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For the overworked and stressed out Cast Members at the Disneyland Resort and at its hotels, the holiday season came to a merciful end this past weekend, but not without a final push of tens of thousands of AP's backing up the exits of the Santa Ana Freeway on Sunday afternoon. Disneyland is going into winter hibernation mode this week with plenty of attraction rehabs and closures, while usually quiet DCA ramps up with big new construction projects and round-the-clock testing of the World of Color infrastructure.

In this update we'll fill you in on how those huge crowds are changing Disneyland's future, how 2010 is going to be a pivotal year of change for DCA, and of course some of the latest gossip from inside the Team Disney Anaheim building. Did you throw away that re-gifted fruitcake yet? Have that last brew of the Christmas Blend poured now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al

The Gift That Keeps Giving

We'll start with a wrap up of Disneyland's crazy Christmas season, which saw the highest numbers of people inside the park of the decade. It's no secret that Disneyland has become a must-see destination for millions of Southern Californians at Christmas. Over a decade of adding and plussing and perfecting the Christmas themed attractions, entertainment, and décor all around the park have left Disneyland with a legacy of holiday offerings of all shapes and sizes that no other Disney theme park can touch, not even Tokyo Disneyland.

The result is famously huge crowds, and this year was no different. The two weeks around Christmas and New Years were the wildest, and the average daily attendance at Disneyland swelled to over 65,000 per day. The managers running the main entrance had to cut off ticket sales almost daily, and DCA got a nice bump of around 5,000 extra visitors per day due to Disneyland being "sold out" daily, bringing the DCA numbers to around 20,000 per day. It helped that George Kalogridis as the new President was out walking both parks routinely this busy holiday season, even in the middle of the nighttime New Years Eve madness. It's amazing what you can learn when you leave your office, and George obviously understands that.

With almost all of the Annual Passholders blocked out in late December, the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) executives pushed the limit of people allowed inside the park at any one time from the previous cutoff of around 45,000, and instead let that in-park number float just above 50,000 repeatedly for several hours per day during the week between Christmas and New Years. The thinking behind that higher in-park number was that Disneyland's attraction and entertainment roster has never been fuller or working more efficiently and they should try to push the envelope on how many people they can fit.

The other factor was the daily cash register tallies, as casual tourists and day trippers spend a great deal more money per person on food and souvenirs than the average Annual Passholder who visits once a month or more. On New Year's Eve, TDA gave the go-ahead to try a novel new approach to ticket sales, when just after Noon they shut down ticket sales to Disneyland, but gave anyone willing to spend the entire day in DCA a free ticket to return to Disneyland later in January.

DCA stepped in to its usual role as humble consolation prize to an overcrowded Disneyland quite nicely, as TDA purposely tried to beef up the New Years Eve entertainment and festivity at DCA this year. You have to wonder what Mary Niven thought when she saw that the Entertainment Department had signs christening the park "Club DCA" for New Years Eve, after she'd spent the past few months lecturing her managers to banish that easy acronym and only call the park Disney's California Adventure.

Regardless of what you call the place, thousands of people heading to Disneyland took TDA up on that New Years Eve ticket offer, and settled for a far less crowded DCA instead (and that park's liquor license). The end result was that the Disneyland Resort capped off an already successful year with one of the most profitable Christmas seasons ever. When the 2009 theme park attendance numbers come out in the industry press shortly, Disneyland should be neck and neck with WDW's Magic Kingdom for the most visited theme park in the nation.

(E)Ticket to Ride

While we spent most of 2009 updating you on the growing crowds at Disneyland, the TDA executive team commissioned a detailed study from their in house industrial engineering department that summed up what most people already knew; Disneyland needs more rides. And the good news is that the current TDA executive team strongly agrees with that opinion, so much so that TDA and WDI are now working on plans to open up new areas for park expansion in the coming years. The conventional wisdom in TDA now acknowledges that all of the "new" attractions Disneyland received over the last decade really only revitalized or repurposed existing facilities.

Starting with Tarzan's Treehouse in 1999, Autopia in 2000, to Winnie The Pooh in '03, Buzz Lightyear and a new Space Mountain in '05, a spruced up Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion in '06, a reopened Submarines in '07, and reopened and refurbished attractions in the Castle, Innoventions and the Disneyland Opera House in '08 and '09, they all did wonders to keep the Disneyland experience fresh for tourists and AP's alike. But the end result isn't any measurable gain in overall park capacity, and even though Disneyland is currently firing on all 8 cylinders and has never looked better physically, it's still falling short on park capacity and the ability to host all of the people that try to cram into the overcrowded park.

The guiding principle here is a statistic that park executives live and die by, the daily "Rides Per Capita" number, or Ride Per Cap for short. Ride Per Cap is the basic statistic that measure how well the park operated, and is a simple equation figured by dividing the daily attendance into the daily combined turnstile counts of every attraction in the park. The goal for Disneyland is a Ride Per Cap of 10, meaning the average visitor went on 10 attractions that day. On slow weekdays or a modest weekend when nothing major is closed for refurbishment that number generally stays around the 9.5 to 10.5 figure. But during busy weekends, the vacation months, and the Christmas season just passed, the Ride Per Cap number often falls below 8 even when the CM's are working hard and no major breakdowns occur or refurbishments are planned. In short, Disneyland simply doesn't have enough rides to host the huge crowds that routinely descend on the park now.

The result is that TDA planners are now drafting plans to open up currently unused areas of the park to build new attractions, instead of simply reinvigorating existing facilities that are already modestly popular, like the Star Tours 2.0 makeover that begins in Tomorrowland this August. Not surprisingly, John Lasseter and Tony Baxter have jumped on this change in tone from TDA executives, and are giddy over the possibilities for some major new E Ticket attractions for Disneyland by the middle of this decade.

And yes, that was E Ticket attractions, plural. Just before the holiday season, John Lasseter took a walking tour of some of the top sites under consideration for these new expansions. John is now famous for being like a kid in a candy store on his regular Disneyland visits, and he was interested in all of the backstage areas to be seen on his recent Expansion Plan tour. The tour prominently included the current Festival Arena area, the northern edges of the Rivers of America, and the adjacent Circle D ranch that is backstage just beyond the berm, as well as the Tomorrowland areas in and around Innoventions.

Direct link to bing's bird's eye view map

Innoventions is a perfect example of wasted space, as the original Carousel Theater ride system built there in 1967 boasted an hourly capacity of just under 3,000 riders per hour. Compared to the measly few hundred per hour that shuffle through Innoventions looking for the exit or the bathroom during the busiest afternoon hours, that corner of Tomorrowland is dead weight pulling down the daily Ride Per Cap number. If it weren't for the simple fact that the corporate sponsors that have been suckered, er, welcomed, into hosting exhibits there pay for nearly all of the Cast Member labor costs, Innoventions would have been shuttered years ago. Add in the extinct PeopleMover that once hosted over 2,500 riders per hour without breathing hard, and you could bump the Ride Per Cap number up very solidly by reopening those two attractions with similar hourly ridership.

Direct link to bing's bird's eye view map

But again, the push for expansion is not just bringing back rides that used to exist, but opening up new areas of the park with big E Tickets that soak up growing crowds. The plan to add a Tinker Bell-themed dark ride in the old Motorboat Cruise area is officially still in the mix, but no one in TDA is really counting on that one dark ride since the Pixie franchise hasn't taken off as strongly as once hoped, and the budget for the WDW version of that ride has been slashed and burned as part of Team Disney Orlando's retrenchment on their recently scaled back Fantasyland expansion.

As the creative executive in charge of Disneyland, Tony Baxter is obviously giddy at the thought of being involved in this expansion plan. Tony has been focusing on smaller projects over the past few years, polishing up old Disneyland gems like the Castle walkthrough, the impressive new Mr. Lincoln show and Opera House, and the upcoming changes and added animatronics during the Rivers of America refurbishment. Tony is also working on a quick revamp and freshening of the Main Street Cinema this winter, as part of a corporate push to focus more attention on Mickey Mouse cartoons and breathe some life and personality into the character that has become a rather staid corporate icon instead of the mischievously charming mouse that Walt originally created.

Tony is very good at playing the corporate game and carving out suitable budgets for these smaller exhibits and rides that have burnished Disneyland's rich tapestry of attractions and charming experiences. But it's the thought of the first major E Ticket attraction expansion to Disneyland since his Indiana Jones Adventure attraction opened back in 1995 that has Tony truly excited, with John Lasseter's full backing and executive muscle behind him. We'll keep following this newly developing story obviously, as suddenly DCA is not the only theme park in Anaheim planning for an infusion of brand new attractions in the years ahead.


In addition to the "Mickey Initiative" coming to the Main Street Cinema, there is also the return of Captain EO about the same time in early February. Tony and his WDI team are toying with the idea of adding back two original Michael Jackson songs cut from the 1986 version of the movie and never publicly screened before, although the Operations team is worried about adding length to the show and thus cutting down on the daily capacity of an attraction they expect to have a very long line. The Starcade next door to the EO theater will also be freshened and updated in January to prepare for the big crowds that will descend to see how well the 1980's have stood up to the march of time.

The saga of how the EO concept was first pitched by TDA back in July, then scuttled and restarted repeatedly due to worries from Burbank's humorless legal and PR departments, and then miraculously put back on the front burner by the sheer will of TDA's executives and Anaheim-based Imagineers, is a story you wouldn't believe. Even this grizzled old vet was amazed.

The plan had so many false starts, and so many media announcements this past autumn that were pulled with just a few hours notice, that most TDA insiders have lost track of how many times it almost fell through. Earlier in the fall when the plan was still to open EO in early January to kick off the 2Fer discount season, the theater had several closure dates listed on internal calendars that were all chalked up to "roof repair" since TDA was unsure of when Burbank would green light the media announcement. The fake roof repair rehabs never panned out obviously, and by the time the January timetable had slipped away Burbank and TDA agreed to just announce it in advance and go for a more honest closure in January.

The plan to add EO to Epcot is still being kicked around in the Team Disney Orlando building even though they are detrimentally allergic to spending money out there, and you can bet they will be watching the audience response in Disneyland very closely when EO opens in four weeks. If Epcot's Honey I Shrunk The Audience show closes suddenly in February for, oh let's say "roof repair," you'll know EO is coming to the Florida park. But now that the cat's out of the bag, they'll probably have to change the Epcot rehab excuse to "carpet replacement," or "baseboard enhancement" or some other bald faced lie.

Standing Room Only

Meanwhile, over at DCA, Bob Weis has Tony Baxter's role as the Imagineering executive in charge of that park, and Bob and his team are really digging in to major construction mode this winter. The phased plan trying to balance out the amount of construction walls in the park is reaching a maximum with the addition of construction walls in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot to install the tracks for the vintage Red Car trolley line.

The construction on the World of Color amphitheater fell behind schedule, and they weren't able to get the walls down by the time the Electrical Parade returned for Christmas as they had hoped. The work in the lagoon on the show itself is running on schedule however. The big media event and celebrity grand opening is still pegged for the last weekend in April as we'd told you earlier, and unscheduled soft openings and plenty of preview shows are currently planned to begin by the Easter Vacation weeks in late March.

Testing equipment on 1/4

While the creative types begin a long winter of testing and adjusting on all of their new toys out in the lagoon, it's the logistical planning of getting nearly 1 Million Annual Passholders in to see the show, plus plenty of the bigger spending tourists staying in Disney's hotels. The plan to create a new show ticketing system called Showpass continues to move forward, as Mary Niven, the Vice President of DCA, and her team feel that's the only way to prevent AP's from camping out in the amphitheater all day long this spring and summer.

The Showpass concept has been tweaked a bit however, since the price tag to reinstall the Fastpass machines at It's Tough To Be A Bug came in higher than first thought. The new plan will instead use the existing machines at Grizzly River Run's Fastpass area. Those machines will be spitting out thousands of World of Color Showpasses once DCA opens for the morning. By mid day the Showpasses will all be distributed, and then the machines will be switched over to distribute Grizzly River Run Fastpass again. If the Showpass concept proves that it works through the summer, then they may spend the cash to install a more permanent Showpass setup in the Tough To Be A Bug area.

With or without Showpass however, World of Color is promising to remake the entire operation of DCA. In order to create a suitable atmosphere for the heartstring-tugging show Steve Davison has created, every Paradise Pier attraction except Midway Mania is going to be cycled out, shut down and silenced before the show begins. They may even have to close Midway Mania if the wandering and frustrated crowds overwhelm that modest attraction that only handles 1,000 riders per hour.

That creates a scenario where some of the most popular attractions in the park will be closing off their lines before 8:00 P.M. for a 9:00 P.M. summer show, not to mention that it would slash the daily Ride Per Cap figure for DCA. The plan now is to borrow a trick from Epcot and open up half the park earlier, and then close that section earlier. DCA would open at 9:00 A.M. instead of its usual 10:00 A.M. opening, but only the Paradise Pier attractions at the back of the park would be open first.

The phased park opening works at Epcot because they open up Future World at the front of the park first, and then later open up the sprawling World Showcase area at the back of the park. Future World pavilions then begin shutting down in the evening as everyone heads back to the Illuminations show on the World Showcase Lagoon, while the World Showcase pavilions themselves remain open through the entire evening.

The DCA version of that plan makes sense to the industrial engineers in TDA cubicles staring at their Ride Per Cap spreadsheets, but many folks in Operations are skeptical that people will head to the far end of the Resort property first thing in the morning for just one or two rides. And the thought of shutting down those Pier attractions in the evening just as hordes of people crowd into the area for the show also has the Operations folks worried.

There's also the Annual Passholder problem, as most of them won't arrive to see World of Color until the late afternoon. The Showpass concept is set up to favor a person arriving in the morning and spending the entire day at DCA, and Showpasses will also be pulled out of the system in advance and given to people staying at Disney's hotels as a Disney Travel Company and Disney Vacation Club perk. The plan is to try and offer two shows on nights the park stays open until 10:00 PM, but that will leave many spring evenings with just one planned show that can't accommodate the arriving AP's, unless they allow people to remain in an otherwise closed DCA to stay for a second show.

What is also throwing the DCA planners a curve ball is the fairly long run time of the World of Color show, which is currently clocking in at just under 30 minutes. (For reference, Fantasmic! clocks in at 22 minutes, Remember Dreams Come True fireworks are 17 minutes long, and Epcot's Illuminations show is 15 minutes long.) The prestigious London Symphony Orchestra is slated to record the official soundtrack for the show later this month, and Steve Davison has agreed to try and trim some scenes, but it's still going to be a very long show.

Don't forget, the viewing amphitheater has been designed as a standing-room only area, with no ground or chair seating available like they offer at Fantasmic!. The 9,000 person audience capacity is all based on every single person standing for the show, as this takes up a lot less room than people sitting on the ground or in a chair. (Thank those industrial engineers in TDA again.) When the amphitheater is opened up to Showpass ticket holders an hour or more before show time, it's going to be standing-room only all the way through the show.

The Resort's restaurant department is planning on offering dining packages that guarantee you a space to stand if you spend a certain dollar amount at a Resort restaurant, and the Ariel's Grotto restaurant will also offer expensive dining packages with a view from their waterside deck. But most of the space in the amphitheater will be reserved for Showpass ticket holders only.

There's plenty of logistical hurdles still to jump before spring, but this will really be DCA's coming out party after being the ugly duckling next to Disneyland for the past decade, so it's important to get this one right.

Finally, a Club for You and Me

You may have missed the recent change in pricing for Disney's D23 fan club; there are now two membership tiers. Besides the original $75 a year package (which still continues) the club has also begun to offer a $35 level which leaves off the D23 magazine subscription.

Basically they have listened to the complaints, and as they said they would do once the first year passed, they adjusted their fees.

If you have easy access to the east and west coast resorts, membership should now be a no-brainer as there most likely will be enough going on (free and otherwise) to make the lower fee worth paying. Fans outside those areas still need to take the access issues into account.

As far as another D23 Expo goes, my educated guess is that we may see them take place every other year. The company is still undergoing a major shake-up in a few key divisions and their product pipelines.

Oh-kay - that should do it for today. Remember your support is vital, your donations to PayPal help keep the bills paid. We're only here due to all of your kind efforts.

Keep in mind updates only get posted when there is something to report on, and not before. It takes time to confirm things, and even then we can only offer a snapshot of a continually evolving story. (People do change their minds you know.) Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. ;)

See you at Disneyland!

Al Lutz may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

© 2010 Al Lutz

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