Like clockwork, every three years Disneyland gets a new Resort president, and the new guy just arrived to take over in Anaheim. In this update we’ll fill you in on a few of the changes that have just happened with plans for Anaheim and Orlando theme parks, why both George Kalogridis and Michael Colglazier will have some stressful times ahead of them in 2013, and specifically what the changing winds mean for Anaheim at least in the short term. Plus a quick thanks at the end to everyone who joined us this past weekend. Still have some of that spicy maple bacon from our breakfast Saturday? Make sure the OJ is fresh squeezed, and let’s get going. As always we are grateful for the photographs from Fishbulb and akfanDisney.
Three to be for you and me…
Disney keeps their executives on three year contracts, and for a decade now they’ve been shuffling new presidents in and out of Anaheim on that cycle. The only hiccup this year was that the changeover happened in January instead of October so technically George Kalogridis got to stay for an extra 90 days, but only because Michael Colglazier’s three year contract out in Florida didn’t expire until January. And so another new exec has moved into TDA’s biggest office suite with the hip Eames furniture and the million dollar view of the Matterhorn, with Michael being the sixth president to occupy that office since TDA was built in 1996.
Michael now gets three years to prove to the Burbank bosses that his new promotion from Vice President to President was worth it, and thus far he’s been saying and doing all the right things. It should be noted however that a president’s first 30 days in Anaheim has become a tightly scripted and highly choreographed routine, with Michael already two weeks into that process. He’s been given overviews of the Resort’s physical and financial setup, had a review of the current 10 Year Plan for the Resort’s future (that is often in a state of flux), been downloaded by George K. and other department heads on the short term plans for Disneyland in the pipeline for this year, and been brought up to speed on who’s who in the local community and government that he’ll need to remain friends with.
George Kalogridis has now stepped out of the picture and will begin the same process this month in Orlando, so Michael can begin his carefully scripted debut to the 25,000 Cast Members in Anaheim. That process began a few days ago with a video interview released on the Resort’s employee intranet, and Michael hit all the right notes while being interviewed by the perky Disneyland Ambassador. The mandatory and cloying mention of how “humbled” fill-in-the-blank president is to suddenly be in charge of Walt’s original park was covered right off the bat, with the standard comments about how much nicer the weather is in Anaheim compared to Orlando. Michael even explained that his wife and children were simply thrilled with the prospect of picking up and moving 3,000 miles to a strange city right in the middle of the school year. Now that’s dedication.
The same time the video debuted Michael was also led around both parks and the three hotels by their respective Vice Presidents, with lots of glad handing and introductions in the cafeterias and backstage areas. Michael has also quickly fallen in line with the more formal Anaheim dress code for management, always appearing in public wearing business suits or a sport coat, instead of the untucked “camp shirt” and very casual looks that WDW managers think look good enough for theme park work. (He even made a surprise appearance at our anniversary breakfast, an acknowledgement of the parks most hard-core fans, who were delighted to get a free copy of the Golden Horseshoe CD soundtrack from him.)
The only minor misteps Michael has made thus far are his public mentions of working previously at Disneyland on the Innoventions and New Tomorrowland projects of 1998. Someone should gently remind him that in Anaheim both of those things are widely considered to be big mistakes and representative of a rather dark period in Disneyland history. If he sticks to talking about working with cute creatures at Animal Kingdom, instead of his days in Eisner’s sinister Strategic Planning group, he’ll be just fine. And he shouldn’t say that Disneyland’s Innoventions was any sort of success for anyone; the gullible sponsors or the few visitors who wander in there by mistake.
And with that, Michael is off and running and will do some more walking tours and overviews of various departments around Anaheim, before his final act of his introductory period, the big “All Salaried Update” usually held in the Hyperion Theater. That’s another tightly scripted event, aimed at the salaried management out in the parks and at the hotels. Luckily, he’s a personable and genuinely friendly family man who seems more down to earth than his sharp mind and Ivy League education from Stanford and Harvard might suggest. But his new Anaheim team of managers are very curious to hear him speak and figure out just what made him so worthy of a big promotion after spending the last three years in charge of the least attended theme park in WDW; mainly known for broken down animatronics, aged entertainment offerings, slipping quality standards, and an Avatarland expansion that is sinking in alien quicksand. They’ll be hanging on his every word at the All Salaried Update to try and figure that out, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately for Michael, he’s stepping into the new role just as some major changes take place in the plan for Disneyland’s future. George Kalogridis will need to hit the ground running in Orlando, as a similar shakeup hit the WDW plans in the last 60 days. We’d told you previously how TDO had been dragging their feet on the plan to add Cars Land to DHS and had been chipping away at the budget so that all that was left was a slightly downsized version of Radiator Springs Racers and a town that had more faux facades than actual shops and restaurants. In that depressing environment, WDI had been shopping their plan to build the fully fleshed out version of Cars Land for Tokyo Disneyland to replace their Rivers of America section of that park.
But over the Christmas break a fire was lit under a few key Burbank executives when it was realized WDW’s New Fantasyland project wasn’t pulling in the numbers or customer satisfaction ratings that had been hoped for. WDW’s hotel occupancy and spending numbers have been hurting for several years, and they were hoping for a big bump from New Fantasyland and its lone new attraction, a clone of the Little Mermaid omnimover. New Fantasyland hasn’t give them the bump they needed, and the customer satisfaction results are showing that it won’t be driving the new attendance or spending gains that WDW really needs in the next few years. And there’s currently nothing under construction in WDW, while their Universal and Sea World competitors have major new projects coming out of the ground.
If only to prove how quickly things can change in the Disney empire, WDI execs returned from their Christmas break to quickly huddle and then directed their teams to figure out how to clone as much of Cars Land as possible so that it could open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park as quickly as possible, aiming for a late 2015 debut (nearly three years to the day after New Fantasyland officially opened). TDO execs were also told to stop value-engineering the project into a smaller footprint with fewer offerings and let WDI do their work. And since the James Cameron alliance that was supposed to bring Avatarland to WDW within the same timeframe is going nowhere fast, and may not even show up in a theme park at all at this point, WDI is thrilled to dig in and start real work on an accelerated plan to bring Cars Land to Florida.
The result will be a Cars Land that has just about everything the DCA version does, with a few filler buildings omitted and the very expensive Luigi’s Flying Tires ride missing entirely. The very deep basement beneath Luigi’s, needed for the giant fans and motors that resembles the generator room at Hoover Dam, would be extremely difficult to build in the swampy Orlando soil and raise the cost even higher. But even without Luigi’s, if the frenzied pace on this project continues in Glendale there’s a good chance they’ll make that Thanksgiving of ’15 opening date, if not slip just a bit to the winter of ’16. So long as WDW’s numbers don’t go from bad to worse this spring, the DHS Cars Land project should make the trip to Florida mostly intact.
Meanwhile, here on the opposite coast, plans for a Marvel based thrill ride repurposing of the Innoventions building at Disneyland were quietly put on hold. We’ve outlined in the past just how radically Cars Land and the newly successful DCA have re-arranged traffic patterns and visitation levels at both parks, filling area hotels with big spending tourists and drawing curious day-trippers alike. Those changed visitors patterns held firm through the extremely busy Christmas weeks, and Anaheim’s 10 year plan went under a second look from the suits in Burbank and Anaheim as they tried to figure out how to best leverage the new reality of the wildly successful Anaheim property. All of the major pieces are still there in that 10 year capital plan; hotel expansion near Downtown Disney, additional parking to complement Anaheim’s planned streetcar line, a strategic plan to keep improving DCA cosmetically in the Hollywood Land and Paradise Pier areas, plus new rides in a remake of Tomorrowland and park expansion pads beyond the berm behind Frontierland and Critter Country.
The plans to put on hold this winter’s closure and repurposing of the Innoventions building, the attraction that everyone loves to hate, aren’t as dire as they sound though. There’s a realization that as DCA’s attendance grew by over three million new visitors in 2012, with Cars Land only open for half of that year and sucking over a million away from Disneyland, that Disneyland needs more than just new parades and one-off attraction additions in the next ten years. The executive team is recalibrating when the big money gets spent in Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom and is pooling their resources to go after a big Tomorrowland overhaul that would open all at once in a grand Cars Land type reveal, rather than in bits and pieces over several years like the New Fantasyland project in WDW has been doing.
It’s no secret the New Fantasyland project has shown lackluster customer satisfaction ratings, and the piecemeal way it debuted last year with major construction still underway on the D-Ticket mine coaster is not helping things there this year. (Maybe all those suits should have taken the underwhelming response Jay Rasulo got when the project was confirmed at the D23 Expo a few years back more seriously, instead of blowing it all off.) Cars Land is widely understood now to be the way to open a major new land, and New Fantasyland’s staggered 18 month long reveal is the scenario to avoid.
The elephant in the room on all of these long range plans however is the NextGen program, publicly marketed as MyMagic+. MyMagic+ has had a rocky start in Florida, with both hardware and software problems cropping up in the parks in the first few weeks and a surprising dustup in the press between Bob Iger and Congressman Ed Markey over allegations of inappropriate use of children’s information with the RFID enabled wristbands that are the backbone of MyMagic+. (Apparently Iger forgot what happened with the Disney’s America project when Eisner snipped back in a similar tone.)
Disney has now budgeted more for MyMagic+ than they spent on fixing DCA over the last five years, so the stakes are very high. What could derail the expansion plans on both coasts is MyMagic+ falling flat on its face with customers when it finally goes live this spring. There are still dozens of questions and pitfalls, all issues that front-line Cast Members and management identified as weak links in the system right off the bat.
The problem with MyMagic+ is that it was dreamed up by Burbank execs who have absolutely no experience working in a theme park, and who have shown very little interest in getting out into the field and learning the business even after they were assigned to the program that would remake it. The Achilles heel to any new park initiative is the front line troops in the operations departments who will be working with the program and trying to sell it to the customers. So far, very little input has been sought from the front line Cast Members, and to make matters worse the public explanations of the program have been overly vague. For every answer offered to customers about MyMagic+, there are a dozen Cast Member questions still unanswered.
That terrible precedent will spell doom for the project if they don’t change that before trying to roll it out in Anaheim with the very different crowd demographics here. Very few CM’s at WDW understand what MyMagic+ is, how it will make their jobs easier, or why it benefits their customers in the long run. If anything, MyMagic+’s rocky debut last month has made the system highly suspect with WDW Cast Members, and the Anaheim CM’s are watching closely to see how badly this goes for them this spring.
The canary in the coal mine for all three of these projects will be the big D23 Expo this August in Anaheim. If they try and flog MyMagic+ to the fans at D23 and fail to mention any new theme park expansion in Anaheim and Orlando, you’ll know things are bad for both coasts and that most of that Billion dollar NextGen budget was wasted. With the accelerated plans for WDW’s Cars Land however, the bulldozers may move in by late spring and Disney may be forced to announce that project months before the D23 Expo.
Let’s hope there’s something to talk about at D23 Expo other than magic wristbands and queue enhancements already outdated by visitors in Standby staring at their iPhones instead of expensive queues.
Michael and George will also both need to tackle the coming white-collar layoffs on both coasts, although the WDW property will bear the brunt of that reduction. The dismal numbers in WDW just can’t support the bloated headcount out there, especially once MyMagic+ goes live in a few months and either succeeds or fails. With the convoluted One Disney setup though, many WDW managers oversee Disneyland teams who may be on the chopping block, and some Disneyland bosses are in charge of WDW teams that need thinning. That bi-coastal organization chart means that some Anaheim folks up and down the food chain will have to lose their jobs over the sagging WDW business, even though there’s not as much fat to cut in Anaheim-exclusive departments and no real need to with booming attendance and strong spending here.
Remember before DCA opened I used to refer to that compromised park as a “heroin monkey,” as money that would have been spent in upkeep and improvements for Disneyland was siphoned off to try and turn things around in the former parking lot? And now finally when DCA hits its stride, the monkey is back as the Anaheim complex has to bear that burden again thanks to Orlando’s inability to comprehend their customer.
The biggest target in the coming layoffs will be the business park offices around Celebration, Florida, where dozens and dozens of Vice Presidents and Directors have set up fiefdoms with bizarre executive titles far removed from the core business of running a theme park or a hotel. The Imagineering group in Glendale is also being asked to take a hard look at their large pool of well paid executives, and it’s partly for that reason why Disney celebrity Tony Baxter was given a golden parachute at the age of 66 and allowed to gracefully step into semi-retirement instead of facing an HR firing squad later this spring.
Let us entertain you…
With all that talk of a mid-winter pause in future planning and chilling news of coming layoffs, what’s to come in Anaheim in the short term? There’s quite a bit actually. Even if the Tomorrowland redo doesn’t make it for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2015-16, there will be a new fireworks show and at least one new parade for the Resort that year (likely two parades, one each for both parks). Michael Colglazier was said to have been quite impressed at the types of things Anaheim has planned to keep the parks fresh and relevant, beyond the usual marketing for major anniversaries like the upcoming 60th.
Michael has tough decisions to make though, because often those types of offerings that go over big with the fans aren’t well received by the general public or the sharp pencil boys. The most recent example is the return of the Golden Horseshoe Revue for the past month as part of Limited Time Magic. The show received a lavish budget, even if it was only temporary.
The problem came from the core concept itself, as many park visitors wandered in to the show not realizing it was a special engagement meant to play on Walt Disney nostalgia. Complaints were logged daily at Guest Relations over the raciness of the can-can girls and the sauciness of the banter from the show’s hostess Miss Lilly. And for every person who complained formally at Guest Relations, the Cast Members working the Horseshoe snack bar received a dozen or more complaints a day from upset audience members. In the Politically Correct world of 2013, many female visitors were not happy to see the Golden Horseshoe Revue return to Frontierland with its garter belts showing.
After I saw the 5pm show on Saturday it was easy to see just how they crossed the line with the longer Can Can dances and increasing the time on all the Flirting/Mirror gags. In cutting the comedy stuff (Boag’s balloon animals/tooth spitting and Burley’s Irish tenor’s song – either Harrigan or Police Gazette ) they expanded the girls dance and Lilly’s flirting into the void. I can clearly see how it could ratch up the discomfort index for those who have never seen the original. Back to Billy Hill putting a fiddle bow up his nose I guess.
Now, not that this should matter (as the show was never expected to make much money, if at all in Walt’s era) but in addition to the complaints pouring in for the show itself, the sales figures at the Horseshoe snackbar were dismal. Since the show format required the entire house to be cleared and reset a half dozen times per day, the snack bar wasn’t getting the brisk walk up business it had enjoyed for the last 15 years. Even though the show played to packed houses most days (while some audience members fumed at the subject matter), the sales totals for the food facility were coming in at only 20% to 25% of their usual daily numbers. The combination of protective moms outraged at the can-can girls and Miss Lilly flirting with their husband, plus the drastically reduced sales figures from the snack bar, has likely doomed any chance of the Revue returning in its 1960’s format to Frontierland permanently.
I do think the resorts entertainment department deserves thanks for at least trying to do something here that goes a heck of a long way further than just an endless schedule of character meet and greets that only a suit could love.
In 2013, both parks will continue offering up smaller new entertainment changes. Coming up this May, Disneyland will kick off a new concept known as “Small World Celebrations”, where a different country is honored in both parks over a long weekend with displays about its native culture, arts, and cuisine. The first country to be feted with a Small World Celebration will be Greece, with authentic Greek dancers, musicians and artists on display at Disneyland in the Small World mall, while DCA features Greek celebrity chefs who will give cooking demonstrations in a miniature version of the old Food & Wine Festival. Mickey Mouse even gets in on the act and will appear at the events wearing a custom made Foustanella, the traditional costume of Greece. This will be the first time Mickey has ever appeared wearing a Greek Foustanella, and TDA will be heavily marketing the weekend event to both Annual Passholders and the Greek-American community in Southern California.
The first Small World Celebration will arrive for Memorial Day weekend this May, and then additional countries will be featured in late summer and fall. The Small World Celebrations in 2013 will tap into the marketing dollars of Limited Time Magic to help spread the word, although the Celebrations are expected to continue far beyond 2013 and the end of that rather forced Limited Time marketing campaign. The Small World Celebrations are bundled under the administrative banner of what TDA calls “relevancy initiatives”, which is a newer TDA team tasked with creating one-off or seasonal offerings that keep the park experience fresh for returning locals and plus up the visits of casual tourists.
Not so Fastpass…
Also coming this spring, but less exciting than Mickey Mouse in a Foustanella, is the final push to bring the Fastpass system into compliance with its WDW cousins. Next week the Attractions Cast Members will receive training on how to only accept Fastpass tickets within the one hour window printed on the ticket. There will be a short grace period allowed, plus exceptions for any attraction downtimes or late dinner reservations, but by March the Anaheim parks will hold people to the actual time printed on their Fastpass ticket.
And of course TDA will continue tweaking its attempts to get Annual Passholders to visit the resort at less impactful times. The next big experiment with that begins on Thursday, when DCA will stay open for an extra two hours for AP’s, with the hope that fewer of them will show up on Friday nights. The Downtown Disney bandstand will also be getting a refurbishment for better audio and lighting, as TDA wants to keep the new Fantasy Faire operating as a meet n’ greet facility right through park closing time. The swing dancing won’t be returning to Disneyland anytime soon at its old Plaza Gardens locale, and by beefing up the offerings in Downtown Disney for swing dancing its hoped they can keep that small but vocal AP crowd happy while still keeping them out of the park itself.
While Michael arrives in Anaheim just as the pause button has been hit on a short list of future plans, he’s got plenty of work to do in order to get up to speed on how differently things work out here. The willingness of more than a few WDW visitors to put up with lowered maintenance, stale and aging entertainment, and a weak record of adding new attractions simply won’t fly in Southern California. (And don’t think the online community won’t be watching closely.) The Billion dollar remake of DCA fundamentally changed the way the resort operates and the numbers it pulls in, even in a weak economy. There’s not a whole lot from the recent WDW experience that can be applied to the current Anaheim environment, at least not if an Anaheim executive wants the place to succeed.
As you may have heard, this past weekend MiceChat celebrated MiceAge’s first decade, and if you look back online to where I first started on Usenet, my initial posts actually go back twenty years. From the times I would sign on with AOL or Compuserve on screeching 300 baud modems, I was very lucky to meet Werner Weiss who posted one of the first Disneyland sites online, as well as Deb Wills and then shortly thereafter Kevin Yee and Sue Kruse. The online community grew, as it became easy to meet up with people who shared a common interest. No longer did you have to be the lone person in your social group who had a keen interest in Disney’s theme parks.
It wasn’t too long before we began meeting on Sundays at noon at the hub, and thanks to an inept park president, scary stomping pixies, real dead people haunting mansions, fizzled rocket rods, a parking lot fiasco, then with the creation of MiceChat by DustySage, assisted by Fishbulb, it all grew our traffic way beyond what we ever expected,
Saturday morning a roomful of readers, co-workers and friends were kind enough to give me a customized replica of a Main Street Window. In the last few years I’ve been dealing with some overwhelming personal issues, so I can’t even begin to express how much this meant to me. Thank you all.
What are your thoughts? Were you surprised by reaction to the revue? Are you going to take advantage of AP extra hours 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!