October began a new fiscal year for Disney, and the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) suits are rushing quickly to kick off projects big and small over the next twelve months to help capitalize on the stunning popularity of Cars Land and the successfully re-launched Disney California Adventure (DCA). The new fiscal year ahead will be the launching point for several big changes to come to the Disneyland Resort and its changing demographics.
In this update we’ll fill you in on some of those new projects about to be launched, just how strong the numbers are for the Resort, and why it’s not too early to be making your Christmas plans now so you can say goodbye to some of what may be your favorite Disneyland traditions this year. We even have some info on what the next E-Ticket in Tomorrowland might be. (And that should help you understand why they are keeping such a tight lid on it.)
Since the Christmas coffee isn’t available yet at the local java joint, we’ll have to settle for the pumpkin spice variety instead this morning. (But we’ll still avoid the fruitcake okay?) As always special thanks to Andy Castro and Fishbulb for all their help in putting this all together. On Dasher, on Dancer… um, sorry, I forgot they are gone now… not a creature was stirring… well there was one Mouse… – Al
(Cash register) bells are ringing, can you hear them?
Since June we’ve been detailing the huge jumps in attendance for DCA and the monumental changes to the ways both tourists and locals alike are now using the Resort property. Those trends have continued into the busy HalloweenTime season this fall, and the numbers have strengthened nicely from last year’s already healthy autumn attendance.
DCA continues to pull in 40,000 per day on weekends, and Saturday’s are now seeing a surge in one-day tickets being purchased for DCA by locals or day-tripping tourists who don’t have Annual Passes, which is a ticket demographic that DCA has never been able to capture. As the word spreads on Cars Land, the Disney and local area hotels are seeing occupancy rates at 95% or higher most days now, and the rush is on every morning as the hotel guests scurry to Cars Land as soon as Disney will crack the gates open.
As usual, the numbers tell this story the best. As a reminder, Disney counts attendance based on a “first click” turnstile policy, which counts daily visitors only once at whichever park they enter first. A visitor bouncing between both parks will only be counted once per day and at only the first park they entered. Below are the attendance figures for this past Saturday, compared against the year-ago figures;
Saturday, October 13, 2012 Saturday, October 15, 2011
Disneyland – 55,000 Disneyland – 57,000
DCA – 40,000 DCA – 18,000
2012 Daily Total – 95,000 2011 Daily Total – 75,000
As you can see, that’s 20,000 additional visitors to the Resort, which pushes the numbers from an already healthy Saturday in 2011 into figures in 2012 that were once only seen in Anaheim during the hyper-busy week between Christmas and New Year’s. And that extra 20,000 is weighted heavily towards domestic and international tourists staying in hotels. Disney California Adventure is driving all of that attendance gain, obviously, and yet the results are crowds that seem evenly balanced across both parks and that can be accommodated inside the revitalized DCA with amazing smoothness.
That’s not to say those swelling attendance numbers aren’t causing cracks in the foundation beyond the parks. Parking is a problem that we’ve been telling you about since the first warning flags went up on the issue back in 2008. With those types of daily attendance figures, and with the Resort’s Cast Member population now swelling past 23,000, the parking situation is at a breaking point. Cast Members working on recent weekends have again been forced to park at the Honda Center and be bussed in, while Disney’s parking team commandeers Cast Member parking lots for visitor use. Even then, some satellite employee parking lots like the Pumbaa lot across from GardenWalk are filling up by mid-morning and unceremoniously being shut down to CM’s without warning, sending CM’s to circle the Resort area looking for an open Cast Member parking facility and then run to their shifts to avoid being marked late.
Those CM’s being forced to park at the Honda Center on certain days are at least given a few days’ notice, but the free lunch vouchers are no longer handed out like they were back in June. The new expectation is that on any busy day when the Honda Center trigger is pulled, CM’s will simply park there without any extra perks being doled out. And this November and December, with the extremely popular Christmas season arriving, the parking problems will only increase.
It’s the Christmas season that TDA is now most intently focused on, as they try to ignore the fallout from cancelling the employee Christmas party and tinker with a new plan to offer the Candlelight ceremony for 20 consecutive nights in December. Regular readers will remember that a year ago we told you of the plans being considered by TDA to begin offering extra-cost private parties in December that would bundle a few of the popular holiday entertainment offerings into one event, and leave regular day visitors without the Christmas parade and fireworks and festivities that TDA has been offering to everyone since the late 1990’s.
That plan for extra-cost Christmas parties is no longer a matter of if, but now just a matter of when. This year will likely be the last that a regular visitor will be able to experience the full menu of holiday offerings at Disneyland by simply buying a ticket and walking through the gates anytime in November and December. The 2012 Holiday Season will be the end of an era, as Disneyland takes yet another step to becoming more like Disney World.
While the exact offerings and dates for 2013 have yet to be worked out, the most popular concept now kicking around TDA’s executive offices is a calendar where two or three parties per week would be offered from late November through the third week in December, and they would feature the exclusive performance of the Christmas Fantasy parade, the Believe In Holiday Magic fireworks, and the snowfall shows on Main Street and the digital projection snow shows at the Small World Mall. The upcharge to the private party cost would be the dinner packages, and it’s those folks who purchase both a party ticket and a dinner package who would get seats for the nightly Candlelight performance also performed during the party.
The logistics on all of these major entertainment offerings that are focused on and around the Main Street USA and Hub area will be tricky, but TDA is working under the assumption that they will need to bundle all of that entertainment together to make the party marketable. TDA would love to have the new back alley behind the east side of Main Street we told you about in the last update already built, but that’s still a few years away. So for the holiday season of 2013 when these private parties will likely kick off, expect that the crowd control for the party on Main Street will be rough.
The parkwide decorations and two holiday attraction overlays at It’s A Small World and Haunted Mansion will still be on offer to non-party guests, obviously, so it’s the entertainment and little extras that will be heavily leveraged to set the extra-cost parties apart. During non-party days in December the Soundsational parade will perform instead of the Christmas Fantasy parade, and on non-party weekend nights the regular fireworks and Fantasmic! will be shown instead of Believe fireworks and the snow shows.
Knowing that private Christmas parties are coming in 2013, TDA has apparently let lapse a few of the smaller offerings this year to try and condense the menu of things that anyone can do without extra charge. One of those casualties is the live reindeer they’d been shipping down from the Pacific Northwest for display at Santa’s Reindeer Roundup in Frontierland. Those reindeer won’t be coming to Disneyland this year, and the two remaining Presidential pardoned turkeys will be yanked backstage permanently as well. TDA will instead be focusing on beefing up the entertainment offerings in the Festival Arena beyond the petting zoo.
If they can create a package of holiday offerings back there that people enjoy, it would be an easy thing to add it to the extra-cost parties. Those big wooden gates at the Arena make it easy to shut off that area from the park during normal hours, so then they can swing them back open for the evening to offer yet another special activity and reason to buy a ticket to the Christmas party. (And for those of you grumbling out there about those greedy TDA suits, remember where the blame should really go – all those Halloween party ticket sales.)
While the extra-cost parties have TDA salivating over the numbers they could pull in for November through mid-December, Disneyland would revert to its usual offerings during the two weeks in late December and early January that frame Christmas and New Year’s. During those two extremely busy weeks, when all but Premium Annual Passholders are blocked out, they would perform the Christmas parade and fireworks daily for regular paying visitors.
But there could be a ticketing catch there, as well…
Crowd control in your pocket
Don’t forget, TDA is still toying with the idea of expanding its peak-season price increases from restaurants to the ticket booths. They’ve been cooking up those plans for seasonal pricing levels for about two years already, an idea already used at Hong Kong Disneyland. It is not inconceivable that 2013 launches that ticketing concept, where visitors arriving during the two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s would pay higher prices to enter the parks.
This temporary ticket increase would help limit attendance a bit while raking in more money, and could be explained by the predictable PR release from Disney that those visiting during the busy upcharge weeks would also get the Christmas entertainment people had to pay extra for at the private parties earlier in the month. There would be lots of marketing and logistical work to do around that still, especially with park tickets being sold off property at Costco or the Disney Store.
All chips, no Dale
To help with all these new party plans that depend heavily on special ticketing and processing, the main entrance turnstiles of both Disneyland and DCA are in the final stages of planning for a major refurbishment. Gone would be the same basic turnstile setup the park has had since 1955, and that has been repeated at most Disney parks around the world. In its place, the new technology that ties in directly with the coming NextGen concepts would be installed. The churning, clicking turnstiles all manned by an army of CM’s would be ripped out entirely, and instead there would be wide open lanes interspersed with digital RFID readers on short podiums, all staffed with a much smaller CM presence.
The slim RFID readers and the elimination of swinging gates and turnstiles will turn the appearance of the Disneyland entrance into a much more open facility, where strollers and wheelchairs can enter and exit unimpeded and some unscrupulous visitors might be tempted to sneak in amongst the crowds without a proper scan. The ultimate goal of the new entrance concept is not just to implement the use of RFID technology as part of the massive NextGen initiative, but also to speed the entry and exit of crowds through the area.
This would be put to the test most strenuously at the Disneyland Resort, which is the only Disney property that has two successful theme parks sitting directly across from each other bordering a small plaza. With DCA now proving it can pull in huge crowds and keep them entertained for a day or more, the ebb and flow of those crowds between the two parks will put the new RFID NextGen technology to a unique test.
Use it or lose it…
Another required piece of the coming NextGen program will roll out next month at both Disneyland and DCA. That’s when Cast Members at attractions will insist that anyone using Fastpass must return during their assigned one hour window, and they will stop letting people show up hours late for their Fastpass time. This change has already occurred at Disney World, and after a decade of ignoring the rules it was a tough message to deliver even though most of their visitors are tourists.
Extra signage and as much communication as possible will be used to try and get the word out at Disneyland and DCA, but the goal is to roll this out by Thanksgiving and then end the grace period of bending the rules by this Christmas. Wish those CM’s luck! As if they didn’t have enough problems with parking and cancelled Christmas parties and trying to carve out a little respect from TDA suits, they’ll be forced to play the role of Grinch this year and not let anyone show up late for their Fastpass appointment.
Meanwhile, there are smaller changes coming to both parks through this fall and winter. Although Disney has yet to formally admit it and we’ve been talking about it for months, they’ll be going big with Christmas decorations in Cars Land this year. A dozen extra telephone poles were added down the side of Route 66 solely for the purpose of helping string up garland and lights along the most popular street in Anaheim. Cars Land will also be featured this holiday season as Disneyland returns to the iconic Rose Parade after a six year absence with a massive float dedicated to the new DCA and Cars Land. Stephanie Edwards should love it.
The Pixar team has weighed in heavily on all of these Cars Land Christmas decorations as Disneyland’s talented decorating team cooked them up, down to the smallest detail. For example, the statue of Stanley near the Courthouse will soon be transformed into a new version of the statue called Santa Stanley, with a Santa hat and beard and bag full of toys slung over his rear axle. The original concept had a small Woody doll sticking out of the bag, as a sly nod to other Pixar successes. But John Lasseter and Pixar nixed that idea, not wanting to let other stories and characters creep into the Cars Land environment.
DCA’s Christmas tree will be going up just outside Elias & Co. in the plaza currently filled with ficus trees, and Buena Vista Street’s tasteful 1930’s holiday décor will offer TDA a chance to redeem itself after the clueless merchandising group in TDA trashed its charm this fall with tacky window displays. The Mad T Party will also get its first holiday overlay in November, with decorations and new holiday music added to the nighttime dance party.
Tomorrowland won’t get any Christmas decorations, as the last holdout of a land that ignores the holidays. But the plans to shutter Innoventions and begin work on an Iron Man themed E Ticket thrill ride in that space continue to move through the approval process in both Burbank and Glendale. If you are one of those few fans of Innoventions, or simply want to get a look at what’s left of the revolving theater ride system there since 1967, stop by and pay your respects before February.
Bob Iger can’t wait to get the Marvel characters added to the theme park environment, and WDI is running with this one since the budget is healthy and Cars Land has emboldened them to push for higher quality in these big headliner projects. The question remains whether they can keep this quickly approaching project under wraps until the 2013 D23 Expo in Anaheim next August, or if they at least announce the E Ticket this winter but hold back on the details publicly until the D23 Expo.
So what are your thoughts? Are you thinking about changing your Disneyland Christmas plans after this year? And what about Tomorrowland, should its future be Marvel or should they put that franchise in its own separate Park down the street? Our new format allows you to comment on this article directly below. By the way thank you again for your patience as we continue to improve the site and how it functions for you.
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See you at Disneyland!