Disneyland has just finished another very successful Halloween Time season, with sell-out crowds for Mickey’s Halloween Parties and peak hotel occupancy keeping the parks jammed with locals and tourists alike. There will be two short weeks of “off season” while the Resort decorators rush to install all the Christmas trimmings before the holiday season officially kicks off Friday, November 14th. There are still many things Disney hasn’t announced yet, and in this update we’ll fill you in on how those projects are coming along and tell you what changes are coming to the Resort sooner than later.
Looking a year out, Michael Colglazier has tasked TDA’s planners to find a way to add an additional two weeks of Halloween parties to the 2015 fall calendar. In 2014 nearly every party sold out, often months in advance, and there were a lot of people still trying to buy tickets who were turned away at the ticket booths and hotel lobbies the day of the events. Expect to see an extra couple weeks of parties added to the September calendar next year, and perhaps an extra few parties added in the last few weeks in October.
But here in 2014, the biggest project TDA is currently working on is the frantic rush to get the Frozen initiative off the ground and opened by the very unusual opening date of Saturday, December 20th. We’ve told you in previous updates all that the Frozen plans entail, and why TDA is purposely waiting until the Annual Pass blockouts kick in for the Christmas weeks before debuting DCA’s new Frozen offerings.
The first signs of Frozen’s imminent arrival showed up this weekend with the sudden closure of MuppetVision. The theater will remain closed for seven weeks while they work to install a full performance stage over the animatronic penguin orchestra and dress the entire facility in wintry décor. MuppetVision has struggled as the least attended 3D show at the Resort, and the 575 seat theater has been under-utilized literally since the show opened at DCA back in 2001. MuppetVision routinely plays to just a few dozen people per show, and with more than a half dozen daily Frozen stage shows planned for the facility, the 575 seat capacity will likely fill up quickly and easily outstrip the average daily attendance at MuppetVision that’s often only 1,500 people or less. If the broader Frozen offerings prove popular, it’s the stage show that has the most chance of being extended past its planned May 3rd end date.
When TDA has secret projects like this, they give them a silly cloak-and-daggers code name in an attempt to keep the concept under wraps. The code name also becomes a status symbol in TDA, as folks rush off to meetings and name drop the code word with coworkers to prove how well connected they are. For example, the plan to bring Starbucks to the parks, another secret project MiceAge was first to break the news on back in 2012, was randomly code named Project Orange.
The Frozen project now has the code name Project Bridge, but that name was chosen specifically. The Frozen additions are thought to be highly marketable, and yet won’t be bundled in with the Resort’s annual Holiday marketing. And with the Frozen offerings wrapping up in early May before the 60th Diamond Celebration kicks off, it’s not going to be connected to the 60th Anniversary either. Instead, Frozen at DCA is considered as the temporary addition that the Resort will use during an aggressive winter rehab schedule to bridge from the busy 2014 holidays to the big 60th celebration in May, 2015. So if you know any TDA suits that mention they’re going to a Project Bridge meeting, you’ll now know what they’re working on and how cool they are. Whatever you call it, don’t expect any public announcement of Frozen until the week after Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, the Imagineers continue to work feverishly on the plans to replace Luigi’s Flying Tires with Luigi’s Festival of the Dance, a dancing car ride built on the existing footprint of the Flying Tires. While the Flying Tires get set to go to Yesterland, the other spinner in Cars Land is about to be cloned around the world. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree has been much more successful than the Flying Tires, and its moderate capacity of over 900 riders per hour and very strong visitor ratings means it’s an attraction concept being shopped around to other Disney resorts by Imagineering.
While the parks in both Shanghai and Tokyo are slated to get their own version of the ride, another clone of Mater’s will also show up in Orlando. A copy of the ride, re-themed to Woody from Toy Story, will be one of three small rides being added to a new Toy Story Playland area, to be built where much of the shuttered Backlot Tram Tour currently is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The plans to directly clone Cars Land for WDW may have died at the hands of Orlando’s accountants, but at least one of the three Cars Land rides will make the trip to Florida, albeit with a different character and theme.
Crowd Flow Fun
As DCA preps all the Frozen stuff to open just days before Christmas, Disneyland will be experimenting with all sorts of new crowd control tactics this winter in preparation for all the major new entertainment coming for the 60th anniversary. The new backstage alleys, or “guest flow corridors” in Disneyspeak, are completed and now ready to be opened on the busiest days to alleviate gridlock on Main Street USA. You can expect the crowd control strategy on Main Street USA and around the Hub to change several times in the months ahead, as the operations teams test out different techniques and timing for the new corridors.
Fantasmic Fast Pass?
But the biggest change to Disneyland’s crowd control processes will be coming to Fantasmic!, as Vice President Mary Niven has tasked her Disneyland team to create and implement a Fastpass strategy for the Fantasmic! viewing area. And the sooner the better, according to Mary.
The plans are in their early stages, and very fluid at this point, but right now there are several unique ideas being thrown around. Instead of having one dedicated ticket distribution area, like the under-used Haunted Mansion Fastpass machines or the abandoned Splash Mountain Fastpass area near the Haunted Mansion used from 2003 to 2007, there’s a thought that they could decentralize and take over one machine from every Fastpass distribution area in the park and turn it into a Fantasmic! machine. This would spread out the crowds and allow people to pull a Fantasmic! ticket almost anywhere in the park. (That’s an idea that could also be used at DCA for World of Color tickets.)
There are plenty of logistical hurdles to jump as well, and right now they are up to at least 16 different assigned sections for ticket holders in the viewing area, compared to just the four sections that World of Color distributes tickets for. The staging area for thousands of people waiting to be let in to their various sections is also a huge concern. There would also be a massive education process to work through for both park guests and Cast Members, as Fantasmic! has been running in its current open viewing format for over 20 years. Remember that World of Color was an entirely new concept with a custom built amphitheater when it debuted with Fastpass in 2010, so the learning curve on Fastpass went very quickly.
There will be a lot of confusion initially over implementing Fastpass at Fantasmic!, but right now it’s a concept that is going full steam ahead with Mary’s team. Remember that when Mary Niven was at DCA she allowed her team to come up with the Fastpass concept for World of Color, as it was an idea that had never been attempted for major entertainment at a Disney park. That original brainstorming also invented Glow Fest as a way to entertain waiting Fastpass ticket holders, which then created a very lucrative new business model for glowy cocktails and wildly popular nightly dance parties that now continue indefinitely at DCA. So who knows what new ideas and park offerings may spring out of the current brainstorming to add Fastpass to Fantasmic! at Disneyland?
One thing is certain, they’ll be getting a lot of practice with Fantasmic! Fastpass this winter. Once World of Color closes on January 7th, 2015 for a major refurbishment and creative reboot, Fantasmic! will perform seven nights a week this winter and into spring. Fantasmic! has never been a nightly offering on off-season weekdays, but Mary Niven has convinced TDA that World of Color has now set a precedence for nightly spectaculars even on slow winter weekdays. The nightly crowds this winter will shift to Disneyland as the operations teams get all sorts of practice fine tuning their Fastpass strategy before the really big new entertainment arrives next May for the 60th Diamond Celebration.
DAS a New One
As if all that isn’t keeping the parks Cast Members busy enough in what used to be a slow season, another important initiative is being rolled out just before Thanksgiving. The plan to roll out an electronic version of the Disability Access Service (DAS) cards begins later this week, with a go-live date of November 19th. Instead of a paper card filled in by hand at Guest Relations kiosks around the park, the new DAS system will be electronic and linked to your park ticket or Annual Pass.
Guest Relations Cast Members with handheld scanner tablets at the kiosks will assign an entry time to every park ticket linked to the DAS ticket holder, and then Attractions Cast Members at the receiving attraction will scan each park ticket and confirm on their tablet that those guests are allowed to enter at that time. Once the tickets have been scanned at the attraction, the system would then allow the visitors to return to a kiosk for the next DAS attraction time.
The goal here is to eliminate the widespread DAS fraud and abuse that has increased dramatically at the Anaheim parks. The DAS system at WDW is seeing smaller levels of abuse and fraud, but the problems are rampant and at their most blatant in Anaheim. The new electronic version will force all DAS holders to declare in advance the exact people who are in their party, and then all of those people will have their ticket or AP electronically linked by Guest Relations to the person who has the DAS privileges. Each park ticket or AP will only be allowed to be linked to one DAS ticket holder at a time, thus eliminating the growing practice of families or groups of friends collecting multiple DAS cards and then rounding up multiple ride entries at a time for the entire group.
The electronic format will also prevent the growing practice of altering or writing in your own return times on the paper cards, and forging the stamps and code words used by Guest Relations on those cards. The rubber stamps themselves have even been stolen from the kiosks many times in recent months. The electronic DAS format is designed to put an end to that fraud and establish tighter control over the system. The separate Make-A-Wish program that allows instant access to attractions won’t be changed.
Okay, that just about wraps things up for this update. Are you ready for the Hollywood Pictures Backlot to freeze over this winter? Are the upcoming changes to DAS at good thing? Will Fantasmic Fastpasses help our hinder your viewing of the show? Let us know your thoughts below.