With the flip of the calendar from 2012 to 2013, the Disneyland Resort has just closed the history book on one of the most successful years in the 58 year history of the Anaheim property. 2012 turned out to be a transformative year for the Resort; which was the plan when California Adventure originally opened in 2001 only to fall flat on its face. Heading in to 2013 the entire property has been reworked, and what type of visitors it attracts and how much money they spend and how rewarding they perceive that investment to be has all been dramatically changed for the better. In this update we’ll fill you in on what’s ahead for at least the first few months of 2013, both creatively and logistically, as Anaheim management nervously watches the huge NextGen program roll out this winter in the Florida parks.
Unwrap that leftover cranberry muffin and cash in that coffee house gift card as we give thanks to both Andy Castro and Fishbulb for their photographic help today. Also keep in mind before we start that the biggest-ever MiceAge/MiceChat anniversary gathering has just been announced, visit this link to see all the special guests and events that are planned for it and how to book your spot at them.
Off with their heads…
The rumors have been sweeping the Internet since Christmas that an executive shuffle may be in the works for Disney’s Parks & Resorts division. What fueled the rumors in Anaheim was a visit just before Christmas where Bob Iger drove down from LA and Resorts chief Meg Crofton flew out from Florida and then holed themselves up at the hotel for a few days. There was the requisite “park walks” for Bob and Meg, with George Kalogridis acting as proud host as they shuffled through the maddening crowds of Cars Land, but the big event was in a secured board room where Bob laid out future goals for Anaheim. Chief among them was to keep the momentum of 2012 going, and also get more people staying on Disney property by pushing forward the expansion of the Disneyland Hotel with the plans we’ve told you about for the Tomorrow Tower near ESPN Zone.
Bob also had some bad news to deliver during his December visit, by presenting the news that up to a 10% reduction in headcount was expected from the Parks & Resorts division this fiscal year. The immediate plan will be to take a hard look at the bloated administration buildings in both Anaheim and Orlando, where the cubicle farms have been allowed to fatten up again in the last few years as major park expansion was underway in both DCA and Magic Kingdom Park. The front line Cast Members won’t be touched in the upcoming layoffs, and the front line management in busy hotel or theme park operations teams will also be spared. (Especially at DCA.)
But there’s a lot of folks working 9 to 5 jobs in back offices who have a connection with the daily operation of a theme park that is tenuous at best, if not entirely cut off and pointless. Here’s a tip; if your current cubicle job in TDA allowed you to take off the Christmas and/or New Year’s weeks to lounge around at home, instead of working the very busiest days of the year at the parks and hotels, then you have reason to be concerned. But if you were out in the parks or hotels working on those busy holidays away from your families (because you realize you work for a theme park and know that’s part of the gig), then your job is pretty safe.
While the HR department spends this winter determining which office drones in TDA to pick off, there’s some better news coming to the Anaheim executives. The basic principle is that any executive who was involved the last few years with the wildly successful DCA re-launch and Cars Land project will likely be getting a career promotion, in scope if not title, in 2013. And that includes DCA Vice President Mary Niven, and Disneyland President George Kalogridis.
What TDA will try to gain from the coming promotions is an increased sense of autonomy from the One Disney corporate mentality headquartered in Florida. George K. has been modestly successful since 2009 in pushing Disneyland Resort away from Orlando’s corporate hive and keeping a bit of unique personality for Anaheim. But there have been several failures on that front in the last year, most notably the cancellation of the Disney Employee Christmas Party explained with the bald-faced lie that it was due to Disneyland Park being too busy on slow attendance weekdays in early December. Overall however, Anaheim has a current crop of executives that “get it” for the most part, and VP Mary Niven and her three DCA General Managers in particular have really shined in the last few years. Anaheim should remain in good hands when that group takes a step up the corporate ladder this winter.
Regardless who ends up in which big office, the Anaheim executives will be using this winter to further expand their plans to try and manipulate the Annual Passholder demographic to lessen their impact on daily operations. We’d told you in past updates the plans behind AP parties and special events that began rolling out in 2011, but were then largely shelved in 2012 as the whole Resort focused on the DCA re-launch last spring and summer. The AP programs are about to roll out again, and they’ll be tracking everyone who attends quite closely to determine what impacts the events may have on future AP visitation.
The first program rolling out is a just announced return of the AP Early Entry program, this time only on weekends. On weekends through the spring Annual Passholders will be able to enter the parks one hour early along with the guests from the Disneyland Resort Hotels. The AP early entry is good at DCA on Saturday mornings, and then at Disneyland on Sunday mornings. The goal here is to pull some AP visitation to the early morning hours, instead of the peak afternoon hours when they usually show up. TDA assumes that the average AP weekend visit won’t be extended past the usual three or four hours, but by getting at least a few thousand to show up in early morning the afternoon peak hours should be easier to manage.
They tried this at DCA this summer on weekdays and the number of AP’s using the option was only a few hundred per day at best. It will still be hard to get APs to get up at the crack of dawn and trek to Anaheim for their weekend visit, even if the Starbucks on Buena Vista Street is now one of the most efficient and profitable in the Starbucks empire. But at least TDA wants to try.
The second AP program arrives in February, with special “Extra Magic Hours” for Annual Passholders only offered in DCA on Thursday nights. The events will run like a typical corporate private party, with wristband distribution to identify participating APs. Once DCA closes to regular visitors at 8:00PM, the park will remain open until 11:00PM for APs only and your wristband will be your ticket to get in line for all the operating attractions. The estimated AP attendance for each night is upwards of 10,000, so the lines for Radiator Springs Racers won’t be any shorter than they normally are. But with most other park attractions also operating for the events it would be a good time to walk on to Screamin’ or Soarin’ or Tower of Terror.
What TDA will be looking at is how much time elapses between an Extra Magic Hours visit and the next return visit on a normal operating day. The goal here is to pull APs away from their typical three to four hour visits on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons, lessening the impact on Resort infrastructure, transportation and parking. If they can show that the average AP gives up on a few Friday night or Sunday afternoon visits after attending an Extra Magic Hours evening this February, then the concept would be rolled out more consistently throughout the year. And if the AP holders who attend also perceive that they are getting more bang for their buck from these events, then so much the better.
You can bet that TDA will bundle these AP events into the sketchy Limited Time Magic marketing promotion, if only to use some of the marketing department’s dollars to help promote the events. And the marketing team is happy to oblige in order to beef up the skimpy Limited Time Magic offerings and stretch the promotion’s dollars through 2013. But the upcoming AP events and Extra Magic Hours aren’t really a part of the Limited Time Magic campaign so much as they are industrial engineering experiments to see how TDA can manipulate AP visitation and the impact of Annual Passholders on the Resort overall.
The numbers game…
One of the biggest drivers of the AP events is the need to lessen the impact on the Resort’s overburdened parking situation. The past two weeks of Christmas and New Years had the highest attendance days in the Resort’s history, with multiple days pulling in combined theme park attendance between 105,000 and 110,000 per day. But while those days were extremely busy inside the theme parks, there was still leftover parking at the end of the night because the heavy tourist demographic of those two weeks arrives in full cars. Compared to the average AP visitor, who often arrives alone in their own car or with just one other passenger, the tourists make much better use of Disneyland’s 18,000+ parking spaces. Lower attendance Sundays and Friday nights in the off season, or days just before or after AP blockouts kick in, still see Resort parking maxed beyond its capacity and people are forced to park at the Anaheim Convention Center or GardenWalk. (And the parking complaints skyrocket on those days) If only previous President Ed Grier had pulled the trigger on building that eight level parking structure for the Pumbaa lot back in 2008 when he had the chance.
While parking for customers and Cast Members alike remains a complete mess and TDA cubicle dwellers spend the winter wondering who will get the axe, the news from inside the parks continues to be much more upbeat. The attendance at Disneyland this past Christmas season remained very strong, while DCA drained off an extra 10,000 per day from Disneyland while padding that with an additional 10,000 to 12,000 over last years combined numbers. The end result is that while Disneyland had 10,000 or so fewer visitors heading into that park per day, the overall Resort saw its combined daily attendance swell by 12,000 to 15,000 per day during what is always the busiest weeks of the year.
DCA was roughly doubling its daily attendance this holiday season, from the average of 19,000 per day it got in 2011 to 41,000 or more per day in 2012. So instead of Anaheim seeing the 92,000 to 95,000 daily combined attendance they were getting for Christmas 2011, in 2012 the two parks were getting between 105,000 and 110,000 visitors per day combined. And they pulled this off for most of the time without having to stop ticket sales and only a few hours of afternoon restricted access into Disneyland; a huge change from day after day of closed turnstiles and shuttered ticket booths the Resort dealt with in previous holiday seasons.
Even though they are better spread out now, those crowds at Disneyland have convinced Tom Staggs that the new backstage alley behind Main Street USA we shared with you this fall needs to happen sooner rather than later. Next week Staggs will receive a formal proposal from WDI and TDA’s industrial engineering team on the backstage alley proposal, and Tom wants to spend the money for the project now instead of waiting for fiscal year 2015 as was the original budgeting plan. The 20 foot wide alley would have a minimum of storefront facades, and instead would primarily be used for rearranged customer services like lockers, the baby care center, and first aid. The new Starbucks going in to the Market House is also helping to drive the alley project, and the latest plan is that a portion of the existing Disneyana shop would be given back to Market House better accommodate them.
The WDI team working on the project has also just realized from computer models that the alley is perfectly positioned to give a clear view of the fireworks, and would become congested with viewers and defeat the purpose of serving as a relief valve to evening overcrowding on Main Street. The solution there is to perhaps build a themed bridge over the alley at the midway point, dressed up like a Victorian era sleeping porch or veranda, to purposely block the view of the fireworks from the alley. WDI is even offering this bridge as habitable space in their proposal to Tom Staggs, perhaps to be sold as dessert viewing for the fireworks while the traffic below is able to keep walking.
One other piece of this alley project that keeps fading in and out of the equation is what to do with the Electrical Parade. When the parade was sent out to Florida almost three years ago fresh from its 2009 update and rehab, a victim of DCA’s extreme makeover and a blocked parade route, it was intended to be a temporary visit. But now with DCA more successful than even the most optimistic projections thought possible, and with TDA moving ahead with other entertainment plans for Disneyland, the infatuation with the Electrical Parade in Anaheim has ended.
Orlando management, who is notoriously gun shy about spending any real money on freshening their parks, kept passing up opportunities to add a new parade to the Magic Kingdom in time for their New Fantasyland launch in 2012. They also passed on a proposal to freshen up their mothballed SpectroMagic parade with concepts borrowed from Tokyo Disneyland’s sparkling Dreamlights Parade. And as recently as this past fall a formal conversation was held between Orlando and Anaheim management on returning the Electrical Parade to Disneyland this winter so that it could debut at Disneyland as part of the Fanasyland additions this spring and summer. But even after they spent quite a bit of money last year rewiring the Disneyland float warehouse for heavy-duty recharging stations, the sentiment from Anaheim management is now “You can keep it. “ If and when a night parade returns to Anaheim, TDA would now like it to be something completely new.
Regardless of whether or not an additional parade is in Disneyland’s immediate future, the backstage alley project behind the eastern flanks of Main Street USA is moving ahead with the formal presentation next week for Tom Staggs. Tom spent several days in Anaheim with his extended family last week, and it goes without saying that it’s refreshing to see a Parks Chairman who actually seems to enjoy visiting the theme parks he oversees. (The previous Parks Chairman could go years without a park visit, and even then it was only for tightly scripted media events).
Do as I say, Not as I do…
That said, and as nice of a guy as Staggs seems to be, it appears very disingenuous of Tom to appear on the Disney Parks Blog touting the trip planning abilities of the NextGen project when his own family park visits are, um… well, radically different.
For instance, last week Staggs’ entire family of young sons and nieces and relatives were at Disneyland for two days and were continually escorted by both a VIP Tour Guide and an executive handler who ushered them through the exits of whichever attractions or shows they chose whenever they wanted. Name or face recognition can’t be the security excuse for keeping the unknown kids and in-laws of the Chairman away from the crowds and out of lines, and Tom wasn’t even with them for much of their visit.
If visiting the parks is as easy and carefree as Tom Staggs makes it out to be in his blog posts, perhaps he’d like to volunteer his own family to give up on the special VIP treatment just once? Maybe for the next Staggs family visit they could get there early, actually plan out pulling a few Fastpasses for Racers and those Mountain rides his sons enjoy, and then wait in the regular lines at the lesser attractions? It’s probably too much to ask of a senior leader at Disney to actually use the product like their customers are expected to (and after paying an arm and a leg for it), but at least Tom shows up in Anaheim a few times per year. Next time the guy gives a glowing status report on the various NextGen offerings, remember how well he and his extended family are treated at the parks.
While Anaheim and Cars Land are increasingly the hot itinerary for Disney execs and their families, there’s still some tweaking to be done in the year ahead. First up will be a phased rehab of Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree to fix the peeling paint on the ride surfaces. The swinging tractors keep scraping away the paint surfaces on the flooring there, and the recent rains didn’t help. WDI has been testing every paint product they can get their hands on legally in California, as the smog laws in Southern California mean there’s a lot of durable paint products that work well in Florida but that aren’t legal for use here. WDI thinks it finally has a solution, and they will be shutting down each half of the ride for weeks at a time this winter and spring to strip and resurface the attraction flooring.
Next up is Luigi’s Flying Tires, which suffered a distinct drop in the fun factor when the beach balls were removed at the end of the summer. John Lasseter and his favorite Imagineers aren’t giving up however, and a secret skunkworks plan has been moving quickly through the Glendale approval process to spice up the ride. The plan involves the use of sturdy remote controlled bumper car vehicles, dressed up as Guido and his pit crew, that would zip out onto the floor and begin pushing the floating tires around while spouting off funny Italian phrases during the ride cycle.
The hope is to get the tires moving around more as people still can’t seem to get the hang of how to fly them, while bringing a big dose of comic interactivity to the ride. If the secret skunkworks gets its funding later this month, Guido and his pals could show up at the tire ride by this summer. Lasseter refuses to give up on this ride, and if the Guido plan isn’t approved by Anaheim’s safety police then Lasseter will send his team back to the drawing board for another idea. Although without the beach balls the CM’s are able to run the ride more efficiently and they are getting up to 800 riders per hour now, with the ride pulling in more people per day now than many classic Fantasyland attractions do. It just needs some extra oomph.
But the rest of Cars Land has plenty of oomph, and the few tweaks they made to the land this fall paid off handsomely for the holidays. The expanded Ramone’s House of Body Art store was able to double its already healthy sales figures once it opened up floor space and an entrance across from the Racers exit at Thanksgiving. Once the NextGen project arrives in Anaheim in 2014, and completes the metamorphosis of Fastpass and trip planning in Anaheim by 2015, all of the Fastpass machines will be removed from the various attractions anyway. Most Fastpass reservations will be done online or at park kiosks and handled by your MagicBand bracelet, so the banks of machines at each ride spitting out paper tickets will become a relic from the previous decade. (Start your ticket collections now.) It was a silly mistake to try and cram Fastpass machines into the congested Racers cul-de-sac, but the quick solution to turn it into shop space has paid off nicely for TDA.
The year 2012 radically transformed the Anaheim property, and was more successful than anyone in TDA or Burbank had hoped it would be. Even the lavish Carthay Circle Theater restaurant, which had empty tables earlier this summer, has found its groove and is now a harder reservation to get many nights. Cars Land and Buena Vista Street both proved the old Walt saying that “Quality will out”, and the nicely fashioned environment of the upcoming Princess Fantasy Faire will continue that trend. It will be interesting to see how the DCA park teams keep the momentum going in 2013, and what the upcoming executive shuffle will bring to Anaheim specifically. And the NextGen program debuting in Florida this winter will be worth watching, comfortably from afar.
Careful what you wish for…
As you read all the articles about this project that are starting to appear in the mainstream media, don’t forget that the primary reason behind the RFID and other NextGen programs at Disney is to increase revenues – with the ease of use factor (the focus of the many interviews you will now see with Disney execs) really just a way to defuse any serious questions about their intensive information collection. Sure you want to book your Fastpasses ahead of time? Well the long term plan is to only offer that perk to you after you buy a vacation package at a higher tier/level of amenities. (Likewise with key dining times, reserved prime viewing spots for parades/shows/fireworks.) Of course, if a good deal of the seats for a major ride are already reserved for those that book at that higher level, it will increase the regular lines (and frustration) for those who book at the standard tier – so that’s why they are trying to plus all the queues with all these new interactive elements before this starts going into effect.
It’s evident that the cruise business and its revenue model have them looking again at how they sell the parks and resorts. As you probably know, other than walking onto the ship, just about everything else on many cruises is offered for an upcharge or extra fee. As NextGen starts to roll out on land, expect to also see seasonally adjusted admission pricing, more and more holiday events/entertainment offered as a separate ticket, and priority boarding at rides determined by what the visitor will want to pay for his room or trip package.
To be sure, Disney offers a solid product, and is (in)famous for extracting premium pricing for it. But I think it might help you better understand how this is all evolving if you look into the larger picture behind all these changes. And you have to ask yourself this, is Orlando so focused on this initiative that they are falling behind in other key areas as area competitors beef up their attraction mixes and upkeep? Yes, a wristband that allows you to breeze into a park is a nice thing; but broken down attractions, dated presentations, and no new rides to go on once you get in will sure put a damper into the best laid vacation plans.
What are your thoughts on all this? Were you not surprised by NextGen? Are you going to take advantage of an AP morning anytime soon? Add your thoughts to the conversation by scrolling down below…
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!