After an unusually cold and rainy winter, spring has finally sprung at Disneyland. The spring break crowds are already quite healthy, and Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) is diving head first in to a string of events and grand openings that will lead right into a long, busy summer for Disneyland and the increasingly popular California Adventure (DCA).

In this update we’ll give you some of the timing for all these events, including the soft openings and Annual Passholder previews, now that the calendar is firming a bit. Plus we’ll let you in on some of the - let's just say - interesting ways TDA is planning to manage the growing crowds in Anaheim once Cars Land opens next summer. Finally in light of the recent events in Japan, we take a quick look at how the Disneyland Resort would currently manage a huge earthquake, and how differently the Tokyo cast members were prepared to deal with it as opposed to their Anaheim counterparts.

Muffins 'n coffee everyone? And before I forget, special thanks to Andy Castro and Fishbulb for filling in the photos today. Let's get going, shall we? - Al

Dates: Subject to Change (Still)

In our last big update we’d told you about the basic timeline that TDA was ironing out to balance an extremely busy month of May with the big Pirates IV movie premiere, the debut of Star Tours 2.0 and Little Mermaid, plus the lavish new Mickey’s Soundsational parade, as well as the revamped restaurant garden and Goofy’s new roller coaster at DCA. (Yes, that was a run-on sentence.)

With the Pirates IV premiere slated for the Rivers of America on May 7th (that at this writing Disney has yet to admit), there was a realization from the PR gurus in both Burbank and Anaheim that it would be difficult to get at least a few A Listers back down to Anaheim just a couple weeks later for the Star Tours and Mermaid party, to balance out the predictable B and C Listers that always show up at theme park openings. As such, the grand opening party originally slated for Memorial Day weekend was pushed back another week to June 2nd, with Burbank’s hype machine still trying to woo as many celebs as possible down to Anaheim for a second time with free (and fully stocked) limos, baskets of swag, and the usual Hollywood high gear schmooze.

With the June 3rd date now set for the big new ride debuts, TDA has just been finalizing their plans for Cast Member (CM) previews, ticketed Annual Passholder (AP) previews, and as many soft openings as they can fit in between. The Cast Member previews for Star Tours come first, as an earlier construction schedule had that ride opening at Disneyland on May 20th, the same day it formally premieres out at Walt Disney World. Cast Member previews for Star Tours were originally slated to begin April 27th, but that date may now slip to the second or even third week of May, with AP previews to follow. The Star Tours timing is contingent on the more fluid Little Mermaid timing, which we’ll get to in a moment. There’s still a possibility that Disneyland may strike out on its own and conduct earlier preview events for Star Tours entirely independent of Little Mermaid, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely as the days slip by.

Keep it down please
Still going out of this world.

WDI has been fine tuning the programming of the new Star Tours the last few weeks and already plenty of Imagineers and well-connected Disneylanders have taken one of the new Starspeeder 1000’s for a spin. While the opening and closing segments of the new ride will be familiar, it’s the middle section of the ride where dozens of variables and plot twists and destinations can slot in via the new 3D digital ride movie and in-cabin special effects.

With people now riding the attraction in Anaheim, it appears the 3D effect has some folks increasingly worried about the motion sickness this concept will produce in many riders. The plan now is to crank up the air conditioning and take advantage of the increased ventilation in the new simulator cabins to create a noticeably cold breeze throughout the ride, with the hopeful outcome that the colder cabins will suppress at least some motion sickness in riders and that inevitably messy outcome.

The Disneyland version of the ride had a costly new loading system installed that allows both the exit and entry ramps to quickly deploy at the same time instead of a cheaper system that delays the entry ramps for a bit after landing, speeding up the boarding process and increasing hourly capacity. Still, just a few cleanups for sick passengers can really hamper hourly capacity and Tomorrowland managers are worried about what digital 3D added to a more active simulator cabin will do to large groups of people.

Also at Disneyland on a related note, the Soundsational parade now has all its fancy new float units on property and the first parade rehearsals began this week in and around the float warehouse just beyond Mickey’s Toontown. The new parade is now set to have its first soft opening at 2:00PM on Thursday, May 26th, with a second soft opening later that afternoon heading northbound up the Disneyland parade route at 4:30PM. Mickey’s Soundsational then formally debuts the following day, with a 4:00PM and 6:30PM parade time planned, with twice-daily performances performed every day through the rest of the summer.

Now Whoopi-free!
A longer visit under the sea in Anaheim.

West: More Mermaid, East: Keep Moving

Meanwhile, over at DCA, there’s the most expensive new ride of the year and an important big step in that infamous park’s 1.2 Billion dollar road to redemption. The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, the lavish animatronic musical spectacular attraction that DCA has been missing since 2001, is quickly nearing completion inside and out. All of the clamshells are installed and cycling regularly, although they are mostly wrapped in plastic as some touch up painting takes place in some of the scenes.

As they begin to fine tune the effects with the passing vehicles, the ride time of this (soon-to-be-classic?) Disney attraction is now nearing 7 minutes in length. John Lasseter is spending as much time in Anaheim as his schedule allows, while keeping constant tabs electronically on his favorite theme park property. And it seems that Lasseter was so impressed with the watery visuals and animatronic displays in the big Mermaid ride that he asked the Imagineers to slow the Omnimover system just a bit to give folks a better chance to take it all in.

While the Little Mermaid ride system and vehicles are nearly identical in size and mechanics to the Haunted Mansion, the Little Mermaid system will now carry about 400 fewer riders per hour than Mansion does thanks to the slightly slower speed Lasseter and the Imagineers have planned for the Anaheim version. There’s still the possibility that the Orlando version will maintain the original faster speed, and thus provide the higher hourly ridership that their park managers crave, but for now Anaheim executives have deferred to the artistic request to slow DCA’s ride slightly to provide for a better and longer show at the expense of several hundred riders per hour. (Wouldn't it be great if the Florida guys just ONCE looked at things in this way?)

Urban renewal
The new Cathay Circle Theatre will fix a notorious DCA sightline gaffe;
The Condor Flats runway directly pointed to a damaged Hollywood Tower.

Mary's Better Idea

Beginning Tuesday, May 10th an all-new version of the “Cast Showcase” will debut in Stage 17, and begin 10 days of leading thousands of hourly Cast Members through lavish displays and presentations about the new rides, restaurants, shops and parades coming to Anaheim this summer. The concept of the Cast Showcase was created by DCA Vice President Mary Niven last year to educate all of her DCA Cast Members about the World of Color show and all its associated merchandise and food, as well as get them excited for the busy summer to come. It was so successful and so popular with the CM’s that they eventually opened it up last year to Disneyland Cast Members as well who could come over on their own time to see the 45 minute walk-through presentation tour. This year’s Cast Showcase will include the Disneyland Cast Members from day one, which is why it’s now scheduled for more than a week.

The Cast Showcase was a brilliant idea, and yet it was a bold change on Mary’s part to incorporate the front-line employees who were rarely included in any type of education or training about new products and concepts coming to their theme park. The Cast Showcase bursts onto the scene with fancy trade-show quality production values in an era when Anaheim’s official Disney University training department has become very staid and overly-corporate, known mainly for its army of cubicle-dwellers pushing out bland lawyer-approved text that inspires no one (if they even bother to read it). Mary’s team did an end-run around that fussy TDA bureaucracy, and instead tapped the Entertainment team to create and produce the various exhibits and interactive shows inside the Cast Showcase.

It’s a breath of fresh air to see Anaheim executives reaching out and educating the front-line employees who will actually be operating these locations for years after the Imagineers have moved on to their next project. Too often in the past the front-line Cast Members were the last people anyone thought to speak to about this new stuff they’d be operating for the paying customers for years to come. Mary's gets it now, and everyone benefits - and it's one of the things that set the Disney parks apart.

More Dates: Subject to Change (Still)

After the Cast Showcase wraps up and the employee morale is boosted, the ticketed Cast Member previews for Little Mermaid are set to begin on May 20th through the 26th, and a ticketed Annual Passholder preview process is slated to kick in immediately afterward for the Memorial Day Weekend. Regular soft openings could slot in at any time during those days, although George Kalogridis has heard loud and clear that there’s nothing that angers Anaheim Cast Members more than letting regular park visitors on a new ride before Cast Member previews take place, so it’s likely that only Disney employees will be riding at first. With the Little Mermaid coming along right on schedule, both TDA and WDI are fairly confident that the ride will have many days of soft openings under its belt before the formal June 2nd media event and grand opening.

Almost there, alas
Call it what you may, it's still a mad mouse.

What is far less certain however is the status of Goofy’s Sky School and the restaurant complex nearby. There was only a nine month turnaround on this entire remake, and the construction schedule was as tight as it gets. After a very rainy December, that aggressive and major makeover project got just a bit behind schedule and wasn’t able to make up for lost time when the weather dried out in January. More rain in February and March saw the mud return to the site, and schedules slipped further at the restaurants and the roller coaster. The queue for Goofy’s Sky School and the Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta restaurant in particular is nowhere near where it should be now that it’s early April. At least many of the hundreds of mature new trees that are being planted in DCA over this two year period got a good chance at establishing roots with all that rain.

The soft opening plan is to also offer a ride on Goofy’s Sky School for those attending Cast Member or Annual Passholder previews, but the ride may not be ready for Cast Member sneak peeks by May 20th. They’ve been pouring on the overtime and fretting about the schedules, but the finishing touches for that corner of the park may just have to continue well into June after they get as far along as they can for the June 2nd press party. At the very least the Paradise Garden team is confident that by early June they’ll have the construction walls down and the old McDonalds stand open and serving Greek and Mediterranean food. If the construction timeline for the coaster queue or the pizza parlor can’t catch up after lots of overtime work through April, we’ll let you know here of course.

Hours & Schedules: You know the drill - Subject to Change

Once both theme parks finally do get through the June 2nd media party, and as many B List celebrities as the Southern California limousine fleet can handle are safely driven back home, the summer season kicks in to high gear immediately for the Anaheim theme parks with every attraction operating and a full roster of entertainment. With the exception of no parade at DCA due to growing construction along the parade route for Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, the summer season in Anaheim begins June 3rd and will have the following operating hours and major entertainment seven days per week through the end of August:

Disneyland Park 8:00 A.M. to Midnight   
Mickey’s Soundsational Parade at 4:00 P.M. & 6:30 P.M.
Fantasmic! at 9:00 P.M. & 10:30 P.M. 
Magical Fireworks Spectacular at 9:30 P.M.

Disney California Adventure 10:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. 
elecTRONica from Dusk to 10:00 P.M. 
World of Color at 9:00 P.M. & 10:15 P.M.

That’s in addition to the afternoon stage shows in the Hyperion Theater, Frontierland’s Golden Horseshoe, or DCA’s newly christened Disney Theater, plus all the usual summertime entertainment like the All-American College Band and the gaggle of Nightastic dance parties and shows around both parks. TDA will keep the Nightastic! theme going this summer, although it’s been a struggle for TDA’s marketing team to try and create a message that incorporates all the Nightastic! add-on entertainment in addition to the major new rides and new parade also opening this summer. And after 18 months of heavy construction the Disneyland Hotel executives also want to publicly market their remade rooms and new Polynesian restaurant and bar with the clever interactive effects that are activated upon ordering certain cocktails or menu items, plus the upgraded pool area and monorail waterslides.

Slip slidin away
They like to complain the hard core fans are too attached to the past,
then they end up retheming the hotel to evoke just that...

Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Any one of these major park additions would be something to build an entire summer campaign around in a normal year, but TDA has to juggle multiple big-budget headliners from nearly every department all in one epic opening summer.

For now, DCA hasn’t scheduled three World of Color shows per night or 11:00 P.M. closes like they had last summer. Although on the 4th of July weekend they’ll slot in that 3rd show, along with the usual 3rd nightly Fantasmic! over that very busy weekend. In the meantime, TDA is going to dip their toe in the water of extending DCA park hours in the morning instead of the evening. Beginning Friday April 15th, DCA will open its gates at 9:00AM for a week. There will be plenty of Guest Research folks out with their survey pads prodding for zip codes and hotel locations from everyone entering DCA during those earlier mornings. The thought is that with DCA an increasingly attractive park, many visitors want to start their day there earlier instead of just waiting until Disneyland gets crowded in the afternoon to pop over for a few hours.

This isn’t the first time this earlier opening concept has been tried; past Disneyland president, Cynthia Harriss, attempted the same thing in the summer of 2001 to try and see if opening earlier might convince people to visit the park that was then falling flat on its face in the marketplace. It didn’t work back in ’01, but it has a better shot of proving useful now, at least during the busiest weeks of the year. You can expect to see some permanent expanded operating hours by next summer, when the new main entrance is complete and Cars Land creates a lot of buzz.

Does anybody know what time it is?

One of the other ways that TDA is considering to help mitigate the peak crowds is through pricing. They have just rolled out their increased prices for popular restaurants around both parks and the hotels for the two busy weeks of Easter vacation. In addition to temporarily increasing prices at sit-down and buffet restaurants, they will also be offering 25% discounts for folks eating at fast-food restaurants in both parks during non-peak hours before 11:30AM or in the middle of the afternoon. With Disneyland’s new menus introduced over the last 18 months now offering (gasp!) edible, even tasty food, it’s a nice way to help spread the crowds and offer a rare discount to visitors.

Arm, legs, kidneys, also accepted!
Maybe the ticketing signs need to go electronic...

However, there’s another version of tiered pricing that is being debated by Anaheim executives, and that’s the proposal to get away from blanket ticket prices and instead go to a three tiered system with higher prices during the busiest times of the year. It’s a practice that is used throughout the travel and hospitality industry, with cruise lines and hotels and tour companies offering different prices for the same product at different times of the year. TDA’s plan would see Disneyland’s calendar year sliced up into value, regular, and peak seasons. The regular season, made up most of spring and fall and non-holiday weekends in winter, would have admission tickets priced not far from where they are today. The value season would be primarily winter weekdays, as well as parts of May and September. And the peak season would be most of summer, the two weeks around Easter, much of November and December, and the remaining holiday weekends throughout the year like Columbus Day or Presidents Day.

This would be a huge cultural change for Disneyland, and presents an endless series of technical and logistical problems to overcome before it could be implemented. But TDA is finally realizing that one way to avoid crowd control nightmares and operational headaches, such as the notoriously busy weeks around Christmas, is to simply price out a portion of the audience and lower the attendance while maintaining (or even increasing) the daily take at the gate. There are a million internal problems to overcome before they attempt this ticketing plan, but there’s a faction within TDA that would like to see this implemented by the time Cars Land opens, or the Christmas of 2012 at the very latest.

Un Forgettable

Meanwhile, as Disney’s marketing machine kicks in to high gear late next month for Anaheim’s epic summer, much of that same marketing team has their tail between their legs after some consumer research into the “Let The Memories Begin” campaign has many Anaheim and Burbank executives grumbling. While it will come as no surprise to you fans online, it seems the Memories campaign doesn’t make much sense to the overall public. Most people are arriving in Anaheim without even knowing the campaign exists, and the garish Memories marquee doesn’t explain much with it clumsily plopped between the two parks looking like a broken-down Rose Parade float carcass.

Wither the tile!
Let the GOOD memories begin

The nightly Memories projection show on the Small World façade was also panned in the consumer research, with barely anyone knowing what the purpose is or the process for including their own pictures, with most viewers only stumbling across the show by accident or simply watching it casually while they wait in line for Small World. The projection show is technologically impressive, and the same sharp Anaheim creative and technical team was sent out to Orlando late last year and did wonders producing a similar show on the larger canvas of WDW’s Cinderella Castle. (Although they snickered at all the Disneyland footage they got into the Florida version, with some historically-challenged Florida Cast Members just assuming the 1950’s Disneyland footage was from Disney World) But overall, the marketing campaign that was supposed to rely heavily on photo submissions through Disney’s website, and thus get people plugged in to Disney’s online presence, has fallen flat in the park and gone mostly unnoticed by locals and tourists alike.

Pretty but useless
It's a glow world

What if it happened here?

While there’s plenty of happiness coming to Anaheim this June in the form of all the new offerings, it’s been heart wrenching to see the struggles the Japanese people have been going through after the earthquake and tsunami there. The YouTube videos of the earthquake occurring in Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea were a bright spot amongst the other images from that disaster. Americans have been fascinated seeing the calmness with which the Japanese park visitors reacted to the quake, and American Cast Members in particular have been watching the response by their fellow Tokyo Cast Members in amazement.

The front-line Tokyo Cast Members seen in the videos were uniformly calm, professional and appeared to care only about their theme park guests rather than themselves. It’s clear in the videos the Tokyo employees have received excellent training in how to respond to emergencies. Tokyo Disney Resort remains closed for now until sufficient electricity and supplies can be secured on a daily basis, but with Cast Members that great working for them they will quickly return to being the premiere resort for customer service and showmanship in the Disney empire.

Tokyo CMs
Reader Jonathan wrote: Now this is where that Tokyo Cast Member Magic kicks in again. Every few
feet, there are CM's waving guests goodbye and thanking them for coming. Even with a massive
cleaning effort going on around them, there they were, wishing everyone a safe trip home. When
the trains depart the station, there the CM's were, waving at all the guests as they finally head
home. (Sorry for the quality of this pic. I had to take a picture of my camera's display.)

That said, the contrast to the earthquake plans Anaheim Cast Members have been given is striking. Anaheim has never conducted a park-wide earthquake drill for its Cast Members, and the few minutes of earthquake training Cast Member’s receive when they hire in is so basic and so vague it comes across as rather meaningless.

The response for Anaheim Cast Members is broken down in to three categories; a “mild” earthquake, a “moderate” earthquake, and a “severe” earthquake. The Disney University team came up with the ‘mild’ and ‘moderate’ terminology, confusing most people who consider those two words to mean the same thing when ‘mild’ should really be termed ‘minor’. Interestingly, the response for a moderate or severe earthquake is for all Cast Members to abandon their work locations and go to a designated “Cast Assembly Area”, while the park visitors are mysteriously directed by seemingly no one to move to separate yet unlabeled “Safe Havens,” which are open areas away from buildings.

If the earthquake response is carried out accurately, the employees and customers would be segregated into separate assembly areas that are only identified on a handful of dusty maps posted backstage. Not a single word is mentioned in any of the Cast Member training about how to respond to panicky or injured visitors, or what to tell them, or where to direct them. The salaried park management have also had just a few minutes of vague and useless training in earthquake response techniques, the same as the average ride operator or shop clerk got, so don’t look to the guy wearing the Dockers and the earpiece for useful direction or assistance either.

What’s not explained to hourly Cast Members is that the official plan is for key executives to move to a designated command center behind Main Street USA after a major earthquake to begin instructing lower ranked management who don’t have any training to begin with. What isn’t discussed is what will happen if the earthquake strikes after 5:00 PM or on a weekend when all those executives have gone home and likely couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get back to the park to take up their labeled chairs in the command center. There are vague plans to evacuate the parks along designated corridors in the strong earthquake scenarios, dumping up to 100,000 people at one time out into the Esplanade and/or surface streets around the parks.

The tram and bus systems back to the parking lots would be shut down immediately and everyone would be expected to walk back to their car, even though the official plans call for the 10,000 space Mickey & Friends parking structure to remain closed (if it's still standing) for an indefinite period of time until it can be inspected by engineers. Your best bet, if a large earthquake strikes at Disneyland, is to calmly gather your family and walk directly to the park exit. It would be wise to not park in the troublesome Mickey & Friends structure, and instead park in the safer Toy Story surface parking lot that has no plans to shut down indefinitely after an earthquake. Don’t bother with the Toy Story buses, just walk the five blocks down Harbor Blvd. and then try to drive away.

As things stand now, what you shouldn’t expect is a lot of information or thoughtful response from the hourly or salaried employees at Disneyland after anything above a “mild” earthquake. In the absence of any real training or comforting instruction, most Cast Members at all levels have simply come up with their own mental plan to quickly get back to their car and get off property. You can guarantee that if and when a big earthquake hits Anaheim, the YouTube videos of that event won’t be anything like the remarkable footage that came out of Tokyo Disneyland.

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. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Al Lutz did not receive any payments, free items, or free services from any of the parties discussed in this article. He pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

Let's Discuss!

Click on this link to discuss this article on MiceChat!

2011 Al Lutz