Summer has arrived at the Disneyland Resort and the out of town tourists are arriving in droves again. In this update we’ll fill you in on what the summer holds, and more importantly what TDA has planned for the fall season when new projects kick off and new concepts roll out.
DCA SUMMER BREAKDOWN
For the past month the Disneyland Resort has been dealing with an unusual crowd pattern, with more people than ever heading into DCA first to grab a Fastpass for Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!. This controversial new ride has proven to be a big hit with locals and tourists alike, and the initial results of the surveys the Guest Research team has been conducting is that Mission: BREAKOUT! is registering at a slightly higher approval rate than Tower of Terror did in its last few years of operation. The overwhelmingly positive feedback that the Guest Research surveys have been delivering have been good news for both TDA executives and Parks Chairman Bob Chapek, as the initial fan backlash last year caught many of these corporate suits by surprise and had them second-guessing their decision to send DCA’s Tower of Terror to the archives. TDA isn’t done with Mission: BREAKOUT! though, but we’ll save that news for a bit later.
On the other side of Hollywood Land, the Summer of Heroes has been noticeably less successful. The attempt to liven up that sad and sleepy corner of DCA that is hemmed in by bland stucco warehouses and shuttered facilities has only been moderately successful. Mainly a collection of meet n’ greets and a kiddy stage show, the Summer of Heroes is so far not registering as a fan favorite. TDA has rushed some early summer tweaks to try and fix things; notably cutting five minutes out of the Avengers Training Initiative stage show, adding a Thor meet n’ greet, and cramming a hastily conceived Marvel clip show into the sleepy Sunset Showcase Theater. TDA’s industrial engineers have thus far been unimpressed with the daily visitors to the clip show, as the tacky looking Sunset Showcase Theater always fails to pull in a crowd in that quiet corner.
Those frantic changes to Summer of Heroes still don’t fix the basic problems here, that the Backlot area of Hollywood Land is a random collection of abandoned buildings surrounding a modest Monster Inc. dark ride and a successful Frozen stage show. This back corner of DCA is simply a charmless mess, and adding a cheap Marvel overlay to it for the summer only makes things seem messier and more temporary.
The long-term plan to bulldoze that entire area, reroute the monorail, and expand DCA northward into the current bus loading zones will solve this, but in the meantime TDA does the Marvel brand no favors by shoehorning it into this stucco and cement wasteland. Let’s hope the properly budgeted Marvel Land expansion area south of Mission: BREAKOUT! that they’ll announce at D23 Expo next month ends these slapdash attempts by TDA that only cheapen both the Marvel and Disney brands.
DISNEYLAND SUMMER FANTASTIC
While DCA roars through the summer on the wild success of Mission: BREAKOUT!, and in spite of the tepid response to the limp Summer of Heroes, Disneyland is enjoying the relative calm before the summer storm arrives this July and August.
As you all know by now, Fantasmic! will return on July 17th as an almost completely new show. Those who have seen the first technical rehearsals have been wowed by all the new technology that has been poured into this show, after most of the show’s audio-visual tech was already substantially upgraded back in 2009. Lighting, projections, audio, costumes, and visual stagecraft have all been radically improved, and unlike the Summer of Heroes, the TDA suits kept the budget very healthy for the Fantasmic! project. In addition to the new characters and plot twists that will be added, the complete overhaul of Fantasmic! is said to be very, very promising from an aesthetic and artistic perspective to those who have seen the initial results.
With the return of the Rivers of America rides, and the Disneyland Railroad traveling along its new route on July 29th, the summer season at Disneyland will be an exciting one for those local Annual Passholders who aren’t blocked out for the summer. The return of the lower level AP’s later this fall will keep things hopping at Disneyland for sure.
HALLOWEEN IN TRANSITION
And that brings us to the plans for this fall, when the attention turns back to DCA. In an attempt to move as many seasonal offerings out of Disneyland and over to DCA before Star Wars Land opens in 2019, the Halloween season will begin a two-year project to shift focus from Disneyland to DCA. The first phase of that plan arrives this September, when two new Halloween overlays arrive at DCA’s most popular E Ticket attractions. A Halloween overlay is already being planned for Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, using a “lights out” segment of the ride that was popular during Tower of Terror’s Late Check-Out gimmick last fall. The Mission: BREAKOUT! pre-show and on-ride experience itself will all be changed for this spookier Halloween overlay, with a new song and new effects, which is quite a bold move by TDA considering this already wildly popular E Ticket only opened in May.
DCA’s second Halloween overlay is being planned for Radiator Springs Racers, where the concept has the Cars characters donning Halloween costumes as they get ready to go Trick or Treating instead of preparing for Race Day. There are still dates on Disneyland’s internal planning calendar reserved this year for Mickey’s Halloween Parties, but with the addition of these two new E Ticket overlays for Halloween this year, TDA wants to start shifting the tide over to DCA for Halloween 2017. Then by the fall of 2018, TDA would move a plussed up version of Disneyland’s Halloween parade over to DCA, with a second phase of parkwide Halloween décor and a Halloween version of World of Color. DCA would then be considered the “Halloween Park” in visitor’s minds and Mickey’s Halloween Parties would move back to DCA in 2018, where they started back in the mid 2000’s. That would free up the 2019 calendar as all the attention at Disneyland that year will be on Star Wars Land.
Other plans to shift focus to DCA are also being tossed around in TDA right now, including an idea to move Paint The Night over to DCA this fall. The overhead cables for the Red Car Trolley are the one snag in that plan however, after former Disneyland President Ed Grier decided to cut the budget on the trolley wires which were originally designed by WDI to swing up and out of the way to accommodate any future tall parade floats. Next fiscal year has a tentative budget to develop an all-new parade for DCA to replace the Pixar Play Parade, so the fix to the trolley wires may get added to that budget to allow both Paint The Night and a large Marvel parade to co-exist under the trolley wires.
FASTPASS TO THE MAX
Readers of this column are well aware of the stalled plans for the Eastern Gateway parking project on Harbor Blvd. It’s just the latest glaring example of a short-sighted leadership tactic, after a succession of TDA senior executives kicked that can down the road for years and years until the political tide suddenly turned in Anaheim City Hall and now they can’t get the overdue project approved. Penny wise and pound foolish is too often the way TDA senior executives operate their business as their three-year contract ticks down, while the front line CM’s and the paying customers deal with the consequences.
While Walt Disney World modernized their Fastpass system years ago, this summer is all about Fastpass and the changes Disneyland is finally making to the 18 year old system. The end goal here is to add a lot more inventory to the existing Fastpass system so that the concept can be monetized and included as an up-charge offering to Disney hotel guests and premium ticket holders. One of the first changes to increase inventory was to remove the automatic 40 minute wait time that had been in place since 1999, back when the Fastpass planners thought people would go spend time in shops and restaurants while waiting for their return time. Now you can pull a Fastpass for a less popular ride and go on that ride immediately via Fastpass, with no need to wait 40 minutes (if that’s how the availability at that time works out). And once you use that Fastpass, another Fastpass is immediately available to you.
To TDA’s credit, they held off on adding Fastpass to Pirates of the Caribbean until they can streamline the Adventureland gridlock, after they spent a chunk of money installing the Fastpass data lines and infrastructure to the Pirates entry area during its last refurbishment. But the goal is to have a much larger pool of Fastpass tickets available by the time Maxpass debuts next month.
TDA then plans to spend 2018 tweaking Maxpass as it raises the daily cost from the “introductory” price of $10.00 to as high as the market can bear. By 2019, TDA would like the Maxpass system to be like the tolled express lanes on the freeway, raising and lowering its daily price based on demand and crowding levels. The reams of previously unknown data on Fastpass usage now pouring in daily thanks to the individual information collected by the electronic scanners will help build that business case.
As part of this plan, TDA will soon be clamping down on the ability of any CM’s to hand out free Fastpasses or Re-Admission tickets, a practice currently available to any CM around the Resort using a “No Strings Attached” coupon. Also going away soon will be the paper Re-Admission tickets and paper Rider Switch passes, which will both only be able to be scanned electronically onto a park ticket by a scanner at the actual attraction. Maxpass will be putting a monetary value onto each ride experience, much like the old ticket books, so the ability to pass out free merchandise in the form of Fastpass access will be going away for almost every CM except Guest Relations offices and the supervisors at the attractions.
Which brings us to 2019 and the opening of Star Wars at Disneyland. The opening of that mega-land will now be the mother of all monetary upcharge events, after TDA was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to cancel all AP previews for Mission: BREAKOUT! and then promptly sold out a $150 preview party for the new ride. Getting into Star Wars Land will cost you at first, with a variety of upcharge parties and exclusive events now being dreamed up by TDA planners. The Anaheim team is salivating over that extra-cost concept, especially since Disneyland’s version of Star Wars is almost six months ahead of the WDW version and Star Wars fans from around the country will fly to SoCal to see Disneyland’s version first at a price.
Parks Chairman Bob Chapek has dictated that Disneyland and WDW both increase customer spending levels by adding extra-cost amenities to the parks. The short-term results so far have been underwhelming and hokey, like the failed Tomorrowland cabana camp that fell flat on its face at WDW. Disneyland’s offering is the pointless Skyline Lounge at Disneyland that is struggling to find a clientele willing to pay $40 for a small snack tray and place to play Jenga with a semi-crummy fireworks view.
TDA gets a bit more leeway here from Bob Chapek however because the financial numbers out of Anaheim for the past few years have been extremely positive, while WDW has struggled to keep up. Bob Chapek and the current crop of TDA execs know that the big prize here is Star Wars Land, and they are going to upcharge access to that new offering as much as they can. The splashy reveals of Star Wars at next month’s D23 Expo are all being designed to create as much buzz and excitement as possible, to begin building demand for those upcharge events now.
Will you have enough willpower to resist the upcharge in 2019? Ready for more Halloween at the Disneyland Resort? Add your comments below and join the always lively conversation.
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