That little whirlwind in Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) is growing into a powerful hurricane now as the final weeks fall away before the grand reopening and formal rededication of Disney California Adventure. The DCA team in particular is getting, oh what's the best word here... "tricky" with some of the things they have up their sleeve for reopening day on June 15th, and the realization is setting in with the giant on-site WDI team that it’s almost time to say goodbye to the DCA extreme makeover project they’ve fiddled with for the last four years and hand it over to the operations folks to run it and live with it for the next 50 years.
Not to be left out of the fun, John Lasseter is visiting Anaheim nearly every week now, and Tom Staggs and Bob Iger feel the need to tag along on at least some of his Anaheim visits. (Sure beats having to deal with all the John Carter fallout doesn't it?) It speaks volumes that they don’t even bother sending photographers out for each executive visit, since they are in Anaheim so often.
In this update we’ll fill you in on some of the nitty gritty on the June 15th plans, provide some more details on the Starbucks news we've been updating you on the past three years and tell you where in Disneyland proper the green mermaid will land, as well as fill you in on what's next for Walt Disney's original magic kingdom. I'd normally at this point say to get your Starbucks order in, but I've gotten a little burned out on it, so instead I'm heading to the juice bar to get the morning started. And before we get started, special thanks as always go to MiceChat's Fishbulb and Dateline Disneyland's Andy Castro for help with all the photos today. - Al
Shining Star for you and me...
We finally were able to lock down the news last week that the overly negotiated plan to bring Starbucks to Disney’s theme parks will soon bring results. The first hybrid Starbucks in a Disney theme park will be at the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café (dubbed the Pig Café by Anaheim’s Food and Beverage team) and will open with the rededicated theme park on June 15th. The top-secret plan, dubbed Project Orange in a flourish of dramatic intrigue by the small team assigned to it, has been percolating in earnest since last fall.
We played along in recent months and hinted around the edges of Project Orange over the winter because the Anaheim team was deathly afraid that Starbucks would back out of the deal if the truth got out, mainly over the disagreement with the Starbucks group from Seattle regarding how to train Disney’s Cast Members on Starbucks proprietary systems and equipment. (And who are we to rob you of a decent cup of coffee on a foggy Anaheim morning?) But the Project Orange plan became public on Monday morning after we brought light to the issue last week, and we’ll fill you in on some of the details that were left out of the rather vague press release yesterday.
As mentioned, the first location at the Pig Café on Buena Vista Street won’t be the only theme park Starbucks in Anaheim. The refurbished Carnation Café on Disneyland’s Main Street USA is also planning to implement the same Starbucks concept as the Pig Café when it opens within a few days of Disneyland’s 57th anniversary in mid-July. Just like we told you with the Pig Café, the new Carnation Café will act most like a Starbucks during the morning hours when multiple espresso machines will be steaming away behind the counter, and customers in line can pick up some of Starbucks most popular breakfast items and pastries. By Noon the Carnation Café will transition into its new Disney-created lunch and dinner menu, while the Starbucks Mochas and Frappucinos and Tazo Teas will continue to be made behind the counter.
Just like on Buena Vista Street, period-specific versions of Starbucks logos will adorn the doorways and windows of the Carnation Café. For the Pig Café, Starbucks even agreed to use the more intricate 1971 version of their Norse Mermaid logo instead of the more streamlined modern version found at the 20,000 other Starbucks around the world. The Disneyland and DCA locations would be one of the few places this original logo is seen today, outside of the corporate office in Seattle and the original funky coffee shop still in business at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.
Luckily, Disney and Starbucks finally came to an agreement on just how much of Starbucks’ well-honed training the Disney Cast Members will receive. And while it’s not nearly as comprehensive as the regular Starbucks training, it’s going to be dramatically longer and more involved than the training (or lack of training) the Anaheim Cast Members in the Food & Beverage department currently get. The compromise gets the instruction required to staff the Starbucks equipment at the Pig Café down to one week, reduced from the two weeks of classroom and hands on training the Starbucks team was asking for at the beginning of negotiations.
The bigger picture still seems to be lost on most of the TDA team, and that’s the ugly truth that the training and cultural indoctrination newly hired Cast Members receive in the Food & Beverage department in particular is woefully short, in addition to being intellectually weak at best, and useless at worst. Anaheim’s training for Security and Guest Relations Cast Members tends to be the most comprehensive, with the Attractions groups coming in a very close second. Those departments can have training regimens for new hires that stretch towards two full weeks or more. But the Food & Beverage team is lucky to get just a day or two, and even then the training for equipment like the espresso machines at a theme park café is often a 5 minute overview on how to turn on the machine, mash some espresso in the filter, and push the button and hope dark liquid comes out.
The standard rebuttal from TDA is that the Foods Cast Members are the youngest and have the highest turnover that continues to churn quickly even in this tough economy, and so they don’t deserve wasted training dollars. It’s a minor miracle this Starbucks deal came together at all after the reconnaissance work the Starbucks spies did at Disneyland, but hopefully this whole process will open some eyes in TDA about just how abysmal the onboarding and training process is for front line Cast Members.
The Starbucks deal at the Pig Café and Carnation Café will also create a product-placement scenario not seen at Disneyland since the ’70s. The Starbucks setup will resemble the first few decades of Disneyland’s operation when both Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola were sold at different restaurants around the park (Pepsi was sold mainly on the west side of the park with its title sponsorship of the Golden Horseshoe show, and Coke was sold on Main Street and in Tomorrowland). At all the other restaurants and coffee carts in the parks the same old Nescafe dreck will still be sold. If you want your genuine Starbucks drink, you’ll need to wait in the very long lines at the Pig Café on Buena Vista Street or Carnation Café on Main Street, at least for now.
Don't bypass the FastPass
But with the first visitors into the rededicated DCA happily clutching a Starbucks Latte from the Pig Café, they’ll be rushing into a theme park that is going to try and shake things up a bit when it comes to day planning and ride strategies. The first big change the new DCA will attempt concerns the Fastpass distribution area for Radiator Springs Racers. Instead of distributing the Fastpasses for this huge E Ticket attraction in the nicely themed distribution area at the entrance to the ride, Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers will be distributed from the area once used for It’s Tough To Be A Bug Fastpasses.
It may be hard for younger viewers to believe, but in DCA’s early years the original TDA executive team thought It’s Tough To Be A Bug needed Fastpass, and the 3-D theater was outfitted with a half dozen Fastpass machines near the entrance. Those machines were yanked soon after DCA tanked upon opening in 2001, but new machines will be installed there along with a Radiator Springs Racers marquee at a side entrance along DCA’s parade route.
Bug's Land to the left...
The thinking here is that people entering the park in the morning will first cycle through the new Racers Fastpass area in A Bug’s Land and pull their Fastpass ticket for the day, and then move on to DCA’s other attractions not necessarily in Cars Land. The DCA executive team has all visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando, and they desperately want to avoid the overcrowding and general mayhem that Potterland generates. TDA’s industrial engineering department weighed in and decided that the best way to alleviate crowds was to move the Fastpass distribution machines for the Racers ride outside of the land nearer the park’s main entry path, and the location in A Bug’s Land was perfectly placed for that purpose.
...soon to be a car port...
Visitors to Cars Land this summer will still see the original Racers Fastpass location near the attraction entrance, but the doors will be shut and there are no plans to use it for Fastpass until after this summer or perhaps even after the Christmas season ends in early 2013. So when you visit DCA for the first time after Bob Iger’s rededication speech on June 15th, don’t run into Cars Land looking for Fastpasses for what they are feeling may be the best new E Ticket since Indiana Jones. Instead, remember to veer left off the DCA parade route and into the unusually placed Fastpass distribution area in A Bug’s Land.
This is where you will need to head to.
The unusual placement of Fastpass machines outside of the land, the first time that’s been attempted in a Disney west coast park, is just a part of the overall crowd strategy the Anaheim planners are forced to deal with for the opening summer. The giant elephant in the conference room at all those planning meetings is the massive amount of Annual Passholders, a demographic that’s been growing again and is now beyond the 1 Million mark.
The absolutely horrific crowd conditions and gridlock on the surface streets and freeways that happened on the night of the Leap Year Day promotion back in February still looms heavy in the air in TDA. While most of Anaheim’s senior management and executives didn’t witness it first hand as only the lowest levels of management were abandoned that night to deal with the disaster, the angry calls from the mayor’s office, the chief of police, and the California Highway Patrol the next day were enough to ring alarm bells in TDA.
They had budgeted for Leap Year Day to attract a modest 45,000 to Disneyland that winter weekday, but just over 90,000 people crammed into Disneyland that day and another 26,000 settled for DCA instead. There were tens of thousands of more people chanting to be let in at the shuttered main entrance, or simply stuck in the gridlock and miles of freeway backup that evening, and they never got close enough to get in. By contrast, the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World had a comfortable 24 hour attendance of just 62,000 that day. TDA may have dropped the ball big time with Leap Year Day, but the silver lining is they are now scared to death about June 15th and are throwing massive amounts of energy and planning at it in advance.
Still, with a million Annual Passholders salivating over Cars Land, the last two weeks of June should prove to be a slow-motion version of the 24 hour party on Leap Year Day. The weakest link there is the number of parking spaces available, as once the Parking department has filled the 16,000 primary parking spaces for theme parks, plus pulled in favors to use a few thousand overflow spaces at the Anaheim Convention Center or GardenWalk mall, there’s not much else to do but just try and keep the congested Anaheim streets and off-ramps moving. That eight-level, 5,000+ space parking garage once planned for the Pumbaa parking lot, but put on the back burner by George Kalogridis a few years ago, sure would have come in handy this summer.
But what’s done is done, and with the Cast Member lots already overflowing with the 2,000 new Cast Members hired this spring, there’s nothing much the Parking team can do but hire plenty of Anaheim traffic cops to hopefully keep the streets moving as everyone circles the Resort district looking for an open parking space.
But once you’ve found a parking spot and you’ve gotten your Fastpass for Radiator Springs Racers out on the parade route, you might as well head right in to Cars Land and get in line for Luigi’s Flying Tires first thing, as it will have a painfully slow moving line. The Flying Tire ride had its first public test this past weekend for Cast Members, Imagineers, and their friends and family. The results were mixed.
The reports coming in from many Cast Members who attended are that the line for Luigi’s Flying Tires moves painfully slow and the queue is filled with bizarre instructions on how to get the thing to work. It hasn’t helped that John Lasseter, sensing the learning curve on making your tire move was too long for the standard 90 second ride cycle, has decreed that the ride cycle be bumped up to two minutes and 15 seconds. That makes for a better ride, but it’s also destroyed the numbers for what was already a very low capacity attraction. Interestingly, the test riders this weekend were allowed to walk right out to the middle of Cars Land for a stunning view of Radiator Springs, and they also noted that Alamo Rent-A-Car had their logos prominently displayed on the front of Luigi’s queue building as the ride’s sponsor.
Of course they know how to get it moving, they think.
The test riders at Luigi’s Flying Tires, Presented by Alamo this past weekend reported that the ride was full of giant beach balls bouncing all over the place with Italian music blaring, and the Cast Members working the ride didn’t seem confident and were unable to keep the line moving at a decent clip. It was also reported that the Cast Members have to walk out on to the windy ride floor to manually push vehicles into the wheelchair loading area, and with all the beach balls and free floating vehicles to dodge many observers felt that process looked quite unsafe and difficult for the young Cast Members working there. Hopefully these newly trained Cast Members get more practice in during these testing days, and they’ll be speedier and more confident when the actual paying customers show up in June.
It appears the main problem with Luigi’s is that the operation of the vehicle is not at all easy to figure out, and WDI has now filled the queue with instructions on how to get the floating tires to move. For last weekend’s test the walls of the queue were plastered with giant billboards offering rider instructions that only seemed to get more confusing as you shuffled slowly further into the queue. When the Luigi’s Cast Members were asked by test riders to explain the “Flying Tips”, their answer was simply “Just lean and it will move”. But the official rider instructions for Luigi’s Flying Tires, devoid of any pictures or graphics, were as follows this past weekend as provided by those who test rode;
Luigi’s Flying Tip #1 – Balance Point
Once airborne, find your BALANCE POINT,
shift your weight from side to side and
front to back so you are floating freely
and no part of your tire touches the floor.
(Easy enough, right?)
Luigi’s Flying Tip #2 – Lean
Once you have found your balancing point,
LEAN slightly in the direction you would like to fly.
If you lean too far your tire will dip and skid on the floor.
If you are flying with others coordinate
BALANCING and LEANING together!
What’s the difference between
leaning and shifting?)
Luigi’s Flying Tip #3 – Spin
Recommended for advanced tire flyers.
To SPIN the tire simply move the control handle
to the left or right and hold in that position.
The tire will slowly start to spin
and will gradually increase in speed.
(Except the spin control doesn’t work and only
anyone who wastes 2 minutes and 15 seconds trying.)
Luigi’s Flying Tip #4 - Lean & Spin
Recommended for advanced tire flyers.
It takes more skill to SPIN & TRAVEL in a
desired direction at the same time.
To do so, choose a direction you wish to go
and continuously change your LEAN
that direction while your tire rotates beneath you.
(Huh? And exactly how am I supposed to become
an advanced tire flyer when the line is two hours long
and I keep getting smacked around by beach balls?)
Needless to say, the first big test of Luigi’s Flying Tires left a lot of folks scratching their heads and wondering if it was just them, or if their tire was broken. It’s not you, it’s not your tire, it’s that the ride is very complicated and takes at least several times before you get the hang of it. There’s a second test planned for Saturday, May 5th when thousands more Cast Members, Imagineers and their friends and family will be invited in to Cars Land to fly the tires again. It will be interesting to see what changes WDI has made to the ride by then, and if it helps any.
The good news is that several hundred front-line Cast Members have ridden Luigi’s Flying Tires last month as part of earlier testing, and they all report that their skill got much better on about the third ride and they really had a lot of fun by the fifth or sixth ride. But with a very low hourly capacity as witnessed by the painfully slow moving line this past weekend, it could take up half your day getting to your third or fourth ride on Luigi’s Flying Tires in order to achieve the Advanced Beginner stage. Forget ever becoming an “Advanced Flyer”, there aren’t enough Sudoku puzzles in the world to work on as you wait in that slow line over and over again to get to that mythical skill level.
Rolling Rolling Rolling
In happier Cars Land news, the rest of the land is coming along well. Although the buzz from WDI is that the animation effects for the animatronics in Radiator Springs Racers are having quite a bit of trouble, and it may be down to the wire to get them all working and interacting with each other correctly by June 15th.
SPOILERS AHEAD: CLICK HERE TO SKIP THEM
There are 20 extra-large animatronics used in the dark ride portions of Radiator Springs Racers, plus a few less sophisticated figures like the tipping tractors or the HD projections of Flo and Ramone seen through the viewing window of Ramone’s paint booth.
No battle robots here!
While some of the animatronics use projected mouth or eye effects, some of them have moving parts for their mouth or facial features. Getting all of those characters interacting correctly with each other as your vehicle passes between them is the tricky part, and it’s a software issue that is proving to be a real headache. We’ll keep close to this animatronic story coming from our sources, but it’s not unheard of on big WDI projects like this to see miracles take place in the last 30 days before opening after months of frustration and dead-ends.
Buena Vista, Not so Buena Schedule
The other nail-biter is down on Buena Vista Street. While the Carthay Circle Theater is right on schedule and will be the first part of the land to open by early June, some of the rest of Buena Vista Street is falling a week or more behind schedule now. Unlike the first half of Buena Vista Street, the Carthay Circle Theater complex was built from the ground up. And the WDI project managers went at the Carthay project very smartly by including all of the various trades involved in the project into the planning process very early on. The result is that the Carthay Circle Theater is a building that has met or exceeded its construction timeline every step of the way, with a “just in time” building mode where every trade is up to speed and plugged in to each other’s schedule.
The result of this smart construction will be that the walls around the Carthay Circle Theater will be coming down by the first days of June, and the restaurant and lounges will be in soft open mode very shortly after that. In contrast, the rest of Buena Vista Street was a repurposing of original DCA buildings and footprints, and the schedule didn’t have much room for error. The Buena Vista Street team is already working seven days per week now, and much of the west side of the street is a full week behind schedule now. The media sneak peeks of the Buena Vista Street once planned for early June will now likely just be exterior shots and tours only, with the interiors of shops and restaurants subject to detailing, decorating, and furnishing even after the grand reopening on June 15th.
In other DCA news, the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain project is moving along nicely, and its grand opening is now slated for Tuesday, June 5th. On that day they will have a ribbon cutting ceremony and a big ice cream social, in order to get the location up and running well in advance of the frenzy aimed at June 15th.
This earlier date also allows TDA’s marketing team to aim some attention solely at Ghirardelli as a new park sponsor, as the Ghirardelli facility will probably get lost in the media pandemonium in neighboring Cars Land on June 14th and 15th.
Meanwhile, over at Disneyland, the Princess Fantasy Faire project is about to get underway. The plan now is to tear out the original wooden bridges that once led to Carnation Plaza Gardens from the Hub and Castle forecourt, and replace them with wider bridges designed to handle not just hoards of arriving princess fans but also some of the location’s switchback queue.
Tasteful is not the word I was thinking of...
There seems to be a lot of worry about all this from all the band/swing dance regulars, so let's make the following clear: The iconic dance floor and stage will remain in its original spot with the same footprint, although the tent covering and surrounding fixtures will be replaced with the medieval look shown in the WDI artwork. The stage will be used during the day for a rotating show featuring the Princesses (see above), and on weekend nights it can all revert back to swing dancing on the original dance floor.
The main attraction of Princess Fantasy Faire will be the meet n’ greet pavilion taking up the western half of the space where the patio tables are located now. The concept here is simple; the building will basically be a long narrow hall split into two passageways. Once you enter the lobby, themed as a palace reception hall with high ceilings, a Cast Member will split the line into smaller groups and send them into one of the two identical passageways. Each passageway will be set up with three greeting rooms where you will meet three separate Princesses before you exit out towards the gift shop.
A little better...
The same Princesses will often appear in each parallel passageway, allowing two of each character to work the Faire location at the same time. The twin-passageway setup basically doubles the capacity of the current Princess Fantasy Faire in the Fantasyland Theater, where there is just one line of Princesses to wait for.
The other thing to remember is that Disneyland is getting the fancier version of the Castle Fantasy Faire. Two different design renderings of the proposed Anaheim facility were accidentally released by WDI, one with a cheaper English Tudor façade for the building (shown below) and one with a far more intricate mish-mash of various Princess architectural styles (shown above).
The cheaper version was the earlier incarnation when both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World projects were receiving the same limited budget as part of the inane “One Disney” corporate philosophy managed out of Florida. The Florida version stuck to its original modest budget, and will set up a more basic twin-passageway setup dubbed Princess Fairytale Hall behind a lightly re-themed façade at what used to be their Snow White dark ride.
But TDA didn’t like the cheap Tudor look and it would have obviously clashed with the Germanic castle next door. Instead, TDA’s executive team pushed for more money for the Anaheim version, as they are so skilled at doing now. The result of the beefed up Anaheim budget is that a more elaborate façade was created that not only creates an eclectic little village of pan-European architecture, but subtly represents each of the main Princesses found inside. There will even be a few animatronic animal characters included in the queue pre-show for Anaheim’s version. A small snack cart theme like Stromboli’s wagon in Pinocchio will round out the basic offerings on Princess Fantasy Faire when it opens in spring, 2013.
Those Orlando suits continue to amaze - don't they? But that's what Walt Disney World visitors get (and frankly, deserve). I'm sure their most rabid fans will defend this lower quality effort like crazy as they have other such decisions in the past.
NextGen: Next Time
With both the Castle Fantasy Faire, and the remodeled and upgraded Fantasyland Theater hosting a new Fab Five Character stage show, the first appearance of NextGen queue infrastructure will arrive in Anaheim. We’ve discussed the NextGen concept and its xPass ticketing system before, but for now it’s entirely a Walt Disney World project. The xPass concept that will take advantage of the NextGen queues will soft open at Walt Disney World this fall with Disney’s new fiscal year, with a formal kickoff for WDW in January of 2013. The Anaheim versions of all of this are approximately 18 months behind the WDW kickoff this winter.
When that time comes, there will still be a great deal of construction and logistical work to install the NextGen equipment and xPass concept in the two Anaheim theme parks. Even the three new Cars Land attractions had no accommodation made to their queues to incorporate NextGen concepts or xPass infrastructure into them, and those popular attractions will likely be facing reconstruction in their queues within two years of opening. But the Castle Fantasy Faire and the Fantasyland Theater were further behind Cars Land in development, and separate entry lanes for xPass users are being designed in to both of those facilities, along with lots of sophisticated data lines and electronic infrastructure to properly welcome each arriving xPass guest by name and/or Princess preference.
The two Fantasyland locations won’t be turned on with xPass upon their debut in 2013, but they’ll be ready to go when xPass (which is a working title only at this point) does arrive in Anaheim in late 2014. That’s assuming they can figure out how to get the whole xPass thing to work with Anaheim’s far more diverse demographic of international, domestic, and local visitors who all arrive at Disneyland with different mindsets.
Transformers 3-D: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood
Last Thursday Universal Hollywood invited us to ride their new Transformers attraction now in technical rehesrsal (soft open mode). Quite simply it is an amazing experience, and you don't have to know or care about the subject matter to be dazzled by what they have accomplished here.
The ride mechanism is fluid, the sound, special effects, 3-D and projections seamless, and a hyper-attention to detail surrounds you not only in the ride but also in the queue. (The projections even remain in 3-D if the ride stops and resets!) And twirl away at all the buttons and knobs on the queue, and you might find you'll trigger something too.
If there's a race for 10-year-old hearts and minds this summer between this and Disney's yet to be seen Cars Land Racers, I'm wondering if for the first time ever the Mouse may not get the checkered flag. Universal has a real contender with this attraction.