With 2016 gone and 2017 just begun, the Disneyland Resort closes the books on another crazy holiday season and looks ahead to a busy year full of new additions that will lay the groundwork for the truly momentous year of 2019 when Star Wars Land finally opens. In this update we’ll fill you in on what Disneyland’s executive team has planned for 2017 and how it will alter the way you visit the Anaheim parks.
Right off the bat, the Disneyland Resort had another gangbuster holiday season with epic crowds. While the Anaheim Resort District has added two thousand new hotel rooms in the past few years (even with the closure of the Carousel Inn and Suites), all those rooms were booked and occupancy remained at record highs during the holiday season. And this was the first Christmas in which the new Annual Pass blockout dates and demand-pricing ticketing was in effect.
The result was that Disneyland and DCA both had several weeks of peak attendance that varied widely from domestic and international tourists to local Annual Passholders. As usual, the attendance stats tell the story, with an average day during the Christmas week;
December 28th, 2016
- Disneyland Park Planned Daily Attendance – 57,000
- Disneyland Park Actual Daily Attendance – 58,500
- Highest In-Park Attendance at 3:00 PM – 49,500
- DCA Park Planned Daily Attendance – 34,000
- DCA Park Actual Daily Attendance – 37,000
- Highest In-Park Attendance at 4:00 PM – 31,000
- Total Combined Annual Passholders for 12/28 – 5,000
Then after New Year’s Day when the Annual Passholder blockouts began to lift, the parks got even busier.
January 4th, 2017
- Disneyland Park Planned Daily Attendance – 56,000
- Disneyland Park Actual Daily Attendance – 64,500
- Highest In-Park Attendance at 4:00 PM – 49,000
- DCA Park Planned Daily Attendance – 39,000
- DCA Park Actual Daily Attendance – 45,000
- Highest In-Park Attendance At 5:00 PM – 31,500
- Total Combined Annual Passholders for 1/4 – 52,000 (more than a tenfold increase in APs from the prior week!)
These types of numbers and the attendance mix between the two parks have been fairly common over the last couple years, and it should serve as another reminder of how inaccurate the unofficially official theme park attendance report released annually by AECOM is for the Disneyland Resort, particularly with the DCA numbers that AECOM has under-reported for years now.
And as anyone who visited Disneyland during those weeks can tell you, both parks were packed and many attractions had wait times of two hours or more. It was very difficult to move around Disneyland Park, and while DCA has wider walkways its 31 attractions couldn’t keep up with demand like Disneyland’s 47 attractions could (even with five of them closed for refurbishment). What is troubling is that TDA is about to embark on a major plan for 2017 to add Fastpass to more attractions, pushing even more people out into the walkways.
MyMagic+ & Minus
We’ve been telling you for several years now of the developing plans to add a reworked version of WDW’s MyMagic+ system into the Anaheim parks, with personal smartphones and apps substituting for plastic wristbands linked to planning websites. After several years of delays while WDW worked through huge technical issues and weaker than expected financial results, Disneyland spent much of 2016 laying the new physical infrastructure needed for the next generation of MyMagic+.
The plan now is to spend this winter and spring bringing the additional Fastpass rides online; Pirates, Small World, Matterhorn, Midway Mania, Peter Pan, etc. and then formally launch the new App-based system this summer. While some pre-reserved functionality will be offered to Disney hotel guests, with Peter Pan’s meager 600 riders per hour making those Fastpasses incredibly rare, most of the FP’s will be offered up day-of and only once someone enters a park and logs on to the App within the berm. At least to start, if you are inside Disneyland, you will be able to reserve Fastpasses for Matterhorn or Pirates, but not for Radiator Springs Racers or Midway Mania at DCA, and vice versa.
Disneyland has been down this Fastpass road before back in 2001 and 2002, and it was ugly. Back then an executive team with no operations experience added Fastpass to many rides including Pirates and Small World and Winnie The Pooh, but not Matterhorn or Peter Pan. And DCA was a ghost town. Disneyland’s 1950’s bones creaked and groaned under that huge Fastpass load, as thousands more people were dumped out of queues and into walkways and common areas. At Christmastime and during busy summer weekends the over-crowding was at its worst, and walkways would routinely gridlock and crowds overwhelmed any open space. In 2003 with a new executive team headed by beloved former president Matt Ouimet, several high-capacity Fastpass rides were removed from the system and sanity quickly returned to the park.
But back then, the gridlock would set in when in-park crowd numbers hit about the 40,000 mark, much lower than the 49,000 in-park numbers Disneyland hits today. Several key crowd control projects have helped the park’s flow a bit since then, mostly the widening of walkways around the Hub in 2006 and the addition of permanent backstage escape routes behind Main Street in 2014. But those two issues only relieve getting in and out of the park and moving around the Hub during fireworks. It’s the narrower walkways further inside the park that gridlock when the crowd levels get too high, and adding thousands of additional Fastpass tickets per hour could create a crowding nightmare on even modestly busy days.
But today’s TDA’s executives, none of whom were working crowd control shifts in 2002, are ignoring the flashing warning signs from this past holiday season and are rushing headlong into the brave new world of app-based Fastpass tickets. It doesn’t help that with the exception of Disneyland VP Kris Theiler, who was seen constantly out in the park by harried CM’s this holiday season, the top TDA executives all took long Christmas vacations and avoided the parks like the plague. Bob Chapek’s family visited, but they had a VIP Tour Guide who ushered them through the exit of any ride they chose and led them to roped off parade viewing. No Disney exec over the rank of Vice President ever subjects themselves or their family to the hassles of Fastpass times, Standby lines, or crowd control CM’s barking orders at them.
Speaking of executives, another small shakeup swept through the TDA ranks just before the holidays. After Parks Chairman Bob Chapek’s hand-picked executive informant from Burbank, Christie Fleischer, found the theme park biz boring and suddenly skipped town after just 8 months on the job, DCA was left without a Vice President for a few months this fall. President Michael Colglazier and SVP Mary Niven successfully waded through dozens of resumes sent in by mid-level execs at WDW who would like to escape the swamps of central Florida, but passed on that and instead just shuffled the existing executives already in Anaheim. Patrick Finnegan, the former VP of Experience Integration (yes, that’s really a department) now has Christie’s old job as VP of DCA and Downtown Disney.
Mary Niven shifted titles and is now the Senior Vice President of Experience Integration (whatever that experience is that needs integrating, we’re confident Mary can do it). With Mary’s old job of SVP of Operations gone, it’s now just up to the two parks VP’s to handle the day to day operations and construction expansion in both parks.
We’ve sung the praises of Disneyland Park VP Kris Theiler in the past, and she proved again how much she enjoys the theme park biz by being out there in the middle of it during the past few busy weeks. Unfortunately, Patrick Finnegan was still stuck in his Experience Integration mindset where you don’t worry about silly things like theme park operations, and except for one day when he drove in to host the Tournament of Roses ceremony in Cars Land he was on vacation and unseen for the busiest week of the year. Patrick had to do the Tournament of Roses duty because Michael Colglazier was also on vacation for the busiest week of the year, and Michael passed the buck to Patrick. At least Disneyland’s marketing department had the good sense to move the ceremony from the front of the Little Mermaid ride to the much butcher Cars Land.
That said, theme park executives choosing to not be in the parks for the busiest week of the year is like a football head coach deciding to go on vacation the week his team goes to the Rose Bowl. But Patrick otherwise seems affable and sharp, so we’ll be interested to see if he applies himself to his new operations role in 2017. Note to Patrick: Don’t make vacation plans next Christmas.
Those new executives have plenty to focus on in 2017. For Patrick and DCA, there is of course the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! attraction slated to open this Memorial Day weekend. The new queue will be elaborate, a half dozen different rock songs will keep riders guessing which version they’ll get each time they ride, and the bizarre new exterior will have Disney fans armchair Imagineering the concept on the Micechat boards for years.
While WDI fleshes out the details on the Marvel hyper-coaster expansion going in behind Mission: Breakout! and currently scheduled to open in 2020, one year after Star Wars Land, Patrick and TDA will be working on shorter-term plans to bring Marvel into the Hollywood area of DCA.
This April the Disney Junior show will have its last performances, as the theater is slated to be reworked into a Marvel themed mega meet n’ greet and performance space. Longtime fans will remember that Disney Junior (originally Playhouse Disney) was shoehorned into that restaurant building back in early 2003, as one of many floundering attempts to salvage DCA’s faceplant opening in 2001.
Elsewhere in the Hollywood Backlot, Anaheim’s entertainment team is working on plans for a Marvel themed daytime street party, which may not duplicate the booze-fueled success of Mad T Party or ElecTRONica, but will at least liven up that sad and abandoned corner of DCA. TDA’s plans to bulldoze the East Esplanade bus loading zones directly north of this area and use it for DCA park expansion continue to gel up at WDI, but it’s the space directly south of Mission: Breakout! that will see the first bit of construction. Since bulldozers and construction equipment will be visible by July, an announcement and some details at D23 Expo is a no brainer.
Before D23 Expo and whatever is announced there, the concept of premiering Guardians of the Galaxy II this April in the Hyperion Theater is being thrown around in both Burbank and TDA. The movie opens in theaters May 5th, and the DCA premiere would be in late April, but neither Mission: Breakout or the new Marvel additions in the backlot will be ready by then. That would leave the Hyperion Theater to serve as a rather ugly industrial looking event space with the newly de-tarped and mostly finished Mission: Breakout! looming in the background but still unable to accept riders for the premiere party. Nevertheless, with Anaheim’s track record of hosting very successful movie premiere parties for the last 15 years, DCA’s fake Hollywood area may be taken over by the real Hollywood in late April.
Empty Your Wallet
DCA will also bring back the Food & Wine Festival this spring, in a much bigger way than 2016. The Festival of Holidays at DCA was only a modest success, with most of the food and merchandise stands doing lackluster business.
The most successful offering was the beer stand near Cars Land, which always had long lines while most other stands were walk-ups. But the additional seating along the parade route was very appreciated by folks needing a rest during the very busy holiday weeks. Festival of Holidays was an idea hatched last spring by Christie Fleischer, as Bob Chapek keeps demanding more and more revenue be squeezed out of the parks. Festival of Holidays didn’t live up to expectations, but then it was also abandoned when Christie suddenly left at the end of summer and no one really took over for her. Let’s hope Patrick can focus his team better on Food & Wine this March, and get a truly Californian event off successfully.
Those demands by Bob Chapek to get more revenue out of park visitors will ratchet up noticeably in 2017. Bob has been demanding the same thing of the WDW parks, but with rather unfortunate results thus far out in Florida. The concept of private rented cabanas coming to the parks showed up in WDW’s Tomorrowland last November, but in WDW’s rush to please Chairman Bob the cabanas ended up looking like a parking lot tent sale plopped down next to Space Mountain.
TDA is crafting their own cabana concept at a slower pace, but so far TDA planners insist the cabana concept be elevated both literally and figuratively. Instead of cheap tents plopped down in common areas, TDA planners are scoping out unused areas on rooftops and upper floors in both parks to convert into private spaces for rent. Imagine a vintner themed studio space on the Golden Vine Winery’s upstairs terrace, a mod hipster pad worthy of a Shag painting on the Innoventions balcony, or an explorer themed jungle viewing platform on the second floor above Adventureland’s shops.
Planners have been mocking up proposals for both Disneyland and DCA, and the price tag to do it right is high. But if WDW proves they can consistently rent tacky tents to tourists for $600 per day, TDA will be willing to shell out the bigger bucks needed to make this concept fit thematically inside the parks.
Luckily the strong financial results coming out of Anaheim the past few years give TDA some ability to go slower and do these things right, while the weaker numbers from WDW have the Florida executives in a panic and rushing to do whatever it takes to please Bob Chapek, traditional showmanship standards be damned.
Disneyland obviously has a busy 2017 ahead of it too. The Electrical Parade’s return while Paint The Night gets a major refurbishment and rebuild should pack in the curious AP’s this winter and spring. But it’s this summer when things really get interesting, as the Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad reopen in their new Star Wars friendly formats. The timeline is tight and is slipping towards July for the River and the Railroad, but it’s the new version of Fantasmic! that causes the biggest headaches for the scheduling teams. With a new marina hidden behind the River’s new rockwork and waterfalls, and a shortened route for the boats to take, plus all new choreography and stagecraft, the Fantasmic! team needs months of rehearsals before they can debut the new show. The river construction will not make it easy, but island rehearsals will begin this spring even though the boats won’t be able to make it around the stage yet.
All of this is hoped to be completed and running by D23 Expo and Disneyland’s 62nd anniversary on July 17th, but the timing is very tight. By this summer structural steel will be rising on the Star Wars site, and thanks to the hundreds of newly planted trees not being grown in yet it should be quite visible from the Rivers of America attractions. Opening date for Star Wars at Disneyland has slipped from Christmas 2018 to Spring 2019, and you can expect more carefully curated info to be released at D23 Expo.
Paint The Night, a new Fantasmic! and a rumored Star Wars themed fireworks show this summer should keep the Disneyland crowds heavy, even though most of the marketing attention will be on DCA for Mission: Breakout! and the new Marvel entertainment there. 2017 will be very busy, but it will seem like a sleepy naptime compared to what is coming to Anaheim in 2019 and 2020.
Okay, that wraps up this Disneyland rumor update. Big things on the way to both parks, but will overwhelming crowds doom MyMagic+? Just imagine all those extra bodies wandering about in the pathways instead of in queues. How would you handle the demand for Marvel and Star Wars attractions? And just what sort of up-charge would you be willing to pay to keep Bob Chapek happy?
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