With the early arrival of Thanksgiving this year, Disneyland and DCA have already gone through some of the year’s busiest days last week and now get a short two week breather before huge crowds descend again for Christmas and New Years. The customer feedback on Cars Land and the remade DCA is remaining at sky high levels, matched only by the very high hotel occupancy rates in Anaheim and the rising spending levels of all those happy tourists and locals.

Anaheim is about to receive the Christmas present it’s been wishing for since 2001; a Resort that disperses big crowds elegantly, with a second theme park that satisfies customers just as much as Walt Disney’s own flagship park next door. In this update we’ll fill you in on how Cars Land is now regarded by many in the theme park industry as the silver bullet that transformed the Disneyland Resort, what it means for Anaheim in the short term, and where Cars Land might be duplicated next. (Hint: Which resort run by executives who prize short term cost reductions over long term investments isn’t on the list yet?)

Got that peppermint latte and gingerbread man cookie on your desk yet? Practiced your Anaheim cheers and Orlando hisses? Well then, let’s get going shall we? As always special thanks to Andy Castro and Fishbulb for the photos, as well as those of you who support this site and column via the PayPal button below – or the Amazon wish list linked here – we appreciate your contributions…

The little things you do together…

Before we get to the juicier news, it should be mentioned that this last week of November is particularly slow for the Anaheim property. The 2012 calendar brought Thanksgiving very early this year, giving an extra week to the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This would have been the perfect time to host the traditional Disney Company employee Holiday Parties that were usually held the first Monday and Tuesday in December, just after Thanksgiving weekend. As regular readers know, TDA cancelled the 56 year old tradition with the excuse that Disneyland was suddenly too busy to close two hours early on a slow winter weekday.

The truth was that TDA cancelled the parties due to pressure to conform to the “One Disney” corporate mantra after Orlando execs got huffy that Disneyland was still throwing company Christmas parties in the park for lowly Cast Members, as if Walt was still alive and a spirit of warm camaraderie still existed.

But Monday and Tuesday of this week, days that would have been perfect to host the traditional parties, have even lower attendance than usual due to the extended Christmas season this year. And with DCA 2.0 now glowing with sky-high customer satisfaction ratings, the early closure of Disneyland while DCA stayed open in the evening would have much less impact to the customer experience than at any time in the past decade.

The excuse that Disneyland Park is too busy now to host a private employee Christmas party is simply a lie from TDA, and it’s important to note that here for all the Cast Members in Anaheim who are still grumbling about the bah-humbug spirit flown in from Florida that has ruined yet another Disneyland tradition. Never mind all of the perks and benefits ladled on the sprawling Florida property, things that Anaheim Cast Members don’t have and  likely will never see, like on-site subsidized daycare, on-site subsidized healthcare, urgent-care and pharmacy, a private beach and recreation club, efficient employee parking, etc., etc.

If you are visiting the Anaheim parks this holiday season, make sure to thank a Cast Member who goes above and beyond for you. They don’t get much respect from their executive leadership lately. Heck, even on Thanksgiving Day the dingy and over-crowded Cast Member cafeteria behind Main Street USA couldn’t keep their institutional five dollar turkey dinners in stock. They had run out of turkey and stuffing by 11:15 AM on Thanksgiving Day, and Cast Members working the holiday had to settle for mushy over-cooked Ziti with mystery meat for their noon holiday meal. Reinforcements were brought in on steam trays from the satellite prep kitchen by early afternoon, but they ran out again just as the dinner rush started at 5:00 PM.

There are still Cast Members who remember prior to the 1990’s when CM’s working on Thanksgiving or Christmas were treated to complimentary turkey or ham dinners with fresh pies and all the trimmings, and none of it was trucked in on steam trays.

Looks so real, doesn't it?
The legs have already been sold.

All the trimmings…

They may not be treating the front line Cast Members as they should this holiday season, but the TDA executives are grinning from ear to ear over how well the entire property handled record crowds this past Thanksgiving week.  The goal for the reinvigorated DCA was to pull in an additional 1 Million visitors per year over the 2011 figure of 6.3 Million, once the 1.2 Billion dollar makeover was completed this past June. But the attendance numbers since June 15th have blown that modest estimate out of the water. Even during September, one of the slowest months of the year, DCA pulled in over 800,000 visitors.

The numbers piling up mean that by the end of this year, DCA could easily surpass the 10 Million annual attendance mark, and perhaps edge closer to 11 Million depending on how the month of December goes. That would send DCA flying past the annual attendance of Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom out at WDW, and perhaps nudging Epcot out of the number three position for annual attendance. And to think TDA would have been happy with just an increase to 7.5 Million for 2012.

The skyrocketing DCA numbers have taken a hit on Disneyland’s daily attendance, especially because Disney only counts a park-hopping visitor once per day in their attendance figures; whichever park the visitor enters first gets the “attendance click” for the day. Each morning the rush is on to DCA to grab a Racers Fastpass before they are gone within an hour of opening, and the DCA turnstiles spin madly those first few hours siphoning off daily demand from Disneyland.

Overall, however, the Resort attendance for Anaheim should grow by a very healthy margin. If trends hold through the Christmas weeks, and assuming WDW’s parks continue on their trend of static or slightly weaker attendance from 2011, the numbers for 2012 could end up looking like this, give or take a half million for each;

2012 Attendance Projections

  1. Magic Kingdom Park – 17 Million
  2. Disneyland – 14 Million?
  3. DCA – 11 Million?
  4. Epcot – 10.8 Million
  5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom – 9.8 Million
  6. Disney’s Hollywood Studios – 9.7 Million

The result is that the Disneyland Resort will have seen its annual attendance grow in 2012 by several million additional visitors over the 2011 numbers, and that was with Cars Land only open for half the year with most of the general public not even aware of the new Anaheim offerings until this summer. DCA could also leapfrog several Florida theme parks compared to 2011 when DCA had an annual attendance of just 6.3 Million. It will be close in 2012, but DCA could surpass Epcot’s 10.8 Million attendance and perhaps even nudge past the 10.9 Million that Disneyland Paris had last year.

With hotel occupancy setting records at Anaheim area lodging and the Annual Passholder program maintaining nearly a million passholders despite big price increases (and another price hike is looming), the prospects for further attendance growth in 2013 remains strong.

The swiftness and completeness with which the final pieces of the DCA extreme makeover in 2012 changed the dynamic of the entire Disneyland Resort caught even TDA planners off guard. The critical “intent to return” statistic tracked by Disney’s consumer research team has also gone off the charts, as people leave DCA very happy and go home to gush to friends and family about their latest Anaheim vacation.

Orlando Management: Bad for the brand?

Cars Land, obviously, is the silver bullet behind this comprehensive change at the Resort, after DCA made solid incremental improvements every year since 2008 with additional attractions, shows and aesthetic improvements around the park. The word is now out in the theme park industry about Cars Land and DCA, and this fall various industry executives were paraded through DCA by pleased TDA executives.

The red carpet was even rolled out recently for top executives from Universal Studios Hollywood, who are busy planning their own Harry Potter land, with George Kalogridis leading the Universal execs on a tour of DCA and showing off Radiator Springs Racers and all the Cars Land attractions. Top executives from Sea World, the TEA industry trade group, as well as parks from Europe and Asia have all made an official pilgrimage to Cars Land this fall.

But it’s not just suits from outside Disney that want to see what all the fuss is about. Other top Disney executives have been spending multiple days in Cars Land, before heading up the freeway to Glendale to see how Imagineering might be able to duplicate the land in their own property back home. While Disney Hollywood Studios is the leading contender for a WDW park to get a scaled down version of Cars Land late this decade, Imagineers and John Lasseter are already frustrated by the Orlando executive never ending requests to trim and scale back the project. (Remember, the Orlando folks get excited about walls, and Princess meet and greets as opposed to actual rides. No wonder bookings are hurting.)

So while WDI lets the Orlando team mull over their downsized options and how to cut them back even further, the Imagineers are moving on to a different client for their Cars Land cloning machine, and it’s a client that has WDI and John Lasseter salivating.

Yo! Tokyo...
Orlando still doesn’t get it…

Turning Japanese…

Earlier this month the top executives from Oriental Land Company, including their President and CEO, made a rare multi-day visit to Anaheim and Glendale. They spent hours touring Cars Land before going on to a private dinner at the Carthay Circle restaurant. They also spent a full day in Glendale where WDI gave presentations and showed models of how a nearly identical version of Anaheim’s Cars Land could fit perfectly in the space currently used for their version of… Frontierland.

To get Cars Land into Tokyo Disneyland, much of Tokyo’s “Westernland” would need to be repurposed and the Rivers of America section would be removed entirely. Thunder Mountain, the Country Bear Jamboree and the original frontier town buildings would remain at the front of the land, with the Western River Railroad continuing to circle the property. But towards the back of Westernland the entire Rivers of America would be leveled and turned into Cars Land.

This plan has gained fast traction with the OLC team, as the current real estate used for the Rivers of America takes up a huge amount of space but delivers very little in the way of attraction capacity for that crowded park. Tokyo’s three Rivers of America attractions combined; the Mark Twain Riverboat, Tom Sawyer Island Rafts and Davy Crockett Canoes, only manage about 1,500 riders per hour on even the busiest afternoons. And at dusk the Island and the Canoes shut down, leaving half an operating day with just a few hundred riders per hour taking an evening cruise on the Mark Twain. The Rivers of America is simply a huge waste of space with very little payoff in Tokyo.

Comparatively, the three Cars Land attractions combined in Anaheim are now returning well over 3,000 riders per hour up to 16 hours per day; 1,600 per hour at Racers, 900 per hour at Mater’s, and 800 per hour at Luigi’s (now that the beach balls are gone and loading is faster).  That additional capacity is a huge selling point for the Japanese executives, with the wild popularity of Cars Land with Japanese tourists in Anaheim a good indicator of future popularity if it were to be cloned for Tokyo Disneyland. Replacing the Rivers of America with Cars Land in Tokyo would buy the OLC triple the daily rider capacity in a splashy expansion that could fuel Tokyo resort attendance for years, and the Japanese are now contemplating jumping in and fast-tracking the project while the Orlando executives continue to dawdle and downsize.

Crowds day or night

NextGen: Next!

Meanwhile, in Anaheim, there’s plenty of unglamorous work about to begin in 2013 to prepare for Anaheim’s NextGen programs that will be first rolling out in January at Walt Disney World. NextGen will allow tourists and day-trippers to plan their visits down to the minutest detail, with a payoff of hyper-personalization from attractions, shows and restaurants during their visit. NextGen requires a lot of infrastructure to be installed, and most new facilities built after Cars Land have that infrastructure already included in the plans. The new Fantasy Faire meet n’ greet pavilion that opens March 10th (with AP previews and soft openings for a few days before that) has its NextGen data infrastructure installed, but it won’t be turned on for at least another year.

The first thing that needs to change in Anaheim to get NextGen up and running are the entry turnstiles. Much has been made about the lack of biometric finger scans in Anaheim, which are a big part of the entry turnstiles in the Orlando parks. The truth is that the biometric equipment and logistical setups require more space than Disneyland has, and the number of entry lanes would be reduced if biometric screening was installed in Anaheim. A compromise is under consideration for Anaheim to create a NextGen entry process that uses simply RFID tags.

But what has TDA the most worried is the impact all of the NextGen offerings on the huge Annual Passholder demographic, as NextGen caters mostly to tourists and day-trippers who have planned their visit far in advance. It’s that looming PR problem that local AP holders will have with NextGen that now has TDA trying to come up with as many extra perks as possible for Annual Passholders, to not only justify the next round of price increases for the popular passes, but to also offer examples of things AP’s receive that NextGen tourists don’t.

The sudden decision to offer the Candlelight Ceremony on 20 consecutive nights this year and give the seats away to AP holders as a “perk” is only the latest example of TDA’s increasingly panicked attitude toward the looming NextGen rollout. That Candlelight decision was so rushed that it caught many of the planning groups off guard, and the logistical hurdles are causing many late nights for the Disneyland operations teams tasked with making it all work for three weeks straight.

NextGen is a massive Billion dollar program that has been in development for years and is primarily overseen by Florida executives, and the consideration of Southern California annual passholders wasn’t on their radar for most of that development. But when the average Annual Passholder of 2014 drops by Disneyland on a Sunday afternoon to find all the Fastpasses gone, all of the best seating for shows and parades reserved, and all of the best restaurants booked solid with NextGen tourists receiving personalized attention from CM’s, you can bet they won’t be too happy with NextGen. (Especially after another price increase…) Thus the rush to throw as many perks and extra benefits at AP holders as possible in 2013.

As we’ve told you before, the NextGen project in Anaheim is approximately 18 months behind the timetable for Orlando. The program kicks off formally this January at Disney World and expands throughout the spring, and should be rolling in Anaheim by the summer of 2014. But for now, TDA is focused on the approaching peak holiday season. With DCA now soaking up 40,000+ visitors who willingly go there first and happily stay there all day, this could be the first time in over a decade that Disneyland doesn’t have to close their turnstiles due to overcrowding during the week between Christmas and New Years. And that’s a Christmas present that TDA has been wishing for since 2001.

Oh-kay – that should do it for today. Remember your support is vital, your donations to PayPal help keep the bills paid. We’re only here due to all of your kind efforts.

Keep in mind updates only get posted when there is something to report on, and not before. It takes time to confirm things, and even then we can only offer a snapshot of a continually evolving story. (People do change their minds you know.) Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. 😉

See you at Disneyland!

Think the swamp folks need a wake-up call? Could Tokyo outdo Anaheim? Will Cars 3 start by saying Cars 2 was only a dream? Post your thoughts on today’s update below…