With both summer and Disneyland’s successful Diamond Celebration quickly winding down, the Anaheim parks will begin a rather predictable fall season, filled with some of the busiest weekends of the year as the locals replace the summer tourist crowds. But the next couple months will just be the calm before the storm as new entertainment, attractions and even more construction arrives at the Disneyland Resort late this year and through 2017. In this update we’ll fill you in on the current thinking behind the Paint The Night and Electrical Parade swap, what’s ahead for new entertainment offerings that haven’t been announced, and why the Disneyland Monorail will be closing for most of 2017.
But Will Shanghai Look This Good At 60
The 60th Diamond Anniversary Celebration has been a roaring success for TDA. Through a stylish and classy combination of nostalgia and fresh new offerings, the two parks truly sparkled both for visitors and for the bean counters. With attendance and profitability problems now hampering the Walt Disney World property out in Florida, it was Anaheim’s financial success that beat even the rosiest of projections that has kept the Parks & Resorts division on solid financial footing for the last fiscal year. It helps immensely that Shanghai Disneyland has opened with a bang this summer and has had high attendance and strong visitor spending, lessening the possibility that the American parks will need to cut corners to make the Shanghai investment look good to Wall Street. And as we told you previously, it’s that solid financial growth coming out of Anaheim that has Bob Chapek pleased and willing to direct even more capital into expansion plans beyond the marquee Star Wars Land project and the new parking and hotel facilities recently announced. Finally, a “Thanks Shanghai,” that sounds sincere.
Disneyland execs just held another schmoozy evening for local politicians last week, allegedly as a farewell to the Diamond Celebration but really just touting the Resort’s current offerings and near-term plans. The politicians and their spouses began the evening in an unusual spot – with Michael Colglazier and his project managers up on the sixth floor of the Mickey & Friends parking structure, which gave them a great view of the Star Wars expansion and the site of the new four star hotel on the Downtown Disney parking lot. The rooftop message the politicians got, before being ushered over to reserved seats at Frozen and a fabulous catered dinner prior to reserved seats for Paint The Night and fireworks, was that the Disneyland Resort has never been more successful and Disney is pouring several Billion dollars into the Anaheim property over the next few years in unprecedented expansion to keep it that way.
But as the successful Diamond Celebration ends, the recent announcements that have Paint The Night closing until Christmas and then replaced entirely next January with the old Electrical Parade had fans baffled. Paint The Night has the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any major entertainment offering in Disneyland’s history; higher than Fantasmic! at any point in its 24 year life, higher than the Electrical Parade or World of Color has ever been, and higher than any of the excellent fireworks shows Disneyland has rolled out regularly over the last decade. But after running twice-nightly for 15 months straight, the Paint The Night floats are in desperate need of major maintenance and refurbishment.
While the floats themselves need a well-deserved refurb, it’s the costumes worn by the dancers and performers that are causing the most headaches and are the real reason why Paint The Night will close this winter. The costumes created for Paint The Night, all with LED lighting sewn in and some with sculpted pieces held up by the performers, have caused repeated injuries and aches and pains to the Cast Members, and many of those injuries have caused Disney lots of money and time in workers compensation claims. In California, with some of the toughest labor laws in the country, that’s a situation that simply can’t go on long term without being addressed.
So TDA was faced with the prospect of having to close the show for a rethink of the costumes and choreography the performers use each night. The 90 day refurbishment this fall will focus mainly on the floats themselves, fixing wiring, tweaking effects, and tackling overdue maintenance with the drive units. The parade will return mostly unchanged for this holiday season, but then close again through the spring while TDA’s entertainment team redesigns costumes, creates and tests replacements, and then restages the choreography of most performers to lessen injuries and body strain. As currently planned, Paint The Night isn’t going anywhere. But to stick around at Disneyland for another decade, it will require a thorough refurbishment and a re-evaluation of the costumes and choreography to make it safer for 75+ Cast Members to perform twice per night.
Paint The Night is already the most expensive parade to stage and perform in Disney’s American parks and the Anaheim execs knew that going in. TDA is committed to making Paint The Night work long term, thanks to that sky-high customer feedback. But even after the parade is reworked next year, it’s likely that the parade will only perform in summer, at Christmas, and perhaps during two weeks of spring break due to the high cost of performances. That’s a schedule that the Electrical Parade was run with during the 1980’s and 90’s, so it’s not unusual. It would also bring greater value to the Signature level of Annual Passes that aren’t blocked out during those peak vacation times, which makes the bean counters happy.
But with strong attendance, and Fantasmic! and DCA’s parade route both closed until next summer, TDA was flummoxed with how to fill the gap without Paint The Night for six months. From a conversation on the weekly Bob Chapek video conference with all of his site chiefs came the realization in Anaheim that WDW needed to save money in the new 2017 fiscal year due to soft attendance and flat customer spending at the WDW property. And with Animal Kingdom’s long delayed and wildly over budget Rivers of Light show finally nearing completion for an October debut, WDW’s and DLR’s execs began to pencil out swapping the Electrical Parade for Rivers of Light.
With Disneyland picking up most of the tab of refurbishing the Electrical Parade floats and shipping them out to Anaheim, it was a bargain the WDW execs couldn’t pass up. And TDA figured it was a gimmick that the locals and AP’ers who make up at least half of the off-season demographic for Disneyland would enjoy. That nostalgia bet has yet to be validated though, and TDA will blanket Disneyland with CM’s from the Guest Research department to survey the crowds on whether or not the 45 year old Electrical Parade still holds up or just seems hokey compared to Paint The Night.
But don’t think those WDW execs wouldn’t love to get their hands on Anaheim’s Paint The Night as a cheap and easy way to offer a new parade in the future, but thus far TDA has dug in its heels and refused that request. The newly autonomous executives in Anaheim finally have the direct report to the Parks Chairman without a senior executive middleman based in Orlando, so the appeal from Orlando has to go directly to Bob Chapek.
Next summer, TDA will market the heck out of the thoroughly refreshed and restaged new version of Fantasmic!, with all new special effects, new audio and lighting, and many new Disney characters and plot twists to the original show from Disney movies that didn’t exist in 1992. But as of now the plan is to offer Fantasmic! two or three times per night through the summer, with two performances of a mildly reworked Paint The Night to help balance the Disneyland crowds. Fantasmic! is currently scheduled to debut for the July 4th weekend, while the Disneyland Railroad, Mark Twain, Columbia, Canoes and Tom Sawyer Island should reopen by late June.
Don’t Whine, Wine and Dine
Meanwhile at DCA this fall, the Pixar Play Parade will have its last two months of operation before it goes on “hiatus” from October 31st until at least May, 2017, if not forever. This November and December, DCA will roll out its first “Festival of Holidays” (the current working title) wine and food event. Taking up space in the Hollywood Backlot area as well as the Paradise Gardens area, and some of DCA’s long parade route in between, this new festival will gradually shift focus from November to January.
Starting with traditional Thanksgiving offerings in November, Festival of Holidays will then move to Christmas and Hanukah offerings in December (with the Pier’s popular Viva Navidad! show plussed up and part of the dining experience), before ending with a celebration of Three Kings Day in early January and then Lunar New Year through late January. It’s a clever way to package a Disney wine and dine event, and Disneyland’s entertainment team has done well in presenting these cultural offerings in the parks in recent years. You can expect lots of local artisans and performing groups to be part of the Festival of Holidays cultural offerings, in addition to Disney’s food and drinks and decor. And if it helps get some of the crowds out of Disneyland during Christmastime, even better.
The festival scene will take a break in February, but with major construction on the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride blocking off the parade route there, the Pixar Play Parade will remain closed. Then in March of 2017 the bigger and bolder version of last year’s California Food & Wine Festival will return to DCA through the spring. Whether or not the Pixar Play Parade returns for the summer of 2017 has yet to be decided. The longer term proposal is to retire the Pixar parade on October 31st and replace it with a Marvel parade after the opening of the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! attraction, as part of the marketing plan to connect Marvel with DCA in the minds of tourists and locals. The trigger hasn’t been pulled on a new parade for DCA yet, but it’s a plan that is gaining steam in TDA.
It’s a Warehouse/Power-Plant/Museum
Speaking of Guardians of the Galaxy, the plan is to fully enclose the Tower of Terror’s exterior queue and wall in the elevator doors that open to a view of the parks during the ride. The current exterior garden queue will become a mood-setting indoor queue space before visitors enter the plot explaining pre-show in the current lobby and library area, and then move on to The Collector’s museum exhibits in what is now the Boiler Room part of Tower of Terror’s queue. The elevators, re-themed as emergency escape space vehicles, will then travel up and down the shafts in randomized show sequences. A half dozen different show sequences are now planned, all with different music, dialogue and visuals. The elevator doors at the top of the building will still open, but riders will no longer be looking out over the Resort. Instead, they will peer into a video projection room meant to look like the vastness of outer space as the final scene unfolds. There won’t be much left of the Tower of Terror experience you know, except for the sudden up and down drop motions.
This construction will begin soon with scaffolding going up on the sides and back end of the Tower of Terror, while the ride continues to operate with an uncovered front side through the end of this year. The back side will be heavily rethemed as the eventual plan is to expand DCA into the parking lot between it and the Cars Land area. Future park visitors will ultimately be able to walk around the west and south facing sides of the Guardians attraction, so WDI is going far beyond the plain walls that Paul Pressler approved for construction in his rushed panic to get Tower of Terror into a failing DCA in the early 2000’s.
At about the same time Guardians construction is wrapping up and DCA’s Food & Wine Festival is winding down next spring, the Disneyland Monorail will close for the rest of 2017. For the first time since Indiana Jones was built in 1994, the monorail beam will be re-routed around park expansion space. This was hinted at by the planning documents Disney had to submit to the City of Anaheim earlier this month, and the plan is to reroute the beam from the point it emerges from Tomorrowland until it meets up with the existing beam behind Stage 17, just before it travels over the Buena Vista Street bridge in DCA. The new route will take the beam parallel to the existing inbound beam, before it makes an S-curve across the Esplanade to meet the current route through the rest of DCA. The Disneyland Monorail is currently scheduled to close on April 17th, 2017 and remain closed through at least October, although those dates could change a bit this far out.
As we’d told you in July’s update, weeks before Disney released those planning documents, the long term plan is to use most of the space currently occupied by bus loading zones for DCA park expansion. You don’t spend tens of millions of dollars on a rerouted monorail beam for nothing, after all. And remember, this section is the beam added to the Disneyland Hotel in 1961 that was left completely untouched by DCA’s initial construction in the late 1990’s. Which is why Disney is remaining so hush-hush about the monorail reroute, because it would clearly signal a major change to that Hollywood Backlot part of DCA.
This DCA expansion is the next big push to use all that money Bob Chapek, Bob Iger and Disney’s Board of Directors is now willing to send to Anaheim, to get the neglected Marvel properties permanently into a Disney theme park. The recent shakeup and layoffs at WDI are also part of this Chapek plan, as the senior WDI execs recently let go were known mostly for the long list of concepts they kept in Blue Sky development phases but that they never managed to get built in a park. The new WDI execs have been tasked with picking top creative prospects and then making a business case and getting them actually built in a park, not just destined for a glossy coffee table book sold to a few fans. That the Disneyland Resort is currently the top performing theme park property on the books means those winning ideas are coming to Anaheim first.
The Hollywood Backlot area has been a hodgepodge of unrelated concepts and cheap ideas since its inception in 2001, and time has not been kind to this sleepy and unattractive corner of DCA. Luckily help is on the way in the form of big budget attractions and a dramatic re-use and expanded footprint of this part of DCA. Think along the lines of the aesthetic transformation the original park entry and Sun Plaza got to become Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle, with the big budget rides and showmanship of Cars Land, and you’ll understand the scope of what WDI and TDA are currently planning here.
By next spring the vertical construction on the new parking structure at the Eastern Gateway will be well under way. Planning documents filed by the city clearly show the office building occupied by the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) office still there once the project is complete by the fall of 2018. Disney secretly purchased that land back in 2013, but the lease for that federal government office runs until the year 2020 and Uncle Sam has rebuffed every attempt from Disney to coax them out of that long lease. So the USCIS building will remain in the middle of this complex until then. But once the lease ends in 2020 Disney will determine how to best use that space based on the first few years of operation of the Eastern Gateway complex.
The parking structure has been designed to be easily expanded to the north over the current USCIS land, adding a few thousand more parking spaces to the initial 7,800 spaces. Gone is the plan to incorporate a Streetcar line and maintenance facility in that space, with that Anaheim streetcar plan abandoned by the city and then officially killed off by county authorities earlier this summer.
But Disney’s planners also want to see what demand is like from the fleet of shuttle buses serving the Anaheim Resort District’s growing list of new hotels. There’s also a realization that more and more people are arriving to the Resort via Uber and other ride-share services, and there’s a thought that a large drop off area should be dedicated just to Uber drivers for the 2020’s and beyond. The ground floor of the USCIS area may be dedicated to two additional drop-off loops for shuttles and cars, with a couple thousand additional parking spaces added above in the expanded structure by 2022.
Enough is Never Enough
In the midst of all that new construction, park expansion, and big new entertainment offerings, the Disneyland Resort will continue with all the usual small stuff they generally offer. A preview of Marvel’s Dr. Strange will debut in DCA’s Sunset Showcase Theater on September 23rd, followed up by a preview of Disney’s Moana taking over the Bug’s Life Theater on October 23rd. Next spring the Sunset Showcase Theater will also feature a preview of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, followed up by a preview of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The Bug’s Life Theater is also planned to host the preview next May for Pixar’s Cars 3 movie, conveniently located right next door to Cars Land. This winter will also feature a nice six week refurbishment to freshen up Pirates of the Caribbean, reopening just a few days before the iconic rides 50th Anniversary on March 17th that will be celebrated with some new merchandise and a party in New Orleans Square that weekend.
And this fall into 2017 will also be the year Disneyland rolls out its version of digital Fastpass, an updated and entirely app-based version of the Fastpass+ system in use at WDW with mixed results since 2013. They’ll be adding Fastpass to over a dozen new attractions in both parks, although one has to wonder if anyone currently in TDA was working in Anaheim in the early 2000’s when Fastpass had to be removed from several attractions because it was leading to extreme overcrowding and gridlocked walkways in Disneyland. The TDA execs who have approved this system have a phalanx of spreadsheets showing that it will all be just fine, even though it was horrific during busy times of the year the last time they tried this in 2002.
Well folks, that about does it for this update. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that we hope to bring to you soon. But for now, it’s good for you to know that money spigot is back on and projects are once again flowing at a rapid pace at Disneyland. Ready for revised Fantasmic? Excited about a first class Marvel expansion for DCA? Worried about Fastpass on rides which have never really needed it? Let’s hear from you.
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