Spring break crowds are beginning to wane, and the Anaheim parks will soon begin a few brief weeks of slow off-season through early May. The past few weeks of busy crowds only cemented the new dynamic of the Disneyland Resort, with DCA pulling in more crowds first thing in the morning than Disneyland does as the tourists rush to get their Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass. In this update we’ll fill you in on how this changed dynamic has now altered the future plans for the Disneyland Resort, what the new projects president Michael Colglazier may be able to greenlight during his three year visit to Anaheim, as well as the current thinking on how to handle Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary coming up in 2015. So plop those Wolferman’s English Muffins in the Toastmaster and pop open that jar of premium strawberry rhubarb preserves, you’ll need your strength to make it all the way through this one.
MORE IS MORE
As DCA began opening the first new attractions and amenities in 2010 as part of its 1.2 Billion Dollar extreme makeover, the DCA annual attendance edged up slightly each year by a hundred thousand or so annually. But at 6.3 Million in attendance for 2011, after the opening of The Little Mermaid ride, it was still one of the lowest attended Disney parks in the world, aside from the truly sad Disney Studios Paris park. The goal for 2012 with the huge re-launch of the entire park was to add an additional 1 Million in yearly attendance, on top of the far more modest annual gains since 2009. But the phenomenal success of Cars Land last June, and the way most of the rest park was transformed aesthetically for 2012, blew that original estimate out of the water. The reality is that DCA added several million to its attendance for calendar year 2012, even though the new park was only open for half the year.
When the annual unofficially-official (but extremely accurate) attendance numbers are released late this spring by the T.E.A. amusement park industry trade group, the calendar 2012 attendance for DCA will peg somewhere north of 9 Million for the year. And with the very busy spring break numbers that have just come in, DCA continues to build on that stunning turnaround from 2012. Barring some unforeseen drop in attendance for Anaheim, the 2013 numbers for DCA will head above the 11 Million mark and likely surpass Epcot as the third most visited theme park in North America this year.
To be sure, a portion of that daily attendance gain for DCA is being taken from Disneyland next door, especially since Disney only counts the first theme park a person enters each day as the lone “attendance click” of the turnstiles. But this past spring break the combined parks in Anaheim were pulling in between 9,000 and 16,000 additional visitors per day compared to their year-ago numbers. And the majority of those visitors have been big-spending tourists staying in local hotels rather than the more frugal day-tripping locals and Annual Passholders. The Anaheim Resort District’s hotel occupancy rates have been sent skyward since last June, making every business owner in Anaheim’s resort area quite happy with the new DCA.
AS ONE DOOR CLOSES…
This extraordinary and long-term change in attendance and interest in DCA is now forcing Team Disney Anaheim and Burbank to rethink their plans for Anaheim’s second gate. There had always been a “Phase Two” plan for DCA’s makeover, but then Imagineering is infamous for having second phase projects which never get completed. The second phase for any theme park project usually consists of additional ideas that didn’t get funded in the first phase, or any small pet projects that key Imagineers may have cooked up during the Blue Sky phase. But Team Disney Anaheim’s sharp pencil boys had assumed that after Cars Land opened they would turn their attention back to Disneyland and green light one of the two major expansion plans that we’ve told you about in the past; either the expansion of Frontierland north of Big Thunder Mountain, or the expansion of Tomorrowland on its eastern flanks.
But instead of working on Disneyland next, TDA is now seriously considering an additional E Ticket thrill ride and new themed placemaking for DCA in the next few years. Taking a concept originally cooked up a few years ago for Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida, there’s now a very serious proposal to tear out the MuppetVision and Stage 17 buildings in the back of DCA’s HollywoodLand area and build a Monsters Inc. mini-land there. An all new roller coaster thrill ride would be installed in that corner, themed to the cavernous Door Hangar scene in the Monsters Inc. movie. The popular Monsters Inc. dark ride nearby would remain, although the façade of that building would get a dramatic upgrade as that entire area would be transformed into a fully realized Monstropolis environment. The open space in front of these two Monster Inc. rides, the family dark ride and the thrill ride Door Coaster, would remain to be used as the location for DCA’s popular evening dance parties. The cheap “studio backlot” theme of this area would be removed entirely, and the backside of the Hollywood Blvd. facades would be built out and repurposed as new dining and merchandise locations. The old Hollywood and Dine food court in the eastern corner would be totally reworked as an indoor “flex space” to replace the loss of the Stage 17 building currently used for special events.
The thinking behind this sudden change in plans is not so much to keep up the stunning momentum at DCA, but mainly to prevent overcrowding in the years ahead. Although it would be possible for DCA and the entire Resort to coast on the Cars Land success for the next half decade before the next major attraction project got underway (which is exactly the type of business model they use for WDW), TDA now realizes that what DCA will quickly need is additional ride capacity. The attendance gains are so large that the mythical Phase Two that WDI always has tucked away is now actually needed from a hard-nosed business standpoint. WDI had shopped the Monsters Inc. “Door Coaster” to Team Disney Orlando over five years ago, but got a cool reception from that executive team who is notoriously unenthusiastic about building new rides. But turning the rather homely and bland corner of DCA’s HollywoodLand area into a Monstropolis mini-land is now the goal of many TDA and WDI executives.
MEANWHILE, IN DISNEYLAND…
Not that Disneyland has been entirely forgotten. While the big-budget required to build Monstropolis in DCA will require additional funding to be pulled from Disneyland’s expansion money, there is still a realization that Disneyland needs additional ride capacity as well. The expansion of Frontierland is pushed to the back burner for now, while attention turns to Tomorrowland. Borrowing a new ride system and theme to be used in Shanghai’s Tomorrowland, the second project in the pipeline for Anaheim is a Tron themed speeder bike ride using much of the old PeopleMover route. This is an idea that has been thrown around in the past, but in recent months it’s gained serious steam and is quickly nearing a green light from Burbank.
The goal here would be to add thrill ride capacity to Disneyland, while at the same time providing WDI an excuse to go in and give an aesthetic reskin to Tomorrowland and create a more modern and sleeker version of the circa 1967-77 buildings there. Tomorrowland is much like DCA of the last decade; a place that had some of the most popular and highest rated rides in Anaheim, but that wasn’t particularly attractive and nowhere that anyone really wanted to hang out for very long. Disneyland guests currently go in to cherry pick a handful of popular rides in Tomorrowland, but the land consistently ranks low on satisfaction surveys as a place that is memorable or inviting. With the addition of the Tron speeder bike coaster, Tomorrowland would be given a cohesive themed aesthetic and a far more compelling story. Particularly for the Tomorrowland project however, there’s a desire to not start serious construction until after the park’s 60th Anniversary celebration in 2015. The Door Coaster and Monstropolis project at DCA might be able to get underway before the 60th, for an opening in 2016 at the same time that the speeder bikes and Tomorrowland redo get underway.
As usual, the timing on expensive new E Tickets can be tricky to pin down until the day after the bulldozers arrive, but the suits in TDA are moving as quickly as possible on both of these projects and right now it looks like Monstropolis might begin first. In the meantime, Anaheim has its 60th Anniversary to plan for in 2015, and that will be an anniversary marked by new parades and night spectaculars rather than new rides. The first parade to be replaced for the 60th will be the Pixar Play Parade at DCA, with plans for a majorly reworked World of Color and a new night parade for Disneyland. Throw in the inevitable anniversary fireworks and plenty of kitschy merchandise, and you’ve got the basics behind Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary to begin in early 2015, as it’s currently planned.
WALK IT OFF
In the short term, the new Disneyland Resort president Michael Colglazier still needs to formally introduce himself to the salaried troops in Anaheim. That event, dryly labeled the “Salaried Business Update”, will finally happen two weeks from now during a two-hour presentation in the Hyperion Theater. Thus far Michael has been saying and doing all the right things to get off on the right foot with the Disneyland Resort CM’s. He’s even spent several days in uniform working side by side with the CM’s; most memorably in a teal green busboy uniform helping with breakfast crowds at Flo’s V8 Café, before changing into an Attractions uniform to help with the afternoon lines at the three Cars Land rides. As we’ve mentioned before, there’s quite a curiosity about Michael in Anaheim, since he was a rather unknown executive in charge of the least visited theme park at WDW infamous for broken down rides and declining showmanship standards. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say to the salaried troops, now that he’s been out in the parks charming the hourly CM’s.
Unfortunately, one thing Michael hasn’t yet grasped or made any attempt to fix is the glaring disconnect between the average TDA employee and the Cast Members out in the parks. For example, at the Salaried Business Update the parking department will once again staff their entire fleet of backstage trams used to shuttle hundreds of TDA managers to and from the Hyperion Theater for the meeting, to prevent anyone from TDA having to walk the 0.6 miles from their office building to the DCA theater. What strikes fear into the heart of many in TDA is having to actually walk through the theme parks, lest they have to interact with a paying customer. The easy 0.6 mile walk on level ground from TDA to the Hyperion Theater on a delightful spring day surely can’t be the deterrent there, since most hourly CM’s now park in the Pumbaa satellite parking lot and walk much further than that every day.
That daily Pumbaa commute for hourly CM’s presents them with a one-way walk of 0.8 to 1.3 miles from their car to their various work locations, for a total of up to 2.5 miles of walking to and from their cars for every shift they work. There is the Katella CM parking lot a bit farther out that offers shuttle service to Harbor Blvd., before a park walk of up to one mile from Harbor to a work location in Cars Land, Paradise Pier, or Frontierland. But the experience of battling the overcrowded Katella lot and then waiting to pack into a broken down shuttle bus is so unpleasant that thousands of CM’s per day choose to park in Pumbaa instead and walk over two miles to and from their cars each day. And it’s much faster than waiting for shuttles and battling traffic.
But to prevent anyone in TDA from having to walk through the theme parks, even just once per year on a slow spring weekday, they will run continuous backstage shuttles for Michael’s Salaried Business Update in a few weeks. Even the time savings of being driven from TDA to DCA can’t be the real reason, since lines up to 20 minutes long quickly develop for the shuttles before and after the meeting, while the direct walk itself would take only 15 minutes. The shuttle service is simply a case of TDA cubicle drones being entirely out of touch with what their core product actually is, operating theme parks and hotels for paying customers.
Michael won’t be announcing the Monsters Inc. door coaster or the speeder bike project at his update, and instead will stick with glossy PowerPoint shows rattling off all the impressive statistics of the last 12 months with Anaheim’s soaring visitor attendance and spending numbers that are literally supporting the entire Parks & Resorts division in North America right now. But there is a very good chance that one or both of those upcoming Anaheim projects will be announced this August at the D23 Expo across the street in the Convention Center.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES.
But one thing Michael will likely be able to discuss at his update on April 24th is the plan we’d told you about last month to host another 24 Hour Party at Disneyland on May 24th and 25th. Unlike the last 24 Hour Party to celebrate Leap Year Day last February, this event will be held in both Disneyland and DCA to help mitigate crowds. The city of Anaheim and Caltrans are waiting patiently for Disney’s final plan to alleviate the gridlocked city streets and backed up freeway that took over the Anaheim area after all the TDA executives and senior managers went home last time. The overnight party will also take place out at WDW, but only at the Magic Kingdom Park there. It all promises to be a logistical nightmare for Anaheim, especially since that is also a Grad Nite party at DCA until 3:00 A.M. We’ll stay close to this developing story to help you decide if you want to brave the crowds for this overnight event again.
Oh-kay – that should do it for today. What do you make of those two big E Ticket projects? Which would you like to see first?
I’d really like to thank the MiceAge Crew for stepping in to help keep these updates coming. I assure you that you are in great hands with the team and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished these past 10 years and what Dusty and team have planned for you in the next 10. Your support is what keeps us going and we are sincerely thankful. – AL
See you at Disneyland!