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The Holidays have finally come to an end, the decorations around the parks are being removed this week, and Disneyland took its usual Christmastime beating when it comes to the maddening crowds. Yet 2009 is already looking noticeably different for Anaheim than recent years, and there are some rather surprising changes afoot both backstage and onstage for the Anaheim parks and hotels.

In this update we'll lay out what some of those changes may be, and what they may mean for both the visitors and the Cast Members. Got that scone ready? Is the juice fresh squeezed? Well then, let's get going... shall we? - Al

The economy is so frightful...

Before we get to the changes ahead, a quick recap of the extremely busy holiday season just passed is in order. Ever since the late 1990's when Disneyland began adding holiday-specific attractions and entertainment and ladling on more and more decorations annually throughout the park, the Christmas season has become busier and busier every year for the original park. For the first 40 years Disneyland's peak season was always considered summer, with spring break coming in at a close second. But now it's November and December that sees the biggest crowds descend on Disneyland, particularly during the holiday weekends that begin with Veterans Day and the two weeks around Christmas and New Years.

Even the icicles didn't scare them away.

This year was no exception, although Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) planners were holding their breath in early November waiting to see if the big crowds would actually show up after all the depressing financial news this past fall. While the 2008 numbers were ever so slightly lower than recent years, and spending in the stores was down a bit more, the crowds were still big enough to cause Disneyland to suspend ticket sales on multiple days, plead with people to go to California Adventure (DCA) for the afternoon instead of Disneyland, and use every available parking space that Anaheim has.

...but inside the berm's delightful!

The ten days up through Christmas Day were cold and rainy and attendance was lower than planned. However the day after Christmas dawned sunny and bright, and the crowds arrived en masse. Disneyland managers, feverishly responding to Blackberry messages from TDA executives, were forced to begin their "soft diverts" or "hard diverts" to limit the number of people allowed in to Disneyland. There are several angles to this game they play each December that include everything from different messages being displayed on the electronic reader boards at the parking entrances, to different spiels given by the Cast Members to arriving visitors at the ticket booths.

From December 26th through January 2nd the "soft divert" strategy was used most of the time, where an arriving family isn't greeted by the "Disneyland Is Full" sign at the parking entrance, but when they get to the ticket booth they are told that if they want to buy one-day tickets to Disneyland they have to go to DCA until 5:00 P.M. or later before they will be allowed entry into Disneyland. Even though this is actually a solid discount, giving visitors a free upgrade to a one-day park hopper ticket, it rarely goes over well with customers who had visions of Disneyland dancing in their heads.

What recession?
Busy ticket booths last Sunday.

Regardless, with Disneyland packed to the rafters every day last week, DCA resumed its usual role of simply being a nicely appointed waiting area for people who really just want to go to Disneyland. It does help boost DCA's daily numbers though, and instead of the 12,000 to 15,000 daily attendance DCA should have received, they were getting almost 22,000 people on some days since up to 8,000 of them were really the folks bound for Disneyland who were waiting to be let in. Disneyland had daily attendance figures in the 65,000 to 68,000 range this year, not including the 6,000 to 8,000 day visitors who were sent to DCA first, giving DCA the all-important first turnstile attendance click.

The change from previous years is that the total number of people in Disneyland at any one time was purposely allowed to float a bit higher than it would have just a few years ago. This year the magic in-park number was allowed to get above 49,000 on several occasions before the main entrance was shut down entirely, where in previous years a number in the 45,000 range was considered the upper limit.

It's important to remember that Disneyland has added several new attractions back into the mix in recent years, from major attractions like the Submarines or Buzz Lightyear, to smaller things like Pixie Hollow and the Castle walkthrough. It all adds up though, and with nothing closed for refurbishment this December, Disneyland enjoyed an overall park capacity it hadn't seen since the mid 1990's. Those 49,000 figures were a snug fit to be sure, but it's at least an additional 4,000 people that don't have to be forced over to the DCA waiting lounge.


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2009 Al Lutz

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