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.
Season of the Force was already up and running by the start of the year. It was added during the 2015 holiday season.
The Disneyland 60th Anniversary had been running since July of 2015 and still had 8 more months left to go!
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.
Our MiceAge rumor update of January 2016 was the first to let the world know that the Rivers of America would be chopped and the Railroad rerouted. Our earliest map was just about spot-on.
With so many attractions closed, Disney did something very classy . . .
They kept trains in both the Main Street and New Orleans Square stations so guests could visit with the conductors and learn more about this classic attraction so near and dear to Walt Disney’s heart.
Walls went up along the back part of the River to keep you from seeing that it was being dammed and drained to make way for an extreme makeover.
Construction walls teased guests with images from the old Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland. We’ll get back to this a bit later in the update.
Take a final look at Big Thunder Trail, it’s about to close to make way for Star Wars Land.
Adios Miss Chris. New BBQ offerings were added to the River Belle Restaurant, which was also converted to table service.
MiceChat held a “Last Day on the River” meet-up to make some lasting memories. . . and eat that delicious BBQ.
At the same time the River attractions closed, Jungle cruise closed for an extended refurbishment to add a new load/unload system. Safety first!
Meanwhile, at DCA, there was another big closure.
The beloved Aladdin musical closed to record crowds on January 10th. It was sad to see this one go . . . but LONG overdue. Disney had previously announced a Toy Story Musical based upon a show on the Disney Cruise Line but had to cancel those plans when fans protested.
Because guests love to be sold on Vacation Club offerings in every land . . . the back of the Golden Vine Winery installed a new DVC booth. I can hear you cheering at home.
It was the Year of the Monkey and Disney celebrated once again. We like these little festivals at DCA, they give a reason to come back for something fresh.
Meanwhile, beyond the berm, early prep work was being done to relocate backstage assets and prepare Circle D Ranch (where the horses and other animals were kept) for demolition. The horses were eventually moved to a new ranch in Anaheim Hills and the goats and other animals went to live on a farm owned by a pair of Disneyland cast members.
Fall safety requirements resulted in a blue scrim being placed above the Disneyland Hotel awning. For some reason, this simple project seemed to languish. We’ll get back to this all the way at the end of this update.
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.
Peyton Manning celebrated a Super Bowl win with a Disneyland parade.
River Belle Terrace reopened with a new table service menu. Unfortunately, they didn’t spend the money to remove the old buffet line inside, which would have given the establishment some much needed additional seating. It remained a bit of an eye sore through the end of 2016. We hope 2017 brings a permanent fix.
Deforestation began along the river as bulldozers knocked down 61 year old trees and wood chippers turned them to mulch.
“AP Appreciation Days” launched at DCA. APs could visit the old Millionaire building or the Blue Sky Cellar to participate.
APs could pick up free buttons, get Disneyland recipe cards, take photos, and relax in an air-conditioned space.
March came in like a lion as a new attraction finally opened at DCA.
Luigi’s Flying Tires closed in February of 2015 to be reimagined with a less problematic ride system. The new trackless Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters opened in March of 2016. It is an adorable ride which looks better from the sidelines than it does when you are actually riding it. But it is an improvement over the old Tires, which were slow moving and confusing for many guests and a nightmare for Disney Legal with many reported injuries.
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!
Mad T-Party was closed shortly before the Food and Wine Festival to allow the stage to be used for food demonstrations. Mad T-Party never returned.
Captain America joined Spiderman in the Hollywood section of DCA.
The Zootopia characters also made their debut in Hollywood Land. Their movie has since grossed over one BILLION dollars.
Big Thunder trail was closed, the Ranch and nearly all trees removed.
Star Wars land construction and River realignment really began to take shape. Disney announced that the River and Train would return in Summer of 2017. We shall see.
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. . .
Disneyland started getting more serious about Security in May and replaced contractors with their own security force. Ironically, they would bring the contractors back by the end of the year to further expand the secured areas of the park.
The Little Miss Mismatched store was replaced by Chapel Hats in Downtown Disney. Rents are high and this store is almost never busy.
Autopia returns after a 4 month refurbishment with a new sponsor, Honda, and a new blue and silver color scheme. Autopia was the last holdout of the old metallic and brown Tomorrowland ’98 look.
Jungle Cruise also reopens.
New rollers were installed on the dock and blades on the sides of the boat so the vessels can be brought through load/un-load without rocking. The ride is now much safer for guests to get on and off but the ride looks otherwise the same as before the refurbishment.
The old Muppet Theater begins showing an Alice Through the Looking Glass teaser. Ironically, the Mad T-Party was shut down just before the new Alice film was released. The props from the old T-Party were brought over to the theater to help decorate the entry.
Sadly, the Swiss chalet which was the Fantasyland side of the old Skyway ride was demolished to make way for Star Wars land. The building had long languished hidden behind trees and unused since 1994. While we all held out hope the venue would be eventually re-purposed as a coffee or pastry shop, it just wasn’t possible to save.
A brand new Frozen musical opened in the Hyperion Theater, displacing Aladdin (which closed on January 10th).
Reaction to the new show has been mixed. Some absolutely love it. Others find the scene by scene retelling of the movie and 70+ minute run time tedious. Visually, it’s spectacular with a video wall at the back of the stage.
At this point, nearly all backstage buildings have been removed, earth is being moved, and the river is already well in the progress of being snipped.
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.
MiceChat holds our epic 10th anniversary Gumball Rally one weekend after Mother’s Day. Guests compete to see who can ride the most attractions at Disneyland in a single day. It helps that so many attractions are closed, but it’s an incredible challenge none the less. Next year’s Rally will take place the weekend before Mother’s Day, don’t miss it, add your name to the info list HERE.
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.
The concept art looks retro but uninspired. That has us thinking that this may not be the final design.
Our estimation of where the hotel will be built.
Following the Food and Wine Festival, Disney attempted to reboot the nightly Hollywood Pictures Backlot dance parties . . . but on a budget. The Jammin’ on the Backlot party was not well received nor well attended.
Disneyland celebrated the opening of Shanghai Disneyland.
And last, but certainly not least, was the opening of Soarin’ Around The World. The old “Over California” movie was replaced with the new film which opened with Shanghi Disneyland. The new film is shorter, has more scenes, and is impressive in many ways. The attraction seems about as popular as before. Unfortunately, the film breaks many visual rules for such attractions. The CGI is not of the best quality and too many shots with tall objects mean that guests sitting to the side see an exaggerated curvature to many images. Clearly, Disney did not use the team from the original film or they would have known to avoid these problems.
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.
Look at all those Poke Stops!
Disneyland turned 61 years old with a brief celebration in Town Square.
With the River closed, refurbishments spread all over Tom Sawyer Island. The shack on the Fantasmic stage was repainted at least twice. And it appears that Fantasmic will return with several new scenes. Including the replacement of the Peter Pan scene with a Pirates of the Caribbean scene. The good news is that Fantasmic is returning at all. It’s a very expensive show for the park to operate and there have been several times in the past when Disney has attempted to kill off this incredibly popular show. With all the money being poured into it now, we should be safe for quite some time to come.
Because guests simply can’t get enough Starbucks, a 2nd location opened on the west end of Downtown Disney.
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.
The current 1920s decor of the Tower will be replaced with a sort of dystopian museum filled with creatures and artifacts from throughout the universe.
The ride may very well end up being very entertaining, but THIS is what folks will see from all across DCA. How this fits with the look of the rest of the park is the real concern.
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.
Everything looks the same as in years past for Halloween.
The straps and diamond roof on the castle were the only holdover from the 60th. They would soon be replaced by the snowy rooftops of the Christmas season.
Because so many digital mapping projectors had been installed for Disneyland Forever, projections were utilized to add extra atmosphere to the castle and Main Street during the nightly Halloween parties.
There was a new surprise in Haunted Mansion Holiday this year. Jack’s girlfriend Sally made an appearance in the graveyard.
The Headless Horseman returned to Disneyland this year.
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.
The BRAND NEW Frightfully Fun Parade made its debut at the Halloween Party. It was absolutely amazing, but it is also very short. We hope this parade will continue to develop year after year and is not baked at its current length.
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.
We just don’t want to let it go!!!
On the other hand, World of Color Celebrate was a problematic show with poor guest satisfaction scores. The three story tall Neil Patrick Harris talking endlessly on giant water screens frequently brought the show to a halt. But we loved the focus on Walt Disney. For some reason, Disney has not yet been able to create the definitive version of World of Color. We think they’ll get there eventually.
Careful, Neil might eat you.
This one . . . we were ready to let go. The original World of Color returned immediately after the run of Celebrate.
Disneyland Forever fireworks were ambitious. Aside from the regular pyrotechnics we’ve come to expect, the park was fitted with dozens of high powered digital mapping projectors which accented each of the show scenes. On paper, this sounds amazing. Unfortunately, if you are looking at the buildings to your left or right, you are missing the main event in the sky above the castle. A great show, but not nearly as entertaining as the 50th anniversary show (Remember: Dreams Come True) which was a true E-Ticket in the sky. In a bit of irony, Remember will be returning in 2017. We hope it will be updated with some fresh new bits and remain around for the long run.
A disappointing 5 minute version of Fantasy in the Sky fireworks replaced Disneyland Forever. You can hear guests complain “Is it over already” after every showing.
A new design for Mickey and Minnie also made a debut in the parks. The new heads, created for Shanghai Disneyland, have a slightly surprised look to them. The eyes are taller, the bodies slimmer, and the cheeks wider. We’ll get used to this eventually. Most folks probably don’t even notice the change.
Disney began to promote the fact that Tower of Terror would be closing by telling folks that this was their last chance to visit the attraction.
At night, the show effects in the tower were turned off. Disney called this “Late Check-Out”.
Here’s what your ride looked like. 😉
One of our favorite things was the addition of the Silver Lake Sisters to the Tower Lobby. They are absolutely amazing. We hope they find a home after Tower of Terror closes.
This was also a month of rapid change to the tower facade. One day it all looked the way we’ve always known it.
Then overnight the sign was removed.
Then scaffolds started to go up.
Major progress has been made at Star Wars land. Basements have been dug, the new River has been formed, entry tunnels have been created, retaining walls have been erected, and a cast of hundreds are all on site to move things around and make the magic.
Rumors begin to circulate that Disney plans to block most annual passes for several months when Star Wars land opens to guests.While that may very well be something which is being debated internally, there’s still a lot of time for Disney to come up with a strategy.
Something Silver closes and is quickly replaced by Sprinkles Cupcakes.
Disney trials Food Trucks in Downtown Disney.
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.
In Town Square, the cannons were removed from their traditional place in the walkways to a spot more out of the way in the adjacent gardens. Much better for guest flow.
Jamin’ on the Backlot was a flash in the pan. The scaffolds and stage are finally removed.
A Dr. Strange preview plays at the Sunset Theater (former Muppets theater).
At the same time, a Moana preview is showing at the Bug’s Life Theater. That’s a lot of previews for one park.
The Carousel Inn and Suites closes across the street from Disneyland. This is actually big news. The Carousel will be torn down to make way for a pedestrian bridge across Harbor Blvd. which will connect a huge new parking structure to the Disneyland Resort.
Here’s the view from behind the Carousel. Disney is already demolishing the buildings which were on these lots. The new structure will contain the new security entrance for the East side of the resort.
The Holidays arrive. The parks don’t do Thanksgiving these days, it’s Halloween straight to Christmas.
Santa at DCA has moved to the Challenge Trail area of Grizzly Peak.
The diamonds are finally off the roof and it’s the classic Christmas we’ve come to expect from Disneyland.
Doughnuts are the popular new treat being sold in a cart off of Disneyland’s central hub. They sell out fast. There are several varieties.
DCA launches the “Festival of Holidays.” It’s one part Food and Wine festival and one part world holiday celebration. It all looks and tastes great . . . but the prices are insane. The net result is that the booths remain empty throughout the length of the festival.
One of the uplifting highlights of the celebration was Viva Navidad (a returning favorite). New this year was Elena of Avalor.
Mickey had a birthday and guests got a really cute button.
Paint the Night began a limited holiday run.
New portable charger vending machines popped up in the parks. It’s a neat concept. You buy a fully charged device. When it runs out of charge, you can put it back in the machine and get a new fully charged device at no additional charge. We have a feeling this will be very popular once Fastpass+ launches in 2017.
Construction begins on the new security perimeter. The metal detectors and bag check will be moved from the Esplanade toward the West end of Downtown Disney and the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure.
David Koenig joins MiceChat and reveals that Star Wars land will likely offer alcohol in a new cantina. That would be a major change in Disneyland operations as there are no public alcohol sales inside Disneyland (other than the ultra exclusive Club 33).
A new song was added to Luigi’s for the holidays.
Would you pay $35 to park your car at Mickey and Friends a little closer to the trams? Disney began offering just that option in November.
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.
Candlelight once again graced Disneyland on the first weekend of December. It’s a beautiful presentation, but very hard to get a ticket or find a spot to see it.
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.
New rocks along the trail appear to be an homage to the Mine Train to Nature’s Wonderland, just like that poster we showed you back in January.
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.
Over in DCA, the Sunset Showcase Theater sits empty since the Dr. Strange preview closed. Surely the old Muppet attraction would be a better solution than leaving an attraction closed.
A Pandora store opened in Downtown Disney just in time for Christmas.
Remember that fall safety project at the Disneyland Hotel from the beginning of the year? They are still working on it. The blue tarps have been replaced with painted vinyl sheets. A permanent solution is still on the way. For whatever reason, simple things can take a very long time to complete at Disney.
One thing they did quickly was the building on the new security stations on the west side of Downtown Disney. In just a matter of a few weeks they removed a garden, trenched power lines, paved the area, installed metal detectors and tents and sealed off all area leading to Downtown Disney. You must now enter the resort area through defined security checkpoints. See, Disney can do things fast when they are motivated.
By the time you read this, Tower of Terror has made its final drop. The last day was January 2nd.
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.
Photo by Mark Eades of the OC Register
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?
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]