Disneyland Resort heads into its 59th full summer season, and the pace of planning and preparation for the 60th anniversary and beyond has become noticeably more intense in the last month. In this update we’ll fill you in on why the Burbank executives have repeatedly been spotted wandering the parks in recent weeks, what that means for the 60th Anniversary and beyond, and how the recent Annual Pass price increases seem to have backfired on TDA.
SPECIAL MICECHAT EVENT JULY 13th – DOWNTOWN DISNEY!
If you are a fan of extinct Southern California theme parks, we have a very special treat for you. Christopher Merrit, theme park designer and author of Knott’s Preserved, is about to release another amazing book on a fascinating part of theme Park history, Pacific Ocean Park.
Meet the amazing authors behind Pacific Ocean Park: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles’ Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier and hear all about this one of a kind Los Angeles destination which has been all but lost to history. The authors will lead us through a colorful presentation about the park, followed by a book signing. As with all of our ESPN Zone events, there will be a fabulous breakfast (yes, there will be plenty of awesome maple pepper bacon).
Seating is limited and will sell out quickly. Be the first to get this book (and at a discount!), meet the authors, and have your very own copy signed.
Tour de Force
Since last fall we’ve been telling you how the financial and operational issues with MyMagic+ out in Florida have put almost all major spending for all American parks into a deep freeze. Then this spring the financial freeze began to thaw, at least for Anaheim, as scaled back plans for the 60th Anniversary and beyond got tentative green lights. In early June, Parks Chief Tom Staggs visited Anaheim for a walking tour of the various locations that have now been moved back into line for funding, and the stops on Tom’s tour will be familiar to our regular readers; Soarin’ Over California for HD and onboard effects upgrades, Paradise Pier for more placemaking theme upgrades, MuppetVision and the Hollywood Backlot area for the delayed Monstropolis project (that’s still simmering), Main Street USA for the backstage bypass alley, Fantasyland for the technical upgrades to the Fantasyland dark rides, New Orleans Square for the expanded Club 33 complex, and Tomorrowland for the latest chapter in the never-ending saga of how to salvage and/or rebuild that troubled land.
But one of the stops on Tom’s parks tour wasn’t technically inside either of the parks, as the group went to the remains of the Timon Parking Lot behind Tower of Terror and Flik’s Fun Fair in DCA. There they looked over the space for a new idea that is rapidly gaining steam within WDI and TDA; a new Marvel Studios themed mini-land shoehorned to the southwest of Tower of Terror as an off-shoot of the existing Hollywood Land area. This would be a narrow strip of studio buildings that piggybacks on the 1930’s old Hollywood feel around the Tower of Terror, where the most popular new Marvel characters would set up shop in a series of meet n’ greets and interactive experiences. There would be no actual ride here, just a series of walk-thru exhibits and a theater space that would give the Innoventions type meet n’ greet experiences a more purposeful home. If this one gets the green light it will be rushed into DCA quickly to give the lucrative and popular Marvel characters a bigger presence inside the Anaheim parks. Although it would obviously strip Innoventions of the only real draw it currently has, and hasten the closure and/or removal of that otherwise ignored Tomorrowland facility.
Diamonds are a Park’s best Friend
Once Tom Staggs gave his blessing to all of those plans, then it was time to get his boss and the Board of Directors down to Anaheim for another walking tour and series of conference room presentations before they gave their financial blessing. That all took place last Tuesday, with Bob Iger and Staggs and Anaheim executives wandering the parks. Iger also went over the proposals for the nostalgia-laden 60th Anniversary, which now include a new Steve Davison night parade for Disneyland, a glitzy new Castle show, new fireworks, an update to World of Color, and lots of diamond décor for what we’d told you will be branded as Disneyland’s Diamond Anniversary Celebration.
The work on the modestly themed backstage alley on the east side of Main Street USA began when the new night parade received initial funding this spring, since the return of nightly parades at Disneyland will require help with the nightly migration of tens of thousands of people from two Fantasmic shows to the anniversary fireworks to two showings of the new night parade. The backstage alley will help, but wish Disneyland’s crowd control team luck with the nightly crush of people leaving Rivers of America hitting the sea of folks waiting on Main Street for parades and fireworks! Perhaps this will also give Mary Niven an excuse to try a Fastpass strategy for Fantasmic! as well? It’s time the Rivers of America blanket brigade, who still camp out hours before showtime, move into the 21st century and just get a Fastpass ticket.
TDA has had another ongoing issue they’ve been grappling with; the surging demand for Annual Passes and the crippling blow they give to the Resort on Friday nights and Sundays. While the news of increased prices and a suspension of the Southern California resident level of passes back in May was met with the typical criticism online, the reality at the ticket booths in the weeks following the change was the opposite. Instead of seeing the slight decrease in renewals and sales that TDA was hoping for, in the three weeks following the change there was actually a big jump in AP sales for both renewals and first time buyers. And in June the Disneyland ticket booths set an all-time high sales record for Annual Passes, with many Southern California residents trading up to the Deluxe level.
This sales surge continued right up until June 26th, when the SoCal and SoCal Select levels became blocked out for the summer. TDA planners ran the numbers each week through June and were horrified to learn that the price increase and sales suspension didn’t decrease the numbers of AP’s, and in fact there are now a record high number of Annual Passholders who still have access to the parks on Sundays and Fridays when the Resort can least handle them all. The cancellation of blockout tickets also now seems a moot point, as more APs don’t need them to visit on weekends or holidays now with their Deluxe and Premium passes. The numbers went from around 950,000 APs earlier this year, to 990,000 by the end of June. And this was all during an off year when nothing new was opening or debuting in either park! The incredible entertainment value of a Disneyland Resort Annual Pass is obviously understood by Southern Californians, even with a price hike and a sales freeze.
TDA will continue to watch the surging renewal rates of the Deluxe and Premium levels over the summer, and then watch the renewal rates of the lower levels intently when they return this September to see if this baffling trend holds out. As it stands now, the whole plan to scale back the number of APs backfired on TDA and they have more APs now than they did in May before the price hikes. And even more of them can now get in on Sunday or Friday, the days when the Resort’s parking infrastructure can’t handle the crush.
There is some recent good news for parking, however. TDA has been working quietly to purchase additional land around the Resort, and for the most part they have been very successful. In a quiet transaction through a third party, Disney now owns the property directly to the north of the Pumbaa parking lot, which houses a business park currently home to a large US Immigration and Customs office. Now that this land is in Disney’s portfolio, they can move ahead on a joint project with the city of Anaheim to level that business park and combine it with the Pumbaa lot to build a large parking structure. The new structure would share its ground floor footprint with Anaheim’s planned streetcar tracks, a streetcar maintenance facility, and a streetcar station connected to Harbor Blvd., where the Park Vue Inn and IHOP currently stand. As TDA pieced together this land purchase, and a few others around the Toy Story lot over the last few months, they now have the extra land needed to rethink their current parking strategy for both visitors and Cast Members and build a larger complex of parking and transportation infrastructure, adding upwards of 10,000 spaces to their inventory within a few years.
But for now Disneyland’s summer season will barrel along made up primarily of tourists, while Saturday will be the least busy day of the week through August because all but the Premium passes are blocked out that day. If you are planning a summer visit to the Resort, take advantage of at least one Saturday to hit the parks as that is always the least crowded day of the week.
This upcoming Independence Day weekend will also be very lightly attended inside the parks due to AP and Cast Member blockouts, while Downtown Disney, the parking lots and the surrounding surface streets will be a complete zoo on the evening of the 4th as locals pour into the area to catch the free fireworks show from outside the berm. But inside the parks it will look like a slower weekday of yesteryear this weekend, at least before everyone crowds onto Main Street USA at fireworks time, and this weekend at Disneyland will be an enjoyably patriotic way to celebrate Independence Day.
Oh-KAY, that wraps things up for this update. Let us know your thoughts on the proposed mini-Marvel land at Disney California Adventure and what you would like to see Disney do about the unsustainable number of Annual Passholders.