While crowds during the Halloween season have been slowly building the past few years, last month’s debut of all-new Halloween overlays at DCA’s most popular locations have sent the crowd levels through the roof in the past two weeks. DCA has already made new attendance records the past two Fridays, surpassing the numbers in the park that arrived to see the Cars Land grand opening back in June, 2012. The response from TDA planners was quick, as they have extended DCA operating hours to 11:00 pm this past weekend. And through October the operating hours for both parks have now been extended out nearly seven days per week. DCA will now be open from 8:00 am to Midnight every Friday through October, with 11:00 pm closings on Saturdays and Sundays. Disneyland Park has also extended their weekday hours out to 11:00 pm or Midnight on every weekday through October as well.
DCA had been able to handle it’s busiest crowds with mostly 10:00 pm closings for the last five years since Cars Land opened, but Halloween demand has surpassed that and now DCA has gone to the same 8 am to Midnight operation as its older sister across the Esplanade. Who could have guessed just a few years ago that the Halloween season would now rival Christmas as the busiest time of year to visit either park?
In response, the TDA planners have already beefed up their plans for Phase Two of DCA’s Halloween offerings for next year, which will see the current Buena Vista Street decor get plussed up a bit and include decor inside the shops and restaurants all along the street. Halloween decor will spread into Grizzly Peak, and the Halloween overlay for Radiator Springs Racers is being revved up. This plays right into TDA’s master plan of pulling as many people as possible out of Disneyland and over to DCA before Star Wars opens in 2019. Although the spike in attendance this fall took TDA by surprise, and perhaps their Halloween plans are proving too popular by raising overall Resort attendance instead of just redistributing crowds over to DCA.
After Disney and the City of Anaheim got into one of the worst political arguments in their 63 year old history together, TDA has their tail between their legs and has quietly gone back to the drawing board on the stalled Eastern Gateway parking and transportation plan. Disney will soon make a last ditch attempt to re-apply for permit approval for the Eastern Gateway, with a reconfigured pedestrian and access plan for the infamous parking project. The clock is ticking with just over 18 months to go before Star Wars Land opens, and it will be a race to the finish to make it in time if Anaheim approves the reconfigured plan. TDA’s revolving door office of the President is to blame here, with each senior executive team going back more than a decade kicking the can down the road on the Resort’s deteriorating and short-sighted parking infrastructure. Now they are paying the heavy price for that failing.
There’s something to be said for walking in the customers shoes and knowing your product personally, but when Disney purposely grants every senior executive complimentary valet parking at the Grand Californian whenever their friends and family visit the Resort, it only made the parking situation worse for the past decade by insulating senior decision makers from their customer’s crummy parking experience (not to mention their employees too). Those same execs are also granted unlimited Fastpasses and complimentary Tour Guides to usher them through exits and to reserved seats for parades and shows, which helps explain why the crowding and line situation in the parks has also gotten so bad.
While TDA will pretend in their dealings with Anaheim that future spending at the Resort depends on the ticket tax moratorium and an approved Eastern Gateway, there are already plenty of big projects lined up and moving towards a start date. That Marvel expansion for DCA is just one, while the re-aligned monorail route that was stalled by the Eastern Gateway debacle will open up even more expansion land for DCA.
DOWNTOWN DISNEY DILEMMA
One master plan that has fallen through however is the poorly managed re-invention of Downtown Disney that has gone in fits and starts over the last year. The Splitsville project is way behind schedule and won’t open until next spring, unlike the “late 2017” the Parks Blog announced a year ago.
The poorly timed Build-A-Bear and RideMakerz eviction was also put on hold, as they get a reprieve through the holidays since there’s no hipster gastropub willing to take the plunge and put up with Disney’s high rent and hardcore property management rules. The Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire virtual reality game is in a mad rush to open by Thanksgiving, although the space they are using is tiny and none of Downtown Disney’s senior managers have enough theme park experience (Read: No experience at all) to consider where they will put the queue to get in and how they will manage that demand.
The Grand Californian is finally wrapping up it’s year-long refurbishment of all of its guest rooms and public areas. The lobby went under major refurbishment last week, as they install new carpeting and hardwood floors throughout and freshen the furniture and fixtures. The Grand needed this refurbishment, as it was looking a bit tired and worn out.
The regular guest rooms got a nice upgrade, although the high end suites haven’t been touched yet and are looking and feeling quite dated now. The new security screening has kept some AP’s from camping out on the furniture and taking a phone charging break from the parks, as hotel management continues to try and keep the Grand’s public amenities exclusive to hotel guests as much as possible.
ROCK PAPER SCISSOR
Disney’s corporate fiscal year began on Monday, and Fiscal 2018 will be turning on a lot of projects both big and small around Disneyland to get ready for the giant Star Wars crowds headed to Disneyland in 2019. The rockwork in front of Tomorrowland, an unfortunate holdover from the failed New Tomorrowland project of 1998, will be removed and trimmed back to allow more elbow room in that overcrowded area of the park.
In New Orleans Square, the terraced walkways that were added in a panic back in the early 1990’s to deal with Fantasmic! crowds will be redesigned for widened walkways.
TDA planners are just now beginning to plan for crowd control scenarios, with two competing concepts used for the main entry portal to Star Wars land; either the long and winding pathway from Critter Country into the western side of the land, or the middle portal off the Big Thunder trail.
The good news for Disneyland is that all three entry portals are longer and have more square footage for more people than the two short entry tunnels at the WDW version, plus Disneyland will have more acreage and breathing room on the western half of the land leading up to and in front of the Battle Escape Stormtrooper ride. But even with that extra elbow room in Anaheim’s version, much of the west side of Disneyland will be heavily impacted as the crowds ebb and flow into and out of Star Wars Land beginning in 2019.
In addition to making physical changes to Disneyland in 2018, TDA planners continue to make psychological changes to the park by moving as many special events and offerings over to DCA. The latest casualty of that plan is this year’s Cast Member Holiday Celebration tickets. The Holiday Celebration tickets are already a downgrade from the lavish and very special Family Christmas Parties that Disneyland hosted for Cast Members for decades, until the One Disney curse struck Anaheim several years ago. Now Cast Members are given an extra set of comp tickets to use anytime between October and February, along with a few dining coupons and a voucher for a free popcorn. But this year’s holiday tickets are only valid in DCA, with Disneyland being off limits for those comp tickets. The goal is to lower Cast Member expectations for getting into Disneyland for free in the future, and force the CM’s to consider DCA as their party place instead of Disneyland proper.
Well folks, that does it for this update. There are a lot of irons in the fire right now for the Disneyland Resort. As some of these projects heat up, we’ll be back to share!
Now, let us know your thoughts. Are you warming up to Halloween at DCA? What do you think Downtown Disney is missing? If you were tasked with managing Star Wars land demand, what tactic would you use to control crowd flow?