Today is the last day to use the Guest Assistance Card, a de facto Unlimited Front Of Line pass that Disneyland has been using since 2004. While Disney finally released some basic information around the new DAS Card that replaces it, in this update we’ll fill you in on all the secrets behind the new system and the huge amount of drama that’s been playing out in executive offices in Orlando and Anaheim. We’ll also discuss the latest changes to the plan to give Tomorrowland a heavy dose of Star Wars.
Kick up your fuzzy bunny slippers and hold on tight to your pumpkin spice latte, because this is going to be a wild, and only partially accessible ride. . .
DAS is the New GAC
We’ve been covering the coming demise of the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) since we broke the story in early summer that Disney execs were horrified over the embarrassing expose’ of the issue on The Today Show back on May 31st. The New York Post covered the story first at Disney World earlier in May, but Orlando execs felt the issue was contained to East Coast traditional media and not worth doing any major damage control over. But when The Today Show, and less savory news programs like Inside Edition, showed undercover footage of the rampant abuse taking place daily at Disneyland, the Burbank bosses got clued in to the issue and execs in both Anaheim and Orlando suddenly scrambled to fix the problem. Local theme park managers on both coasts had been complaining for years that the GAC was a broken system filled with growing fraud, but no executive wanted to risk career suicide by taking on disabled children and their protective mothers and so the pleas for help from local management went unanswered for years. The Today Show changed all that, and now the issue is so high profile that executives on both coasts have quickly jumped on the DAS ship to boost their office image. Their managers can only roll their eyes and smile bravely at these newly interested executives.
The outcome of all this is the new Disability Access Service, or DAS, which is an acronym that has gone through a few wording changes in the last month and replaces the GAC system entirely. The exact phrasing on the DAS card was chosen purposely, to stress that this is a card specifically for disabled people to access a facility, rather than just “guests” receiving “assistance” as the old GAC stated. The DAS card has several security features built in, most notably a color photo of the card holder and a QR code that will instantly identify the user and their history in the parks. The DAS card also has “Terms and Conditions” sternly worded on it, and all DAS holders must sign and date the card to acknowledge they’ve read those conditions and agree to abide by them.
It’s hoped that the photo and information attached to the card will also weed out a growing group of fraudsters in Anaheim; otherwise healthy Cast Members or Disney employees from Burbank who have figured out the GAC was their golden ticket on top of the free admission passes they already receive. The QR code on the DAS can also be used via internal communication to alert a Disney employee’s supervisor of a potential disability that may put them at a health risk on the job, assuming that employee hasn’t already made their supervisor aware of the disability.
On the back of the card is a spreadsheet with space for 40 attractions, where Guest Relations CM’s at kiosks around the park will issue boarding times for high-wait rides based on the current Standby wait at the attraction. Kiosks will be placed around both Disneyland Resort parks, and any member of the party can go to a kiosk and get a boarding time for any ride in either park. The disabled member of the party does not need to be present at the kiosk to get a boarding time, so Dad can run junior’s DAS card to the kiosk in New Orleans Square after riding Splash Mountain and get a new boarding time for Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. But when it comes time to enter Racers via the Fastpass queue, the person the DAS is issued to must be present and must ride the attraction for the card to be honored. Only one boarding time can be issued at a time, and while they won’t allow you to use the boarding time early, unlike a Fastpass window there is no limit to how late you can be. But to get the next DAS boarding time, the current boarding time must have lapsed and that ride have been lined out by the CM’s at the ride. A spot on the DAS card will be used for a daily CM code word to start, while they await the arrival of infinitely variable ink stamps to use as another fraud prevention tactic.
The DAS program will work differently at WDW, where instead of kiosks staffed by Guest Relations the CM’s at the attractions themselves will administer and manage the boarding times given for each ride. The reason for most of the major differences between WDW and Disneyland is due to some shocking statistics that were compiled on GAC usage at the two properties earlier this year. While DCA heads towards an annual attendance this year of over 10 Million people, with the wild success of Cars Land holding steady after its first full year, Disneyland continues to pull in close to 15 Million per year for a total of 25 Million annual visitors to the Anaheim property. And at Walt Disney World, the combined attendance for all four theme parks per year is holding steady at 48 Million annual visitors. So you would think that almost twice as many GAC passes would be issued at Walt Disney World, right? Wrong.
On recent autumn Fridays, as attendance at both Disneyland and DCA quickly swells by 30,000 or more after 5:00 p.m. when the local Annual Passholders get off work, TDA asked Guest Relations to compile statistics on how many GAC passes were issued daily now that GACs were no longer being issued for months at a time. Meanwhile, Team Disney Orlando staff were compiling the same types of statistics on GAC passes issued out of the four WDW parks on their typical busy days. The answer was shocking to the execs in TDA, but not at all surprising to the Guest Relations CM’s who crank out hundreds of passes per hour from the desks at City Hall and Chamber of Commerce. On the average Friday in autumn, when few if any Annual Passholder blockouts are in effect, the Disneyland Resort was issuing just over 2,000 GAC passes per day, roughly split evenly between Disneyland’s City Hall and DCA’s Chamber of Commerce. On similarly busy days at Walt Disney World, the four theme parks combined were issuing just 250 GAC passes, with about 100 passes going out of Magic Kingdom’s City Hall daily, and the remaining 150 passes split between the Guest Relations offices in Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Since the average GAC in Anaheim is valid for 5 people, that means that 10,000 people out of an average Friday’s combined two-park attendance of 75,000 visitors is roaming the parks using a GAC to enter any Fastpass lane or ride exit they want with no questions asked. Assuming the average GAC party boarded 3 E Ticket rides during a four hour Friday evening visit, that’s 30,000 Fastpasses per day that couldn’t be issued to the tourists who got to the park much earlier in the morning. (No wonder the Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers are gone within two hours every morning) Out at WDW, barely 1,500 people using a GAC were creating vastly less impact spread amongst the 150,000 visitors roaming the four parks of Walt Disney World on a typical day.
The same type of GAC impact is repeated in Anaheim on Sundays, when few AP blockouts exist and the parks swell with 75,000 people from late morning through early evening. In short, the purely statistical take away was that the GAC problem in Anaheim was driven largely by Annual Passholders, and to a growing extent by Disney employees, and the Anaheim parks deal with a much higher percentage of visitors accessing attractions using a GAC than the WDW parks do.
Using those shocking statistics, which had TDA executives first wondering if the numbers were in error (they weren’t, and the tracking continued for weeks), it was quickly decided that the DAS program in Anaheim must be applied and policed throughout the process by Guest Relations CM’s. The other deciding factor was that Disneyland’s Fantasyland has twice as many rides as Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland, and at Disneyland none of them have Fastpass and most queues aren’t wheelchair accessible, where at Magic Kingdom even basic spinners like Dumbo and Teacups now have wheelchair accessible Fastpass queues. Disneyland’s Fantasyland will have its own DAS kiosk to help manage entry to the five different dark rides, three spinners, two big E Tickets, the various Princess meet n’ greets, and the 1950’s era Storybookland Canal Boats and Casey Jr. Circus Train.
What will prove to be very challenging the first few weeks is issuing hundreds of DAS cards per day. The new reservation concept will take some explaining, the terms and conditions must be gone over and agreed to by each DAS holder, and then a photo must be taken and the info attached electronically to the persons Annual Pass account or ticket. The DAS cards will only be valid for a maximum of 7 days in Anaheim (14 days in Orlando), but once an Annual Passholder is in the system on future visits the QR code can be scanned on the old DAS and a new one printed out quickly.
Because of the increased transaction time a DAS card takes, lines are expected to be epic at Guest Relations, especially this upcoming Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. To combat that, every Guest Relations CM is working overtime for the next few weeks and a “task force” of TDA managers has been enlisted to roam the parks the first two weeks helping with problems. It goes without saying that it’s expected there will be quite a lot of upset people at first, especially this Friday night and Sunday afternoon, and Disneyland’s Security team has also quietly beefed up staffing to wait in the wings at Guest Relations in case things get out of hand with a specific person or group.
The other bit of drama is also expected to play out primarily at California Adventure, where every line and facility was designed to be wheelchair accessible. Effective with the DAS rollout, being in a wheelchair or ECV while in DCA no longer means you can use the Fastpass lane. If you are in a wheelchair and want to go on Soarin’ Over California, you either need to get a Fastpass or wait in the Standby line, no exceptions. If a person in a wheelchair also has a DAS, then that can be used to access Fastpass in DCA using the DAS procedure. A few newer attractions at Disneyland with wheelchair accessible queues, like Star Tours and Winnie The Pooh, will also play by this rule. But it’s at fully accessible DCA where it will be a blanket policy. The DAS card will also be harder to get from Guest Relations than the GAC was, as they are using a new set of questions to weed out those with anxiety or stamina issues, which would trigger the instruction to use a wheelchair or cane, or to plan the day in advance using Fastpass.
This is obviously a huge change, and it didn’t help that the story got away from Disney once it leaked on the Internet. North American parks chief Meg Crofton attempted to gain some goodwill by releasing a letter last month to amateur Disney bloggers who use the GAC program primarily for their autistic children. It’s important to remember however that Meg Crofton didn’t actually write the letter at her kitchen table, but that it was crafted anonymously in an office cubicle by TDO’s Executive Communications team and Meg simply reviewed it and approved its use. The result of this fake olive branch extended to the bloggers was not constructive however, as most bloggers took even more offense to the sterile corporate letter than they did to the leaking info on the Internet. The TDO team was reported to be dismayed at how poorly the letter was received, but instead of backing off they continued with the plan by the Communications team and quietly released the letter again last Friday afternoon with some DAS info on the Disney Parks Blog in a stereotypical Friday afternoon bad news dump. They just don’t seem to understand how sterile and tone deaf they appear out there in Team Disney Orlando’s cubicle farms and executive offices.
Back in Anaheim, thousands of Guest Relations and Attractions CM’s have now all had hours of classroom training on the new DAS program. The executive teams on both coasts have had daily conference calls on the rollout plans. And staffing at Guest Relations, Security and Attractions has been boosted through at least the first weekend of DAS. They’ve spent a huge amount of money, energy and human capital to get this rolling, and wise observers are now simply wondering how strong the executive team will stand behind the DAS program once the complaints start rolling in. It should be remembered that the GAC program started the same way with high hopes and strictly enforced rules back in 2004, to replace the rampant abuse of the Special Assistance Pass that came before it. It didn’t take long before Guest Relations caved in to the complaints and folks figured out the code words to use to get a card, and the GAC program was a sham by the time the 50th Anniversary was wrapping up in 2006.
A New Hope?
While the Disneyland Resort waits anxiously to see how the DAS rollout goes, there’s much happier plans being cooked up for Anaheim for the future. Last week TDA’s executive team held their first regularly scheduled meeting about the 60th Anniversary, as they plot out which new parade and fireworks show and marketing slogan gets chosen for the party in 2015. The 60th is also a bit of a speed bump for Imagineering, who have to figure out how to kick off two major construction projects during that time; Monstropolis at DCA and Star Wars Land at Disneyland.
The Star Wars project for Disneyland’s Tomorrowland has the most logistical hurdles to overcome, as Monstropolis will be able to hide behind construction walls in an otherwise abandoned corner of the park. But the Tomorrowland project will require major reconstruction of existing E Ticket attractions, as things like the permanent moving of the Space Mountain entrance and queue must now be figured out. The aesthetic of most of the land will change to take on the appearance of the Star Wars universe, particularly in the back eastern half of the land.
Disneyland fans will cheer when they learn that the Astro Orbiter will be torn out and removed from its current location at the front of the land, which only served to make that area of the park feel more congested and claustrophobic instead of kinetic and full of energy. The re-Imagineered Rocket Jets spinner is currently planned to land up on top of the Space Mountain Concourse, tying in with a repurposed Starcade upper level next door.
And the old Rocket Jets spinner and PeopleMover platform gets an extreme makeover, as a landing pad in the Star Wars spaceport that forms the loose theme for the new land. And what’s a landing pad without a spaceship, right? The craft that will have landed there won’t be any old spaceship however, but will be the famous Millennium Falcon that will act as an elaborate walk-through attraction and meet ‘n greet location for your favorite Wookie co-pilot. In the shadow of the landing pad is the old Tomorrowland Terrace dining facility, made over into the rowdy Cantina on Tattooine where we’d told you previously that those tests in the Golden Horseshoe last month were for an interactive dining/entertainment concept using the Star Wars universe.
The back of the land is where the big new headliner attraction sits, in the place of the existing Innoventions and Autopia. After abandoning previous attempts to utilize the existing PeopleMover track and loading area, the Innoventions building gets gutted and in its place is the pre-show and boarding area for the new Speeder Bike thrill ride. The majority of the track heads outdoors and to the north, demolishing the Autopia freeways and taking over most of that area for the new ride. The outdoor Speeder Bike course is set on the forest moon of Endor where the Ewoks live, and an Ewok village and walk-through attraction will house dining and shops as the Speeder Bike ride zooms nearby. Imagineering has had dueling proposals for this area; one that retains the 1959 looping course of the Monorail and disguises it amongst the forest, and one that cuts out much of that track and shortens the Monorail route to open up more of the Ewok forest visuals. It should be noted here that Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland has an aging aesthetic with a sprawling and underutilized Autopia attraction taking up space.
If Disney can avoid the worst of the press with the roll-out of DAS, the month of October should be remembered mainly for big announcements of exciting new things coming to Anaheim and Tokyo.
Oh-KAY, that wraps things up for this update. But never fear there’s always more news just around the corner. . . in a galaxy not so very far away or long ago. Does it seem to you that perhaps the boy wizard does in fact still have something to fear from Bob Iger and his legion of Imagineers? What do you think will be the result of the DAS roll-out this week?