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October has ushered in autumn in Southern California, and with it has come record crowds for Disneylandís wildly successful HalloweenTime promotion and a raft of headaches for Anaheim planners trying to manage those growing crowds. October also is the start of the new fiscal year for Disney, and that often means executive contracts for bigwigs like former Disneyland President Ed Grier come up for review.

In this update weíll fill you in on why the huge crowds in recent days are driving Disneyland managers crazy, as well as tell you about several of the rumored changes headed to Anaheim, and the very promising news regarding the new president and why heís going to be a good change for Anaheim.

Let's splurge with our morning nosh shall we? I'm in the mood for some Starbucks; an ice blended mocha should be a much easier find very soon. Let's get going. - Al

Meet George

Weíll begin by filling you in on why Anaheim Cast Members are surprised and happy that George Kalogridis is returning to Anaheim to fill the vacancy left by Ed Grier.

To Edís credit, he did a fine job of helping Anaheim mayor Curt Pringle heal the rift between Disney and the city after a failed attempt in 2007 to build condominiums in the hospitality zoned district pitted the city council against Disney and damaged what had been a historically warm partnership between Disneyland and Anaheim.

Two people in search of a camera.

But while Ed successfully worked the cocktail party circuit off property, he left most of the day to day operation to his lieutenants and made it clearly obvious he didnít have much interest in their business of theme parks and hotels. Worse, Ed tried to combat that well-earned reputation for being distant by occasionally showing up in the park only when a TDA photographer was with him to capture the rare event for future issues of employee newsletters. (Note to TDA executives; your employees arenít stupid and they can spot phony PR a mile away, so itís best not to put on a show if the feeling isnít genuine.)

With the Disneyland presidency on a standard three year contract, (that has become known as the Disneyland Curse), Edís term was up this fall. There wasnít going to be a place for Ed at the end of his contract, so he's resigned (um, retired) at age 54 after skyrocketing from obscure lower-level executive accountant to Disneyland Resort President literally overnight back in í06.

The good news is that Ed has been replaced with George Kalogridis, who is much different because George has a genuine interest in Disney theme park operations. Georgeís resume includes the badge of honor of clashing famously with former president Cynthia Harriss, when George was brought out from Florida in 2000 to help run Anaheimís operation as they transitioned to a multi-park resort during the opening of DCA. George, a native Floridian who started his career as a busboy at the Contemporary Resort at Disney World back in 1971, has Disney running through his veins and he often disagreed with Cynthiaís flawed plans and ideas for Anaheim.

After a tumultuous two years working as the Senior Vice President of Operations for Cynthia, George was demoted and sent packing in late 2001 by Cynthia under the guise of structural changes after 9/11. Paul Pressler was still the Chairman of Parks & Resorts back then, and out of all the senior executives of the time, Cynthia had the closest relationship with Paul and always had his ear.

Cynthia and Paul thought it wiser to send this tenured and talented theme park guy named George packing in late 2001, and Cynthia made the infamous decision to replace George with retired Army General T Irby as Anaheimís top Senior Vice President of Operations. George was actually demoted in title by Paul Pressler to a Vice President, and was sent off to the corporate backwater of Travel Operations for Walt Disney World, effectively in charge of the reservation call centers in a suburban Tampa office park.

Knows where Tomorrowland is.

It speaks volumes about Georgeís commitment to Disney that he put up with that demotion in title and prestige, and waited it out for the Paul Pressler era to end and for his solid reputation to land him the plum assignment in Paris in Ď06. When George was sent off to Tampa, the unfortunate direction the Anaheim property took in 2002 and 2003 under the leadership of Paul, Cynthia and T Irby is now legendary and could fill a book, but suffice it to say that if you were blackballed by that group like George Kalogridis was, and lived to tell about it like he has, youíve now earned a great deal of respect from Anaheim Cast Members.

George will be moving back to OC from his digs with the killer view of the Eiffel Tower that he shared with his partner, where he had been for the last three years working as the Senior Vice President of Operations for Disneyland Paris. Anaheim Cast Members can expect to see George regularly around property, especially during the busy weekends this holiday season, as it is widely accepted that Ed was far too absent from property and Anaheim Cast Members of all stripes are hoping to see their leader with them in the trenches once in awhile. (And leave that photographer back at TDA please.)

George is remembered from 2001 as a Senior Vice President who was always walking the parks during the busiest days, calling managers on the spot when he saw things he either didnít like, or had questions about. George has his work cut out for him, not just restoring the Disneyland presidency on property, but off property as well.

Ed successfully helped patch up the relationship between Disneyland and the local community, and now George is going to need to shepherd that relationship through some important projects ahead like the big California High Speed Rail station in Anaheim, the plans for an elevated peoplemover system from that new station to Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, and ongoing planning headaches with Caltrans and the city over the need for more parking, better traffic management, and ever more resort expansion. And lucky for George, his new three year contract will also have plenty of glamorous grand openings for him to attend with a Billion dollars worth of new attractions coming to DCA.

Suffice it to say that of all the names that were on the short list to replace Ed Grier, George Kalogridis making the final cut is good news for Anaheim. All that is left for Anaheim leaders to wonder about now is if Ed Grierís son who was given a desk job in TDA is going to finally be asked to cut his hair, since the younger Grier flaunts a hairstyle that clearly violates the "Disney Look" grooming policies thatís had TDA and park managers grumbling in private.


Adventures in Parking

When George does arrive in Anaheim, heís lucky that he has a reserved parking spot for his company Cadillac, as parking at Disneyland is devolving into chaos this fall as the parks are packed to the rafters. Since TDA bundled up some new Halloween themed offerings at Disneyland and DCA and branded it as HalloweenTime a few years ago, the promotion has grown in popularity every year. Just five years ago the conventional wisdom was that Knottís Berry Farm owned Halloween with their Scary Farm offerings, but Disneyland owned Christmas and New Years and Disney wouldnít be able to crack the Halloween market with locals, nor should they try.

But after they were prodded into trying again by Matt Ouimet in 2006, Disney has now successfully carved an entirely new niche amongst locals looking for a less gory and intense but lavish theme park offering for Halloween. And when the market research in 2008 told TDA that their growing HalloweenTime was in danger of skewing just a bit too young, they gambled in Ď09 and won big by greenlighting the new PG rated Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and a spooky new fireworks show. And next door at DCA, the very successful Mickeyís Trick or Treat Parties continue to sell out all 6,000 extra-cost tickets each night.

You would think thatís good news, right?

Wrong!

The problem is that ever expanding base of Annual Passholders, who are now at the 850,000 mark and still growing, have thrown a monkey wrench into the resort infrastructure that was designed and built 10 years ago for a different visitor demographic. For instance, during the period of 1998-2000, Disney expanded their parking and intra-property transportation based on mid 1990ís research when Annual Passholders numbered fewer than 100,000 and there were no plans to grow that population much beyond that.

The Mickey & Friends parking structure, the largest in North America, was built to handle 10,000 cars that were then assumed to have an average of nearly 4 passengers per vehicle. But in 2009 the passengers per vehicle average slumps to less than 2 passengers per vehicle when tens of thousands of Annual Passholders descend on the resort, often driving solo or with just one other person, with plans to meet up with friends once they get in the park.

When they said third park...

And instead of arriving in the morning, being directed to a specific section and row in the parking lot and then leaving the car there for most of the day, as nearly all Disneyland visitors did from the 1950ís to the 1990ís, Annual Passholders now are driving in alone or with a friend just to spend two or three hours in the park before they head home.

The end result is that the sprawling Disneyland Resort parking operation which seemed so comprehensive as planned almost 15 years ago, is now chronically short of spaces and continually behind the curve when it comes to shuffling cars around into the few remaining empty spots.

This is not news for anyone who has tried to park a car at Disneyland in recent weekends, with Fridayís and Sundayís being the worst. Parking managers are now forced to play a resortwide game of Automotive Stratego where they purposely close the Mickey & Friends Structure for most of the afternoon, even though there are still thousands of open spaces on multiple empty levels, in order to force afternoon arrivals into the far-flung surface lots around the property and borrowed space at GardenWalk and the Anaheim Convention Center. That allows them to reopen the Mickey & Friends structure in the early evening and have a few thousand spaces for arriving passholders, even though those still arenít enough and all of their parking options are maxed out by mid evening.

Theyíve even begun shutting down Cast Member surface lots in outlying areas to try and free up a few hundred extra spaces for passholders, which creates huge headaches, long lines, and overcrowded shuttles for Cast Members trying to find a parking spot and get to their shift on time. A new surface lot is on the way for the Christmas season, but that will still require the inefficient bus service to get to the Esplanade.

Teardown, Winabagos a commin'

And Disney has recently made arrangements to buy property north of Pumbaa (shown above) and expand their parking footprint to the north of the Pumbaa lot, with a six level parking structure on the way there for early next decade. Originally the Pumbaa lot was going to have an eight level garage built on a smaller footprint, but with the new piece of property added into the mix the garage is now planned to be wider and lower to help with resort area sightlines.


Boo! You've been blocked!

Once youíve parked though, thereís still no guarantee that Disneyland will be able to let you in for HalloweenTime due to overcrowding inside the park. That happened multiple times this past weekend, with the Disneyland ticket booths suspending ticket sales for hours at a time, and the unusual dictate of not even allowing arriving Premium Annual Passholders into Disneyland. TDA, in a bit of a panic by early October, even had to convince the Burbank corporate office to send out an unheard of update to the company complimentary admission passes all Disney employees receive. When DCA closes at 6:00PM every Friday to get ready for the trick or treat party, (not a wise move on the planners part), the evening crowds are then funneled to Disneyland and the whole property reaches critical mass.

Effective immediately, all Fridays in October, plus Saturday October 31st, have become employee blockout days where the main gate admission pass for employees and their families is no longer valid in Anaheim. The employee blockouts will prevent around 3,000 or 4,000 free admissions on the average Friday.

The numbers on who the other visitors are tell the story. This past weekend for instance, Sunday had a projected attendance of 62,000, of which over 35,000 were Annual Passholders. That type of split between passholders and more traditional tourists and day trippers is fairly common now, but when Disney was planning the new resort expansion in the 1990ís that type of attendance mix was unthinkable. Back then, Disney was building the second park and expanding the resort amenities to attract big spending tourists on multi-day visits, and only Downtown Disney was considered to be a more casual offering for locals spending just a few hours on property.

Forget Guffman, we're waiting for Churros.

With the numbers now stacked against the Anaheim resort, it was the one-two punch of this yearís new HalloweenTime offerings that pushed it all over the edge. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy has been very popular and hit itís Tween to Young Adult demographic right on the nose, while the new Halloween Screams fireworks are pulling in big crowds of all ages. Primarily because of that, Disneyland has had to unexpectedly extend its weekday operation to 9:00 PM every day for the last two weeks, with all remaining weekdays for the rest of the month already scheduled for closing at 9:00 PM or later. A third nightly Fantasmic! was added this past weekend to help as well. You can expect to see the same madhouse parking strategy, restricted theme park entry, and gridlocked crowds in Disneyland and Downtown Disney for the next three weekends until HalloweenTime mercifully comes to an end on November 1st.

And donít think TDA isnít already planning on starting the Halloween festivities earlier in September next year, and getting more blockout dates onto the 2010 employee passes sent this December. And of course, the stats and figures behind this latest HalloweenTime mess are being noted by the executive committee weíve told you about that has been set up to study Disneylandís Annual Pass program. You can bet price hikes are in the cards for Christmas, and again in 2010.


Color it Crowded

Itís exactly those huge crowds of Annual Passholders, 850,000 strong, that has Mary Niven, the Vice President of DCA, and her managers running scared as the debut of World of Color gets closer every week. While the complicated installation of this massive and revolutionary new show is currently running several weeks behind schedule, the delays are minor and arenít yet jeopardizing the planned grand opening for the weekend of April 24th.

But, the new amphitheater viewing area is being built for 9,000 people and DCA managers are realizing itís going to take them almost a hundred performances before each Annual Passholder can see the show just once. Thereís also going to be a few thousand park-hopping tourists in DCA each day, exactly the people that the Billion dollar DCA makeover was really supposed to lure with their fatter wallets. The realization has now sunk in that for at least the first few months, and likely through the rest of 2010, World of Color is going to be a show with demand that will far outstrip its ability to satisfy everyone in sufficient numbers.

What to do about this problem, especially from May to August when the late setting sun wonít allow but one show per night on many evenings? The current plan is to make World of Color the first ticketed nighttime spectacular in Disney theme park history. Using standard Fastpass technology, DCA managers are fine tuning the idea of a new concept called Showpass; a ticket that would be required to get into the viewing amphitheater.

Psssst, wanna buy some pins... cheap!

The plan is to re-install Fastpass machines into the old Fastpass distribution area for Itís Tough To Be A Bug. (Believe it or not, the 3-D Bug show and MuppetVision were both opened with Fastpass in 2001, back when DCA was going to be a roaring success.) The Fastpass wiring and data lines are all still there, just the machines and some new signage are required to use the facility in the center of the park for Showpass.

This area would be christened the Showpass Distribution Center, and World of Color Showpasses would be automatically distributed here each day beginning at park opening. Using the barcode on your ticket or Annual Pass, you could get one dated Showpass per person that would allow you entrance that evening into the World of Color viewing amphitheater. Once all of the Showpasses were distributed for the day, if you arrived at the park too late you will be watching World of Color from the sidelines, or the shows backside on the Paradise Pier side of the lagoon.

Instant park!

Even with a valid Showpass in hand, a line of eager Disney fans is expected to form every afternoon, with the current plan of pointing the line down the parade route and hoping thereís still room for the floats to get by. The Showpass wonít assign you to a specific viewing section, it simply guarantees you access to the amphitheater with a first come, first serve process of securing your viewing space, festival seating style. The amphitheater would be open to everyone during the day, with the shade trees and interactive fountain play area encouraging people to hang out. But by early evening the amphitheater would be cleared and readied for the growing line of Showpass ticket holders to be let in well before show time.

On nights where two World of Color shows are planned, particularly in winter when the sun sets early, the Showpass concept will make it easier to force everyone out of the 9,000 person amphitheater after the first show, in order to get the custodial crews in for a quick cleaning and then allow the next long line of waiting Showpass ticket holders into the amphitheater. The Showpass concept has been born out of simple fear, but it should be interesting to see if it works for World of Color, assuming George Kalogridis also approves of the plan and he buys off on it later this month.


Meet Me on Main Street (for a cup of Starbucks)

Waiting around in DCA with your Showpass in hand on chilly evenings may get easier for many folks though if Disneyís Corporate Alliances group has their way.

The Corporate Alliances group cultivates and nurtures the sponsorship of stores, restaurants and attractions inside the parks. They've had a rough time of it in recent years though, as businesses scale back their traditional marketing dollars and the cachet of being associated with Disneyland doesnít have the same status as it did in the 1960ís and 70ís when seemingly every park location was proudly sponsored by some giant of American commerce and industry. But, Corporate Alliances have recently been working hard on big new sponsorships, (that General Motors deal out in Epcot Center is a real headache for them) and they are trying to seal the deal to get Starbucks to come to Anaheim with sponsored locations inside the parks.

Javaland.

If the plan gets its final approvals, and the Starbucks executives in Seattle can be convinced that Disneyland Cast Members can be properly trained and trusted to run the operation, the Market House on Main Street USA would be reconfigured into an old-fashioned coffee house serving up a basic menu of Starbucks espresso and coffee drinks. A similar 1930ís themed Starbucks coffee house would be included on DCAís new Buena Vista Street main entrance complex that begins construction this winter, and the coffee served at all park restaurants and hotels would be switched to Starbucks brews under the proposal.

A few Disneyland purists, who often forget the dozens of corporate logos that adorned the park in Waltís day, may light up the message boards in horror with this news. But the truth is that the complaints about the lack of good coffee at Disneyland from average Southern Californians grow louder every year. The industrial grade Nescafe that Disneyland currently uses just isnít cutting it anymore, and most Disneyland visitors expect a Starbucks level of service and product.

Leeches across the street!
Market House as seen in Disneyland USA featurette (1956)

Nescafe and the Carnation ice cream still served are the last holdouts of the collapse last year of the long-standing Nestle brand sponsorships around the park that also included Stouffers and Friskies. Before Disney switched to Nescafe about 10 years ago, the Market House on Main Street was actually "Hosted by Hills Brothers Coffee" for years after Hills Brothers was moved from their original coffee house location around the corner on the Town Square, when the American Egg Board took over that first location in the 1970ís and turned it into an omelette restaurant. Swift was the original sponsor of the Market House when the park opened.

The Lincoln Log

While a pending deal with Starbucks waits in the wings, and DCA continues to spend a Billion dollars of Burbankís money, work continues on smaller projects at Disneyland and at the hotels. The lobby of the Mr. Lincoln show opened last week with the first phase of its reworked displays and exhibits.

Really a confessional.

One display cabinet in the corner that was briefly filled with Star Tours 2.0 and Captain EO artwork before the lobby opened was pulled at the last minute, while Burbank continues to fret about bringing the EO show back due to Michael Jacksonís death possibly leading to messy police charges for his doctor that no one in Burbank wants the park associated with. That cabinet sits empty and draped in velvet, while Imagineers contemplate reworking the display to only focus on Star Tours 2.0 coming in 2011.

Inside the theater itself installation of the new audio and lighting systems continues, while the original stage set is restored to look more like the 1965 version. The latest advanced animatronic being used for the Lincoln figure has Imagineers and Disneylandís chief creative executive Tony Baxter excited over the programming possibilities. Itís the facial features and eyes that are the big advance with this figure, so it might be wise to sit down in the front row and see if Tonyís enthusiasm was warranted when the show opens in December. The first phase of the lobby makeover has turned out looking great, and has been surprisingly well attended this past week even though itís currently just a small display area.


Hotel Happenings

Over at the Disneyland Hotel the floor by floor refurbishment is gutting each room down to the original steel beams. WDI and TDA have recently bought off on the plan to completely revamp and rebuild the central pool and shopping area in between the three towers, with a fourth tower to be newly constructed by the end of the project that will add hundreds of new rooms and DVC suites.

The central courtyard of the Disneyland Hotel is still a hodge podge of styles and buildings dating back to the 1960ís and 70ís, some aging more gracefully than others, with the latest project being the Peter Pan themed pool area added 8 years ago. Even that new pool area will be razed and rebuilt, using a version of Disneylandís Sleeping Beauty Castle as the icon and base for waterslides and play elements.

Great. more pools for kids to pee in.

Additional pools will be built in the southwest corner of the property where the sad Dancing Waters facility still sits. The old 1970ís Seaports of the Pacific stores and restaurants will also be swept clear, and replaced with new shops and restaurants themed specifically to Disneyland park.


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. (People can change their minds you know.) 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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