The post-summer off season of low crowds at Disneyland Resort lasted only two weeks, and after the crazy Friday the 13th Villains event Disneyland has crashed into its wildly popular HalloweenTime season before it shifts almost immediately into Christmas mode in early November. While Team Disney Anaheim keeps their cards close to their vest on Burbank’s orders regarding big new rides about to begin construction in DCA and Tomorrowland, there are still some big changes coming to the parks in the next month. In this update we’ll fill you in on what’s ahead this fall, why there are only three more weeks to use a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) in the American parks, and why TDA is suddenly fine tuning their Resort parking strategy.
Got that freshly spun tuft of candy corn colored cotton candy in your sticky hands? Have your Pumpkin Spice Latte poured? Then let’s get this Disneyland update started. . .
The Good, The Bad, and the Unlucky
Before we tell you about the termination of the Guest Assistance Card program, it seems appropriate to fill in a bit on the backstory behind that overcrowded Friday the 13th event last Friday night. The concept was dreamed up by the One Disney marketing team as a bi-coastal Limited Time Magic offering. At Disneyland it also coincided with the first day of Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, which is historically a very busy Friday evening anyway as the Annual Passholders all flood in after work to check out the seasonal overlays. Each property was allowed some leeway in what they could do, and the Disneyland entertainment team landed on the two dance parties and as many Villains characters in the park as they could find CM’s to staff properly. Ladle this concept with the usual marketing hype and a 1:00AM closing time for Disneyland, and judging by the online reviews people either loved it (Villains!) or hated it (Crowds!).
Disneyland Resort got hammered by those crowds on Friday evening, with the attendance at both parks basically tripling in size between mid afternoon and late evening. Between 10:00PM and Midnight alone, an additional 5,000 Annual Passholders arrived at Disneyland after fighting late night traffic around Anaheim and finally finding a parking space at the GardenWalk mall. The numbers for that day tell the story:
Disneyland Attendance on Friday the 13th
55,000 Total Guests, of whom 36,000 were Annual Passholders
Disney California Adventure Attendance on Friday the 13th
30,000 Total Guests, of whom 19,000 were Annual Passholders
Total Resort Attendance
85,000 Total Guests, of whom 55,000 were Annual Passholders
Compared to an average busy summer day six weeks ago, when an 80,000 combined attendance was average but only 12,000 of those are Annual Passholders due to summer blockouts, the Friday night frenzy caused by Annual Passholders is a uniquely off-season phenomenon.
In TDA’s defense, they pulled out every trick they had to get as much parking as was available and to keep off-duty CMs away. Earlier this summer TDA made Friday the 13th a blockout day for Cast Member sign-in passes, and Disneyland’s parking team went into the event planning for New Years Eve crowds with every tram and bus and satellite parking lot they have pressed into service and staffed to the max, with extra Anaheim traffic cops staffed at TDA’s expense at major intersections.
But out at Walt Disney Worlnd, the TDO team failed to think of blocking Cast Member passes and they had a parking strategy that was based on just an average busy weekend. The result in WDW was that thousands of Cast Members and their families descended on Hollywood Studios to get in for free, and the parking situation and traffic logistics quickly fell apart at the seams. TDO’s lack of logistics planning needs to take a lot of the blame for this one, and it doesn’t help that via “The Hub” intranet website they continually encourage Florida Cast Members to return to property on their day off by touting free park admission and discounted recreational activities on WDW property. Whereas in Anaheim, TDA rarely encourages CM’s to come back to Resort property on their off time and instead touts CM discounts at the much wider range of cultural and entertainment options throughout Southern California.
One thing that the WDW team did right was to keep the executives in the parks and let them experience the madness first hand. DHS Vice President Dan Cockerell was in the park the whole night watching the drama unfold, and he pitched in with Guest Relations to personally take complaints and help where he could. It is executives sticking around on a Friday night to see the mess their team caused that can prevent this from happening again.
Contrast that to Disneyland, where most executives left last Friday evening and went home, missing the overcrowded park venues and gridlocked surface streets and backed up freeway off ramps that usually play out on Friday evenings. The TDA executives routinely rely on daily reports from lower level park duty managers to summarize the operation, and the summaries provided last Friday were quick to puff up the positives, ignore the negatives, and gloss over the hassles and massive lines that most park guests encountered. It’s a classic case of corporate C.Y.A., and it would be a refreshing change if these reports from Anaheim’s middle management were honest and clear in their assessment of the huge hassles and long lines created by these events. Or better yet, just have a Vice President or two stick around to try and exit the Santa Ana Freeway at 6:00PM on a Friday night and then fight for a parking spot. (Those Gold Sticker spaces reserved for executives behind Rainforest Café would be off limits in that experiment.)
DAS all Folks!
With HalloweenTime now kicked off, it’s onward to the next bit of drama set to play out inside the parks in both California and Florida. The existing Guest Assistance Card (GAC) program is set to be discontinued and replaced with a new system on Wednesday, October 9th at Disneyland and DCA. As we’ve outlined for you before, after years of revolving door executives not wanting to get near the GAC issue, the rampant fraud inherent in the 10 year old GAC program was brought to an embarrassing light via an expose on The Today Show last May. Only then did the executives on both coasts admit that something finally had to be done, and the existing Guest Assistance Card will cease to exist on October 9th.
In its place will be an entirely new program called the Disabled Assistance System (DAS). The DAS will work similarly to the “return passes” issued at popular rides like Star Tours 2.0 and Radiator Springs Racers, where currently a GAC holder gets a Fastpass-style return time hand written on a card based on the current Standby wait time. But with DAS, that concept will be rolled out to several dozen high-wait attractions in Anaheim. Instead of going to the actual ride to get a return card, a DAS holder will report to one of several Guest Relations kiosks that will be set up around the parks, with a current plan to have four kiosks in Disneyland (Fantasyland alone gets their own kiosk) and three kiosks in DCA. The DAS holder will present their card and tell the Guest Relations CM which attraction they want to ride, the CM will look at the current wait time via the official Disney Mobile Magic app on an iPad, and will then write out a return time for that attraction and subtract 10 or 15 minutes to make up for the travel time to and from the kiosk.
Only one ride reservation on a DAS card can be made at a time, so if the current wait for Space Mountain is 90 minutes and your return time is written for 75 minutes later, a DAS holder will not get another return time printed on their DAS until the first one has expired. A person with a DAS card could go and do anything else in the park in the meantime; watch a parade, see a show, have lunch, go on low-wait time attractions, pull a regular Fastpass for any other attraction, etc. But only one ride time can be reserved at a time with DAS, unlike the existing GAC which serves as basically an open Fastpass for any Fastpass lane in the park or an access card to go up the exit on any other type of attraction. The DAS changes that quite dramatically.
The DAS cards will be issued only at Guest Relations offices in both parks, and the DAS kiosks are only for checking in for a specific ride. There will be no different stamps on the DAS like the current GAC with its half dozen stamp codes; you will either be issued a DAS or you will be instructed to use a wheelchair or other aid for your mobility issue. DAS will only be issued for one day at a time, although folks who can prove they are staying at a hotel for a few days could get a DAS dated for a short length of stay.
The person who is disabled and who has the DAS issued to them will also have their digital photo taken at Guest Relations, and the photo will be printed on the front of the DAS card and used by CM’s at the attractions to confirm that the DAS holder is actually going on the ride. The photos will prevent a current form of abuse, whereby one member of a party gets a GAC issued to them but then insists to the CM’s that they don’t want to ride they just want their children or friends to go in through the exit and skip the line while they wait nearby on a bench. Or worse, children or others in the party are coached into telling the CM’s that they are the person listed who was issued the GAC. To use a DAS, the person the DAS is issued to must be present at the kiosk and at the attraction and must go on the ride for the DAS privilege to work for the rest of the party.
There are more radical changes in DCA, where all queues and park facilities meet ADA requirements for wheelchair accessibility. In DCA, a person in a wheelchair or ECV won’t receive any extra courtesies or services beyond those visitors who are not in a wheelchair. People visiting DCA in wheelchairs likely won’t qualify for a DAS, and will now experience the park as everyone else does, including waiting in Standby lines and juggling Fastpass return times. The task of implementing that culture change will be more intense in Anaheim than Orlando as there are currently 55 attractions at Disneyland Resort that use a ride vehicle, and about 35 of those have wheelchair accessible queues. Comparatively, there are a total of 46 attractions at Walt Disney World’s four parks combined that use a ride vehicle, and 38 of those have wheelchair accessible queues. There are more rides overall at Disneyland Resort compared to WDW, and more of them in Anaheim are not wheelchair accessible.
At Disneyland Park there are 20 rides that have been identified as non-wheelchair accessible, and at those 20 rides an accommodation of going through the exit or a Fastpass lane will be offered to those in wheelchairs. A person in a wheelchair doesn’t need a DAS to get access at those attractions, thereby limiting the issuing of DAS cards in that park. Disneyland’s operations teams are studying ways to restore the wheelchair accessibility designed into the queues of some newer rides, like Indiana Jones, to allow a DCA-style equity to exist at as many Disneyland rides as possible. It should be noted that the work implementing DAS, which has had lots of executive involvement from both coasts, has now generated serious discussion in TDA on creating a five-year plan of capital expenditure to go in to those older rides and retrofit them with wheelchair accessible queues. But that’s still a few years away.
The goal behind DAS is to still offer service to those who may need it, but to also eliminate the wild excesses of the GAC system which operated on most days and on most rides as an unlimited Fastpass card and/or a backdoor pass to slip in via the exit with a much shorter wait. The one exception to the DAS program is made for Make-A-Wish children. A new Genie lanyard has been created for Make-A-Wish children that will act like an unlimited Fastpass and instant backdoor access card (basically the same thing as the current GAC with the “green light” stamp on it), and it will be sent to the families just before their visit directly from the Make-A-Wish headquarters in Phoenix. The Make-A-Wish cards won’t be kept on Disney property, at the specific request of Disney to avoid any ability to use that courtesy for anyone other than qualified Make-A-Wish visitors.
Guest Relations and Attractions Cast Members in both parks have already been scheduled classroom training for the DAS program through late September and early October. The Guest Relations team will get the most intensive training day, as they’ll be on the front lines of this new system as they try and reel in expectations of Annual Passholders used to having a GAC with easy access to any ride they wanted. Staffing for Guest Relations is being beefed up as much as possible beginning with roll-out day on Wednesday, October 9th, and the Security department has also been asked to help staff officers in Guest Relations centers in Disneyland and DCA to help with anyone who may get verbally abusive or threaten violence against those Guest Relations CM’s doling out the more restrictive DAS cards.
The real day to watch will be Friday, October 11th, two days after DAS begins and the first day when 25,000+ Annual Passholders show up in the evening. This is going to be ugly for at least a few weeks, everyone agrees on that. It helps that the exact same program is being rolled out at WDW at the same time, and that finally there are several senior executives supporting the program. It will be interesting to see how strong the executives stand behind the DAS program when the inevitable ugly media stories begin showing up on the local news and online, or heaven forbid if the CM’s in the parks really start taking serious verbal or physical abuse.
A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrowland
While October will feature quite a few upset folks in the parks, there’s still good news headed to Anaheim this fall. DCA Vice President Mary Niven has instructed her operations teams to go full speed ahead on their strategizing over WDI’s plans for Monstropolis and the Door Coaster back in the corner of Hollywood Studios, as Burbank bosses have quietly nodded that the check for the new project will clear the bank just as soon as the new fiscal year starts in October. Meanwhile, Disneyland Vice President Jon Storbeck is keeping his strategic planners on the path to a virtual Death Star landing in Tomorrowland, with a two-phase approach still favored to get some of the “placemaking” done prior to the 60th Anniversary in ’15, with the rest opening after the 60th and bookended by the Monstropolis opening in early 2017. The recent “play tests” conducted by WDI in the Golden Horseshoe were an important part of that planning for Tomorrowland, as WDI and Disneyland’s operations teams are curious to see how they can get WDI’s plans for a rowdy night in a Tatooine cantina to work with theme park guests. And you can bet there’s lots of food and drink and merch sales piled on to the fun in that interactive cantina attraction planned for Tomorrowland.
Captain EO is also heading to extinction, but Burbank caught wind of TDA’s plans to close the increasingly irrelevant show for a fake “reburbishment” this month in order to save some labor dollars at the end of the fiscal year. Burbank bosses and an important clique in Glendale’s WDI headquarters want to make the most of their newly acquired Star Wars property, and the parks announcement is a key part of that.
Burbank was upset that if EO was closed for a refurbishment, fans would be able to see what was really its permanent closure in advance of a replacement announcement, and they told TDA to back off and just eat the extra labor hours. So the Captain EO fake refurbishment was shelved, and the show will stay open until the Star Wars plans are announced. Don’t forget, there’s the first D23 Expo Japan being held at Tokyo Disneyland on October 12th thru the 14th, and Tokyo’s Tomorrowland not only has an underused Captain EO show but also has an aesthetic that has been screaming out for an update for over a decade. Bob Iger and Tom Staggs are both scheduled to fly over to Japan for that D23 Expo and make a few announcements about the parks, and perhaps also mention a galaxy far, far away.
But those announcements are still a month out. And in the meantime the current exhibit at the Blue Sky Cellar touting last spring’s debut of the Fantasy Faire is looking more and more useless. The Blue Sky Cellar is currently planned to shut down and go into mothballs with the new fiscal year on October 1st, and then wait until the Monstropolis or Star Wars announcement is made so that WDI can stage a new exhibit there in 2014. Those Guest Relations CM’s that staff the Cellar will be needed elsewhere in October to help roll out the DAS program anyway, but if you are a fan of the Blue Sky Cellar a September visit to get your fix is advisable.
PARKS and Resorts
With the stealthy plans for more Anaheim expansion this decade, TDA has gone back to the drawing board on a parking expansion for the Resort area. The latest news was Disney’s acquisition of a big chunk of property on the corner of Ball Road and Harbor Blvd., as the current site of an old service station and an RV park. The plan is to turn this lot into 1,500 spaces of Cast Member parking, thus opening up breathing room to begin construction on a multi-level parking garage and streetcar station on the existing Pumbaa parking lot. A portion of that Pumbaa lot had to be turned over to Cast Members in early 2012, when the Resort went on a hiring binge in advance of DCA’s grand reopening. There are 1,400 spaces in the Pumbaa lot, and they are now available for CM’s as an alternate to the infamous Katella Cast Member Lot (KCML) south of GardenWalk.
KCML has been in operation since late 1998, and requires CM’s to wait in long lines to take a rag tag fleet of smelly standing-room-only shuttle buses to and from KCML. Although when wait times for the KCML shuttle exceed 20 minutes on peak days, many CM’s just end up walking the 1.5 miles to or from the park anyway. And at least the opening of GardenWalk in ’08 created a bit of a shortcut for them. The experience of KCML parking is so disliked by CM’s, that several thousand CM’s per day now voluntarily park in the Pumbaa lot and then walk a round trip of up to two miles to and from their work locations inside Disneyland or DCA. And these are front line CM’s working in the park on their feet all day, they aren’t walking to and from a cushy desk job.
On busy days this past summer, the 1,400 space Pumbaa lot was often filled to capacity during the first and second shifts. Parking in Pumbaa sends those CM’s trudging back to their car down Harbor Blvd. and side streets late at night after their shifts, but the female CM’s try to walk in groups and have become street savvy to avoid the various panhandlers and con artists that lurk in the shadows there after park closing. But for most park Cast Members that darkened hike at the end of a long day spent on their feet is a better scenario than dealing with the indignity and hassle of the dreaded KCML shuttle.
TDA now realizes they have more CM’s than they know what to do with, but before they can seriously barter with the city of Anaheim over how to best use the Pumbaa lot, and some connected property Disney also owns, they will have to find more CM parking. They are already using small overflow lots across Harbor Blvd. much closer than Pumbaa to park a few hundred white collar Cast Members who work in the original Administration Building inside Disneyland’s berm. But those auxiliary lots are being snapped up by hotel developers, as a new hotel building boom hits the Disneyland Resort District this year and next.
There are currently a dozen new hotels under construction or planned to get underway this winter in the Resort District around Disneyland; from a swanky Westin and Hyatt House on Katella, to a boutique Hotel Indigo, to mid-range motor inns like the Marriott Courtyard about to be built on the current Administration Building parking lot. The unfortunate thing is that the new CM parking structure on Ball Road will be even further from the parks than KCML is, so packed shuttle rides are looming in the future for the CM’s that have escaped to Pumbaa.
MiceChat Podcast: The Great Disney Geek-Out
Doug Barnes and Dusty Sage jump head first into the cave of Disney wonders and return with quite a few gems to share from the recent D23 Expo. But what did Disney do that actually made Dusty cry? It’s a touching moment and a reminder why so many of us are true Disney fans. This show is for the Disney fan in all of you and well worth a listen.
Oh-KAY, that wraps things up for this update. But there is still plenty of news coming soon enough.
Did you survive Friday the 13th in the parks? Have thoughts about the replacement of the GAC program? Looking forward to Tomorrowland updates finally being rolled out?