As Disneyland enters the dog days of summer, the daily attendance is surprisingly strong despite the economy and relative lack of ticket promotions, and the executives in the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) building are realizing there’s a paradigm shift happening with the way the visitors are using the two Anaheim theme parks. While there’s still another solid month of summer left, with the biggest summer attendance days yet to come in late August when most of the Annual Passholders are allowed back in, autumn plans are already gelling back in TDA on how to extend this very successful summer into the last part of the year.
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In this update we’ll fill you in on what’s just been added (and, yet again, changed) for this fall, how surprising the summer performance has been thus far, and what it all means for 2011 and beyond.
Got that scone slathered in preserves yet? Have that Earl Grey
brewed and poured now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
Disneyland’s closely guarded, but widely leaked and discussed, attendance numbers have been trending upward ever since the 50th anniversary back in ’05. That’s when the Resort emerged from several years of a rather dreary era marked by reduced maintenance, stagnating attendance, and more embarrassing failures than proud successes attributed to the Anaheim property. We’ve documented in the past how both the Anaheim executives, and more importantly the big boys up in Burbank, were surprised at the strong financial numbers Anaheim suddenly added to the bottom line once Disneyland turned the corner in ’05 and ’06. However, there was great skepticism that Disneyland could keep it up once the local and national economy fell into a deep recession back in ’08. And yet, surprisingly, while hotel occupancies softened the park attendance actually set new records in 2009 and into 2010.
But with the constant drumbeat of bad economic news, you couldn’t fault TDA planners who weren’t exactly sure that DCA’s new 100 Million dollar World of Color water show (including the reworked viewing area) would do much to boost overall Resort attendance this year, and so they estimated this summer would have an attendance relatively flat with last year’s big record-setting numbers when people were getting in free on their birthday. Now that Anaheim has had a full month of peak summer days without most Annual Passholders to gauge the show’s success, the numbers coming in are quite surprising to TDA and Burbank. Since World of Color began in early June, attendance at the two Anaheim parks is up by nearly 11% over the already healthy projections, and many of those folks are the big-spending overnight tourists who do the most to pad the bottom line.
Obviously those big numbers are due to World of Color and the lavish marketing push it had both locally and up and down the West Coast. But what is also interesting is how easily that one water show has changed the way all of those visitors move around the property, and how much time they spend in each park. Summer had always been DCA’s weakest season without the springtime locals ticket promotions, or DCA’s popular Halloween parties, or the forced-entries at Christmas due to closed Disneyland turnstiles. Even through the cornball campaigns they tried in the early years to attract people to the park with has-been rock concerts and tacky skateboard shows, DCA could never seem to find its groove in summer while Disneyland was always jumping next door. But with World of Color being the hit that it is, and the Fastpass setup forcing people to get to the park early and commit some time there, the overall ebb and flow of crowds around the Anaheim property has suddenly changed dramatically.
The end result is that while attendance is up solidly, most of the gain is being attracted to and held by DCA instead of Disneyland. A look at a sampling of average attendance figures for both parks thus far demonstrates this change perfectly;
Summer 2009 In-Park Sample Attendance
Summer 2010 In-Park Sample Attendance
|Disneyland 2PM – 36,000
||Disneyland 2PM – 37,000
|DCA 2PM – 11,000
||DCA 2PM – 16,000
|Disneyland 9PM – 39,000
||Disneyland 9PM – 37,000
|DCA 9PM – 10,000
||DCA 9PM – 20,000
What this means is that DCA is finally pulling its weight when it comes to using the entire Anaheim property most effectively. Unlike past years when big jumps in attendance were almost entirely driven by Disneyland, creating gridlock in that park’s narrow walkways and testing the patience of customers and Cast Members alike, this summer’s big jump in attendance is heading to the previously underutilized DCA. The DCA Cast Members, used to a decade of a much slower-paced and stress-free daily operation, are quickly learning this summer what their Disneyland counterparts have been dealing with for years. To their credit, DCA management has thrown a literal army of labor at the World of Color crowds, regularly staffing more crowd control CM’s for that custom-built water show amphitheater each night than Disneyland staffs for its busy Fantasmic and parade route operations combined.
No more quicker picker uppers...
That’s not to say it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for DCA, as the elaborate Fastpass ticketing system for the show on many days continues to infuriate the Premium Annual Passholders who aren’t blocked out this summer but don’t want to show up until after sundown, long after the Fastpasses have all been given out to the tourists there in the morning. The complaints from Annual Passholders about World of Color Fastpass continue to pour in to the Guest Communications department, but with the big-spending tourists happy with the system and the sales for the dining and picnic packages still selling out every afternoon, TDA isn’t about to tinker with the success there. If anything, there is a push to expand the dining package offerings further this fall, and you can bet they’ve now got an eye at Fantasmic! for this concept as well. They will wait until they at least get through Christmas before committing to spend the money to retrofit the old Fastpass setup for the Bug’s 3-D show into the World of Color Fastpass location, as was the original plan.
TDA was even emboldened enough by the success of World of Color Fastpass with the big-spending tourists to request the Disneyland Parking department to begin blocking off the 15 minute lot on Harbor Blvd. each morning, after they noticed that small lot was being swamped by locals buzzing in as soon as DCA opened to get a Fastpass for that night’s show. On most mornings after World of Color debuted, the traffic would even gridlock in that small lot (shown below) and back up northbound on Harbor Blvd., jamming city traffic. TDA is consciously trying to get away from DCA being thought of as simply a local hangout you casually visit for an hour or two after work, and instead position it in people’s minds as a full-day theme park that demands your full attention for at least 8 hours. With World of Color’s Fastpass logistics in place and very popular, they finally have the tools they need to pretty much dictate that people spend the majority of their day at DCA. What has TDA’s logistical planners most concerned is this upcoming fall when the HalloweenTime festivities kick in.
With the Mickey’s Halloween Parties now moving to Disneyland, the sales team was allowed to nearly double the ticket sales for each party this year to 18,000 per night. Regular Disneyland visitors know what a nightmare it is trying to find parking during HalloweenTime, and with the private parties now selling nearly double the number of tickets (at nearly double the price as last year), and World of Color playing to packed houses next door, the traffic and crowds this fall promise to be tragic, if not outright gridlocked in all directions. Even the addition of the Toy Story Parking Lot into the parking mix won’t be enough, as the fleet of 20 buses Disney has contracted to use from OCTA has already reached its capacity this summer when that 3,600 space lot is just two thirds full.
When the epic crowds descend for the Halloween parties this October, it might be faster to just walk the mile back to the Toy Story Parking Lot instead of wait for an overcrowded bus driven by an OCTA employee that doesn’t always have that Disney spirit. Dealing with the overwhelmed trams back to the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure at the end of the night is considered by many Disneyland regulars to be a form of painful torture, so that’s a shorter walk most smart people already make.
Inside the two theme parks however, this summer has displayed exactly the type of crowd-flow and numbers scenario the entire DCA extreme makeover was designed to create by the 1.2 Billion dollar project’s conclusion in 2012. But most people in TDA and Walt Disney Imagineering weren’t expecting it to change so quickly and so early in the timeline, with just the opening of the water show under their belts. It’s important to remember that there are still far more construction walls in DCA than there are new attractions, and thus far the only parts of the lavish expansion project officially open are a remodeled swing ride and World of Color. The vast majority of the project doesn’t open until 2011 and 2012, but the numbers have already swung in DCA’s favor much earlier than anticipated.
Pulling the plug on Christmas
This has the planners in TDA salivating at just what might happen once major new attractions begin opening, particularly as the economy improves and people open their wallets a bit more. But what it has also done is allowed TDA to rethink exactly what DCA offers entertainment-wise during the peak construction years of 2011 and ’12. The most recent outcome of that rethink was the easy decision TDA made to allow the Electrical Parade to remain out in Florida until 2012 (if it ever comes back, at this point). The original plan had the Electrical Parade being shipped back to DCA at the end of August so that it could be pressed back into service for the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, only to be shipped back out to Orlando at the start of the new year for a 15 month run as part of WDW’s modest 40th Anniversary plans while DCA’s parade route was torn apart for the Buena Vista Street expansion.
But with World of Color’s solid audience approval numbers, and the major attendance shift it’s already created for Anaheim, the realization set in that not only does DCA not need the Electrical Parade now to attract night crowds, but a Christmastime run past the Paradise Park viewing area each night would only create unnecessary crowd headaches. The plan now is to do at least three World of Color shows per night at busy periods this winter, although the shows wouldn’t start until several hours after the early evening sundown to continue to fuel dinner sales.
While the original agreement last winter to send the Electrical Parade out to Florida originally caused some consternation amongst TDA executives, the thought now is that Anaheim has simply moved beyond the parade, although there is a faction in the Entertainment Department emotionally attached to it after their extensive refurbishment and refresh they lovingly gave it in ‘09. But the casual shoulder shrug shown by locals when the parade said goodbye this past April didn’t help much either. It’s now clear to TDA that West Coast audiences have fallen for World of Color, and there’s no longer a need for the aging 20th century Electrical Parade.
However, there was a bit of negotiating going on internally at TDA over the decision to say goodbye to the Electrical Parade. Disneyland’s Entertainment Department, a notorious bunch with more than a twinge of show business attitude, was still furious over the outside contractors that DCA Vice President Mary Niven tapped to quickly design and operate Glow Fest this summer season. As regular readers know, Glow Fest turned out to be the sleeper hit of the summer with both the customer survey statistics and the overflowing cash registers at the glowtini bars, and that left Disneyland’s Entertainment Department quietly seething (or loudly complaining, depending on the day of the week). The result is that the Entertainment Department, suddenly missing a major parade and with a bruised ego, has now been allowed to stage an all-new version of Glow Fest beginning this fall.
The new version of this nighttime street party, to be designed and staffed entirely in-house by the Entertainment Department, currently has the working title “ElecTRONica”. The theme will play up the new TRON movie to be released this Christmas, and some of the same folks from the Studios who pulled off some of the TRON marketing stunts at recent ComicCon events down in San Diego have been consulted for the DCA version. Several elements of the popular Glow Fest will be re-used, like the street team dancers, the go-go girls, and the very successful cocktail bars set up in the middle of the street. ElecTRONica will also use the old Millionaire building in the back of the Hollywood section, to house a TRON themed video arcade. Disneyland’s Entertainment Department is working feverishly on this one, as they want to ensure that their version of this street party is more successful than the outside contractor’s version was, if only to convince the TDA executives to never again use an outside group to provide in-park entertainment. (And those divas have been busy online too, making sure everyone knows what they're doing.)
You would think Disneyland’s Entertainment Department would have been thrilled just to debut the very fancy and lavishly funded new Soundsational parade early in 2011, as that parade is truly the worthy successor to the beloved Parade of Dreams from the 50th celebration. But those outside contractors operating Glow Fest each night were truly a thorn in their side, and the Entertainment Department is simply not going to be able to rest until they are off property at the end of August. Celebrate A Street Party will have its final run this fall, and then close on November 11th to make way for the Christmas Fantasy Parade that starts the following day. Celebrate won’t come back this winter, and there will be a brief lull in the parade schedule for Disneyland until Soundsational can begin in late winter. World of Color is being budgeted for at least one show per night, seven days a week for Fiscal Year 2011, so weeknight showings this January should pick up the slack with no parade at Disneyland until late winter.
Once the curtain comes down on ElecTRONica on January 2nd, there likely won’t be an opportunity to stage a similar event next summer due to the massive construction the Buena Vista Street project will create throughout 2011. The main entrance team has been worrying about that project for two years now, so much so that the original 2010 construction timeline was pushed back into 2011 over World of Color crowding concerns, a decision that now seems very wise considering the big hit World of Color has become. But eventually the rather cheap two-dimensional DCA entrance from 2001 will need to be completely removed and replaced, a huge project unprecedented for the entrance of any Disney theme park.
While many scenarios have been tossed around over the years as the construction timeline got pushed back, the plan now is to attempt to split the DCA entrance in half and tackle one side of the street at a time. Entry would still be allowed through the half of the park entrance still open in 2011, while exiting guests would be funneled out temporary exit gates in Condor Flats or the Hollywood sections of the park.
The main entrance Cast Members for both parks will be getting new uniforms in 2011 to replace the rather drab contemporary outfits they’ve worn since 2000. The new costumes have a more formal look, with dark navy trousers and dark yellow and burgundy shirts, with gold and enamel buttons that have a Mickey silhouette engraved on them. The new uniform is supposed to not only look fancier, but also tie into the original concept from Walt’s day that these front-line Cast Members were the park “receptionists” welcoming the arriving visitors onto the Disneyland stage.
By the time the new DCA entrance and those new uniforms debut, Anaheim will also have installed a next-generation version of the biometric finger scanners already used at Walt Disney World’s theme park entrance gates. The hope is that this new ticketing system will not only speed the process of hopping between the two theme parks, especially with DCA’s increasing popularity, but also put a stop to much of the abuse currently associated with some Annual Passholders and partially used multi-day tickets being bought and sold on eBay and Craigslist.
Before Buena Vista Street is finished in spring 2012, the next big debut for DCA is the radically reworked and rethemed section around the new Little Mermaid ride and the adjoining Paradise Gardens area. The Maliboomer is still slated for Yesterland, as we told you earlier this year, but the rest of the area and the new attractions are slated for an opening next May. The exact date of the grand opening party still hasn’t been ironed out, but you can bet they’ll want to tie it into a multi-day media event that also officialy debuts the new Star Tours attraction.
Star Tours is another existing location getting new Cast Member uniforms in 2011 as they ditch the kitschy orange and blue jumpsuits that debuted in ‘87. The new uniforms are designed to not only theme better with the reworked queue and sleeker loading area, but also better accommodate the different silhouettes that Cast Members have compared to 25 years ago (although the Florida team really pushed for the most forgiving styles). The new Star Tours uniforms will use a darker shade of orange and blue as mere shoulder accents, as they are predominantly a metallic black color with black trousers with a dark stripe down the leg. The new look is more Star Fleet junior officer rather than Star Tours spaceport jumpsuit.
Under the sea, under the speed limit
And that Star Tours debut, while played up as the one big offering for Walt Disney World in 2011 at the simultaneous Florida kickoff, will need to be folded into the even bigger media push planned for the Little Mermaid ride and the accompanying debut of Goofy’s Sky School and the Paradise Garden restaurants. The California version of Little Mermaid (shown above) will bring a nice upgrade to the overall park capacity for DCA, with an hourly ridership pegged at just over 1,800 riders per hour.
The Omnimover is scaled very similarly to the Haunted Mansion, which is a people-eater that routinely hosts over 2,100 riders per hour. However, the Imagineers wanted to slow down the system just a bit from the faster Haunted Mansion speed to allow riders to take in all the scenery and sophisticated animatronics. On Haunted Mansion, the scenes are all dimly lit and the animatronics are mostly extremely basic, and really not much more advanced than a slightly animated mannequin with dramatic lighting. But Mermaid’s show scenes will be finely detailed and much brighter than Haunted Mansion, so there was no fear of ruining the illusion if riders peeked at a scene too long. The 1,800 per hour figure for this new ride is certainly going to surpass the 50 to 75 people per hour that were the average totals for the old Golden Dreams movie that once occupied this space.
But the big Mermaid building is tightly wedged into the land between Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and the DCA parade route, so they used nearly every square foot of space for the show, with not much left over for queue. Because of the space squeeze out in front of the attraction, TDA decided to cancel plans to offer Fastpass for the California version of this big, fancy ride with a budget of nearly $100 Million. The Florida version of the ride, to open in 2012, will have Fastpass only because the Orlando executives handed over a bigger chunk of their property for the sprawling queue that a proper Standby line needs at a Fastpass attraction.
Why we're glad we're not Orlando
The Florida version of the Little Mermaid is one of the few things still certain about the larger Fantasyland expansion that it’s a part of, which is a good thing as it’s the lone headliner for that project. With Tom Staggs now firmly in charge of Disney Parks and Resorts, the girl-centric Fantasyland expansion for Magic Kingdom that was very heavy on Princesses and very light on testosterone was called into question early this summer. The Beauty and the Beast restaurant and the Little Mermaid ride are still a definite go, but the girly Princess meet n’ greets are on thin budgetary ice now and subject to additional cuts, and the entire eastern half of the expansion that was to comprise a Dumbo area and a bigger version of Disneyland’s Pixie Hollow (with a Tinker bell version of Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree coming to Carsland) has all been put into a holding pattern.
The Team Disney Orlando executives were already leery of the overall price tag, and so they are happy to oblige Tom with his request to step back and reconsider everything. Tom simply doesn’t think the overall plan gave the company the most bang for the buck, and as a father with three young sons, Tom wasn’t that impressed with the exclusively feminine components of the Fantasyland expansion there. All of this won’t impact the California version of the ride however, as Tom has given the thumbs up to continue spending the rest of the 1.2 Billion originally planned to be poured into DCA.
The future is alive
With all of this good news pouring in to Anaheim, and Tom Staggs becoming a familiar face in Anaheim and logging as many visits to Disneyland in his first six months as Jay Rasulo had done in his entire six years in the same post, there’s little wonder why the mood is so giddy back in the TDA building. George Kalogridis has taken some very positive steps to change the Cast Member environment in recent months, in addition to being a welcome change by simply taking regular strolls out in the theme parks he manages. George has developed a good working relationship with both Tony Baxter and John Lasseter, two chief executives who visit Disneyland regularly both on business and for pleasure, and it’s easy to see that the park still sparkles with the beefed up maintenance budgets TDA originally gave it for the 50th Anniversary but that continue through its 55th.
The snazzy upgrades Tony is pouring into major and minor attractions all over the park, from Snow White’s Scary Adventures to the Rivers of America to the Indiana Jones Adventure, are keeping him busy while the bigger plans for major Disneyland expansion continue to brew in Glendale. (And you can bet Tony’s originally modest plan to add the Hatbox Ghost back to Haunted Mansion in ’09 will get a major budget boost now that the high-profile Guillermo del Toro movie has gotten the greenlight.)
Those plans to add more capacity to Disneyland in the form of new attractions once the first phase of DCA expansion is done continues to move forward, and expanding Frontierland beyond the Big Thunder Ranch area is still a leading contender (area shown above). However, the swiftness with which World of Color changed crowd patterns between the two parks is being noted by those TDA planners tasked with the Disneyland capacity expansion, and they will be watching this fall and winter to see if that pattern holds up.
That type of logistical capacity is watched very closely by Disney, as the goal is to balance the daily peak crowds effectively, which is why the underutilized Frontierland area is such a favorite right now. 2011 was once thought to be a small incremental step for DCA towards its final relaunch in 2012, but with Star Tours 2.0 and the Soundsational parade and Little Mermaid and the rebuilt Paradise Pier area all opening next May, the summer of 2011 could build on the strong World of Color success and be a truly blockbuster year for Anaheim.
Now if they can just figure out a way to get all those people through a DCA main entrance that will be in the middle of a complete demolition.