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You could practically hear Disneyland itself breathe a sigh of relief this week as the summer winds down, the rather unfortunate Summer Nightastic campaign mercifully ends, and over 800,000 local Annual Passholders leave the Resort to get ready to head back to work and school. Attendance has dropped from 65,000 last Monday, to barely 40,000 this Monday, and those 25,000 fewer people make a dramatic difference for the park.

While Anaheim Cast Members try to catch their breath after last week's epic Passholder crowds, they won't be resting on their laurels with the D23 Expo rapidly approaching, a reluctant dragon about to make a very late debut, and plenty of new things coming to Disneyland and DCA in the next six months.

Got that Ding-Dong out of its wrapper yet? Have that OJ poured now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al

The Reluctant Dragon

We should probably start with the latest news on Murphy (the new Fantasmic! dragon), since his failure to appear will be what the summer of 2009 is remembered for. All of the mechanical and structural repairs and alterations have been completed on the dragon as of last week.

The story of exactly what went wrong with the robotic dragon in the first place is a tricky one, and the information that has fallen into place over the last month now points not to mechanical design flaws or errors in the installation process, but rather how the dragon was being operated by Disney's own people once the outside contractor had installed the robot this past spring.

As only Disney and the stifling bureaucracy of Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) can do, they turned the whole issue into a witch hunt of sorts, with each department happy to make more work for the others in an attempt to prove their necessity to their various bosses. In short, the process of fixing the dragon became an epic battle of bureaucracy and engineering, retrofitting in additional equipment on the fly to handle all of the added weight that wouldn't have been needed had the robot simply been operated as he was designed.

The issue has been such a big deal that none other than reclusive Disneyland President Ed Grier paid a visit to Tom Sawyer Island last week to see the dragon for himself (center in the photo below), and the Anaheim Cast Members all know that if it's something that gets Ed Grier actually into the park it must be extremely unusual and very important.

Ed: When do we enter the whale's mouth?

The man to Ed's right in the above photo is Al Weiss, the president of worldwide operations for Disney parks and resorts, and the person between Ed and Jay Rasulo on the totem pole. Al was here visiting from Florida last week and he and Ed went out to the island to see the dragon and receive some of the info into why the repair process has been so lengthy and costly.

The good news is that the dragon has been running through his paces correctly in recent days, and the delay now is more about waiting for unique valves and replacement parts for the ferocious fire breathing effect and the need to get in some quick rehearsal time before the public debut. Barring any unplanned setbacks, the dragon could appear later this week.

I hate meeses to pieces!

Those who have seen him run through his paces in person are very impressed with his size and sophistication as he glares his glowing LED eyes and bends down within a few feet of a trembling Mickey Mouse. You can bet the MiceChatters will be following his every move when he does make his first public appearance. The silver lining is that Fantasmic! has now been added back to all weekends until Thanksgiving, after originally being slated to close for the fall.

Expo Expectations

Shortly after the dragon arrives, the massive D23 Expo sets up shop across the street at the Anaheim Convention Center and the anxiety level is rising by the day for the Burbank planners behind the event. Jay Rasulo recently took a tour of Disneyland and DCA with a gaggle of Imagineers to familiarize himself with the property and upcoming projects, as Jay is infamously uninterested in the theme park side of his business and he realizes he needs to brush up on his Disneyland geography before he tries to speak knowledgeably about it in front of thousands of fans.

It's no longer much of a secret that Disney will use the Expo to announce the revamped Star Tours ride coming to Disneyland in 2011 that we've told you about, with that official announcement coming during Jay's speech on September 12th. It's also not a secret that WDI will use their exhibit space to showcase the highly advanced animatronics figure coming to the Mr. Lincoln show this December, with his ability to move facial features, hands and fingers noticeably more realistic than anything WDI has done before.

Jar-Jar will be meesa's stewardess

The DCA expansion, particularly quite a bit of new artwork and insight into the massive Cars Land area, will also be on display at the D23 Expo. They will also be trying to showcase some WDW plans at the Expo; however the leaked blueprints for Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland and the smaller budget that project now is getting has left some Imagineers wishing they could just ignore Florida for the time being.

What is unknown is what else they might throw out for the Disneyland fans at D23, or at least admit is coming to Anaheim in the next year or two. Under the caring supervision of Tony Baxter as Disneyland's assigned creative executive, there are quite a few small and mid-sized projects winding their way through the budget process and headed to Disneyland in 2010 and 2011, while DCA gets the bigger mega-projects as part of its extreme makeover in 2010 through 2012.

There's already a short list of things in final design and approval stages for Disneyland that would put fans in a frenzy at D23, such as Captain EO being shoehorned back into the old Magic Eye Theater for a limited run. There's also the imminent return of the Hat Box Ghost to the attic in Haunted Mansion (after this year's Holiday overlay is removed in January), with slick digital technology improving the clunky mechanical effects of 1969 that evicted that ghost and his hat box from the house in the first place.

Assuming that Consumer Products and the Studios can keep the momentum going on the young Fairies franchise, a Tinker Bell and Fairies themed dark ride is now slated for the old Motor Boat Cruise lagoon early in the next decade. And this winter when the Rivers of America is drained for several months, Tony Baxter is looking forward to adding back a lot of the animatronic wildlife and storytelling drama that has slowly been removed from Frontierland over the last two decades.

Expo Excommunication

Sales of tickets for D23 have been... well... let's just say "below" expectations thus far, something that shouldn't surprise Burbank given the very rocky start D23 got off to with fans online, and the deep recession the concept has been launched in. Many folks who don't live within driving distance of Southern California are still taking a wait and see approach, trying to figure out if this Expo thing is going to really be something worth visiting in future years. Discounted five dollar Expo tickets are now being sold to Anaheim Cast Members, Glendale Imagineers, and Burbank employees and that should help boost the number of people wandering the cavernous exhibition halls and sprawling convention center.

Interestingly, TDA has very little involvement in the D23 Expo since the Burbank planners are leery of getting the Anaheim folks involved in much, and you can already tell with some of the miscommunication and lack of organization. For instance, the D23 Expo opens the very day Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain both close for refurbishment, with Casey Jr. Circus Train and Storybookland Canal Boats also closed for refurbishment.

Ed: We have a lot of train rides don't we?
Taken 8/22

With D23 trying to entice Disney theme park fans from around the world to visit the Expo, it probably would have been wise to get TDA to jiggle the closure dates around just a bit rather than close popular E Tickets and two of Walt's unique 1955 attractions right as the Expo kicks off. Those that have seen the inside prep work on the Expo planning are secretly relieved that ticket sales are low because they can already tell there is a lot of wrinkles to iron out and logistical issues looming ahead.

Expo Expounding

All of the work happening at DCA's extreme makeover will obviously be of interest to most D23 Expo attendees, particularly those flying in from out of state. The World of Color construction site will still be on full display, although the original timeline had water returning to the bay by the time you would be reading this. That timeline had to change earlier this summer when it was decided that the lagoon wave machine should still be used, but that would require all of the cabling laid on the lagoon floor (some shown below) to be more heavily strengthened against the force of the waves.

Taken 8/20

The goal now is to have a full lagoon by the time the Santa Ana winds kick up in October so they can see just how much water gets pushed onto the Fun Wheel and the boardwalk on the backside of the show during windy days.

There's also a proposal to create a new series of Attractions Posters for DCA, starting with the new attractions opening as part of the makeover. Disney theme park fans know how important Attractions Posters are to the mystique of any good Disney park, and it should come as no surprise that Attractions Posters were deemed a silly and wasteful expense by Paul Pressler and his crowd in the late 1990's.

Ride THAT!
Well, it was touted as an attraction when DCA first opened...

Some of the most noticeable work at DCA this summer has been the prep work backstage for the Cars Land area, and the three large buildings going up on the east side of the property (shown below). Those buildings will be support facilities for the park entertainment, as well as operational and executive offices for DCA's managers. The new corporate structure after the layoffs earlier this year mandates that all managers and executives have offices in the parks they are managing, instead of the previous practice of having most executives back in the TDA building cut off from the world.

Still a place for cars...
Taken 8/20

While her new office is being built, Mary Niven, as the new Vice President of DCA, has been trying very hard to work through her learning curve on just what it means to run a Disney theme park. Mary has spent her entire professional career in large-scale food service, coming to Anaheim 10 years ago from the UCLA campus cafeteria department, so running a theme park where the food is not a primary goal for most customers has been a change for her.

Mary has provided a bit of humor to her co-workers this summer by unwittingly dredging up an old issue from the past, the cumbersome name the park was saddled with and the early response to just call it by its acronym "DCA". Mary has now outlawed the use of the DCA acronym amongst her managers, with offending parties having to apologize and drop change into a bucket every time they don't call the park Disney's California Adventure.

Not a great idea, was it?

This had been tried before, back in 2000 when the park was under construction and testing out the new attractions. The gimmick of dropping a quarter in a jar every time you used the DCA acronym lasted about three months in 2000, until the new Cast Member cafeteria opened with a big sign proclaiming it the "DCA Café."

The DCA Café is still there, and deep down Mary must know her little anti-acronym campaign will never succeed, but you can't blame her for trying. But she probably should have asked some folks who helped open the park if the idea had been tried before. If WDI decides to change the parks name to Walt Disney's California Adventure and the new park logo that TDA's marketing department cooked up earlier this year, let's hope Mary doesn't have to drag out the change buckets again.

Space Ghost

By late September, more DCA construction and the latest version of HalloweenTime will be underway, with the nightly Halloween Screams fireworks featuring a flying Zero sure to be a crowd pleaser. While official confirmation of getting Captain EO into the mix in time for Halloween is not yet clear, the Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy will create plenty of buzz on its own.

There is a real concern now that the Halloween overlay for Space Mountain, featuring rather creepy onboard music, screeching ghosts and ghouls, and frightening visual effects, may prove too scary for young children tall enough to ride but not yet ready for an intense fright-fest. Ghost Galaxy is definitely a more amped up version of the regular Space Mountain, and park management is now trying to decide how to make it clear this could be a very scary experience for school-aged children.

Muppet Message

With all the talk about D23 and Halloween and upcoming park plans, it's easy to forget that the What Will You Celebrate campaign is winding down. The replacement ad blitz obviously will be featuring the Muppets, as they recently wrapped up a very full week of filming all over Disneyland.

The new campaign will still have a free give-away component, but they are going at it much smarter this time. The free on your birthday gimmick in 2009 was a huge headache for the Main Entrance ticketing departments, and the free retail gift cards handed out to hundreds of thousands of Annual Passholders who wanted their piece of the action were not only a drain on park profits, but also caused quite a bit of drama for the Guest Relations Cast Members who had to deal with any passholder who didn't want to follow the rules based on the block out dates of their particular pass.

The new campaign for 2010 will allow anyone a free ticket to Disneyland, but only after they complete a certain number of volunteer hours in their community with a Disney approved charity or nonprofit organization. It's looking like a much classier angle to take to free admission, and it should eliminate much of the hassles the front line Cast Members had to deal with during 2009.

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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