It’s a sad but somewhat exciting start to the new year as the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ends its run at Disney California Adventure today to make way for a new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. We’ll take a final look at this popular ride and also show you a teaser of the construction going on at the back of Disneyland in preparation for Star Wars land. The insane holiday crowds at the park necessitated the temporary reopening of the Big Thunder Trail, and that means exciting new photos for you!

Tower of Terror Drops Out Tonight

Tower of Terror lobby - ©Disney

It was a very short (nearly) 13 year run for a major E-Ticket attraction. While Anaheim’s version of the attraction didn’t quite live up to the spectacular Disney World version, it was none the less a much needed experience in a fledgling DCA lacking in major attractions. Tower of Terror was the anchor of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. The attraction will soon give way to a new Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, which will use the same ride mechanism and space but with an entirely new theme and set decoration.

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The Tower has been shrouded in construction scrims to hide the exterior work which is well underway.

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Waits to ride the attraction one last time have been long, with extended lines stretching well beyond the normal attraction queue.

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At night, the attraction has been turning off the show lighting and projections, giving riders a mostly dark experience called “Late Check-Out.” Reactions have been mixed. Some loving the new way of riding an old attraction. Others simply want to remember the attraction exactly as it was one last time.
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While the exterior queue isn’t nearly as long or detailed as its Florida counterpart, it is quite lovely by DCA standards.

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A live trio portraying the “Silver Lake Sisters” has been playing in the lobby since the announcement that the attraction would be closing. They are amazing!

It would be great if the sisters were given a permanent home in either the lobby of the Carthay Circle lounge or perhaps at the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe (Starbucks) on Buena Vista Street. They fit the theme of the area so perfectly.

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The level of detail in the lobby of the attraction is simply stunning, with a ghostly elegance.

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You unlock this door with the key of imagination.

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The camera is playing tricks on us here, having trouble balancing the bright screen at the back of the hallway with the shadows at the front. However, the screen is much brighter than before and has obviously been upgraded for the upcoming Guardians attraction.

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Full Ride Through video from MandolinAdventures:

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One of our favorite hidden details of this ride is the body stashed under the exit stairs.

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The ride photo room features vintage gift shop teaser windows.

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The normal Tower merchandise is almost entirely sold out, with only a few designs left.

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The attraction can be seen from all over DCA. Guests can spy the infamous tower from Bugs Land, Cars Land, Paradise Pier, Grizzly Peak, and even the Esplanade.  That view will soon be covered in pipes for the “oil refinery” look that Imagineer Joe Rhode and crew have been talking about proudly in promotional videos.

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Now that you’ve had months to come to terms with the closure and replacement of Tower of Terror, how do you feel about the transition? Time for something new, or sad to see a popular attraction close after a relatively short run?

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Disneyland’s Crushing Holiday Crowds

We are about to show you some anxiety-inducing photos of Disneyland at gridlock conditions. However, it’s notable that those entering the park from the west side of the resort (Mickey and Friends, or either of the west side Downtown Disney security checkpoints) can breeze right into the resort with little wait due to the significantly improved security procedures. It may not look pretty (It actually looks horrible by Disney standards), but it is a major operational improvement for guest flow.

However, once in the park, things were a different story during the holiday week (Except for the two rainy days which were blissfully uncrowded).  While the first few days of passholder block-outs (For all but Signature Plus) were nearly empty, all that changed in the days leading up to Christmas through New Year’s weekend.

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There are so many security entries on the west side now that you can walk right through even on a busy day.
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Food trucks from Hamburger Habit were parked backstage for cast members.
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Taking the Monorail into the parks is a wonderful luxury and gives a nice overview before plunging into the park.

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Dive, Dive! The first thing I noticed was a much longer switchback queue for the Submarine Voyage. At one point, it nearly collides with the Matterhorn queue, which was about double the normal length.

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Instead of the normal single line stretched halfway around the mountain, the queue had double (And, in some places, 4) switchback lines for this popular mountain. Yikes!
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The widest pathway in the park is the Small World Mall. It was wall-to-wall people.  Not a good sign for the tighter areas of the park.  However, the real pain is yet to come. . .
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The replanted Storybook Land sign looks great with a backdrop of flowers.
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This is one of the most uncomfortable pinch points in the park. To get from the parade route into Fantasyland near Matterhorn and Teacups is frustrating on busy days. Even worse this past week with the increased crowds.
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This is the line for Dumbo. The normal pathway between the attraction and the back of Monstro had to be used for additional switchbacks.
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Even the normally empty waiting areas were jammed with people. This is normally an empty patio and sitting area in front of Casey Jr.  Last week it was packed with folks wanting to ride the slow-loading attraction.
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Attractions like Pinocchio, which normally have short waits, had extended switchbacks.
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The line for the Carousel exceeded its normal queue and wrapped all the way around the attraction at one point.
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This is the line for Snow White folks. You can generally ride this attraction with 5 to 10 minutes wait (sometimes less). This week, an extended queue had to be set up in front of the ride, making it look like the normal Peter Pan queue.
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Speaking of Peter Pan . . . no thank you!!!
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In what has become a modern phenomenon, Pirates of the Caribbean is now so popular that on crowded days, the extended queue fills up huge areas of the Fantasmic seating area and the bridge from Adventureland into New Orleans Square. Unfortunately, that also means that trying to walk through this area to the Haunted Mansion and Critter Country is unnerving. Even though I could see from here that New Orleans was a mess, I still decided to plunge into the crowd for the purposes of this update. . . what was I thinking?!?!?
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Don’t do it Dusty, you’ll be sorry . . .
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What you see before you is actually a line for Pirates. Nearly everyone on the pathway headed up to New Orleans Square and on the bridge are in switchbacks. That means that there was only one small path that lead to Haunted Mansion, which was partially blocked itself by two long rows of strollers.
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It took between 15 and 20 minutes to get from the Golden Horseshoe to Haunted Mansion. At one point, a woman in front of me screamed out “My kid has to pee!  Someone help us get out of here!” There was no helping her. Traffic was simply not moving and her stroller prevented her from being able to push her way through. I felt terribly for her. This is really beyond what a guest should be subjected to. Park attendance should be limited BEFORE major arteries in the park become totally blocked. Just imagine if there had been an emergency. . . how would these guests have gotten out quickly? Even I had a moment of panic attack when a wheelchair behind me pressed into the back of my ankle while I attempted not to crush the two little kids and their parents in front of me. I don’t blame the poor lady in the chair. What was she to do? She had to keep moving forward too. Had she not advanced, she would have been stuck there all day. Sadly, it was my feet that took the punishment. Yes, I did this to myself. I knew better than to enter this area. But many of those poor guests had no clue what they were getting into. All Disneyland executives should be forced to walk this path on a busy day and see for themselves the monster they have created.

Here’s the scary news. Pirates is supposed to get the new Fastpass+ service when it rolls out. That means even MORE people in the standby queue, and that the standby queue will move even slower than before. PLEASE DISNEY, rethink what you are doing with attractions in this area!  There is no room for additional switchbacks on a busy day and shouldn’t be as many as there are even now.  I’ll come right out and call this a crisis situation. It’s a real shame that the Fire Marshall doesn’t care to monitor guest conditions in exterior areas of Disneyland. Disney needs to come up with a solution ASAP. This quite simply should NEVER happen to any guest ever again.  I’m not so much angry that I got trapped in this hell, but rather that all those folks who paid top dollar for a peak-day admission into the park were subjected to hellish conditions in certain areas of the park.  Not just bad show, but potentially dangerous conditions.  Really, really disappointed by how Disney continues to allow this to happen.  They know what the net result of overcrowding is going to be, and, yet, they continue to allow too many people into their parks anyway.  END RANT.

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Insane overcrowding at Disneyland. If you’re not in the parks, consider yourself thankful.

Posted by MiceChat.com | The Happiest Place in Cyberspace… on Wednesday, December 28, 2016

 

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Even Tarzan’s Treehouse had a line of people stopped on the stairs due to the sheer number of people attempting to traverse the attraction. Wow!  I’ve just never seen crowds on this attraction before. That’s how busy it was.
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Don’t even get me started on Adventureland. This area can be uncomfortably crowded even on moderate attendance days.
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Yes . . . multiple switchback lines OUTSIDE of Jingle Cruise. Um . . . no! That’s just insanity.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Before you think I’ve soured on Disneyland forever, please rest assured that I love the parks. I really, really do!  I just don’t understand why Disney doesn’t set safe and sane attendance levels. Luckily for folks visiting on New Year’s Eve (And the Friday before), attendance levels were awesome due to rain. If there’s one thing tourists can’t handle, it’s moisture. They simply melt right out of the parks.

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NYE screens set up in front of the castle.
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An entertainment barge on the river (Since the Fantasmic stage is a construction area at the moment).

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Moana is doing a meet and greet in the waiting area between Aladdin’s Oasis and the Jungle Cruise exit.
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I’m a big fan of the Disneyland Flag Retreat. It’s an always patriotic and heartwarming tribute to the armed services. Take a moment to watch this ceremony one day soon.

This Is Not The Pathway You Are Looking For

The “Frontierland Construction Project” is advancing rapidly. Of course we all know that Star Wars land is on the way to the back of Disneyland. That has forced the shortening of the river and the rerouting of the train tracks as well. As a result, Big Thunder Trail closed earlier this year to make way for demolition of Big Thunder Ranch and construction of the new rail tracks in the area.  Due to the massive overcrowding in the park, documented above, Disneyland management was forced to resolve a major bottleneck by temporarily reopening a dirt path between Frontierland and Fantasyland in the Big Thunder Trail area. While conditions aren’t the best on this trail, it did allow for some stunning views of the new construction. This is a preview of what you’ll see when the Big Thunder Trail reopens this summer. Star Wars land behind it is still years away.

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Star Wars land concept art lines the path.

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It’s just a narrow dirt path. But there’s magic just on the other side of those fences.

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That tunnel will take you into Star Wars land. . . someday.
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Look at all that fancy new rock work. There were always big rocks in this area. In the early days of Disneyland, this was part of the Mine Train to Nature’s Wonderland. After Big Thunder opened, those rocks remained and separated the Big Thunder Ranch from the back of Big Thunder Mountain and the trail passing between them. The new rocks support the new train trestle which runs approximately along the entry area to the old Big Thunder Ranch. Neat!

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More rocks are in the works.

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That white bridge is above another entry into Star Wars land. There will be three all together. One from Critter Country and two off the Big Thunder Trail.

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This is the old lagoon with the jumping fish on the Big Thunder Trail not far from the exit of the attraction. Looks like this will remain, which makes me very happy.
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You’ll see some interesting new balancing rocks along the new train path. They sure do look like an homage to the old Mine Train to Nature’s Wonderland to me.
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The big rock also has a vaguely Star Wars look to it. So, even if it is seen from Star Wars Land, it should fit right in.

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It’s getting real folks. Glad to see so much detail, even at this early stage.

Disney California Adventure

Festival Of Holidays continues at California Adventure. While the park wasn’t even remotely as busy as Disneyland, it did still have solid attendance . . . which is why it is strange that the Festival of Holidays booths were so empty. Everyone we have spoken to loves this new celebration. The food is great, the entertainment is wonderful . . .  there’s just one big (giant) problem. . . the prices are way too high for sample sized portions.  We hope Disney realizes that the festival isn’t the problem, their pricing is.

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It would be better show to simply turn the lighting on this sign off than leave half the letters burnt out.
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Busy, but not packed by any means.

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Festival entertainment leaking out into Buena Vista Street. These guys are a lot of fun!
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Even Goofy strolled over to watch.

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But the food booths were ALL nearly empty.
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Plenty of people in the pathways. They stop and look at the signs and then keep moving on.
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What do you think Big Al? What’s that? You can’t seem to fill up on a $9 sample of holiday treats?! We agree. It shouldn’t take $30 worth of samples just to get a snack sized meal . . . even in a Disney park.

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Another NYE stage.

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This was too adorable not to share. When Spiderman took his iconic pose, this little girl dropped into a full-on split. Spiderman did a double take. The crowd erupted into laughing, cheers and clapping. It was SO darn cute!

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And that’s a wrap on 2016.

Those of you who read my updates know that I love the parks. However, there are times that I just feel we need to speak up and defend the guest experience. Especially at the new record prices the park charges. With the massive attendance and super high prices, there is just no excuse for the guest experience to be anything other than top-notch at all times. That’s what folks are paying for . . . a premium Disney experience.

For the most part, things are good at Disneyland. This 61 year old enterprise looks better today than it ever has. But heavy crowding exposes the park’s real weakness, it just can’t handle as many guests as modern management had deemed acceptable. The tight 1955 pathways, queues, and much of the infrastructure aren’t made for the masses. This situation is only going to get worse when Star Wars land opens. Disney needs to figure this all out quickly. Even with nearly all pass-holders blocked out for the last two weeks of the year, Disneyland was miserable for much of last week. Some of the solutions aren’t going to be popular with pass-holders, but there aren’t many options beyond limiting access to the parks, re-evaluating the annual pass program (as well as the payment plan) in the sort run, and massive (rapid) resort expansions to soak up the crowds going forward. It’s clearly time for that 3rd park and more E-Tickets at DCA to level out crowd patterns.

Here’s your moment to shine, folks!  Let us know your thoughts. What do you have to say about Tower of Terror closing? The new construction along Big Thunder Trail? And the severe overcrowding at Disneyland last week?

Join us again tomorrow for the 2016 Disneyland year in review.

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Dusty is the founder and CEO of MiceChat.com. When he's not visiting theme parks and writing, editing or speaking about Disney and theme parks worldwide, Dusty stays busy as the Executive Director of both the Walt Disney Birthplace AND the Dick Van Dyke Foundation. He also runs O-Zell Soda (the company originally operated by Walt Disney's father and at which Walt once worked). If you've got news or photos to share with the MiceChat community, or would like to book Dusty for an upcoming event, please contact [email protected]