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Spring has finally sprung at Disneyland with big crowds flooding the parks in recent weeks, while what's left of the salaried ranks out in the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) building out back are finally emerging from their offices and cubicles looking a bit shell-shocked.

The radically restructured and slimmed down management ranks will need to get their bearings quickly as there is plenty of work to do in the two very busy theme parks outside their offices. We'll wrap up the silver lining behind all these salaried layoffs and fill you in on some of the recent rumors around the park, and what is coming next when spring turns into summer.

Got that tart picked off the pastry cart? Have that latte ordered now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al

Summer Daze

While Disney finally admitted to the press last week that it had just laid off over a thousand managers between Anaheim and Orlando, the numbers they gave for Anaheim were a bit misleading. The Disney spokeswoman announced that 200 people had been let go in Anaheim, and "an additional 100 positions would not be filled." That's a tad misleading, as many of those 100 positions were actually filled until recently with managers who were demoted in pay scale and title but were at least allowed to keep a job.

In many instances around the Resort a higher ranking manager with more tenure and/or stronger documented performance was allowed to stay, but was demoted down to a job or title they had held previously, while that lower ranking manager they replaced was then shown the door. In short, in many areas around the Resort a junior manager was laid off while a more senior manager took their slot with a demotion. The senior manager's old position has since been eliminated as part of the streamlining process that is at the root of these layoffs, and that old position is then counted as "unfilled."

Sensible strikes again
The hub's popcorn cart has moved over a bit...

Aside from that shell game, the clear cut lay-offs that did occur, and there were hundreds of them, were mostly focused on areas in backstage administrative areas that have very little direct impact on the operation of the parks or hotels. Some departments, like the notoriously haughty folks in Marketing and the hipster divas in the bloated Entertainment group, had their numbers slashed by dozens at a time. Another group that had been allowed to grow nearly unchecked since Paul Pressler and Cynthia Harriss started their growth spurt over 10 years ago was the huge Merchandise Operations Support team.

This sprawling group, who seemed to add more salaried headcount every fiscal year, acted as the foot soldiers in Cynthia's army during an era when shopping suddenly supplanted Disneyland's original purpose of putting on a show and operating attractions. The Merchandise Operations Support team was just laid off by the dozens, while a handful of the most favored TDA managers were shifted back into theme park roles in that demotion shell game we outlined above.

The managers in the parks who remain are fascinated to see how the TDA folks being moved into the parks are going to perform, as many of them made no secret of their dislike for the grittier environment in the parks working with hourly CM's and actual park visitors, compared to their sleek and cushy TDA world of endless chatty product meetings and afternoon Starbucks runs.

Dole Whips and Churros are mere steps away
...and the Plaza Pavilion was opened to process annual passports

Meanwhile, old-fashioned workhorse departments who provide Disneyland's core products, like Attractions or Custodial, only saw their salaried management numbers decline by one single person. And the single layoffs that occurred in those front line departments were all handled purely by performance rankings, almost as a sacrificial offering so that no single operations department appeared too untouchable to the other TDA groups that were nearly decimated.

This is the silver lining here to these painful layoffs, as the outcome is an Anaheim structure that is dramatically shifting the balance of power from out of touch office drones in TDA to managers in the parks who are walking daily through their areas and literally have their fingers on the pulse of the park and hotel operations. Ed Grier and the remaining executives can't seem to spit out the hot new TDA buzzword "Guest Experience" often enough now, and Ed has even been spotted in the parks a few times in recent weeks. Ed may have been here for nearly three years, but it's better late than never.

The best news is that the new Vice President of Disneyland, Jon Storbeck, is a well liked old-timer cut from the same cloth as Walt's famously demanding park executives of the mid 20th century, and Tony Bruno as the Vice President of the Disneyland Resort Hotels is the highly respected and equally well liked master of the aging Anaheim hotels. Both of these VP's are in their dream jobs, and are chomping at the bit to flex their new political muscles to right some of the wrongs of the past decade.

The way we were
Not a Pressler-era photo; shot taken this past Sunday

Mary Niven, on the other hand, has quite a learning curve to work through as the new Vice President of DCA since she has absolutely no experience when it comes to the real reasons people visit Disney theme parks; the big attractions and the park environment. To her credit, she has been trying to spend as much time as possible in DCA lately and is using "Guest Experience" in every sentence she can, but if she wants some advice she should keep her calendar as clear as possible and simply hang out and talk to the CM's and customers every day.

Ed Grier, as the infamous figure head of the whole place with very little operations experience, is left trying to figure out what he's supposed to do exactly in this new operations-focused environment. Perhaps that's why he's been seen out wandering around lately?

We'll let the dust settle at TDA for now, as there is plenty happening around the real Resort to get to.


Feed Me

First up is Disneyland's new restaurant offering, the Celebration Roundup & Barbeque. Unfortunately, the barbeque joint opened last Thursday with a thud. The extremely underwhelming response is through no fault of the designers who did a great job freshening up the 25 year old location, or the excited Cast Members who have been staffed in huge numbers for crowds that haven't appeared, even as the park as a whole does big attendance numbers. It doesn't take a financial guru to figure out that at $36 per adult and $23.50 per child (after tax and the automatic gratuity are tacked on) this very expensive new offering is not going to resonate with most families trying to trim costs nowadays.

The sign needs to say "FREE BEER"
Photos taken this past Sunday at noon

The dining patio was designed to seat nearly two hundred at a time, but during the first weekend they haven't been able to get a crowd bigger than 35, even at meal times. The training the CM's received on how to graciously get small groups to share space with other small groups around the family-style tables has yet to be put to any use with lots of empty spaces. During the slower afternoon hours the entertainers performing on the newly built stage have been giving it their all to only two or three tables of tourists, and by the time the tourists are done with their meal you can bet they have had a very full dose of Woody and Jessie.

With the exception of the dry cupcakes, the food quality is actually a notch above the usual Disneyland offerings of recent years. But you can't blame the tourists for balking at the price after they may have dined on the lackluster food around the rest of the park. What will help in the short term? Perhaps offer samples to people passing on Big Thunder Trail? Maybe it would help if they add the "All You Can Eat" tagline to the sign, since that is the reality but TDA planners were wary of actually advertising it? Of course the real solution here is to substantially lower the price, but the place will be closed and put into mothballs before that happens.

Lonely days, lonely nights

The permanent closure of Yamabuki should serve as an omen to the Celebration Barbeque planners though, as it was the dramatic markup in prices at Yamabuki back in '06 that sent business there into a nosedive they never recovered from. Once the menu prices were raised after a much-needed refurbishment and freshening, Mary Niven infamously announced to the press in a bout of Cynthia-esque hyperbole, "Early reactions from our guests indicate that our Yamabuki team is making culinary dreams come true."

The reality to Mary's dream is that families staying in the Paradise Pier Hotel balked at the higher prices, and the TDA folks who used to regularly drive over for lunch stopped going as well. Lunch service was soon cancelled, and Yamabuki just couldn't survive when spending on expensive meals began to decline around the Resort about six months ago.

There is a market for table service dining in Anaheim, but in recent years the Food & Beverage team led by Mary Niven has missed the mark when it comes to the price points and experiences that park visitors are willing to pay for.


Bibbidi Bobbidi Bucks

A more successful new launch happened around the corner from the barbeque, with the opening of Fantasyland's new Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover salon and store. The salon space in the back won't be open until the middle of the month, but it's hoped that the princess makeover business will be a growth industry for Disneyland. These Princess offerings will skew to a younger crowd than the edgier Disney Studio 365 makeover salon going in at Downtown Disney this summer.

Sponsored by Spackle

They had originally wanted to offer this type of salon service at the Princess Fantasy Faire in '06, but the Orange County health codes regarding sinks in salon areas and the high cost of running plumbing lines into what was originally a 1980's teen dance club shelved that original plan. Once the new boutique is fully up and running later in the month, what is left of TDA's marketing department will host a small media event to launch both the barbeque and the boutique as a final spring effort to push the Celebration campaign.


Summer Nights

The marketing group is going to back off the Celebration campaign this summer however, as an on again/off again plan to have a summer campaign aimed at locals is now on once again.

We had told you last year of the original plan for Tinker Bell's Sparkling Summer Nights, but that plan has now morphed into something called Summer Nightastic, which has backed off from the emphasis on Tink, but is still playing up the new or updated entertainment offerings as a reason to bring the family out to Disneyland this summer. In June another media event will be staged to highlight the new Celebrate street party, as well as show off the impressive new dragon coming to Fantasmic! (with Flotsam and Jetsam joining the 17 year old show riding on Honda Seadoos).

Tahitian Fire Dancers! Gwow!
More vintage Disneyland ads can be found at
Kevin Kidney's Miehana Flicker photo page

The media event will also highlight the other offerings to be hyped in the summer campaign, including the new Tinker Bell float in the Electrical Parade, as well as old Disneyland standbys like dancing under the summer stars at Tomorrowland Terrace and Plaza Gardens. The final big element to the new summer campaign will be the debut of the new fireworks show dubbed Magical!

We've told you previously why Remember had its plug pulled, as a recent example of the operational needs of the park trumping the sometimes unrealistic wants of the wildly creative types. Magical is shaping up to be a better replacement for Remember than the underwhelming street party was for the Parade of Dreams however.

Magical will be shorter than the 17 minute long Remember, clocking in at about 12 minutes, but they are trying to add in as many new effects as possible that don't close attractions or walkways. The concepts still being thrown around late in the game include a flying Dumbo character sharing cable time with Tinkerbelle, and a confetti filled finale' on Main Street USA. We'll keep you posted, but this recessionary summer is proving Disneyland can still pull a few tricks out of its sleeve even when money is tight.


Celebrated?

And what about that Celebrate street party? Don't get too excited just yet, but TDA has quietly begun drafting plans to refurbish the old Parade of Dreams floats and possibly get the parade back out on the street as the main act later this year. They are still waiting anxiously for all of the customer feedback surveys to come in from the Guest Research department, as TDA simply can't make a decision based on gut instinct or personal experience. But if the grumbles about the show and its congested crowd control continue to increase with the park attendances, then a quick about face could be performed that would bring back the Parade of Dreams to an afternoon run with the street party running in the evening hours instead.

So... loud? ...garish? ...silly? All that and more!
Lip-synch for your life!

Although the original artistic vision had the street party playing just on Main Street in the afternoon with the Parade of Dreams slotted in at night, the hyper show actually looks better in the evening. Several key folks in TDA are wondering why they didn't think of running the parade in the afternoon, and then offering the street party as an evening performance and bundle it as part of the Summer Nightastic offerings.

It may be too late to change the street party to the evening when it looks more impressive, but we will stay close to the story, of course. Those hard working CM's performing in the show would surely stand a better chance of making it through the summer if their show times were after sundown, that's for sure.


It's off to work we go...

Aside from those new openings and upcoming events, work continues around both parks with the usual Disneyland refurbishments and the ongoing DCA Extreme Makeover. Regular readers who have noticed an upcoming refurbishment for Peter Pan's Flight shouldn't expect the expensive new boats with double rows of seats we told you were discussed several years ago. Instead the attraction will get its usual cleaning and freshening, in addition to a new fleet of boats. The new boats won't have a second row, but they have been designed to carry more weight and will have noticeably wider seats to accommodate those ever growing 21st century posteriors.

Buh-bye! Really. Now leave.
Route 66 to be 86'd

Meanwhile at DCA, more construction walls will go up around the unsuccessful Golden Dreams theater the moment the new restrooms are completed across the street in May. By early June not only will the Golden Dreams building be crumpled under the bulldozers, but the adjacent Souvenir 66 store and Corn Dog Castle will also be closed to transform into their Victorian era replacements.

The new versions will mesh much better with the lavish Little Mermaid show building next door, although the land these two small buildings sit on is a potential expansion area for next decade once Goofy's Sky School ends its run.


The April 1st Update

I'm still getting a lot of concerned/worried/upset email about the Emancipating Abe column. You have to wonder about the reputation the honchos running the parks have built when so many of you out there believed it was actually going to happen.

 

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. 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.

2009 Al Lutz


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