts employees working in the Burbank corporate office have finally broken free from the cheaper and less glamorous anniversary party down in Anaheim. This year Imagineering and Burbank’s corporate office will spend a larger amount of money to host their own party at the trendy Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The Imagineering/Burbank party will take on the more stylish and gracious format of the service celebrations of the past, with valet parking and a proper four course dinner with top shelf liquor and champagne, plus a live band and dancing.
It’s a shame that Burbank won’t also beef up the Anaheim event with additional cash and resources, or at least insist TDA’s Cast Activities team provide a decent parking experience for the “honored guests” who have given their adult lives to the park. What this years change will allow, however, is TDA’s Cast Activities group to take the entire concept even more downscale each year since the Imagineering executives were always the ones pushing for the fancier offerings for their Imagineers. Now that Imagineering and Burbank teams have abandoned the Anaheim party, TDA’s Cast Activities will be able to get away with even cheaper menus and offerings and service.
As most Cast Members have already realized, it’s a lost cause trying to get Cast Activities to find a low-bidder trophy vendor who can simply deliver the plaques and statues on time. The Anaheim Cast Members have little hope of things improving inside at the party as they wait for the parking tram to their own event, while fellow employees from Glendale and Burbank pull up to the valet stand at the Hollywood Roosevelt.