With a predictable increase in ticket prices, Anaheim’s first price hike since the re-launch of California Adventure last June, the Disneyland Resort heads into the busy summer vacation months ready to tackle the growing crowds. In this update we’ll fill you in on some of the backstory behind the dry ice explosion in Toontown last week, spill the beans on where you’ll likely be sitting if you spring for one of those $1,000 ticket packages to the Lone Ranger premiere, as well as how the new attraction plans are firming up for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary before they get announced (or not) at August’s D23 Expo.

Got that everything bagel toasted and slathered with cream cheese?  Have that 32oz tumbler of Tang™ mixed and chilled?  Then lets get to the news!

MICKEY’S BOOMTOWN

The dry ice explosion in Toontown last Tuesday was an unfortunate event, with the blame placed solely on a young Outdoor Vending (ODV) Cast Member who is still sitting in jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. Lost in most of the media coverage on the ensuing evacuation of Toontown is the fact that these dry ice bombs have been a common prank amongst the park’s vendors since the 1990’s, and it’s not unusual to have one go off somewhere during the average day when hundreds of ODV CM’s work a shift in the parks. The dry ice bombs, often using soft drink bottles, are usually placed in or under the carts themselves as a prank to scare the next CM arriving to work at the cart. The dry ice bombs can also be placed in nearby planters, or in the backstage break areas, and it should be noted that most CM’s try to plot their dry ice pranks when the park is closed or when they are in backstage areas away from park guests. It’s long been considered a badge of honor for new ODV CM’s to be “bombed” within their first few days on the job, after they’ve finished their training and arrive at a cart for their first real shift.

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But the dry ice bomb that caused the Toontown scare was a particularly potent one, and it was unwisely placed inside a trash can. A Custodial CM had just arrived at the trash can and was in the process of emptying it, when the bomb went off inside the bag liner as it sat on the ground beside the trash can. It created a loud and sharp explosion as it ripped open the bag, and it startled nearby CM’s and park guests enough to cause a small panic. The CM’s who witnessed the explosion immediately called Disneyland’s emergency control center and reported it as a “small bomb” that had detonated, and Disneyland’s security team leapt into their well-rehearsed response to such an incident.

Within moments, the park’s duty manager called for the immediate evacuation of Toontown while the situation was assessed, radio calls went out alerting all park management to report to Toontown to help with crowd control and evacuation procedures, and the individual shops and attractions in Toontown began their own evacuation and lock down procedures that CM’s are trained on. In a very short amount of time, the entire Toontown area had been swept clear of all guests and non-essential CM’s and was cordoned off. And in the Social Media age, it only took a few minutes for word to spread that there had been an explosion in Toontown and the major media jumped on the story quickly. News helicopters were hovering over Disneyland within the hour, and the rest is history.

Disneyland Resort CM’s, particularly Attraction CM’s who have thorough emergency response training for each attraction facility they work at, are all trained on how to respond in emergencies that may require a partial or full park evacuation. Disney has three types of emergency responses that involve the clearing of a section of the park or the entire property itself, and the Toontown explosion triggered the activation of the most immediate response but confined it to only the Toontown area during the initial assessment. These types of evacuations and corralling of park guests into designated “safe havens” and CM’s into assigned “assembly areas” are usually trained as a likely response to a damaging earthquake, although the threat of man-made danger is also a consideration in the training.

In addition to the location-specific training for CM’s, twice a year the Disneyland Resort stages a large-scale emergency drill after park hours where hundreds of CM’s are enlisted to act as victims, complete with gory makeup to resemble mass injuries, while Disneyland’s own facilities and security teams alongside Anaheim fire and police departments practice their responses in setting up perimeters and triage units and communication systems. Much of that practice and training came into play during the Toontown incident, and Disneyland’s management and front line staff deserve commendation for reacting so quickly and so professionally, while keeping the response to a targeted area. The good news is that it was a prudent reaction to a classic vending prank gone wrong, and Toontown was reopened to park guests just a few hours later.

The executive team in TDA, many of whom have absolutely no experience working inside the theme parks in a front-line role, were amazed to learn that the dry ice bomb wasn’t a specific threat by a disgruntled CM, which was an assumption they were working under once it was learned exactly what the “bomb” was made of. Instead, it took a while for the ODV management to admit to the suits that they know all about these dry ice bombs, and some of the young managers probably pulled off a few similar stunts earlier in their ODV careers. But you can bet that the practice of playing around with dry ice, either inside the park or in backstage areas, is now under intense scrutiny in ODV. The innocent era of dry ice bombs as common pranks for ODV Cast Members quickly came to an end last Tuesday with the evacuation of Toontown.

LONELY RANGER

With that minor media attention now past, TDA and Burbank are focused intensely on the upcoming Lone Ranger movie premiere we had leaked in a previous update. The Burbank team at the Studios just loves to throw these huge movie premieres in Anaheim, after the Disneyland team pulled off a series of four flawless premiere parties for the various Pirates movies in the last decade. And now it’s DCA’s turn, with the gorgeous Buena Vista Street creating a perfect setting for traditional red carpet Hollywood glamor.

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There’s just one problem; unlike the Pirates events that used a massive outdoor arena seating over 3,000 along the Rivers of America, the Hyperion Theater only seats 2,000 and that’s not enough to host all the industry insiders and Hollywood hangers-on that turn up for these events. The solution will be for the premiere to be split between two theaters, with those lower on the Tinseltown totem pole being assigned a seat in the MuppetVision Theater while the A-listers get a seat in the Hyperion Theater.

The mere mortals who are buying the $1,000 ticket package will also be seated in MuppetVision. They’ll try to mitigate concerns about being in the “wrong theater” by parking a real steam train right in front of MuppetVision and having the film’s celebrities walk the red carpet directly in front of MuppetVision on their way to the Hyperion Theater up the street. The Lone Ranger’s white steed, Silver, will also be there on the red carpet. And some may want to purchase the $1,000 package if only to have several hours of exclusive access to Cars Land after the film; for some Disney fans, a short wait for Radiator Springs Racers could be worth the indignity of being seated in MuppetVision.

As usually happens with these big move premieres, the prep work will be messy and take days to set up and it might be best to avoid DCA entirely from June 19th through the 22nd, unless you want to see the red carpet arrivals on Saturday afternoon. Even then, space for red carpet viewing will be very limited, most of DCA will close early that day, and they’ll reopen the old backstage park entrance behind Soarin’ that had been used for a year before Buena Vista Street construction was completed.

THIRD TIME A CHARM?

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Once the movie premiere is cleaned up by Monday the 24th, it’s onward toward the usual busy summer vacation months for Anaheim. But in early August the entire Walt Disney Company’s attention will focus back on Anaheim again as the next D23 Expo kicks off in the Anaheim convention center. The Expo will continue with a similar format, although organizers are promising they’ve heard the complaints about long lines and sold out venues and will respond with bigger auditoriums and more efficient crowd control. The Burbank planners are promising to get it right this time. At 1.1 Million square feet, the Anaheim Convention Center is the largest convention facility on the West Coast and most of the Expo venues have the ability to be expanded easily if Disney wants to pay for additional square footage.

Burbank bosses have given fresh scrutiny to the entire D23 business plan, and if the 2013 D23 Expo doesn’t pull in solid numbers and strong buzz for the company it could be the last Expo, at least in this massive Anaheim format. The ugly visuals of long lines and the prospect of the company’s most devoted fans Tweeting complaints each day about over-booked auditoriums and sold-out sessions doesn’t help D23’s case. D23’s planners would be smart to tap into all the professional expertise sitting across the street at Disneyland, where the operations teams there have decades of experience working with huge crowds and long lines and keeping them reasonably happy.

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Of course, any complaints about the Expo can be mitigated by a few big announcements of major new attractions coming to the theme parks. That’s the stuff that really creates the biggest buzz out of D23 Expo, and the rather lackluster theme park announcements from the 2011 Expo didn’t impress too many fans and left them focused on the Expo’s shortcomings. This D23 Expo could offer up several big E Ticket announcements for both Anaheim and Orlando. We’ve told you about the plans for a Monsters Inc. door coaster for DCA, turning the existing Hollywood Studios sub-land at DCA into a Monstropolis land. And there’s also the Tomorrowland reboot for Disneyland that has moved from the front burner to the back burner so many times we’ve lost count. Add to those Anaheim projects the three possible scenarios to give Disney’s Hollywood Studios at WDW a DCA-style makeover; varying from DCA’s big budget of 1+ Billion to a much more modestly budgeted makeover that still has Team Disney Orlando feeling gun shy, and there’s several big E-Ticket announcements that could be made at D23 Expo this year.

But then there’s also several smaller projects, all makeovers to existing attractions that are quickly gaining favor to beef up the plans for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary in 2015. The first project is a remake of Soarin’ Over California for DCA, with the original film switching to a digital HD format and taking off for entirely new destinations. With a current working title of “Soarin’ The World”, the new footage will be filmed over some of the planet’s most famous icons and was originally set to debut first in Shanghai Disneyland’s Adventureland section in late 2015, with a clone going in to Tokyo DisneySea’s Port Discovery section. But now the plan is to take the basic world-tour concept to the other existing Soarin’ attractions in Anaheim and Orlando. And for Anaheim, they’d film a new ending segment that would have the theater end their world tour with a new HD flyover of both DCA and Disneyland.

The date for this new Soarin’ filming has already been chosen, in order to secure the proper permits and assure that the Resort looks its best from the air. On the evening of March 12th, 2014, Imagineering will fly an HD Omnimax camera in a helicopter over and around the Resort area for several hours capturing the best nighttime shots for the attraction’s new finale’. The re-launched Soarin’ The World would then debut in 2015 as part of the Anaheim properties 60th Anniversary. The new ride film would also allow WDI to go in and re-theme the Soarin’ building and surrounding Condor Flats section of DCA to the same vintage timeframe that nearby Grizzly River Run received last year. While the new film would also be installed for the Epcot version, the contemporary airport theme of the Florida version would remain the same.

But it wouldn’t just be DCA getting refreshed rides for Disneyland’s birthday. The one project that has been delayed and rethought multiple times in the last three years, fixing the outdoor track at Alice In Wonderland, has spawned an even bigger idea. The replacement of the track at Alice In Wonderland is back on again, and a shorter and wider track that hugs the building more and is completely up to fall-protection standards would be installed this winter. Alice is tentatively slated to close in January, 2014 and then reopen by late May with a new track.

But the plan to fix Alice that had been debated in both TDA and at WDI for the past several years brought attention to all of Fantasyland’s five classic dark rides. While they were all rebuilt for the New Fantasyland in 1983, and have received several nice technology upgrades over the last decade, they are still showing their age. The likely proposal now has Disneyland closing each dark ride for several months throughout 2014 and early ’15, starting with Alice, while installing upgraded animatronics, lighting and audio, plus all-new digital special effects. The result would be the classic Disney dark ride reborn for the 21st century, marketed to celebrate Disneyland’s 60th.

Only Disneyland has the entire library of classic Walt-era dark rides, with eight dark rides total in both DCA and Disneyland, five of them packed in together in central Fantasyland. The rest of Disney’s magic kingdoms around the world only have one or two classic dark rides left, and the Orlando versions in particular are not in good shape cosmetically. Anaheim has taken loving care of their Fantasyland dark rides, especially with the small tech upgrades of recent years, but both WDI and TDA feel that they are looking quite dated to modern audiences and are coasting on fumes of nostalgia.

The project to fix Alice In Wonderland’s outdoor track will happen regardless, but if the plan to cosmetically upgrade every other Fantasyland dark ride gets the green light this summer, it could be one of the featured announcements at D23 Expo. And if Disney’s marketing team can find a way to flog minor things like new ear hats or a new dessert menu as a reason to visit the park under the lame “Limited Time Magic” banner, then surely they could play up sparkling refreshes of famous and beloved Walt-era dark rides as a decent 60th Anniversary campaign. Along with new fireworks and a parade, of course.

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OH-KAY!  That should do it for this week.  Are you looking forward to the D23 Expo? Would a refreshed and updated Fantasyland be a good draw? Would you pay $1,000 to sit in an overflow theater for a movie premiere?  See you all soon!