Disneyland turned 61 years old on Sunday, but many cast members found little to celebrate as the company conducted a major re-organization and layoffs last week. In this update, we’ll fill you in on what the recent changes actually mean to the resort. We’ll also look at record Disneyland profits, even as attendance moderates between high and low seasons. But no one expects attendance to be anything other than enormous once Star Wars land opens, which is why we also have more attractions, hotel rooms and parking expansion updates for you.
The Winds Of Change
Last Thursday morning a massive re-organization swept through the Disneyland Resort, kicked off by a mandatory 9:00 am meeting in the Disneyland Opera House for all the theme park managers in the operations departments. Now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that this huge re-org has effectively ended the ill-conceived One Disney structure dreamed up by former Parks Chairman Jay Rasulo back in 2008, which centralized most decision making power in Orlando.
TDA execs have now created an all-powerful decision-making team called the “Disneyland Resort Steering Committee”. The Steering Committee is a small group of five individuals, made up of Disneyland Resort’s president, a few Anaheim based financial and planning executives, and the woman who really runs the show, Mary Niven as the Senior Vice President of Operations. The Disneyland President, still Michael Colglazier for now, reports directly to Bob Chapek up in Burbank and there is no longer any need or desire to loop anyone out in Orlando into the decision making process for Anaheim’s operation. There are still some shared back of house services between the coasts, with some bosses working in Anaheim and some bosses still working in Orlando, but none of those shared services are of any real significance to the daily operation and future planning at Disneyland.
It’s a shame it took this long for Anaheim to pry itself away from the clueless corporate hive out in Orlando, as there have been several key decisions made in the last few years that could have benefited Anaheim had the new executive structure already been in place back then. An example is the early 2015 decision to cut the planned third attraction from Star Wars Land because the Orlando suits didn’t want to pay for it. The third ride was to be a unique internal transport system that would have had riders sitting in carriages attached to giant autonomous Bantha-like animatronics who would have grunted and trundled along an elevated roadway taking visitors on a grand circle tour of the entire land. Sort of a cross between Main Street’s horseless carriages and the PeopleMover weaving through Tomorrowland’s buildings. The ride would have offered a unique view of the land and given the streetscapes kinetic energy, as well as offering up additional ride capacity that wouldn’t have had a height requirement.
But the notoriously cheap Orlando execs balked at the cost (including the long term maintenance) and put down their trump card to get the ride axed from the Star Wars plans, even though three of their parks have measly rosters of just a half dozen rides per park. That Orlando trump card is now gone, and if they want to continue to be cheap in Orlando they can, but it will be much harder for those decisions to impact Anaheim.
On the flip side, any bad moves for the Anaheim parks can now be laid squarely at the feet of the current and future TDA executive team. This is a group, after all, that is actively pursuing a massive expansion of the Fastpass system in Anaheim in 2017, adding a dozen additional rides to the Fastpass program and moving to an app based system for day-of ride reservations. Disneyland already tried adding more Fastpass rides back in 2001 and 2002, with disastrous results that gridlocked walkways and forced park infrastructure to the breaking point back when daily attendance was much less than it is today. The lessons of the early 2000’s when Disneyland was forced to dismantle many Fastpass offerings just two years after they were installed seems to have been lost on the current execs. Let’s see if they remember those lessons now that they don’t answer to a boss in Orlando.
One of the first examples of Anaheim’s new autonomy was with last week’s re-org itself. The operations teams inside the parks were all restructured, and a layer of middle management was removed (although no one in Operations was laid off), flattening the reporting structure between front line CM’s and a handful of General Managers that now run each park. A similar structure was already rolled out in WDW this past winter. But out in WDW they dreamed up silly names for the remaining managers based on currently trendy titles borrowed from industries like shopping malls and chain hotels; entry level WDW managers are now called Guest Experience Managers, and mid-level WDW managers are now called Proprietors.
But at Disneyland, Mary Niven took to the stage of the Disneyland Opera House last Thursday morning and announced that one of the goals of Anaheim’s re-org was to take the team back to the concepts of showmanship and theatricality that Walt laid out for the park in its early years. Entry level managers in the Anaheim parks will now be called Stage Managers, as they direct their Cast and maintain the standards of the Disneyland Show as it plays out each day for its audience. The mid-level managers the Stage Managers report to are now called Production Managers, which in the theater world is someone who is responsible for the logistical and financial aspects of putting on a big show. Using titles that harken back to Walt’s original intent for his “Disneyland show” seems much smarter than copying the titles given to chain hotel managers and big box store supervisors.
Disneyland President Michael Colglazier also addressed the assembled troops last Thursday morning, as he gave one of his rare Business Updates on the state of the Resort. Once Michael shared slides of his family’s recent vacation to Shanghai Disneyland (seriously), he finally got to the business of the Disneyland Resort, and that business in Anaheim is very good. The entire Parks division has seen operating profit increase by 20% compared to last year, but almost all of that is due to increased overall attendance and soaring profit in Anaheim. Michael was diplomatic but very clear in explaining that the other parks around the world have had either flat or slightly lower attendance for the year, with weak earnings at the other properties.
But the Anaheim property has roared through the 60th Anniversary with record crowds and increased spending by those crowds. Anaheim’s Resort District has added 2,000 new hotel rooms in the last 15 months (Great Wolf Lodge, Courtyard Mariott, Holiday Inn, Hyatt House, Marriott Springhill and others), with additional hotel projects currently under construction, and occupancy at the 22,000 hotel rooms now within the Resort District remains at an all-time high. (It’s hard to find a vacancy at the Grand Californian or Disneyland Hotel this summer on Expedia.) The impact to Disneyland is record numbers of domestic and foreign tourists in 2016 spending big bucks. So, while “peak” days may seem less crowded, those guest days have moved to alternate days and increased the total overall attendance, spending and profit.
Michael tactfully explained that not only has the Anaheim property been carrying the entire Parks division for the past year, but that Chairman Bob Chapek and the company’s Board of Directors have taken particular notice of Anaheim’s stellar financial performance. The result is that additional funds have now been approved by the Board of Directors to be spent in Anaheim. The ticket tax deal that was struck with Anaheim a year ago dictates that $1.5 Billion needs to be spent on Disneyland Resort expansion in the next few years to avoid a tax for the next 45 years. But Michael announced that Burbank will now spend over $2 Billion dollars in Anaheim over the next four fiscal years, and that additional funding above that $2 Billion will be released next fiscal year for several additional projects.
New Lands, New Rides, More Hotel Rooms & Parking
That $2 Billion already approved will go towards Star Wars Land and all the rumored projects readers here already know about; the Pumbaa parking structure with Harbor Blvd. skybridge, the sprawling new luxury hotel and new parking structures on the existing Downtown Disney parking lots, as well as the re-Imagineering of Downtown Disney. The projects Michael wouldn’t talk about in the Opera House last week are already known to most regular readers here, like the Frozen E Ticket and Arendelle village being planned for north of Fantasyland. The plans for DCA now include a total thematic rethink of the northern flanks of Hollywood Land that would take over Monsters Inc., Stage 17, Stage 12, the Sunset Showcase Theater, and beyond the park into some of the adjacent bus loading areas of the East Esplanade.
With all that expansion coming to the two parks, more parking will obviously be needed. Although the Pumbaa parking structure has yet to be officially announced, construction has already begun on that sprawling complex. The first office building at 1515 Manchester Ave has been demolished, and that northern piece of the property will become the new hotel shuttle bus loading area capable of handling dozens of buses at a time, replacing much of the existing loading areas that were built back in 1999. The new bus loading zone will lead to a landscaped plaza that becomes a broad walkway through what is now the Carousel Inn, before it heads over the skybridge across Harbor Blvd. and then winds along the very northern perimeter of the existing East Esplanade loading area.
The parking structure itself will be built in two phases, the first phase going on the existing footprint of the Pumbaa parking lot. The smaller office building between Pumbaa and the new bus loading zone will be demolished later and be part of a second phase of construction on the parking structure, as Disney can’t get the Customs & Immigration Service at 1585 Manchester to end their long-term lease of that building early. The contractor who will build the parking structure has committed to an 18 month construction timetable, so the entire new facility should be open by the spring of 2018.
While that construction will free up a huge amount of acreage for DCA expansion due north of Hollywood Land, it’s the southern flank of Hollywood Land that will see construction first. The plan to remake the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in 2017 is barreling ahead, and Tower of Terror is now planned to close this September. The project is slated to take until next May to complete, and will require reconstruction of the existing exterior queue as well as heavy modification to the interior queue and ride system itself.
Because of the construction footprint, the adjacent parade route and backstage parking area for the parade will be cut off at the Hollywood parade gates for several months. The result is that the Pixar Play Parade will close on Halloween this year, and not return until next summer.
The lack of a DCA parade has freed up the TDA planners to expand their plans for a much bigger Food & Wine Festival next spring, as well as begin working on a holiday themed food festival now planned for this November and December. TDA has struggled for over a decade with concepts designed to pull the huge Thanksgiving and Christmas crowds out of Disneyland and spread them to DCA, but nothing has really worked in the long run. It’s hoped that a new food festival themed to the holidays will at least pull some of the Annual Passholders over to DCA and let the tourists enjoy Disneyland’s top-notch Christmas offerings. At least that’s what TDA hopes will happen.
The spring Food & Wine Festival will return to DCA next March in a much bigger and bolder footprint than the holiday version. Let’s hope they have the time to properly source local craftspeople and artisans, after they rushed in out of state vendors from WDW’s festival due to the tight 12 week prep timeline for the 2016 event. There was a missed opportunity to tell a uniquely California story with the last Food & Wine Fest, so hopefully the longer lead time can help them with that. California, as the seventh largest economy on the planet, shouldn’t have to bring in products from out of state.
Speaking of food and retail, TDA continues to work on the re-skin and re-think of Downtown Disney. With House of Blues gone, the leading contender for that space is currently a Splitsville bowling alley. Whatever ends up there will need a full rebuild of that concert venue, and it is worth noting that a large expansion pad still exists north of the old House of Blues building and its neighbor Tortilla Jo’s.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner
With all that expansion and new capital expenditure headed to the Disneyland Resort, plus a massive re-org, heads are spinning in Anaheim this summer. Unfortunately, the next round of the Walt Disney Legacy Awards have begun, which is supposed to be the highest award a Parks Cast Member can receive. The Legacy Awards were rolled out back in 2011 with some of the most amazing Human Resources corporate psycho-babble you could imagine. Replacing the old Spirit of Disneyland Award, the Legacy Awards were a One Disney creation that standardized the awards for both Anaheim and Orlando, and alleged that only Parks Cast Members who “embodied Walt Disney’s spirit of continually dreaming, creating and inspiring” could receive the award. It was repeatedly stressed that a Legacy Award winner had to “excel in all three categories”, meeting or exceeding Walt Disney’s own standard of lifelong career excellence. Cast Members need to write a thorough nomination for a fellow Cast Member, and the nominations are then vetted and debated by a secret committee in TDA.
The HR drones who crafted and approved the Legacy Award qualifications went way over the top, in that way that corporate HR teams who have spent too much time in a conference room can do. And in the first few years the Legacy Award generally went to young movers and shakers rising up the management totem pole, many of whom have since left the company after they hustled a few good resume’ lines from their few years at Disneyland. Meanwhile, long term CM’s who have worked for Disneyland for decades remain behind without acknowledgement from their company. To add insult to injury, many of those young Legacy Award winners, who have since left Disney, have kept their Legacy Award noted on their LinkedIn page as a gold star on display for their next corporate interview.
In order to boost the ranks of the Legacy winners, the goals for the award have now been radically scaled back. Now all one apparently has to do to receive Disney’s highest award is work there at least two years and not be a jerk. A new set of instructions and suggestions for nominating your fellow Cast Member for a Legacy Award was distributed a few weeks ago, and the qualifications for the award are now embarrassingly simple compared to the lofty propaganda of 2011.
In 2011, the minimum qualification for the Dream category was stated as “An innovative visionary, who understands and provides the elements of building a world-class experience.” In 2016 that qualification for the Dream category has been downgraded to “Projects a positive image through both words and actions”. Maybe they also help you proofread an email.
In 2011, the qualification for the Create category was “Actively develops an entrepreneurial, efficient and continuously improving experience for Cast and Guests.” In 2016 that qualification has been dumbed down to “Manages time and resources wisely.” Shoot for the stars!
In 2011, the qualification for the Inspire category was “Simultaneously models inclusive, collaborative, supportive and positive behaviors and actions.” And in 2016 that qualification has simply become “Shows respect to everyone by being courteous and kind.” And refills the water tank on the office Keurig machine.
For what’s described as “the highest award given to Cast Members who exemplify all three of the criteria of Dream, Create and Inspire”, could the bar be set any lower? The goal here is not really to award the handful of truly stellar Cast Members in Anaheim who stick around for the long haul, the goal is for the HR team to give out awards to as many CM’s as possible to help boost morale and show the Burbank bosses how much happy vibes the HR department has created out of thin air.
We’ve said it before, but the next time you are at Disneyland and receive good service, thank the Cast Member personally or send a quick thank you note via the Disneyland.com website. That will probably mean more to the Cast Member than the Everyone Gets A Trophy program the Parks HR team has let the Legacy Award devolve into.
Well, that’s our Disneyland Rumor Update folks. What do you think of the evolving management structure for the Disneyland Resort? Are you happy to see One Disney implode? And what about the expansion plans designed to even out the certain Star Wars surge? As always, we value your thoughts and opinions below.
Please be kind to each other folks. Hostility or personal attacks of any kind are not permitted in our comments section. Not to mention it would kill your chances at a Disney Legacy Award.