Disneyland is heading into the dog days of summer with typically modest summertime crowds (don’t tell the lower level AP’ers that!) and a growing frenzy of planning as TDA execs plot out Fiscal 2018 that begins this October and will herald more signs that Star Wars is on the way. In this update we’ll fill you in on what’s ahead for the Disneyland Resort in Fiscal 2018 and what TDA is most worried about before Star Wars opens in 2019.

Pixar Pier Invasion

Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure concept art ©Disney

One of the surprise announcements at D23 Expo was the vague Pixar Pier concept that John Lassetter touted. While the stage banter between Lassetter and Bob Chapek was scripted by lawyers and the single piece of minor concept art that was released underwhelmed the D23 audience, we’ve been digging around Glendale and learned more about what Pixar Pier is and what it isn’t. This was a project that was fast-tracked with major political pressure inside WDI, and it’s designed by WDI to prove to Bob Chapek that they can still project manage a park concept quickly to completion with good results, which is something Bob feels WDI is not very capable of.

The plan for Pixar Pier is to take over the area from Ariel’s Grotto all the way around the California Screamin’ area and along the boardwalk just up to the old Maliboomer pad. Ariel’s Grotto and the popular Cove Bar will get a Pixar remake to replace the Princesses.

California Screamin’ will close for a six month refurbishment just after Christmas to receive an Incredibles storyline built around Dash, plus long overdue paint and a full maintenance overhaul. King Triton’s Carousel will also close to get an upgraded facility, and the last bits of cheap stucco from 2001 will be removed during the project.

One new ride is being added to the area for Pixar Pier, an Incredibles themed spinner ride placed in the empty eastern helix of California Screamin’. That area has always been identified as a Pier expansion pad, and before DCA opened it was slated to be the site of one of the first expansion rides for the park with an octopus spinner ride themed to Ursula.

But the abject failure of DCA in the marketplace in 2001 forced TDA and Burbank to rush bigger budget attractions into DCA instead, with Flik’s Fun Fair for ’02 and Tower of Terror for ’04. The rest of DCA’s first decade was spent adding expensive new D Ticket dark rides like Midway Mania and Little Mermaid, capped off by big budget homeruns like Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. But now WDI has returned to the old 2001 playbook and will finally add a C Ticket spinner inside that helix expansion pad for Pixar Pier. At least it will add to the park’s ride capacity and bring more kinetic energy to the Pier.

The rest of the Pixar Pier project is exactly like it sounds, a modest retheme and long overdue upgrade to what remains of 2001’s original Paradise Pier facilities. Although the plan also includes moving the popular Turtle Talk show over from the Animation attraction to a new purpose-built theater on the boardwalk across from the Fun Wheel. That would be a huge thematic upgrade for that show as it’s currently shoehorned into a generic theater without any pretense of water, much less ocean, that was originally designed to show a boring Michael Eisner film.

The new Turtle Talk theater would take on the appearance of the far more elaborately themed version in use at Tokyo DisneySea, where Turtle Talk takes place deep in the hull of the giant SS Columbia ocean liner. Pixar Pier would be a much better home for Turtle Talk as the show remains popular with its target demographic and their parents.

Pixar Pier is currently planned to stop just before Silly Symphony Swings, as that area won’t be included in the Pixar theme. That corner of DCA, along with the Maliboomer pad, is in the long-term planning phases for future park expansion. The Maliboomer area would be used as an entry portal to a dark ride contained on the backside of the coaster footprint, and the rest of that corner will continue for the time being as a relatively simple ride area, with the Paradise Gardens dining complex put to good use by DCA’s growing list of seasonal festivals.

Where Will You Park?

While WDI tries to prove to Bob Chapek they can turn around the Pixar Pier project in under 10 months, TDA execs will be busy trying to salvage what’s left of their relationship with the city of Anaheim and Mayor Tom Tait. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Disney filing official plans with the city to build the Eastern Gateway, and the last year has not gone the way TDA assumed it would. Instead of welcoming the plan with open arms like previous city administrations would have done, the populist political winds blowing through Anaheim in 2016 made Disney’s plan toxic to most politicians the moment local residents and businesses began voicing their concerns. The plans for the Eastern Gateway were put on ice and TDA and the Anaheim City Council have been engaged in a staring contest for months now, waiting for the other one to blink. The relationship is icy, to put it mildly.

Meanwhile, TDA’s original timeline to begin construction six months ago and open the entire Eastern Gateway facility by November, 2018 has been shredded. Just two months from now will mark the drop dead date for the 18 months of construction to begin in order for the Eastern Gateway to be open for the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge grand opening in the spring of ’19.

Has Disney been using the last year in the political doghouse revising their plans, improving Harbor access and adding back the musical moving sidewalks and the fancier architectural elements they cut from the budget back in 2015? Or will Anaheim finally agree to keep its biggest taxpayer and employer happy and approve the value engineered version of the parking plan that Disney submitted last August? Or will a compromise be made, like adding back the moving walkways but without their whimsical melodies? Anaheim and Disney both love to throw around the tired phrasing “world class” when describing their city and their resort, but the Eastern Gateway plans Disney revealed last August were just the bare minimum required to meet city aesthetic codes. Simply obeying a city planning code never makes you world class, but don’t tell Disney’s speechwriters that.

There’s only a few months to figure this mess out, but it should serve as a lesson to TDA to stop procrastinating over needed infrastructure plans. And as our readers well know, had TDA execs had gone forward with this 9 year old parking concept anytime within the last decade when Anaheim’s political will was there to support it, they wouldn’t be in the mess they are in now. But when you’re a Disney exec who gets free valet parking at the Grand Californian when you visit the parks, worrying about satellite parking for pesky customers and your minimum wage employees is an easy issue to ignore. The Disney executive’s 21st century version of “Let them eat cake” seems to be “Let them take Uber”.

Entertainment Flip Flop

Fiscal year 2018 will also see big changes to the entertainment lineup for both parks. With the new Fantasmic! being a breakout hit for Disneyland and scoring very high with audiences via the Guest Research department, Paint The Night returns to Anaheim by moving over to DCA. This is a plan purely designed to reset expectations on night entertainment at Disneyland in advance of big crowds heading to Galaxy’s Edge in 2019.

By moving the wildly popular Paint The Night over to DCA, it’s hoped sanity can be restored at Disneyland in the evening by containing the crowds to two or three Fantasmic! performances on the west side of the park and the traditional fireworks show aimed at Main Street. DCA’s very wide and very long parade route can easily handle the Paint The Night crowds, although it will be tricky scheduling the parade against World of Color in summer months when it doesn’t get dark until after eight o’clock.

While the first phase of moving the Halloween season over to DCA begins next month, 2018 will be the year DCA takes on more of the crowd burden by moving as many seasonal events and popular entertainment as possible out of Disneyland. This final year for Halloween’s trick or treat parties at Disneyland will also bring a more kid-friendly mood to the parade and park vibe, after many parents complained last year that the plussed up parade was too dark and scary for their little ones.

The real parade head scratcher is the decision to move the Pixar Play Parade over to Disneyland as part of the oddly slapped together Pixar Fest. DCA was slated to replace the Pixar Play Parade with a Marvel parade while Marvel Land was under construction, but because TDA is holding back on any big Anaheim expansion announcements (mainly Marvel Land) until they can get the Eastern Gateway approved the short-term decisions coming from TDA’s 4th floor conference room are getting a little weird. If the Eastern Gateway doesn’t get permit approval this fall, those types of cat and mouse games between TDA and Anaheim will unfortunately continue.

MaxPrice for MaxPass

In better news, TDA couldn’t be happier with the recent rollout of MaxPass. The take rate on this $10 upcharge has already blown projections out of the water, with up to 25% of daily visitors now buying MaxPass for each member of their party. TDA had expected the take rate to be 5% of park visitors to start, and slowly build through the fall once the AP blockouts lifted in late August. But MaxPass usage started out of the gates at 10% and is already at 25% of visitors and rising as more tourists figure it out each week, even before the AP’s flood back to the park on August 21st.

The point at which MaxPass becomes too popular at its current $10 introductory price may be reached well before Christmas. Because TDA planners got cold feet on adding Fastpass back to people eaters like Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean after adding all the necessary infrastructure, as well as holding off on the Fastpass plans for smaller attractions like Peter Pan and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, the pool of available Fastpasses is smaller than MaxPass can accommodate as usage levels rise.

Depending on how many AP’s flood the MaxPass system this fall, the first of several planned price increases for MaxPass may have to kick in before the holidays. And the MaxPass system can be set up to take over any one Fastpass attraction, making it possible to only pull a Fastpass via MaxPass, or only allowing access to an attraction via MaxPass with no Standby line available. With its very successful launch this summer, MaxPass will be a weapon in TDA’s arsenal to manage the demand for the two Star Wars E Tickets in Galaxy’s Edge come 2019.

And that’s all we’ve got for you this month. Are you ready for the enhanced queues and theme of Pixar Pier? Did you buy into MaxPass? If so, what’s the MaxPrice you’d be willing to pay?


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