The theme park and hotel teams in Anaheim have now staggered into the new year, after dealing with some of the biggest attendance numbers in Disneyland history during the holiday weeks. There will be no winter’s nap for anyone though, as the Anaheim team dives into the final few months of a four year project to reinvent DCA and re-launch the entire Disneyland Resort concept.
In this update we’ll fill you in on some of the details now becoming clear for that summer re-launch plan, get you up to speed on what both Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) and Imagineering has up their sleeve for DCA’s final polish, and fill you in on a few surprises coming to Anaheim by this summer. A special thanks to Andy Castro for the use of his photos.
Let's splurge today and stop by SusieCakes for a lemon cupcake, and then Kean Coffee next door, before we get going shall we? - Al
Tune-ups & Timing...
We’d told you early in the fall that the executives in TDA had mandated that every department should stop trying to use specific timeframes like “May, 2012” for the opening of Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, or any other element of the DCA re-launch. Any mention of a specific month was banished in place of the more generic “Summer, 2012”, with a promise that the schedulers would have a better idea of a completion timeline by January. Luckily, the dry La Nina weather pattern set in early this winter and the last 8 weeks in particular have had dry weather that has allowed the Buena Vista Street team in particular to maintain a frenzied pace of destruction and construction in the front of the park. In addition to the solid progress being made in Buena Vista Street, the last phases of work in Cars Land has continued to roll along quite comfortably.
The favorable construction progress being reported by Imagineering’s project managers now allows TDA planners to begin narrowing down a window when the new DCA would be formally opened to the public, and that grand opening window is now being placed in the second or third week of June. By setting an aggressive mid-June timeline like that, purposely chosen as the sweet spot when Grad Nites are ending but summer blockouts for most Annual Passholders haven’t yet kicked in, TDA knows there may be a scenario where not every single shop and restaurant on Buena Vista Street has a completed interior, but at the very least the exteriors will all be finished for all the TV cameras and media events.
Also scheduled to open at the same time with Buena Vista Street and Cars Land will be the new Ghirardelli chocolate factory and soda fountain in the Pacific Wharf, plus the heavily refurbished and plussed up Matterhorn Bobsleds, and some new tenants moving in at Downtown Disney. While the Matterhorn debuts its lawyer and bureaucrat approved three passenger bobsleds that will make it tough for bigger or taller riders to fit, the interior show scenes are getting new lighting and projections, plus plenty of paint and new props.
At the same time Harold the abominable snowman, who is actually three separate audio-animatronics figures seen at various times along the two track systems, will be getting thorough tune-ups. (It’s ironic that circa 1978 Harold has far more expressive animatronic motion than the nameless Yeti does in the 21st century Expedition Everest ride out in Florida.) The Matterhorn is scheduled to reopen from this long rehab on June 15th, and right now that might be within a day or two of DCA’s grand reopening party.
Java, Jambon & Jalopies...
Meanwhile, in Downtown Disney, the property management team that runs that successful mall has had a constant churn of turnover amongst the tenants that have been there since the mall opened. The 11 years that some stores lasted is actually quite long in the retail world, and it speaks to the success that Downtown Disney enjoyed right out of the gate in 2001, while the new theme park next door struggled through very hard times and poor word-of-mouth advertising its first few years. But with the departure of Compass Books and Island Charters this winter, on top of a half dozen other closures the past few years, the property management team has been hustling to get some new blood into the mall.
The plan now is to swap the Compass Books space out for a dining location, possibly the first Earl of Sandwich shop on the West Coast. That would be a welcome addition to Downtown Disney and fill a much-needed gap for an affordable lunch or dinner option amongst all the existing high-end or hyper-themed dining. The space once used by Island Charters is being eyed for a Disney-operated home accessories store, building off the success of the upscale D Street and Vault 28 stores in that same corner of the mall.
And finally, TDA’s sponsor-wooing “Participant Relations” department never quite gave up on getting Starbucks onto the Anaheim property. We’d told you a few years ago how TDA wanted Starbucks inside the parks, after getting tired of constant complaints from caffeine deprived tourists who just wanted a decent Mocha. The deal to get Starbucks initally into Disneyland's Market House fell apart late in the game over concerns Starbucks had with letting Disney’s Cast Members receive official training using Starbucks proprietary systems and equipment that must be used in order for a drink to carry the Starbucks label.
It was probably a smart move for Starbucks to take a step back on that one, as Disneyland’s once-vaunted training department is now an infamous shadow of its former self and is run by bungling cubicle dwellers in TDA who create dull and unfocused training materials that surely would have infuriated the sharp Starbucks group. A similar scenario is what led to Ghirardelli demanding to handle the training and operation of their new DCA soda fountain themselves, which extended the negotiations out by several months last year.
Gone are the days when outside companies could trust Disney to present their product and corporate image with polished and well-trained Cast Members, which is a reason why so many sponsors pull out of Innoventions and why Microsoft sends in spies regularly to monitor those CM’s. But now, the Participant Relations team has inked a deal to allow Starbucks to set up shop later this year in Downtown Disney, and with this arrangement Starbucks would be running the location themselves instead of relying on Disneyland Cast Members saddled with TDA’s less rigorous training programs.
The addition of Starbucks into Downtown Disney later this year is being handled with extra layers of secrecy, and the location is being purposely kept a secret from even upper level management to “protect the contract negotiations.” Even with all the corporate secrecy behind the scenes, there are two solid scenarios that pop up the most frequently from the confused TDA rumor mill, and they revolve around the La Brea Bakery expansion currently underway. One scenario has Starbucks taking over the expanded eastern wing of the La Brea Bakery building, with swarms of people stopping for lattes and mochas as they exit the parking trams each morning. The second rumored scenario has Starbucks moving in to the old Compass Books space to focus on moviegoers and hotel guests at the other end of the mall, while Earl of Sandwich moves in to the expanded space once used for La Brea’s sandwich counter.
While the arrival of Starbucks onto Disneyland property will be hailed as a big success, one group in Downtown Disney has really burned their bridges with both the Participant Relations team and Walt Disney Imagineering. After the Sarge’s Surplus Hut shop in Cars Land had been originally designed to look exactly like the tidy Quonset hut that Sarge inhabits in Radiator Springs, the Ridemakerz group decided they wanted to be a part of Cars Land and take over that store from TDA’s merchandise group. Having a Ridemakerz shop in Cars Land is a natural fit, as their Downtown Disney location is successful.
But Ridemakerz really wanted a flagship location in Cars Land, and Sarge’s hut as seen in the movie just wasn’t big enough. So Imagineering bent their rules a bit and expanded Sarge’s Surplus Hut with a large additional wing and hundreds of extra square feet of space, ruining the authentic look of the building but keeping the sponsor happy. But then, late in 2011, the Imagineering team working on Cars Land was furious to learn that Ridemakerz had backed out of the deal at the last second and would no longer be taking up residence in that shop. Imagineering is now stuck with a Quonset hut with an awkward extra room, and TDA’s merchandise group is now scrambling to fill the space with Cars themed merchandise not already available at Ramone’s House of Body Art or Lizzie’s Curios shop.
It will be interesting to see what attendance at DCA does in 2012 and ’13 and how popular Cars Land is with Ridemakerz targeted demographic. Ridemakerz might be kicking themselves for backing out of Cars Land and ticking off a very talented group of Imagineers.
With plenty of new additions and details popping up all around the Resort over the next five months, the Imagineers still have a few tricks up their sleeve for DCA. The park operations management is thrilled with the Little Mermaid ride because it consistently pulls in 2,000 riders per hour with waits of 10 minutes or less, and its high capacity often allows on more riders in a day than Toy Story Midway Mania, or even the wildly popular Star Tours across the Esplande. But the Imagineers have decided to do some artistic tweaking to the people-eating ride this spring.
The most noticeable change coming to the Mermaid ride will be a complete rework of the Ariel animatronic figure that appears in the big Under The Sea production number. Her swirling bouffant hairdo in that scene never quite looks right, and the hair on that figure will be changed for a more flowing version similar to the animated ‘do she sports at the beginning of the ride. Luckily for Imagineering there was an extra animatronic figure available that was slated to be used in the Florida version of the attraction, and they will instead send that figure to Anaheim after it receives its new look and reworked hairdo. A third version of that figure will then be created for the Florida version, based on the new look now headed to DCA.
Another change has been dictated by John Lasseter and several other artists from Disney’s animation studio in Burbank, and that’s the computer-generated projections of Ariel seen in the digital screens placed in the rocks at both the down-ramp and up-ramp in the ride. Lasseter has decreed that the computer animation created for the ride should be scrapped in place of new hand-drawn versions of that track-side animation. The computer version of Ariel getting her legs will soon be replaced with footage that more closely matches the hand-drawn look of the film from 1989. The Imagineers, prodded on by Lasseter and funded by TDA, are also planning to swap out some of the foliage, props and smaller sea creatures in the ride that don’t quite look right or that come across as looking two-dimensional. Most of those changes coming to the DCA version this spring will also make it into the nearly identical Florida version of the attraction that opens in late 2012.
The spouting water from the fishes mouths in the Kiss The Girl scene will also be reworked a bit, which would be the third time for that effect to be changed. The original look of those water spouts moving in and out of the fishes mouths looked a bit too phallic to many, and while they were seen during the Cast Member Previews (to plenty of guffaws) and in the official press release artwork that Disney accidentally distributed (top photo above), they were frantically changed before park visitors began testing the ride last June (bottom photo above). Imagineering wants one more chance to get that effect right now that they have the time to do it.
While it’s unusual for Disney to go in and make major changes like these to a new attraction, it’s a good example of just how important TDA and Burbank view this summer’s re-launch of DCA. The plan we’d told you about last year, dubbed Project Sparkle, is moving full steam ahead to make sure nearly every remaining DCA facility from 2001 has had a full refresh and refurbishment before the big party this June. Even the construction walls are getting a refresh before the spring break crowds hit. The walls that have surrounded all of the Buena Vista Street construction for months are planned to get a new cosmetic treatment, with more WDI artwork appearing on them showing what the street and entry area will look like upon completion.
The new Buena Vista Street construction wall artwork should coincide with the last version of the Blue Sky Cellar that will open in February, with the final exhibit obviously dedicated to Cars Land. As we’d told you earlier, the Blue Sky Cellar will remain a preview center of sorts after this summer, with a “What’s Next” exhibit that depends on which Potter-fighting project gets the green light for Disneyland to counter Universal Studios and their Harry Potter mega-attraction coming to Hollywood in a few years.
One element from the Blue Sky Cellar that will expand to the other side of the Resort is the animated “fun map” of DCA. But the Resort’s second animated fun map will be a larger version that will take up residence as the big “Wow!” piece in the entrance to the Disneyland Hotel lobby. A massive animated map of Disneyland based off of the souvenir wall maps drawn by Disney Legend Sam McKim in the 1960’s will be installed at the hotel entry doors soon.
One of the other ways TDA is trying to improve the aesthetic look of DCA to please John Lasseter (who is hanging out in Anaheim so often now that Imagineers have joked they should have designed him an apartment in the Carthay Circle Theater) is to rethink the footprint the very popular street parties have in the Hollywood area. With TDA finally admitting that Mad T Party is the party theme that replaces elecTRONica this summer, they’ve gone back to the drawing boards and thought twice on how these street parties will appear to people standing in the Carthay Circle area of Buena Vista Street.
When the Mad T Party debuts late this spring, it will be confined primarily to the northeast corner of the Hollywood section in the area dubbed Hollywood Studios. This March the stage equipment and lighting rigs that have lined Hollywood Blvd. for almost two years will be removed, with elecTRONica relegated to mainly the Hollywood Studios corner for the busy spring break period. The removal of the elecTRONica equipment along the street is required for the installation of the Red Car Trolley’s overhead wire system, but it’s an aesthetic change that would have happened anyway.
When Mad T Party premieres, during the day the Hollywood Blvd. street will not show a trace of the nightly event. Although, once you step off the street and behind the building facades, the Mad T Party stage and equipment will be visible once you enter the utilitarian area of the park themed to a movie studio. But you’ll be able to stand in front of the Carthay Circle Theater this summer and look all around you without seeing any of the equipment for that night’s street party.
As we’ve said earlier, the huge liquor sales from these nightly events are what surprised TDA the most and what helped guarantee a new version would appear for a third summer. Once the Mad T Party gets going after sundown, there still might be a rolling bar pushed out towards the street to catch passersby, but for the most part the T Party will all be contained between MuppetVision and the current Flynn’s Arcade. In addition to the live bands, dancing and drinks, TDA’s Entertainment Department is coming up with acrobatic acts and wild street performers to roam the area to continue the colorful street party vibe that made Glow Fest so successful in 2010.
Opening within a week or two of the Mad T Party late this spring will be the return of the Pixar Play Parade. The construction timetable in the Carthay Circle area, plus the installation of the trolley cables, has now delayed the return of the parade until after Easter vacation. And it’s looking now as though the return of the parade, plus the debut of the Mad T Party, may all fall within a week or two of each other just before the DCA grand reopening in June. When the parade does return however, TDA is planning to run the parade twice per day with an afternoon and early evening show time.
Since DCA will have the longest parade route of any Disney theme park in the world, stretching from the Tower of Terror all the way to the Paradise Garden gates, they could have easily gotten away with performing just one parade and had plenty of room to accommodate as many viewers as Disneyland’s shorter and more confined parade route can accommodate with two parades. But TDA wants to really overwhelm the visitors this summer with a DCA park experience packed full of entertainment options spaced throughout the entire day, from daytime stage shows and parades and the new musical acts on Buena Vista Street to the unique night spectaculars of World of Color and Mad T Party. Even DCA’s smaller offerings, like the quirky Phineas & Ferb roving dance party, will be refreshed with a new “Summer of Teal” version of the show.
Out in front of DCA, they mercifully dragged away the Memories parade float and returned the Esplanade to its original state. The Esplanade fixes have been an ongoing saga, with a plan to remodel and beautify the area an on-again, off-again tale that goes back to the Matt Ouimet administration six years ago. The Esplanade was a victim of the rampant cost-cutting that plagued the entire DCA project during 1998-2001, and Imagineering and TDA have often hoped to go back and revisit the original concepts for more greenery and a central fountain. But now with George Kalogridis in TDA, the Esplanade redo has been kept on the back burner as a project that could be tackled after they get DCA successfully firing on all cylinders.
George wants WDI to think “holistically” about the Esplanade, and factor in the temporary bag check tents along the perimeter that have been there temporarily for over a decade now. This summer however, with ticket window capacity unable to keep up with busy crowds, the ticketing team will be setting up rolling ticket kiosks to help minimize lines and crowding. While it would have been nice to see the Esplanade spiffed up before DCA’s grand reopening, it’s probably wise to see how these two theme parks operate next to each other after the re-launch before they approve any major remodeling.
Do not taunt happy fun bear...
Thankfully, all of this work focused on DCA has TDA ignoring their overhyped offering from 2010-11, with Duffy the Disney Bear not yet being mentioned in any of this summer’s DCA re-launch events. The Duffy concept has now entered that awkward phase where TDA suits can quietly acknowledge it didn’t take off like they had hoped. But after spending so much money on his seasonal pavilion overlays and hyping him to no end at every opportunity, the TDA reaction to Duffy is now just a fading smile at the merchandise executives who pitched the concept of bringing him to America back in 2010.
At Duffy’s pavilion out in Epcot, where the Japanese tourist demographic barely exists, the average Midwest or European visitor there is buying far less Duffy merchandise than even the modest Anaheim sales totals. At least here we get a healthy dose of Japanese tourists who still go ga-ga over him and buy up suitcases full of merchandise to take home to friends and family.