It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 2016 was a year of celebrations and grief. When you look back, it’s amazing how many changes can happen in just one short year. 2016 brought a new Frozen musical to the resort and took away three beloved nighttime spectaculars. We celebrated with two big festivals at DCA and were shocked to hear that Tower of Terror would be rethemed to Guardians of the Galaxy. It was also a year of tightened security, increased prices, and crushing attendance nearly all year long. Let’s look back at 2016 and remember the joy and the pain.
Let’s start at the beginning. 2016 kicks off in the middle of the 60th anniversary of Disneyland. Three new nighttime spectaculars keep crowds in the parks until late in the evening. We were also celebrating “Season of the Force” which ended up running through the summer. Even bigger changes were afoot behind the scenes and quickly began to claim a huge swath of old time Disneyland to build a new land in a galaxy far, far away.
In order to build a brand new Star Wars land at the back of Disneyland park, it was decided that the tranquil Rivers of America would need to be shortened, the Railroad rerouted, Big Thunder Ranch removed, and a chunk of backstage cleared to make way for the force. Five attractions were closed along the Rivers of America: The Disneyland Railroad, The Mark Twain, The Sailing Ship Columbia, Tom Sawyer Island and the Davy Crockett canoes. In addition, Big Thunder Rance petting zoo and the Big Thunder BBQ passed into oblivion in January of 2016. January 10th was D-Day at the Disneyland Resort. In addition to the closure of the river attractions, several other refurbishments and closures all happened on the same day, including Jungle Cruise, Autopia and the popular Aladdin show at DCA.
Meanwhile, at DCA, there was another big closure.
In celebration of leap year, Disneyland increased prices dramatically. The previous increase was in October of 2015. This time around Disney introduced the concept of “Surge pricing,” which made the parks a bit cheaper on traditionally uncrowded days, more expensive on regular days, and much more expensive on expected peak attendance days. The strategy seemed to work to some degree but had the effect of making nearly every day feel crowded, as the busiest days became less so and the least busy days became more so.
March came in like a lion as a new attraction finally opened at DCA.
Food and Wine returned to DCA after being absent since before the construction of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street! While the festival was small, it did contain many improvements over the previous festival, mostly in the substantial food booths with built in kitchens. The festival felt much more along the lines of what Epcot does . . . though much smaller in scope. It was a big hit!
House of Blues closed in Downtown Disney and will relocate to the Anaheim Garden Walk in 2017. Meanwhile, there was loads of news in the parks in May. . .
Then the bomb drops. The MiceAge Rumor Update confirms that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will be replaced with a Guardians of the Galaxy ride. Folks freak out, many don’t want to believe it’s true.
With Disney you never know what’s coming next. Out of the blue, Disneyland announced another major expansion with the addition of a 4th hotel to the resort. The 4-star (as yet unnamed) hotel will be built on the current Downtown Disney parking lot. A new parking structure will be built to accommodate hotel and Downtown Disney parking needs.
Did you fall for the biggest fad of 2016, Pokemon Go? Disneyland is absolutely packed with Poke Stops, and that enticed thousands of guests to attempt to catch ’em all.
Allow me to geek out for a moment . . . Gaston began making appearances at Disneyland. I hear that he uses antlers in all of his decorating.
Now for the strange stuff. Disney started releasing information about the new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction replacing Tower of Terror. Unfortunately, each of the Disney releases simply made fans more upset and frustrated. The exterior look of the new attraction doesn’t match the 1920’s look so carefully crafted by Imagineers in the DCA redo just a few years ago. And the inability of Imagineers to explain the story in a way that makes sense was unnerving. It’s a sort of warehouse, power plant, museum which is inspired by the beauty of an oil refinery. That is REALLY how they describe this new experience (video proof below). No wonder folks are concerned.
If it’s September, it’s the start of Halloween time. But it’s also the end of the 60th Anniversary celebration of Disneyland. Practically over night all the blue, silver and diamonds gave way to the orange, green and purple of the spooky season. But there was an unfortunately surprise that none of us saw coming. . . It was assumed that all those nighttime spectaculars would remain around for years as previous shows and parades had. But ALL of the 60th Anniversary spectaculars (Disneyland Forever fireworks, Paint the Night parade, and World of Color Celebrate) all closed in September. With Fantasmic also down for Star Wars construction, this was a huge blow and a major cost cutting move.
I went LIVE on Facebook from Mickey’s Halloween Party just before the Headless Horseman made his spooky ride. You can see the projections on the Main Street buildings. Feel free to advance the video to see the Horseman arrive.
Here’s the heartbreaking part. We also said farewell to the brilliant Paint the Night Parade. Disney had marketed it as going away. However, it later leaked out in a MiceAge Update that it was simply going into hiatus until the holiday season and would then go down for a lengthy refurbishment. Meanwhile, the old Electrical Parade will be making a return to Disneyland in 2017 and will run until Paint The Night comes back for summer.
In the upside down world of Disney, it’s always the next thing that’s most important. . . which is why Christmas decorations and snow on the castle are installed before Halloween.
The Holidays arrive. The parks don’t do Thanksgiving these days, it’s Halloween straight to Christmas.
One of the uplifting highlights of the celebration was Viva Navidad (a returning favorite). New this year was Elena of Avalor.
Many folks were anxiously awaiting December to see if the pass holder blockouts would result in empty parks. All passes except for the $1,049 Signature Plus pass were blocked out for the last two weeks of the year.
And just in time to help us wrap up the year, Disney opened a dirt path through the old Big Thunder Trail to alleviate holiday traffic in the park. That also gave us a great preview of construction at the entry to Star Wars Land.
And what of those crowds in Disneyland for the last two weeks of the year? Well, at first it looked like the parks would be empty. But then the crowds arrived in droves.
Newport Beach Boat Parade. Disney enters an Electrical Parade themed boat in the parade! Neat.
And the year wrapped up with a tribute to Carrie Fisher by Star Wars fans in Downtown Disney.
And that was the Disneyland year in a nutshell. The big stories were Star Wars land and Tower of Terror. But there were a surprising number of other things you may have forgotten about, such as the DCA festivals, the Frozen Musical and Luigi’s new ride. But there’s not too much time for us to sit around remembering days gone by. “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away.”
My deepest thanks to the amazing photographers and writers who documented Disneyland throughout the year: Andy Castro, CakvalaSC, Shelly Valladolid, Darth Daver, Photo Matt, Brian Pinsky, Beth Thorp, and the many contributors who have sent us great photos and news. They are the heart and soul of our Disneyland coverage.
What were the top Disneyland stories of the year for you? What do you hope are the top Disneyland news items of 2017?