Editor’s Note, January 4, 2016: We’re re-running Dateline Disneyland’s 2016 Year-in-Review again today while Andy catches up after the holidays. But don’t worry! A super-sized Dateline Disneyland will run tomorrow, Tuesday, January 5th. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

What a year! Disneyland celebrated its 60th Anniversary this year, simultaneously looking ahead while celebrating six decades of innovation and history. The parks saw numerous small enhancements over the year, from a charming re-theme of the old Condor Flats area in Disney California Adventure to spectacular new enchanted windows on Main Street, U.S.A. These various small enhancement projects supported the big stars of the 60th Anniversary — the new lineup of nighttime entertainment in both theme parks, an entertainment lineup that has drastically transformed Disneyland’s nightly crowd flow and attendance levels. As Disneyland enters the second half of its Diamond Celebration, the park is getting ready to make significant changes to historical areas. From the Rivers of America to the Disneyland Railroad, iconic and historic features of Disneyland will soon be changing forever as a new 14-acre Star Wars-themed expansion begins construction. Meanwhile, prices rise as Disneyland continues to celebrate 60 and significant portions of the park prepare to close for Star Wars construction — but is it worth it? Today we’ll take a look at Disneyland’s various changes and offerings in 2015 to see if Disneyland’s significant price hikes over the last year are justified.

Don’t miss your weekly Disneyland Resort crowd forecast — provided by our friends at Mouseaddict — in the Weekly News and Information Roundup at the end of today’s update!

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It was a big year for Disneyland and there’s a lot to cover in this year’s review, so let’s get started!

Disneyland Celebrates 60

Preparing to Dazzle

Disneyland kicked off 2015 by quickly getting to work on preparing the park for its 60th anniversary celebration, which was scheduled to kick off in May. Along with the closure of several attractions, the park also revamped its entire fireworks launch system. While the main fireworks system was down for upgrades, the park used a temporary system to present the short but nostalgic “Fantasy in the Sky” fireworks show

In late January, Disneyland announced its big 60th anniversary plans in an after-hours party for media. Along with the official announcement of the new fireworks show, Paint the Night Parade, World of Color Celebrate!, and the event included previews of the “Disneyland Forever” fireworks show and parade.

The announcement also came with concept art for the Diamond Celebration overlays that Sleeping Beauty Castle and Carthay Circle Theater would be getting.

Sleeping Beauty Sparkle

As part of the 60th overlay, Sleeping Beauty Castle got a refurbishment and new paint job, which toned down some of its more saturated colors which had lingered from the 50th anniversary overlay. The Castle went behind construction walls in January and emerged with its refreshed look in late February.

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

By mid-March, the Castle’s Diamond Celebration overlay quickly started going up.

Overlay progress by early April.

The Castle was completed with the addition of its large “60” medallion just before the launch of the 60th celebration.

The Diamond Celebration castle at night

Carthay Circle Theater’s Diamond Celebration overlay is a bit more restrained than the Castle’s

Carthay Circle at night

A Bumpy Start

The 60th didn’t go off without a hitch, though. The Diamond Celebration’s big 24-hour kick-off party ended up being Disneyland’s most disastrous all-night event yet. The combination of big crowds for the annual 24 hour events with guests camping out for the debuts of the new nighttime parade and fireworks brought Disneyland to a halt, forcing the park to close before 2 p.m.

Disneyland’s necessary closure due to capacity concerns remained in place throughout the rest of the day and into the evening as guests inside the park simply did not leave. This of course changed after the first showing of Paint the Night and the fireworks show and Disneyland park emptied out almost completely, with guests in the park reporting that large areas of the park were virtual ghost towns. The news of an empty Disneyland not only swept social media but could be seen via live webcams Disney had streaming online for the event. Still, despite a near-empty park, Disneyland remained closed until just before 2 a.m., well after the final 1 a.m. performance of the Paint the Night Parade.

The situation would have been less of an issue if the Resort’s security checkpoints, main entrance esplanade, and Disney California Adventure weren’t packed to dangerously high levels while crowds inside Disneyland disappeared. Despite Disneyland Resort President Michael Colglazier boasting to the OC Register about the plans and preparations Disneyland had taken to safely handle crowds during the event, there was clearly no effective plan in place and the complete breakdown of communication between management and Cast Members was felt by guests throughout the Resort.

Below, an excerpt of our thoughts on how Disney handled the situation from our original report on the event:

That Disneyland remained practically empty for over four hours while the rest of the Resort turned into a near-mob scene of frustrated guests is a massive failure on Disney’s part. If Disney had legitimate safety concerns about admitting new guests to Disneyland before the final parade of the night was finished, then so be it. But concerns about guest safety does not mean Disney should stop communicating with their guests in high-pressure situations like Friday night. It also doesn’t it make it OK to replace one potential safety risk with another by filling the esplanade, Downtown Disney, the Harbor Blvd. transportation hub, and Disney California Adventure with hordes of guests because there wasn’t a proper strategy on how to safely introduce new guests back into Disneyland.

If Disney should again attempt another 24 hour event in 2016, with the 60th Anniversary offerings still drawing massive crowds, it’s critical they have a better plan. Having a mob scene in California Adventure like the one shown in the video below because Disneyland is closed for no good reason is not an acceptable plan.

Celebrating 60

Despite opening-night hiccups, Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary celebration has proven to be wildly successful with three hit nighttime shows bringing record crowds to the park. Mickey and Minnie 60th costume

Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration dazzles with new decor, entertainment, and attraction enhancements

Paint the Night’s modern take on the classic Electrical Parade model has been a hit with guests.

The nightly “Disneyland Forever” fireworks show dazzles guests with immersive projections on Main Street, the Castle, along the Rivers of America and on Small World.

Perhaps the weakest link in the 60th Anniversary lineup is the lackluster World of Color Celebrate! show, which tries to marry Disneyland’s rich history with the present-day agenda of Disney’s marketing department with the help of Neil Patrick Harris as host. The show ends up feeling too long, clunky, and desperate in its disingenuous attempts to pull at the audience’s heartstrings. Unfortunately, any effort made to do so in the Walt-focused segments is undone by haphazardly forcing Frozen‘s “Let it Go” and the Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ teaser trailer on the audience.

60 Years of Art

The Disney Gallery debuted a new exhibition alongside the launch of the 60th Anniversary. The excellent exhibition, “Drawing Disneyland,” showcases conceptual renderings from Disneyland’s early Imagineers and is still on display today.

Photo Spots

Six new themed photo spots were added across both parks for the 60th. Below, the Matterhorn’s Diamond Celebration photo spot.

Big Thunder Mountain

Haunted Mansion

Grizzly Peak in Disney California Adventure

California Screamin’

A Bug’s Land

July 17

Disneyland celebrated its official 60th birthday on July 17 with special commemorative maps, cupcakes, dance parties, the launch of a new philanthropy program, and various other celebratory features and photo-ops.

Disneyland Resort President Michael Colglazier led a rededication ceremony in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle on the morning go the 17th. Colglazier’s stiff 20-minute ceremony discussed the the 60-year legacy of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom and included the announcement of Disneyland’s new “Million Dollar Dazzle” grant program.

The ceremony included a performance by Disney Legend Richard Sherman and Broadway star Ashley Brown.

Disneyland gave away free cupcakes to celebrate the 60th

Cast Members and Imagineers past and present were honored in a special pre-parade cavalcade

Marching into History

In June, the Disneyland Band effectively marked its final full band performance in Town Square. The performance was the final set the full Disneyland Band would play together before two members left as part of a major re-invention of the classic Disneyland Band. The two members would leave to begin rehearsal with the new Disneyland Band, a group of mostly younger musicians that would be able to perform more upbeat arrangements with choreography.

From our original post on the Disneyland Band’s “final” performance

The recasting of the Disneyland Band forced long-time band members to re-audition for roles many of them have performed for years. Many of the existing 16-piece band simply chose to not re-audition at all and of those who did audition, only two made it through to the new version of the Disneyland Band. One of those two members is conductor Kurt Curtis, and Monday marked Kurt’s final time conducting the original Disneyland Band as he left to begin rehearsals with the new version of the band. Luckily, Disney isn’t letting go of the remaining 14 band members, as those who chose not to audition or didn’t make the cut will continue to have full-time employment at Disneyland in smaller musical groups throughout the park. Still, band members being reassigned to other groups are concerned that they may not enjoy the same long-term job security in their new positions that their open-ended Disneyland Band positions offered.

The changes come with fierce opposition from fans, with many arguing that recasting and reinventing the band effectively marks the end of the classic Disneyland Band that Walt Disney started in 1955. It’s a claim that may seem dramatic at first blush but isn’t necessarily out of line. The Disneyland Band is a 60-year institution steeped in tradition and history; with musical arrangements written, collaborated on, and passed down by long-time band members. The question now is — as the band changes to a likely more scripted affair — will there be room for band members to write their own new musical arrangements and will they be able to play from the library of spectacular arrangements handed down from their predecessors?

Despite fans forming Facebook groups and signing online petitions, the remains of the original Disneyland Band ended its 60-year run in July and the new iteration promptly took over. The new Disneyland Band delivers a much more upbeat, energetic music experience, a significant change from the more subdued old band. Neither band is better or worse, just different — the new band is perhaps more energetic, but wasn’t that function served by parade performers or the All-American College Band every summer? Was the calmer but just as entertaining old band so bad?

The Little Man of Disneyland Returns

In August, Disney quietly installed the home of Patrick Begorra, a leprechaun from the classic “Walt Disney’s Little Man of Disneyland” Litle Golden Book. The home of the leprechaun had been lost over the years after being present in Adventureland in Disneyland’s early years to coincide with the book that tells his story. Patrick is back at home now in Adventureland and you can find his home near the Indiana Jones Adventure if you look closely!

This is such a small little detail that likely goes unnoticed by the majority of guests, but it’s the small details like this that become part of Disneyland’s lore and magic. While the Little Man of Disneyland’s house isn’t going to make or break anybody’s vacation, it’s this sort of tiny, inconsequential theming and chance for discovery that is critical to the overall Disneyland experience. Kudos to the team that brought this back!

Enchantment on Main Street, U.S.A.

Another small detail, big deal items is the debut of new animated windows on Main Street, U.S.A. as part of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Celebration. Five large windows at the Emporium are now home to elaborate and stunning animated window displays celebrating several of Disney and Pixar’s animated classics.

Peter Pan

The first window depicting scenes from Disney’s “Peter Pan” debuted in May with the launch of the park’s 60th Anniversary celebration.

Cinderella

The second Enchanted Window debuted in June, this time celebrating “Cinderella”

The Princess and the Frog

The wonderful Princess and the Frog window debuted in August.

Toy Story

The charming Toy Story window was revealed in October.

Frozen

The Frozen-themed window debuted in early November.

Aladdin

And the final, and perhaps most impressive window of the bunch, was revealed mid-December.

Remaking the Magic

Leading up to Disneyland’s big 60th Anniversary, both parks underwent extensive refurbishment and enhancement projects. Below are some key enhancement project that got both parks in top shape for the celebration.

Fresh Baked

In late-January, California Adventure’s Boudin Bakery tour emerged from a remodel project that freshened up the entire experience and made it a more casual affair. Guests can now pass through the experience without being forced to watch the Rosie O’Donnell and Colin Mochrie-hosted Boudin history film at the entrance. Instead, the film was shortened and tightened up, and the Bakery Tour got new signage throughout that explains the sourdough process and Boudin history more in-depth.

Inside, the pre-show room has been completely opened up. A shorter two-minute version of the Rosie O’Donnell and Colin Mochrie video is now presented, playing on a loop.

New informative displays on Boudin’s history are included in the preshow room. Guests can linger as long as they want here to check out the displays or watch the introduction video, or they can bypass it entirely and head straight into the bakery.

Meet the Boudin family

A big new wall display showcases more of the history and heritage of Boudin.

The inside corridor was opened up by removing the exterior window display and adding overflow seating for the cafe.

Full Steam Ahead

In January, we took a look at the new sound systems that Disney had been quietly installing in on the Disneyland Railroad locomotives. The new speaker systems brought the sound on the Railroad to 2015 standards with spectacular results. Not only is the (unchanged) narration now crystal clear, but the wonderful soundtracks for the Grand Canyon Diorama and the Primeval World are stunning to hear in person with spectacularly rich audio that really gives the track-side attractions a wonderfully dramatic edge that the old speaker system could never reach.

A video of the Railroad’s Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World with the new sound system – but you really need to experience it in person to get the full effect.

What’s Gotten into the Matterhorn?

The Matterhorn closed in January and reopened in late May, just in time for the kick-off of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Celebration. The remodel of the Fantasyland classic replaced late-1970s Abominable Snowman figures with new, larger and much scarier animatronics. Now the Abominable Snowman follows bobsleds up the lift hill, lunges and swipes at passing cars, and is overall a much more menacing character.

Disney announced the new Abominable Snowman in April with the release of concept art

The new figures depict the Abominable Snowman as being larger and scarier than ever before and appears to lunge at passing bobsleds.

The old animatronics certainly held a lot of nostalgia and childhood memories for me, but the new figures are excellent and help raise the stakes and boost the thrill level of the ride.

The changes here are pretty solid, save for the replacement of the old crystal cavern scene in favor of a new pile of wreckage that the Abominable Snowman has salvaged and hoarded. The addition falls flat, replacing shimmering crystals that could be easily understood by guests passing by quickly in a bobsled with what what now reads as a random pile of garbage in a mountain as you zip by. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Imagineer Kim Irvine explained the changes:

“Again, I want to stress here that the story that the Matterhorn tells is pretty much the same. The big change is, of course, with the Abominable Snowman. He’s a little bit more ferocious, a little bit more exciting,” Kim said. “And if you’re really paying attention as you ride along in your bobsled, you may notice that — at various points along the way — that there are these caves where the Abominable Snowman seems to be hoarding things that he found out in the Park. That — if you look closely — you may be able to see items that pay tribute to rides, shows and attractions from Disneyland’s past.”

The trash pile idea may have made sense to Imagineers on paper but in the context of a rollercoaster ride, the scene simply fails. An unfortunate low point in an otherwise successful upgrade.
Disney recently released video of the new changes:

And below, the new changes seen in context on the ride.

A Spirited Homecoming

In late-January a faux wall went up on the right hand side of the Haunted Mansion’s Doombuggy track.

The wall immediately lent credibility to growing rumors that the Hat Box Ghost was finally returning after years of rumors.

The wall remained up through the spring and in April, Disney officially announced the Hat Box Ghost would, in fact, finally return to his home in the Haunted Mansion.

The Hat Box Ghost officially returned in time for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary kick-off in late-May.

Over the years the Hat Box Ghost had achieved cult status among Haunted Mansion fans before Disney began capitalizing on his growing popularity around the park’s 50th anniversary. The return of the character not only brings back a piece of unique Disney history in a spectacular new way, but also shows that fan interest can sometimes influence what happens in the park. The new Hat Box Ghost isn’t perfect, with his placement awkwardly on the Mansion’s balcony outside of the attic scene and with unnecessary sound effects that can be heard throughout the graveyard — but the figure really shows that Imagineering still shines the brightest when they work with Audio-Animatronics figures in their attractions.

New Magic Takes Flight

Peter Pan’s Flight closed in January to begin work on the classic ride’s long-rumored major refurbishment and enhancement project. The project was a continuation of Imagineering’s modernizing of key scenes and effects throughout the Fantasyland dark rides, which had already included Alice in Wonderland and Snow White’s Scary Adventures.

In April, Disney announced the Peter Pan’s Flight would reopen with major changes including a reimagined nursery scene, shown in the concept art below.

The attraction reopened in early July to long lines following a delay that pushed it back from its original May reopening.

As always, the ride starts off in the nursery which is now much darker and features the Darling children floating in the air with a new Pixie Dust projection effect.

Flying into London Town was totally refreshed with new colors and Pixie Dust effects

London now features new colors, creating a much more stylized version of the London fly-over that is brighter and move vivid than ever but at the risk of appearing a lot more flat.

Take a full ride-through of the newly-enhanced ride in our video below:

Overall, the ride looks refreshed while retaining its classic charm. While the re-imagined nursery scene with the children “flying” against the wall isn’t great, it also isn’t terrible. The new pixie dust, water and other lighting effects throughout the ride are nice additions and overall the ride just looks and sounds better than ever.

Temple of the Forbidden Projections

In June, Indiana Jones Adventure debuted new projection effects in its long-broken Chamber of Destiny scene. The scene features three doors, which used to rotate, creating the illusion that your ride vehicle entered a different “door” each time you rode. The new projections effectively fix the broken rotating effect by transforming the doorways so they appear to be a different entrance for each group of riders.

Below, photos of the door’s projection effects for the Chamber of Earthly Riches doorway.

Practical effects are always better but if the rotating room effect couldn’t be properly fixed, the projections are a nice “fix.” They’re a bit over-the-top but they work in adding extra visuals to the story of your ride and they segue well into the next scene which had received major projection enhancements in recent years.

Below, video of the new Observatory of the Future projection sequence.

Main Street in Bloom

On Main Street, the Flower Market returned again to Center Street in mid-October. Apparently the recent short-lived returns of the Flower Market were layout and crowd flow tests, as this iteration of the Flower Market features an entry archway that required more permanent cement bases. The flower market is a delightful, super charming addition to Center Street, adding a lot of atmosphere and color to the Market House’s outdoor seating area. Bravo to the team that spent the last couple years testing out the new Flower Market and getting this new permanent iteration installed.

Expanding the Cove

In mid-October, work began on expanding the popular Cove Bar on Paradise Pier.

By late-December the expansion, which more or less continues the bare-bones opening-day aesthetic of Paradise Pier, was wrapping up so it could open in time for the Christmas holiday. We’ll have a closer look at the new Cove Bar expansion next week.

A Marvelous Disappointment

In November, the newly renamed Super Hero HQ opened in the upper level of the former Innovenetions building. The space was expected to get some significant enhancements but reopened with not much more beyond a new store and a cheaply re-themed meet-and-greet area for the newly-arrived Spider-Man. It’s a hugely underwhelming space with not much to do.

If you’re entering Super Hero HQ from inside the building, you have to find your way with the glamorous unlit signage

If it looks like a massive waste of space up here, it’s because it absolutely is.

Next to the X-Box area, the former Siemens interactive area is now more or less just open, unused space.

The globe feature, leftover from when AT&T sponsored an exhibit here, now displays random Marvel character graphics and the touch-screen devices here previously used for an interactive Siemens offering are now so you can order Marvel-themed D-Tech smart phone cases that you can pick up downstairs.

Next door to the former Siemens area, the Asimo Theater has been removed and the space is now a new shop — After all, what else could they have possibly put up here?

The design of the shop is so horrifying in its poor taste that it looks like it could have been cloned from California Adventure’s Sunshine Plaza or Hollywood Pictures Backlot areas, circa 2001.

The quickly re-themed Captain America meet-and-greet, now called V.A.U.L.T.

And inside, Spider-Man’s Disneyland debut.

A Peak Above

The closures at the start of 2015 included the complete transformation of Disney California Adventure’s Condor Flats area into the new Grizzly Peak Airfield. The land’s remodel effectively made it a sub-land of the Grizzly Peak area and removed its late-90s desert airfield aesthetic for a more lush and welcoming 1950s-era National Parks airfield.

A view of the old Condor Flats area from the Monorail, just after closing.

Grizzly Peak Airfield late into construction, mid-April.

Guests got their first taste of the new Grizzly Peak Airfield in March when the former Taste Pilot’s Grill reopened as the Smokejumpers Grill and showed off the new thematic direction the Imagineers were taking with the new land. A dramatic change achieved by simple means — mostly new paint, graphics and props.

Inside, the restaurant is painted in warmer, earthy tones, offsetting the coldness of the industrial structure. Props throughout have been replaced with period appropriate 1950s-era National Parks-style decor, with a backstory that pays tribute to the fictional forest firefighters: the Bearpaw Basin Smokejumpers.

The rest of Grizzly Peak Airfield opened in late-May, just in time for the start of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary. The results of the remodel are really nice, with wonderful background audio, fun references to Disney’s rich animation history, and quality period-appropriate theming and props.

Lots of great new signage and notice boards up throughout the land

The former Fly ‘n’ Buy shop was renamed and rethemed as Humphrey’s, after Disney’s Humphrey the Bear

Soarin’ Over California is back as well, with new 4K projection systems that replaced the old film projectors. The change to digital improves on some aspects (no more dirty or scratched film) while lessens others (4K digital resolution isn’t as high as 70mm film). The change to digital, however, came in anticipation of the upcoming Soarin’ Over the World film, which is set to debut in early 2016.

Below, a full ride-through of Soarin’ Over California with new 4K projection

Kudos again to the team that worked on this, Grizzly Peak Airfield remains a very nice re-think of an existing area of the park. Hopefully we can see more of this sort of this kind of work in the future, particularly in Hollywood Land and in the forgotten corners of Paradise Pier.

Re-Tired

In September 2014, MiceChat reported rumors that Luigi’s Flying Tires would permanently close after failing to live up to operational and guest expectations and make way for a simple new flat ride attraction using Disney’s trackless ride technology.

The new ride would be built over the existing air table that was custom designed by Imagineering for the Flying Tires and was expected to open by the end of 2015. By early February, Disney finally announced the plans and by mid-February, Luigi’s Flying Tires was behind walls and had permanently moved to Yesterland.

Below, our farewell on-ride video of Luigi’s Flying Tires

Closed forever by mid-February

Views of new ride vehicles at the attraction in December 2015. The new attraction, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, was rumored to soft-open by the end of 2015 but it currently looks like you may have to wait until early 2016 to check out the new attraction.

New Orleans Square changes again

The Royal Courtyard reopened in late-January with rebuilt stair, new paint, and other changes on the upstairs level.

The stairs lead up to what was originally planned to be a private apartment for Walt Disney and his family, which later became the Disney Gallery and more recently the Disneyland Dream Suite. A portion of that upstairs apartment space that isn’t utilized by the Dream Suite has now been converted into a private dining space for Club 33.

The new stairs (or at least the banister) appears to be taller than before, which disrupts the scale of the space a bit. Also new is a color scheme of royal blues and purples (strongly reminiscent of the now-closed Court of Angels), forgoing the far more subtle beige and light greens that characterized the space previously.

In January, the Masquerade d’Orleans shop closed for remodel. The shop reopened in early February as a new high-end Pandora jewelry shop, conveniently located directly across from the new Club 33 entrance.

The old shop, which stocked women’s fashions, high-end trinkets, New Orleans cook books and more, shed its rich wood-tone interior for a bright white and lavender color scheme. Before:

After:

Before:

After:

In early November, New Orleans Square saw even more change with the addition of a new temporary bridge on the backside of the French Market. According to the OC Register, the bridge supports temporary electrical and plumbing infrastructure while major work gets underway on the complex’s aging permanent infrastructure. The bridge is expected to be up for several months but shouldn’t bring any significant permanent change for guests.

Movieland, U.S.A.

Disney previewed its latest film releases in the theme parks again this year with special sneak previews, prop exhibits, and pre-parades.

Tomorrowland

In April, Disney previewed its much-hyped — and eventually much-maligned — Tomorrowland film with a special extended sneak preview in the Tomorrowland Theater and a exhibition of props from the film in the Starcade.

The theater’s covered preshow area prominently features production artwork of World’s Fair graphics and signage that were created and reproduced for the film.

Lots of 1964 New York World’s Fair art work that was recreated for the film decorates the walls of the preshow area.

Inside the theater guests saw all of the great New York World’s Fair graphics in action in the extended preview of “Tomorrowland.”

The exhibit in the Starcade showcased concept art, props, and video interviews with the filmmakers.

Inside Out Pre-Parade

In June, Disney California Adventure celebrated the release of Pixar’s excellent “Inside Out” with a special pre-parade for the film.

Ant-Man

Also in June, the Bug’s Life Theater hosted a preview for Marvel’s ANT-MAN. The preview featured the usual in-theater special effects and included a replica of the ANT-MAN costume on display in the lobby.

The Good Dinosaur

The Bug’s Life Theater then hosted an extended preview of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur in October.

The preview utilized the theater’s in-house special effects but didn’t include anything special like the “Ant-Man” costume or “Tomorrowland” exhibit.

Star Wars Launches

The biggest news of the year is, perhaps, the official announcement of the upcoming Star Wars Land. The new 14-acre land will carve out its home in the northwest region of Disneyland, above Frontierland. The land will utilize both backstage and onstage areas, resulting in relocated backstage facilities, the removal of Big Thunder Ranch, the reduction of the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island, and the re-routing of a portion of the Disneyland Railroad’s route. Star Wars Land had been long-rumored here on MiceChat and elsewhere on the Internet for years, and the official confirmation came from Disney CEO Bob Iger during the highly anticipated Walt Disney Studios presentation at the D23 Expo in August.

D23 Expo’s Star Wars announcements didn’t stop there, however. Disney also announced plans for the new Star Wars Launch Bay in the former Innoventions building and the seasonal Star Wars Season of the Force celebration in Tomorrowland.

Launch Bay and Season of the Force were quickly put in place for November openings.

Season of the Force

Star Wars Launch Bay had been a project underway behind the scenes for much of 2015. Rumors circulated in that the long-maleigned Innoventions building would close and a major exhibit on Disneyland’s history would be installed as part of the Diamond Celebration. That exhibit ended up not panning out and instead Star Wars Launch Bay moved in.

Innoventions closed at the end of March and by October, following the D23 Expo announcements, signs of Launch Bay progress could be seen.

Star Wars Launch Bay opened in November with the rest of Season of the Force — a mostly-underwhelming collection of cheaply-made Star Wars experiences in Tomorrowland.

Hyperspace Mountain isn’t incredible but it is a lot of fun — one of the highlights of Season of the Force.

Path of the Jedi, just below Space Mountain, is pretty bad.

Launch Bay is a vaguely-themed gallery of sorts that doesn’t really offer much, despite its big foot print.

Of course, the whole point here is that there’s a giant gift shop to exit through.

Season of the Force is not a great theme park experience. It’s mostly cheap, rushed offerings presented up as quality experiences. It’s an unfortunate disconnect between what Disney is doing with Star Wars in its parks and what Lucasfilm is doing with Star Wars in the theaters. It wasn’t uncommon to find Main Street absolutely unnavigable this holiday season while the much-hyped Launch Bay was only being modestly attended by a crushing holiday crowds. Launch Bay and Season of the Force as a whole was a staggeringly poor way to roll out Star Wars to the park-going public. Hopefully Star Wars Land will be better. For our in-depth coverage and review of Star Wars Season of the Force, click here.

Dazzling D23 Expo 2015

Interested in the D23 Expo where the Star Wars attractions (and a lot of other stuff) was announced and showcased? Check out our in-depth 2015 D23 Expo coverage below.



Seasonal Celebrations

Frozen Fun

2015 kicked off with a version of Walt Disney World’s popular “Frozen Fun” promotion. The California version of the event mostly took over the back portion of Disney California Adventure’s Hollywood Land, with a Frozen sing-along stage show taking over the Muppet Vision Theater, Olaf’s Snow Fest moving into Stage 17, and a Frozen-themed overlay for the area’s popular Mad T Party nighttime dance party.

Olaf’s Snow Fest brought snow sledding, live music and an Olaf meet-and-greet together in a nicely-realized Arendelle setting.

The new sing-along show, “For the First time in Forver,” has likely permanently displaced the Muppets. Even if this show leaves when the new musical opens in the Hyperion Theater nearby in 2016, it’s unlikely the Muppets will return here.

Significant changes to the interior of the queue and theater transformed the space from Muppet Vision HQ to an Arendelle theater.

Anna, Elsa and Kristoff all make appearances in the show

At night, Hollywood Land came alive with the cringe-worthy “Freeze the Night” dance party. The dance party, a cheap overlay of the Mad T Party, amounted to an awkward alcohol-infused dance party based on “Frozen” that guests didn’t seem to understand or embrace. It skewed too adult for the kids that love Frozen and too childish for the adults that these dance parties are aimed at.

Below, the “Ice Breakers” dance group, dressed in the finest Target winter wear, started the nightly dance party with a painfully awkward pre-show.

Freeze the Night was quickly discontinued, even before the official end of the “Frozen Fun” promotion. The popular Mad T Party returned with a minor 60th anniversary diamond overlay.

While most of Frozen Fun was found in Disney California Adventure, offerings did extend into Disneyland. On Main Street, the Disney Gallery debuted a new exhibition that showcased artwork from film and attraction concepts based on “The Snow Queen,” including artwork from what eventually became “Frozen.”

Lots of really lovely concept art from the movie

The real highlight, however, is the large selection of Imagineer Marc Davis’ work showcasing his concepts for Disneyland’s never-built Enchanted Snow Palace attraction.

At Fantasy Faire, a new Frozen show replaced the existing Beauty and the Beast and Tangled shows.

Easter Ranch

In March, Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree hosted its final seasonal offering before closing up forever. While demolition will soon get underway in Big Thunder Ranch for the upcoming Star Wars Land, the Jamboree sat unused throughout the rest of 2015 following the end of the Springtime Roundup.

It’ll definitely be sad to see Big Thunder Ranch and the Jamboree go. Alas, the space was always earmarked for future expansion and while the seasonal events that Disneyland had staged here in recent years quickly became a tradition for locals, it’s time to move on. The question is, of course, is Star Wars the right direction to be moving?

Live music and line dancing.

Similar to the pumpkin carvers in 2014, 2015 was likely the last year Disneyland will have egg decorators in the park. Shame – they were a nice touch.

Fourth of July

Disneyland celebrated the Fourth of July this year with a special Fourth of July finale instead of running its annual Independence Day fireworks show. The choice to go with a finale instead of a full Fourth of July show was to allow guests to see the new 60th Anniversary show.

Our friends from MouseInfo.com have video of the finale:

Halloween Time

Halloween Time returned in the fall with fewer decorations overall and some others modified for the 60th.

The Mickey pumpkins and the “Disney’s Halloween Time” logo on the lampposts were missing this year so the Diamond Celebration D plaques could remain up. A fair compromise.

The Big Thunder Ranch Halloween Round-up didn’t include the Jamboree this year. Only the main ranch area and cabin were decorated.

Last hurrah for the Scaredy Crow Shack

Haunted Mansion Holiday returned as well with no major changes

This year’s gingerbread house is a towering “house of cards,” built by gingerbread men, with the help of spiders.

The Hat Box Ghost got into the fun this year…

Below, our on-ride video of this year’s gingerbread house and the Hat Box Ghost.

Holidays

As we head toward New Year’s Eve, Disneyland’s popular holiday season is still officially underway and will continue through January 6.

The decorations on the Christmas tree got some changes this year for the 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration, including new diamond swags.

The Disney Parks Blog released a video discussing the new Diamond Celebration Christmas decorations

Decorations along Main Street got blue and crystal accents as part of the Diamond Celebration

Because of the 60th, Sleeping Beauty Castle didn’t receive its winter overlay this year.

Just some garland and a wreath this year

Disney California Adventure celebrated the holidays with its usual line-up of offerings…

Pacific Wharf got some new decorations this year… Pacific Wharf Cafe’s garland included sourdough bred bowls and wheat

Lucky Fortune Cookery has garland with take-out boxes and fortune cookies

And a buoy with lights was out on the water for the season.

Dick Van Dyke celebrates 90

In mid-December, Dick Van Dyke visited Disneyland and celebrated his 90th birthday with several appearances in the park throughout the day that included a dedication of the Jolly Holiday Bakery-Cafe to him, a birthday singalong in New Orleans Square, and a pre-parade down Main Street USA.

90th Birthday pre-parade…

The High Price of Magic

In February, Disneyland raised admission prices just nine months after its previous round of price hikes. The increases affected every admission option across the board, bumping one-day, one-park tickets up $3 to $99. February’s price hike only continued the aggressive pricing strategy that has brought an 87% increase in one-day, one-park ticket over the last 10 years.

Disneyland Resort Theme Park Ticket Price Increases
Effective February 22, 2015
Ticket New Price
Age 10+ / Age 3-9
Old Price
Age 10+ / Age 3-9
Price Increase
Age 10+ / Age 3-9
5-Day
Park Hopper
$315 / $299 $305 / $289 + $10 / + $10
5-Day
1-Park Per Day
$275 / $259 $266 / $250 + $9 / + $9
4-Day
Park Hopper
$300 / $285 $289 / $274 + $11 / + $11
4-Day
1-Park Per Day
$260 / $245 $250 / $235 + $10 / + $10
3-Day
Park Hopper
$275 / $264 $265 / $254 + $10 / + $10
3-Day
1-Park Per Day
$235 / $224 $226 / $215 + $9 / + $9
2-Day
Park Hopper
$225 / $212 $217 / $204 + $8 / + $8
2-Day
1-Park Per Day
$185 / $172 $178 / $165 + $7 / + $7
1-Day
Park Hopper
$155 / $149 $150 / $144 + $5 / + $5
1-Day
1-Park
$99 / $93 $96 / $90 + $3 / + $3

The biggest price hikes were felt by Annual Passholders, however. Premium Annual Passports saw the biggest jump — an $80 (more than 11%) increase — bumping the price up to $779. The Annual Passport price increases were paired with the discontinuation of parking add-ons for lower-tier passes.

Disneyland Resort Annual Passport Price Increases
Effective February 22, 2015
Annual Passport New Price Old Price Price Increase
Premier
(Disneyland & Disney World)
$1,099 $1,029 + $70
Premium $779 $699 + $80
Deluxe $549 $519 + $30
Southern California
(Renewals Only)
$409 $379 + $30
Southern California Select $299 $289 + $10

In early October, February’s prices went out the window and Annual Passports were raised again. The most notable change was the complete removal of the Premium Annual Pass in favor of two new pass types. Disney effectively split the Premium Annual Pass into two, giving the newly-created Signature and Signature Plus passes the same discount and parking privileges but blocking out the Signature pass during the last two weeks of the year which are traditionally the park’s busiest two weeks. If you really wanted access to the parks those final two weeks of the year, you’d be paying an extra $200 on top of the Signature Pass’ hefty $849 price tag. That means, if existing Premium Annual Passholders want to renew with the same 365 days-per-year access, they will now have to pay $1,049 total, or an extra $270 per year over their previous Premium Annual Pass price. That’s a a huge 35% increase.


Disneyland Resort Annual Passport Price Increases
Effective October 4, 2015
Annual Passport & Benefits New
Price
Previous
Price
Price Increase
Disney Premier Passport

  • Admission at Disneyland & Walt Disney World theme parks
  • No Blockout Dates
  • Oak Tree Golf green fees (WDW)
  • 15% Dining and Tours Discounts
  • 20% Merchandise Discount
  • Parking included
  • PhotoPass digital downloads
  • No Renewal Discount
$1,439 $1,099 + $340
+ 31%
Disney Signature Plus NEW

  • No Blockout Dates
  • 15% Dining and Tours Discounts
  • 20% Merchandise Discount
  • Parking included
  • PhotoPass digital downloads
  • $60 Renewal Discount
$1,049 $779
Compared to Premium
+ $270
+ 35%
Disney Signature NEW

  • Entry 351 days per year
    (Blocked Dec. 19 through Jan. 2)
  • 15% Dining and Tours Discounts
  • 20% Merchandise Discount
  • Parking Included
  • PhotoPass digital downloads
  • $50 Renewal Discount
$849 $779
Compared to Premium
+ $70
+ 9%
Disney Premium DISCONTINUED

  • No Blockout Dates
  • 15% Dining and Tours Discounts
  • 20% Merchandise Discount
  • Parking Included
$779
Disney Deluxe

  • Entry 320 days per year
  • 10% Dining and Merchandise Discounts
  • 15% Tours Discount
  • Parking available for $199 add-on
  • No Renewal Discount
$599 $549 + $50
+ 9%
Disney Southern California
RENEWALS ONLY

  • Entry 229 days per year
  • 10% Dining and Merchandise Discounts
  • 15% Tours Discount
  • Parking available for $199 add-on
  • No Renewal Discount
$459 $409 + $50
+ 12%
Disney Southern California Select

  • Entry 175 days per year
  • 10% Dining and Merchandise Discounts
  • 15% Tours Discount
  • Parking available for $199 add-on
  • $10 Renewal Discount
$329 $299 + $30
+ 10%

The price hikes came with no official announcement from Disney on its official blog or social media accounts. Below, an excerpt of our commentary on the October price hikes from our original report on the news:

Locally, Disneyland spokesperson Suzi Brown told the OC Register that the price increases were a way to “manage strong demand.” Perhaps on the surface, that’s a valid claim. After all, Disneyland has never been more popular and over the 10 years since the 50th anniversary celebration, the Resort has continually posted record attendance and revenue numbers. This year’s 60th anniversary celebration has brought about Disneyland’s biggest year in history in both revenue and attendance. So by all accounts, demand is up and far exceeding what Disneyland can actually meet. Disney Parks head Bob Chapek addressed the issue head-on in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which was conveniently published on Sunday alongside Annual Pass price hikes. Chapek told the Journal that Disney is now considering pricing throughout the year based on demand, giving extra perks or lower admission prices on slower days. Chapek noted: “We have to look at ways to spread out our attendance throughout the year so we can accommodate demand and avoid bursting at the seams.”

Indeed, “bursting at the seams” is an apt description of the Disneyland experience over the last several years. Everything from parking, to attraction queues, and parade routes are over crowded on a daily basis. So is the solution to just keep raising prices? Will $1,000 Annual Passes and $100 single-day tickets solve the problem? Considering the price hikes have repeatedly failed to reduce crowding, it’s safe to assume this latest round won’t either. “Managing demand” and “looking at ways to spread out attendance” is really meaningless lip service being used to suggest Disneyland isn’t simply being greedy and to convince the public that they’re the problem for liking Disneyland and crowding the park. It’s clear that Disney has no interest in managing demand — those record numbers are critical in keeping shareholders happy. “Managing demand” just blames guests for doing what Disney wanted all along while distracting from the reality that the company avoided meaningful investment and expansion for years. That lack of quality investment and costly half-measures (opening-day Disney’s California Adventure and Tomorrowland 1998, for example) has rapidly caught up to the company after a string of highly successful marketing promotions that started in 2005 with Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. To their credit, Disney has finally started stepping up their game in recent years, most notably by re-inventing Disney California Adventure into a profitable enterprise after a decade of floundering. Meanwhile, Disneyland hasn’t seen a viable new E-Ticket in over 20 years (Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995). The park has invested in reopening shuttered classics like the Submarine Voyage and enhancing long-time favorites like Star Tours, but Disneyland remains without the new people-eating attractions it has desperately needed for years to absorb the increased demand the park saw over the last decade.

Almost three months after the price hikes, it’s probably still too early to tell if the new Signature and Signature Plus Annual Passports have made or will make any difference in crowds. I still think it’s unlikely, so long as Disneyland continues to offer Annual Passport payment plans to locals and fails to fast-track parking, infrastructure, and capacity additions. Managing crowds or just managing the bottom line?

With Star Wars Land now announced and on its way with two new attractions, are the continued price hikes justified? Certainly we shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for Star Wars Land now, years before it’s open, especially considering Disneyland will undoubtedly raise prices again once it is open. This year Disneyland will close the Disneyland Railroad along with the Rivers of America and its related attractions for over a year to begin work on the Star Wars expansion. Meanwhile, major attractions including the Jungle Cruise will close for extended refurbishments. With so much of the park closed in 2015, is the price worth it?

Selfies and Security

In June, Disneyland implemented a ban on selfie sticks and other photo-extension poles. The ban came after growing instances of guests using selfie sticks in unsafe ways, including on attractions.

The ban on selfie sticks was followed in December by increased security measures that included bans on toy weapons and adult costumes in the parks. The bans on toy guns and costumes came alongside the addition of metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs at security checkpoints, security additions that came on the heels of a Department of Homeland Security bulletin that noted the potential for home-grown terrorism over the holiday season.

Ring in 2016 with MiceChat

MiceChat will ring in 2016 at Disneyland this year with meet-ups throughout the day in both parks. For more information on the MiceChat New Year’s Eve meet-ups, click here.


Enjoy retro fun just steps away from Disneyland at
Howard Johnson Hotel & Water Playground

A short walk from the park, HoJo Anaheim is conveniently located next to Matterhorn Mountain at Disneyland with nearby dining, freeway access, FREE parking and FREE Wi-Fi. For more information on HoJo Anaheim, room rates, or to book your stay today, visit HoJoAnaheim.com/MiceChat

Save with MiceChat & Passholder Discounts Every Day!
The HoJo Anaheim is now offering daily discounts for MiceChat members and even DEEPER discounts for Disneyland Resort Annual Passholders! For more information visit the HoJo Anaheim Innsider Boards which features an up-to-date listing of available nights, or call (714) 776-6120 and ask for In-House Reservations to book. If your date isn’t listed, the HoJo Anaheim still offers rooms for 20% off their best available rate if you call (714) 776-6120.
Weekly News & Information Round-Up
Weekly Theme Park Hours
December 28, 2015-January 3, 2016
[B]Disneyland Park[/B] [B]California Adventure[/B]
Mon.-Wed.: 8 am – 12 am
Thursday/NYE: 8 am – 2 am
Fri.-Sun.: 8 am – 12 am
Mon.-Wed.: 8 am – 11 pm
Thursday/NYE: 8 am – 1 am
Fri.-Sun.: 8 am – 11 pm
[CENTER]For a complete listing of theme park hours,
visit the Disneyland.com Theme Park Calendar
[/CENTER]
[center]Closure and Refurbishment Schedule[/center]
[b][center]Disneyland Park[/center][/b]
  • Disneyland Railroad: Closed for over a year starting January 11 while the Railroad path is rerouted for Star Wars Land.
  • Rivers of America: All River traffic and attractions are closed for over a year starting on January 11 while Star Wars Land construction reduces and reroutes the northern portion of the River. The extended closure includes:
    • Mark Twain Riverboat
    • Sailing Ship Columbia
    • Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
    • Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
    • Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
    • Fantasmic!
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday: Closed January 11-21 to remove holiday overlay.
  • Jungle Cruise: Closed January 11-May 5 to remove holiday overlay and for extended refurbishment.
  • Autopia: Closed January 11-April 28 for refurbishment.
  • “it’s a small world”: Closed January 25-February 4 to remove holiday overlay.
[b][center]Disney California Adventure[/center][/b]
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters: New attraction opens early 2016.
  • Soarin’ Over California: Closed January 4-22, January 25-28, February 1-4 to install new Soarin’ Over the World attraction.
  • Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular: Closed permanently starting January 11. A “Frozen”-inspired musical stage show will take its place.
  • Grizzly River Run: Closed January 11-14 for refurbishment.
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!: Closed January 13-21 for refurbishment.
  • World of Color: Closed January 19-February 1 for refurbishment.
  • [B]Blue Sky Cellar:[/B] Closed indefinitely.
[b][center]Downtown Disney and Disneyland Resort Hotels[/center][/b]
    None.
Tomorrowplan Crowd Estimates for Disneyland Resort from Mouseaddict

December 28 – January 3

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun

  • It’s one of the busiest weeks of the year – if you can, we recommend visiting next week, when holiday attractions are still available but crowds are a bit smaller.
  • There’s more holiday to come – don’t miss the Three Kings’ Day Celebration, starting Saturday and continuing into next week.

The free Mouseaddict app for iPhone and iPad features more than five dozen categories of searchable resort information, weather forecasts, park and show schedules, the latest news and articles from MiceChat, and more. Download free on the App Store or at mouseaddict.com.

[center]Headline Roundup
A quick look at noteworthy Disney theme park headlines from around the web.[/center]
  • Disneyland Resort welcomes Rose Bowl Game-Bound No. 5 Iowa and No. 6 Stanford Football Teams. (Disney Parks Blog)
  • Disneyland Resort Cast Members VoluntEar for 60 days in a row for 60th anniversary, raising $389,000. (Disney Parks Blog)
Well, that wraps up our annual Year in Review! Thanks to all of you for reading and your support throughout the year! Dateline Disneyland wouldn’t be here without all of you and we greatly appreciate you reading, sharing, donating, and commenting every week! See you back here next week, in 2016! Happy New Year!

What did you think of Disneyland’s 2015? Join the discussion and share your thought in the comments section below!

Special thanks to our Dateline Disneylanders!
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For more Disneyland news, be sure to read MiceChat’s weekly In the Parks blog. And be sure to check out our sister blog, Dateline Disney World – a fantastic weekly photo blog covering Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida!

Thanks for reading. See you at Disneyland!
[B]- Andy[/B]




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