A Different look at Disney...

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While the alarming news coming from the media about the economy in the past few weeks has some industries reeling with suddenly reduced demand, the business at Disneyland has been surprisingly stable and healthy as the busy summer season turns to fall and towards the holidays.

If anything, the most troubling aspect of all the financial news and noisy presidential race is that Jay Rasulo's series of media events and announcements this fall are having a hard time getting the same attention they had in years past. There's just too much other important news right now, leaving the Disney marketing puff pieces on the cutting room floor, much to the annoyance of the Burbank media planners who pour time and money into these staged productions.

While some inside observers are concerned that Team Disney Anaheim's (TDA's) financial planners have gotten used to the busy hotels and fat park profits since Disneyland's 50th celebration, TDA's sharp pencil boys have yet to dial down their rather rosy projections for the fiscal year 2009 that just kicked in last week. If attendance and spending continues to remain strong, that will be good news not just for the short term, but for the long term as well because Anaheim is literally just two weeks away from starting in on the massive reconstruction of DCA that will continue on through the park in 2010 and 2011.

In this update we'll fill you in on what to expect by the end of the month when DCA construction starts, what Jay Rasulo's planners have up their sleeves for his empire's expansion, as well as give you a sneak peek inside the new DCA Preview Center and the re-themed rooms of it's a small world. Plus we have a little dish on some of the still clueless decisions Rasulo's hand-picked figureheads are making in TDA. As always, special thanks go out to David "Darkbeer" Michael, Ian Parkinson and "Fishbulb" for use of their photos to illustrate the column today.

Got that pumpkin spice muffin heated up yet? And that pumpkin latte was picked up at the local java emporium, right? Well let's get going then, I know it's been a bit of a wait for you. - Al

Mathmagic Land

Despite a broad ticket price increase in late summer just before the worst of the financial panic hit the markets, attendance at Disneyland and DCA has held up to the long term projections laid out for September and early October. While overall occupancy at Anaheim hotels has eased a bit from its packed to the rafters rates of 2006-07, the Disney owned hotels in particular are still holding their own with healthy occupancy rates above 90% this fall, with advance Christmas reservations even stronger.

Attendance at Disneyland and California Adventure (DCA) has remained healthy, although the planned decrease in attendance post-50th has knocked 5K or 10K off of busy weekends as compared to 2006. Aside from actual ticket sales however, the most important thing is in-park spending at stores and restaurants, and that has remained very healthy. So while there are slightly fewer visitors in Anaheim now, they are so far all still spending at healthy levels.


Of course that is good news for those rooting for DCA's extreme makeover. Although the 1.2 Billion dollar budget for that park's extreme makeover has been referred to as simply "Phase One" of the multi year plan to salvage the theme park that has never lived up to initial expectations, the first phase should actually be broken up into four smaller phases, with four separate sub-projects with compartmentalized budgets within the broader makeover budget. The phases are considered by WDI as follows;

  • World of Color and Paradise Pier makeover, completed spring 2010
  • Main Entrance makeover, Red Car trolley, initial Hollywood work, completed mid 2011
  • Little Mermaid pavilion and E-Ticket attraction, completed late 2011
  • Cars Land attractions, shops, restaurants, completed mid 2012

That first phase is going full speed ahead into construction mode, with the DCA lagoon being drained before Thanksgiving (promising quite a stench for a week or two). The Sun Wheel is the first Paradise Pier attraction to close later this month, with the rest to follow in stages into the winter and spring.

Beat that Bellagio

Many observers have naturally been wondering what the financial crisis might mean for these big DCA plans, and for at least the first few phases the answer is "not much". The parks that actually need to be worried are the other company properties in North America and in Paris who have expansion plans not as fully developed as DCA, and whose budgets are not as far along on the approval process as DCA's was from back in '07.

A more compact version of DCA's Little Mermaid ride is being proposed and mocked up for a plot of land in Florida's Magic Kingdom, where their old submarine ride used to be. But the timing and budget for that clone is not yet confirmed, and the ability to secure company funding for that expansion isn't being helped by the financial panic. We'll keep you updated in the months ahead, but the DCA version of Little Mermaid will be the first to start construction later in '09, while the Florida version might be on hold for a bit until Florida attendance projections and finances shake out a bit more for the 2011-13 time frame.

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2008 Al Lutz

A Different look at Disney...
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