The Disneyland Resort has been having a great summer this year, with projected park attendance, spending and hotel occupancies all at or above their already lofty targets. Bob Iger’s carefully worded statements to the investment community last week could barely hide the fact that Anaheim is now the top performer in Disney’s North American theme park group. The summer ends with yet another fitting party in Anaheim this week, with the D23 convention arriving to pack the hotels and parks with Disney fans from around the world just as the summer season would normally be winding down.
Even with a very busy property, Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) execs have been spending recent weeks focusing on 2012 and planning a major shift in attention away from Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom and towards next June’s reveal of Disney California Adventure’s huge makeover. In this update we’ll fill you in on what TDA’s current mindset is on re-launching DCA in a big way, some of the last minute adjustments being made to DCA’s expansion, as well as what to expect and what not to expect from the top-secret D23 Expo agenda, and of course the latest dish from the halls of Team Disney Anaheim.
As always, a special thanks goes out to Andy Castro and Fishbulb for kind use of their photos. Did you drive thru Dunkin this morning for a cinnamon bun, with a cup of coffee? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
Before we dive into all the DCA news, we do have one item about Disneyland that should put a smile on more than just a Cheshire Cat.
Finally WDI has cooked up an aesthetically pleasing plan to make the outdoor portions of the Alice In Wonderland track more suitable to the safety police. However, the ongoing and extended rehabs at the Matterhorn through next June don't make it easy to slot that Alice rehab in to the park's rehab schedule without creating a big dead zone right in the middle of the park with both of those neighboring attractions closed down.
Depending on what else needs to close for rehab this winter, they'll bite the bullet and close both rides at the same time in January/February, or wait to close Alice until later in 2012 after the Matterhorn has returned to service.
I've said it before, but its still important to note that the massive overhaul of Disney California Adventure is unprecedented in the history of Disney theme parks. (And for the record, Toy Story Midway Mania and most of World of Color’s budget wasn’t part of the 1.2 Billion slotted for it.) DCA is now into the home stretch of that four year construction project, and the park couldn’t look uglier out at the main entrance area. It’s going to get even uglier over the winter, until the new buildings and aesthetics of Buena Vista Street finally begin to emerge by next spring.
When DCA is finally done and ready to star at its debutante ball, TDA wants to make sure everyone living west of the Rockies and around the Pacific Rim countries knows about it. As we’ve mentioned in previous updates, the timeline on getting Buena Vista Street finished is extremely tight, and right now that opening date is being placed firmly in the fourth week of June, and the opening ceremonies are now likely to be held the last two days of June leading into the 4th of July holiday.
Rather than just trot out the usual media party however, as they did nicely for this summer’s debut of Star Tours, Little Mermaid and the Soundsational Parade, TDA is thinking bigger for DCA’s re-launch. The Anaheim planners have gone back into the storerooms and dug out the old plans for the launch of Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary in May, 2005 to use as a template for DCA’s re-launch.
Under serious consideration at this time is a plan to mount a multi-day media event that begins by shutting down DCA entirely for a day to “set the stage” and build excitement, much like Disneyland was shut down to the general public on May 4th 2005, the day before the 50th celebration began. The 50th events of May, 2005 are also being used as a template when it comes to Anaheim site logistics, media exposure, Cast Member deployment, and strategic planning. The grand reopening of DCA next June is being planned to be something that is talked about for years, and since Burbank wants to see its investment pay off they are encouraging TDA to think as big as they can.
Obviously Cars Land is going to be the big driver of media attention and overall interest in the re-launch. Regular readers note that as each new attraction gets ready to open out here in Anaheim we discuss not only it, but the various processes involved as each department in the resort gets ready to deal with the expected crowds and expanded operational logistics. Through the various updates, we step you through all the first reactions (expected crowds) planning efforts (crowd control) and finally how well (or not) all the planning pays off, or is tweaked. (Example: Yes, they were initially very concerned about World of Color's capacity, but the smaller than expected prime viewing areas became a positive as dining/fastpass packages were developed and refined.) It's very much a set process of discovery, that may come across as repetitive, but it’s not really covered by the regular media or the enthusiast forums. Knowing what goes into all this provides insight as to why certain decisions are made, and how well the resort responds to challenges, which for the most part is well handled under the current management.
As part of the strategy planned for next summer, DCA’s operations groups are already wrapping their heads around a plan to create a queue and waiting area to get into Cars Land. There is a blunt realization now that there will be days next year that the 12 acre Cars Land expansion will max out and simply become full. Radiator Springs Racers is the headliner draw, and at 1.5 miles of track and a mega-budget unseen in North American attractions until now. That one mega-E Ticket is seen by TDA as being able to put Cars Land and DCA on the map in much the same way the new Harry Potter ride now has many folks rebooking Orlando vacation plans to visit Universal’s Islands of Adventure instead of Animal Kingdom or Sea World. But it’s the rather modest hourly capacity of the Racers attraction that has the management worried about that first summer.
The hourly capacity of Radiator Springs Racers is currently pegged by WDI at an underwhelming 1460 riders per hour. That’s roughly half the hourly capacity of Pirates of the Caribbean, and just a tad more per hour than the capacity of Star Tours or Splash Mountain. There’s already space being planned into Cars Land to contain a standby queue for Radiator Springs Racers of just over 3 hours, and generally people won’t wait much longer than that for any ride in Anaheim’s attraction-heavy parks. The two smaller rides; Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Flying Tires, also have a low hourly capacity and Cars Land as a whole is only expected to deliver an additional 2,700 riders per hour to DCA’s overall hourly ride capacity total.
As a comparison, the Little Mermaid’s Omnimover system has been gobbling up riders to the tune of 1,900 to 2,000 per hour all summer, and the ride rarely has more than a 15 minute wait because of it. The original scenario from early this summer has held steady, with Little Mermaid carrying up to 22,000 riders per day with minimal lines in a short 10 hour operating day, while Star Tours has 2 hour Standby lines but can barely manage to get 18,000 people per day onto the ride, even with Disneyland’s extra five hours of daily operation compared to DCA.
Cars Land is expected to draw more people into the land each hour than can logistically experience it, even when all three attractions are running at full capacity and barring the usual first-summer breakdowns that will be very common in 2012. Thus, visitors can expect that much of the day they’ll be held in staging areas for a time before being allowed in to explore the new land. The fourth new attraction at DCA next summer is the Red Car Trolley, but it too will have a low hourly capacity of only several hundred per hour with both trolleys running. One of the trolleys is also being reserved for an hour or two each day by the Entertainment Department, who have been tasked with coming up with a short musical show using the trolley car several times per day in both the Hollywood area and at DCA’s main entrance plaza.
One immediate change due to DCA’s re-launch will be in the operating hours. DCA will be opening at 8:00 AM daily next summer, along with Disneyland, and close at 11:00PM while Disneyland continues to operate until Midnight. That will add three additional operating hours to DCA, even though TDA planners are now only expecting a 10% increase in DCA attendance for next summer. But those three extra hours will hopefully mitigate some of the daily demand issues at the most popular attractions and throughout Cars Land. In addition, there’s an early-entry plan being cooked up to only allow guests at the three Disney Hotels to enter DCA an hour early, much like Disneyland does with a broader range of domestic and international tourist packages through its Magic Morning program.
In the meantime, there are plenty of tweaks being made to the other elements of DCA’s expansion. The Carthay Circle Theater restaurant complex is one of them, with TDA getting a case of cold feet about setting up the restaurant as a membership-only offering. There’s a plan now to continue to develop the 2nd floor restaurant as an expensive fine dining location, but to open it up to the general public for at least the first year or two.
As we’ve told you previously, the ground floor of the Carthay Circle Theater has been designed with two separate cocktail lounges, and the original plan was for one lounge to be the private bar paired with the members-only dining room upstairs. But now TDA has been considering creating a DCA version of Club 33 in stages and opening the Carthay Circle Theater with only one of the cocktail lounges as a private club and then turning the dining room into a membership restaurant at a later date if demand at the private lounge warrants it.
The private cocktail lounge would be marketed to Premium Annual Passholders willing to upgrade their pass to the Carthay Circle Club. The second lounge on the ground floor would be open to the public, serving a full appetizer menu and cocktails. This phased approach to the membership concept makes many folks in TDA more comfortable in this rocky economy, although there’s still a faction convinced the member-only idea is still the way to go for the upstairs dining room as well. Regardless of which concept wins out, they’ll need to announce it soon to get an interest list forming.
Clean cup! Clean cup!
Nearby in Hollywood, the elecTRONica street party will continue through this winter and spring, and TDA is actually looking forward to the return of the Annual Passholders this fall. (Imagine that!) The AP demographic in particular has shown continued enthusiasm for dropping in to elecTRONica on weekend nights to dance and ensure the bars sell a few hundred thousand dollars worth of glowing cocktails each night. (No wonder they’re putting two separate bars into the Carthay Circle Theater; the AP population has proven to have very strong livers).
But by next spring elecTRONica will have overstayed its welcome, and yet TDA just can’t give up the popular street party they literally stumbled onto last summer with the original Glow Fest. Conceived originally as simply a way to absorb the crowds waiting for their World of Color Fastpass time, Glow Fest became the sleeper hit of the summer and an attendance-driver in its own right. TDA is now convinced a themed street festival and dance party must continue in DCA, even after the park’s re-launch, and they’ll continue training the AP crowds this winter to expect it.
Next summer, kicking off as part of the DCA re-launch, the Hollywood area street party will be built around the theme of “Mad Tea Party”. This new Mad Tea Party nightly event will use all of the elements proven to be popular with both Glow Fest and elecTRONica; top-notch DJ’s and go-go dancers recruited from the LA club scene, a custom stage show, a full lighting and decor package, novelty cocktails worthy of an upcharge, and a light dusting of contemporary Disney references to keep it family friendly.
The obvious Alice In Wonderland aesthetic for Mad Tea Party will skew more to the recent Tim Burton movie rather than the original 1951 animated film; think PG rated nightclub rather than Plaza Inn character breakfast here. Mad Tea Party is planned to run through the spring of ’13, to be replaced either by another street party or the funds from Burbank to begin a Phase Two makeover of DCA’s hodgepodge Hollywood Backlot area, tied in with the big plans to upgrade the Hyperion Theater complex.
With all that going on in Cars Land, Buena Vista Street and the new Mad Tea Party, TDA won’t be ignoring the rest of DCA over the next nine months. The Pixar Play Parade will return this Christmas on a temporary route, with the popular DCA parade reappearing on Friday, December 16th and running through the spring. The planners are also currently compiling a list of DCA facilities and attractions that need cosmetic refurbishment this winter, in a park-wide plan called “Project Sparkle”.
Much like the cosmetic rehab Disneyland received prior to the 50th, TDA will be going through DCA and painting, repairing and sprucing up any corners of the park that may look a bit neglected in comparison to the shiny new attractions and buildings that have opened in the last few years. However, thanks to a very competent TDA team of the last six years, DCA (and the whole Resort) already looks much better cosmetically than Disneyland did back in 2003-04 when the massive 50th refurbishment began.
In addition to the buildings, dozens of new Cast Member costumes will be rolling out this winter and spring at existing DCA locations, above and beyond all the new costumes to be worn at the locations in Cars Land and Buena Vista Street next summer. After creating much-improved themed costumes for the Paradise Pier Cast Members in 2010 and ‘11, the goal with the rest of DCA’s new costumes is to eradicate the last of the cheap and generic Cast Member costumes that DCA opened with in 2001.
Toll Road Ahead
Disney California Adventure is obviously where all of the energy is being directed at over the next year. With all of that hype building, it’s no wonder that a new team of managers has been formed this summer in TDA working under the titles of “Experience Development” and “Annual Passholder Transformation”. It’s this team who has been tasked with managing the increased demand for DCA as it transforms from a release valve for Disneyland where tourists and AP’s go for a few hours to escape the Disneyland crowds, and into a legit Disney theme park and aesthetically pleasing environment that can hold your attention for a full day.
The value of being able to park hop in Anaheim has grown a great deal since World of Color debuted, and it will take another giant leap in value next summer with Cars Land and a vastly improved DCA environment. It comes as no surprise then that park hopping would become a premium privilege priced accordingly. We’ve told you in the past about TDA’s ongoing interest in setting up a very different ticketing strategy where prices for theme park admission rise and fall with the various seasons, much like they do at Hong Kong Disneyland.
TDA knows it can’t sustain its current AP load built up to almost a million passholders over the last half decade, and so it’s going to be figuring out a way to manage them better and “transform” what it means to own an Annual Pass in Anaheim. That’s all in addition to simply raising prices further in ’12 and allowing the market to dictate the crowd levels, of course.
With all of that activity swirling around DCA, you can bet the transformation of the park we’ve loved to hate will be the star of the D23 Expo this weekend. After Jay Rasulo’s big announcement of the DCA extreme makeover was revealed by us online beforehand back in ’07, and then Jay’s planned reveal of Star Tours 2 and WDW’s Fantasyland expansion were widely leaked online weeks before the last D23 Expo in ’09, Tom Staggs has successfully kept the agenda for his D23 Expo speech a very closely guarded secret.
It's expected that the WDI-operated Parks & Resorts Pavilion will offer up a treasure trove of models and artwork and props from both Cars Land and Buena Vista Street (with some of the stuff moving to the next Blue Sky Cellar exhibit in September). But it’s the Friday keynote address by Staggs that has the ability to surprise, with rewrites and decisions on what to reveal ongoing even this week.
We’ve detailed in previous updates much of what Staggs may have in his arsenal to announce for Anaheim this week, but for convenience here’s the short list of things he may decide to mention on Friday. These are listed from biggest and most expensive (less likely) to smaller and cheaper (and more likely) to make the final draft of his speech.
Potential Tom Staggs D23 Expo Keynote Address Topics
- The Frontierland expansion both TDA and Tony Baxter want very badly, but that Burbank has been reluctant to fund
- The Tomorrowland expansion both TDA and Tony Baxter want a bit less, but that Burbank has been reluctant to fund
- Any elements of Phase Two for DCA; Hollywood and Hyperion Theater makeover, Condor Flats and Grizzly Mountain makeover and new Soarin’ film, a second Pixar dark ride in Paradise Pier
- The proposed upgrades to Disneyland classic E Tickets like Matterhorn, Big Thunder, and Haunted Mansion.
- The Carthay Circle Theater private membership club
- New dining attractions in the parks; the Ghirardelli factory in Pacific Wharf and the Mary Poppins bakery at the Plaza Pavilion
Staggs should also discuss Orlando (oh well, hope springs eternal) and maybe give a murky peak at Shanghai Disneyland. In the latter situation he will likely throw in visuals of the deluxe Lakeshore Hotel or mid-range Tomorrowland Hotel instead of leaking much info about the newest Disney theme park itself. This will help avoid any solid info from getting out to the public yet, not just to foil copyright infringement from other Chinese parks, but also because WDI has been asked to put two of the park’s areas on the back burner now and the Shanghai park will likely debut with just three, instead of the five, major themed lands it could have had at build out.
Mapping the route
For those attending the D23 Expo this year, they'll find it has scaled itself down a bit from its 2009 version not only in its duration but in its physical layout - which should make it much easier to navigate.
The Anaheim Convention Center (seen above during the last Expo) is the largest convention center on the West Coast at well over a million square feet, and the D23 Expo will be filling half of it this year, primarily in exhibit halls A and B, and parts of the 2nd and 3rd floor that were used in ’09 won't this time. D23 planners have also pushed the stage forward and scaled the 10,000 seat Anaheim Arena down to 4,000 seats to host the executive keynote addresses. As of last week, there were still lower priced tickets available to all Anaheim Cast Members, and the resort’s Special Events department will be sending over fewer crowd control CM’s than they did in ’09.
Regardless of the smaller footprint this year, the longer lead time before the 2011 Expo and the calendar change from September to August has allowed a great many more Disney fans from around the world to book trips to Anaheim this week. We'll be there of course, and look forward to saying hello to those who stop by our booth. We'll have coverage of all the goings on all weekend, and a wrap up next week.
It will be quite telling to see which executives show up later this week in Anaheim. George Kalogridis and his top TDA execs will be out in force as the de facto hosts for the Anaheim event. What wasn’t clear just last week was whether or not Meg Crofton or any of the WDW executives would make the trek out to SoCal for D23. At the very least, you would think the Team Disney Orlando (TDO) execs and their spouses would want to escape the Orlando weather this time of year. If Meg does make her appearance, it will be her chance to introduce herself formally to the legions of curious Cast Members and Imagineers in Anaheim and Glendale.
Meg’s first visit to Anaheim several weeks ago was an unpublicized event that allowed her to see the Anaheim property first hand, as she has very little experience with Disneyland or Southern California. A decision was made by a well-meaning TDA organizer to rent a fancy “executive limousine-bus” so that George Kalogridis could drive Meg around the various parts of the Anaheim property along with the top TDA Vice Presidents so they could explain out in the field how Disneyland Resort all fits together. The shiny rented bus was all black with very dark tinted windows, looking like something from a bad spy movie or a Barbra Streisand road tour.
As it traveled all over property the appearance was that TDA was protecting a standoffish Florida leader cloaked in secrecy and unwilling to let the unwashed masses of California Cast Members to even look at her. It should be noted that Anaheim Cast Members, from Jungle Cruise Skippers right up to their top management, are inherently suspicious about anyone from Walt Disney World. Anaheim Cast members CM’s travel to WDW regularly on cheap vacations, and they’ve seen firsthand what has become of the sprawling property out there. An unsettling black bus trolling the backstage alleyways of Disneyland with Floridians aboard doesn’t help put their mind at ease.
Word got out quickly amongst the CM’s and middle management that Meg was in town, and that her darkly tinted limo-bus was to be allowed to enter or exit through any gate or part of the property it wanted to with no questions asked. The format of the bus tour was understandable, but there probably should have been just a bit of schmoozy meet n’ greets planned along the route, as just 20 minutes spent showing her face and saying hello in a few of the busy Cast Member cafeterias would have spread the word that Meg was in town and that she’s actually quite a nice lady. But the ominous black bus with deeply tinted windows and a tight schedule to keep sent the opposite message, unfortunately unintended.
Let’s hope that if Team Disney Orlando execs do make it out to D23 that... they remember the power of today's social media and instant communication, that the Cast Members who operate their properties don’t bite, and that Disneylanders in particular are intensely proud of their park and would love to show off their home turf to the visitors from back east. (We won't even get into how more than a few TDA suits nowadays make a special point to be out among the visitors and many of the annual passholder regulars, interactions which are much too rare on the other coast.)