I recently sat down with Jeffrey Epstein, Director of Corporate Communications at Disney, to discuss the upcoming D23 Expo in Anaheim scheduled for July 14th through 16th. The biennial Disney fan event has become a phenomenon since it made its debut in 2009. It’s so huge and offers such a wide variety of options that we thought you might all benefit from a little insider information and tips directly from the mouse house.
UPDATED (July 5th, 2017) Saturday and 3-Day tickets are now SOLD OUT for the D23 Expo. Tickets are still available, while supplies last, for Friday (July 14th) and Sunday (July 16th).
Questions asked by Dusty Sage and Answered by Jeffrey Epstein:
How has it been two years since the last time we did this? Time flies! But, for you it must seem like there is never enough time to plan a massive Expo like this one. How long ago did the planning begin and what was your biggest challenge in pulling together D23 Expo 2017?
A: We honestly started planning this Expo as soon as we wrapped up D23 Expo 2015. The team sits down and goes through all the things we felt worked and what we could improve. And, of course, we listen to feedback from the fans and guests who attend.
Can you give me an example of a change you all made for 2017 which was based upon observations of the last Expo?
A: Sure, I think every year we hear from fans that they would like bigger capacities in our halls so more people can see some of our more popular sessions. Michael Vargo really gets a lot of credit for bringing back the Arena – which allowed us to almost double the size of every panel outside of Hall D23. I feel like that’s a real win for the fans who want to be “in the room” when these once-in-a-lifetime moments happen.
Every year has a “must-see” or twelve (LOL), I have a feeling that this year’s craze is going to have a little something to do with Star Wars and Marvel. But what other big hits should our readers be sure not to miss?
A: That’s a really tough question, because I feel like it depends on what a fan loves. If someone is passionate about Parks, well, then of course the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation with Bob Chapek on Saturday is can’t-miss. As is their pavilion, which is going to be debuting the model of the Star Wars-themed land—and it’s amazing. And there are the panels such as the one dedicated to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, the brilliant women of Walt Disney Imagineering, and one of Imagineering Legends. If you like animation, John Lasseter’s panel on Friday is can’t-miss, and their pavilion is going to be chock-full of animated excitement from Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. And the princess panel with Jodi Benson, Paige O’Hara, Anika Noni Rose, and Auli‘i Cravalho will be a rare treat as they have never all been together before. Fans of Star Wars won’t want to miss the Studios live action panel on Saturday—and, again, the Parks pavilion. And Marvel fans are going to have sensory overload between the Studios panel on Saturday, the Marvel pavilion—the first time we have had one, and all their panels including Cup o’ Joe with Joe Quesada. I hear the Once Upon a Time panel is going to be full of huge news from the show. And, of course, the must-sees for all fans are the Disney Legends Awards on Friday—which is going to be phenomenal this year—and the incredible new exhibit from the Walt Disney Archives celebrating Disney’s pirates. The Archives team is amazing and really has outdone themselves this year!
Speaking of not missing things, D23 is the inventor of StagePass, which allows attendees to reserve a spot in the hottest Expo venues. Is that system going to be used again this year? What are the tips on how the system works, where it can be found, and how best to maximize its use?
A: Yep, StagePass has been a huge hit, and we will be using it for presentations in the D23 Expo Arena and Stage 28, as well as—for the first time—the Walt Disney Archives Stage. Last Expo we added StorePass, which is like StagePass but for our three main shopping venues—Mickey’s of Glendale, the Disney Dream Store, and Disney Store. And this year we have expanded StorePass to allow more guests easy access to shop. All the details are on our D23Expo.com “Things to Know” page.
In terms of size, how does this Expo compare to the last Expo?
A: Bigger! [Laughs] Each year one of the biggest pieces of fan feedback we get is “Can you expand the venues?” Every year we grow the event—and in 2015 we added Hall D23 which seats nearly 7,000 people—to try to make sure as many people as possible can “be in the room” when things happen. When Michael Vargo took the reins of D23, he looked at every possible way to expand capacities. So this year we brought back the D23 Expo Arena, and we nearly doubled the sizes of both Stage 28 and the Walt Disney Archives Stage. We also added a twice-daily street party with live music, dancers, and celebrity grand marshals such as Mark Hamill and Stan Lee. So if a guest doesn’t get to see them at Disney Legends, they can see them drive down the main thoroughfare of the D23 Expo show floor!
That street party sounds interesting. Can you tell us more about it?
The Ultimate Fan Street Party was another terrific idea Michael Vargo brought to the team. We wanted to think of something new we could bring to the Expo that added energy to the show floor and at the same time provided a great opportunity for fans to see some celebrities and favorite Disney characters, even if they weren’t in the panels. So along with characters, a live band, and dancers, each parade will have celebrity Grand Marshals – including Mark Hamill, Stan Lee, the Descendants 2 cast, Once Upon a Time’s Colin O’Donoghue, [Tangled’s] Mandy Moore, and Zac Levi.
One challenge with any Expo is orienting yourself so you don’t miss anything interesting on the show floor. What can you tell us about how the Expo is laid out this year? Was there a particular strategy or design decision on where the different Disney business units and partners were placed?
A: We tried to keep some things the same that worked really well. Parks and the Animation pavilions are in the same place, and once again the Center Stage is the heartbeat of the show floor as guests enter. The team—and I give all the credit to people such as Michael, Jen Bellman, and Julie Brinley—have been putting this incredible puzzle together for months and months, making sure that everything is placed with care. We did put the Emporium all back together on one place. We heard from guests that they preferred having the experience of those exhibitors all together, and we took that feedback to heart.
The number of panels, presentations and entertainment offerings is insane! What’s the best way attendees can find information about all the available options so they can plan their own personal schedule?
A: Glad you asked! We will be launching our D23 Expo app next week, and that will be a great way to see everything in the palm of your hand. And right now, we have the schedule for the four main presentation venues on D23Expo.com.
Speaking of lines. . . some folks like to line up VERY early for some of the big presentations. What’s the policy on how early you can line up and where will you put folks queuing up overnight? It’s sometimes hard to know where or when you should get in line for the super popular presentations.
A: So I want to start by saying, we don’t encourage anyone to line up overnight. That said, we know many guests will arrive the night before, and for the safety of our guests we are opening the queue in Hall E at 10pm on Thursday night for Friday, and on Friday night for Saturday.
The Anaheim Convention Center is under major construction right now as they add new floor space where the old parking structure was. How will this impact D23 Expo guests and what do you recommend they do for the smoothest parking this year?
A: We are thrilled that the Honda Center will be available for parking. We realize it’s not as close, but we will have shuttles operating regularly each day. There’s more on our “Things to Know” page.
I’ll never forget the year Johnny Depp surprised guests by showing up in full Captain Jack Sparrow regalia during the Disney Pictures presentation. What an amazing surprise. The roar of the crowd could probably have been heard in Orlando! LOL. Can you tip us off on any big surprises for this year? You can tell us, we’ll keep it secret. 😉
A: I could tell you, but then I’d need to dust you. With pixie dust. But suffice to say, fans looking for surprises and big announcements will not be disappointed.
Finally, the Expo uses a lot of temporary show staff who aren’t Disney employees and therefore really can’t be relied on for for an official answer. They are mostly there for things like crowd flow, line control, security, etc. I like to point that out to folks because I don’t want them to assume that every Expo employee will be a reliable source of information. If any of our readers have questions once they get to the Expo, what’s the best place for them to get an official answer?
A: Well, we certainly do our best to get all our staff up to speed on everything they need to know. But to be fair, the Expo is once every two years, so it’s different than asking a cast member who works every day at Disneyland where Space Mountain is. The D23 Expo app will be a terrific resource for many things. There will be a Guest Services desk in the lobby for questions. And we certainly do our best to train everyone working on most of the basics from food to restrooms. And there will be a stunning crew in D23 Expo polos with D23 Expo nametags. So definitely hit them up with questions – and tell them how nice they look.
Is there anything I’m missing that our readers should know?
A: I would say… Wear comfortable shoes. Drink a lot of water. Have a first, second, and third choice for things you want to see. And realize it’s impossible to see everything. As Ursula says: Life’s full of tough choices… Innit?
It is indeed. Our thanks to Jeffrey for taking time out of his schedule during a very busy period to answer questions for us.
MiceChat has been involved with the Expo since the very beginning and we’ll have a booth again this year. We’ve watched the event grow and change. But one thing is for sure, the entire Anaheim Convention Center will be packed with all things Disney. If you are a fan, and can make it out, we’d love to see you and we think you’ll find lots to see and do. And the day following the Expo is Disneyland’s 62nd birthday.
Have you attended a D23 Expo? What panels or opportunities are you most looking forward to? Do you have personal tips for best exploring the expo and determining what panels to attend?
We invite everyone to look for MiceChat at the Expo as we have a great lineup for you at our booth in the Collectors Forum. Meet Bob Gurr, Garner Holt, David Koenig, Shane Grammer, Disney animators, authors and the team behind the restoration of the Walt Disney Birthplace. Plus, don’t miss your chance to win a Disneyland vacation, hotel and ticket giveaways, a tour of Garner Holt Productions and lots more. It’s going to be fantastic! Follow MiceChat on social media for more chances to win:
You can find out more information about D23 Expo 2017 by visiting D23Expo.com.