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A Different look at Disney...

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The dog days of summer are upon Disneyland, and while it may seem like the rumor mill became suddenly quiet over the last few months, the reality is that after the frenzy of announcements and rumors regarding California Adventure (DCA) swept around the web in late '07 and early '08, park fans don't have much to discuss while the big concepts get tweaked and polished up.

We've been lobbing so many news items at Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) over the past 18 months that send them scrambling with denials and damage control, we've heard they are quite happy with the lull in mentionable rumors. Don't forget, the Billion-dollar DCA makeover is truly unprecedented in Disney theme park history, and since the bulldozers have yet to arrive we really were let in on the big secret almost two years before Disney would have normally liked to admit it.

But rest assured things continue to bubble along on all of the major projects we've filled you in on over the last year, and there are now at least enough bits of confirmed info to roll out a late summer update. We may not drop another big story on TDA this month, but there will be plenty more opportunities for that in the future. In the meantime, there are enough interesting changes afoot to keep the average fan interested.

Got the OJ chilled and the breakfast bar unwrapped yet? Better hurry up then, as we have a big update for you today! - Al

Before We Begin...

MiceChat's Dustysage wants to remind everyone about a huge upcoming event:

You asked for it and we are going to deliver - the MiceChat Gumball Rally is going to Walt Disney World October 18th, 2008! This time around, we challenge you to ride a set of attractions in all four parks in just one day! It promises to be a fun and unique way to visit the parks - all of them. Since our first event at Disneyland over two years ago, this has been your biggest request "Bring the Rally to Disney World," so we are! Whether this is your first visit to WDW or your hundredth, this event was designed for you to have a great time: Gumball Rally Information.

MiceChat Gumball Rally

And as if that weren't enough, as long as we'll be in WDW for the Rally, we are going to make a whole trip out of it. You are all invited to join us October 15th - 22 for our 3rd annual MiceChat WDW Invasion. This year's trip is designed to be flexible. The travel dates are adjustable so you can pick the number of days that work for your schedule. We also have a choice of a budget or moderate resort so you can work this trip around your budget as well. MiceChat WDW Invasion Information.

Aside from the regular group meets that you can look forward to, MiceChatters Mickeymaxx and Rixter are hosting a "Sip and Nibble" around Epcot's Food and Wine Festival on Sunday the 19th. This event was such a blast last year that we are doing it again. You won't want to miss the Sip and Nibble at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival. And to top off the evening, we are throwing an Epcot Illuminations Dessert Party - what a delicious way to end a remarkable day - Illuminations event info.

Come for the weekend or stay for the entire week! Whether you are a casual reader of this column or a busy member of the boards, we invite you to join us for any or all of the events above. All of the events are listed HERE.

We sincerely hope to see you all in October!

Now let's get started, shall we?


Shake it!

While Disneyland is experiencing the lowest summer attendance levels its seen in five years, the lull was jolted along with the rest of Southern California by the moderate earthquake last Tuesday. The 11:45 am quake caused no damage at the parks, but since it was widely felt every attraction was at least temporarily shut down. Even rides like the canoes and Main Street vehicles that were completely unaffected were closed for a brief time while the situation was assessed. Within 20 minutes attractions began to reopen, and only a small handful of rides were closed for more than an hour. By mid afternoon every Anaheim attraction had reopened after being checked out by maintenance staff and a team of engineers from TDA.

Botching those monorails ain't cheap!
Admission prices went up a few more bucks last weekend too.

But the sudden closure of every attraction at both Disneyland and DCA left about 50,000 visitors to just wander around both parks trying to find something to do. Those staying at local hotels went back to the room for a swim and a nap, but many day visitors swarmed City Hall demanding refunds. Just after Noon the line for City Hall was stretching down Main Street, and by 12:30 it was heading towards Coke Corner at the end of the street.

Most of those folks in line were visiting from overseas or back east and didn't understand that Californians get on with their lives fairly quickly after an earthquake. And the true irony was that by the time they made it all the way to the front of the line to City Hall, almost every attraction had reopened and Disneyland had resumed its normal operation. Still, City Hall issued reams of replacement tickets and a few thousand people left for the day just as the park returned to normal service. The parades, Fantasmic! and the fireworks all performed as scheduled that day, and overall the response to the earthquake was really very commendable on the Cast Member's part.


No Vacancy

While attendance has softened considerably, with Disneyland averaging about 41,000 visitors per day this summer, the spending levels of those who are visiting is still extremely strong. The money pouring in to the resort's cash registers this year is boosted by the weak dollar and a big increase in visitors from overseas, particularly Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

That overseas demographic is the big catch for Disney, as per capita they outspend an American tourist nearly 2 to 1, and a day-tripping local or Annual Passholder by nearly 4 to 1. While overall attendance has softened, the foreign visitors have arrived in bigger numbers and with nice fat pocketbooks, so Disneyland continues to see very strong spending inside the parks.

No DCA getting in the way either.
Remember the days when monorails and hotels ran as they should?

Where things have really softened in Anaheim is at the hotels, with occupancy rates declining 15% or more from last summer. This is where the absence of locals and West Coast visitors is being felt the most, and it's really throwing a monkey wrench into the original plans to expand the Disney-owned hotel presence in Anaheim.

We'd told you about the plans to revamp the Disneyland Hotel one tower at a time, and while that project has been sent back to the planning room due to the archaic 1960's infrastructure that can't support the changes needed, the sudden decline in occupancy is causing a rethink of the timeline if the towers need to be destroyed and a new hotel is built from scratch. The jury is still out on what is to happen to the Disneyland Hotel since the tower refurbishment plan fell apart, but nevertheless the concept of imploding the towers and building a grand new hotel is gaining a lot of traction in both Glendale and TDA.


No Walk in the Garden

The other wrinkle in the plans for new Disney hotels in Anaheim is over at GardenWalk. That new mall finally opened last month, after 8 years of delays and false starts. And unlike the response to Downtown Disney when it first opened, the reaction to the grand opening of GardenWalk has been the sound of crickets echoing off the blank cement walls of that empty mall. While about one third of the mall spaces have been opened, or are in the process of installing shops that will open in the months ahead, the San Diego developer that owns the mall has had a few major tenants like Swedish retailer H&M, or Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his planned surf party restaurant, ultimately back out of signing leases at the mall.

I'm so lonely...
While either end of the mall gets some activity due to the theaters and restaurants...

The mood amongst the current retailers there this summer is quiet disbelief that the place is as empty as it is, even during summer evenings, when Downtown Disney continues to pack in locals and tourists alike. The restaurants on Katella are doing moderate business at least at dinner on weekends, although they are still far below the numbers they had planned on and built for.

The trendy "300" bowling alley, the new movie theater and the ultra lounge on Disney Way have now all opened to very few customers, although they may be able to build a local clientele over the next few months. Clearly however, right now the tourists don't know how to get to GardenWalk at least for its better dining and newer movie theaters, or why they should bother skipping Downtown Disney for the place.

...I could die. - Elvis
... but the rest of it remains empty, as seen last Sunday at dusk in these two photos.

That's all left the development without a critical mass of anchor tenants, a collection of struggling smaller stores, and a location that still seems cut off from the major tourist action on Harbor Blvd. The GardenWalk location in working class central Anaheim, instead of the more affluent neighborhoods to the east in Orange, Villa Park and Anaheim Hills, also isn't helping the upscale stores and restaurants attract a steady crowd of locals while the tourists pass on the four block walk from the Hilton. And while rumors swirl in the mall development world that Excel Realty Holdings is trying to find a buyer for the struggling mall, Disney is now waiting for a resolution to the potential sale before they agree to move forward with plans to operate two new hotels attached to the malls eastern half.

Unfortunately, it's a vicious cycle as the mall can't be sold without more tenants and customers, new tenants won't agree to go in until the hotels are built, and Disney won't agree to build the hotels until the issue over mall ownership and tenant mix are hashed out. The very least the mall owners could do is buy some MiracleGro in bulk and put some meaning behind the name GardenWalk. As it is now, it's really just a sterile cement canyon that bears little resemblance to any kind of garden.

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THERE ARE (YES) SIX PAGES TODAY; CLICK HERE FOR PAGE TWO

2008 Al Lutz

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