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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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