Summer is long gone and HalloweenTime is in full swing at Disneyland, with some surprising results that now have TDA licking their chops. It’s been rather quiet lately after Tom Staggs settled in and asked for a full review of every major plan in the Disney Parks empire, with the results having the company hitting the pause button on most major projects (except DCA’s extreme makeover) and the rethink and retrenchment of the Princess-heavy and Attraction-light Fantasyland makeover heading to Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland.
Here in Southern California though, the mood is much brighter as George Kalogridis juggles a surprisingly popular DCA under heavy construction, as he continues with a maintenance and freshening standard for Disneyland that is noticeably superior to the rather lower standards considered business as usual by managers of the Florida property. In this update we’ll also fill you in on just how successful HalloweenTime is this year at the resort and why 2011 is looking rather bright for Anaheim, despite the gloomy economy.
Got that spice muffin warmed? Have that Pumpkin latte on your desk yet? Then let's get going shall we? - Al
Boo, not Hoo
Once World of Color took over DCA this past summer, there really wasn’t any other option but to move the Halloween parties out of DCA and over to Disneyland. The TDA executives had committed DCA’s sole marketing message to be World of Color for 2010, a message that then had to be shared after the runaway success of Glow Fest. At the time the decision was made earlier in 2010, the fear was that they would muddle that message with the public, and throw off the ability to perform World of Color seven nights per week to non-party guests. But with the new Halloween Screams fireworks and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy debuting at Disneyland in ’09 for HalloweenTime to wildly popular approval ratings, Kalogridis and his executive team figured it was a perfect opportunity to move the parties to Disney’s flagship park and charge a higher premium for them.
When we first broke the news to you earlier this year about moving the parties to Disneyland, the other hope was that moving the parties would prevent the insane traffic gridlock and parking hassles that were the hallmark of nearly every night last year during HalloweenTime, when tens of thousands of Annual Passholders per night were descending on the park for just a couple of hours to catch the fireworks and ride Ghost Galaxy.
The results thus far have been far more successful than the suits in Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) could have hoped for, at least from a logistical and operational standpoint. While Disneyland’s City Hall has been besieged on Friday evenings by upset tourists who claim they had no idea that Disneyland closed at 7:00 PM (a concept that TDA knew would happen, but was willing to deal with), the parties have brought overall calm and civility back to not just the surface streets and parking operation that was near anarchy last year, but has also allowed those attending the plussed-up Halloween parties to enjoy them more.
While the earlier closings on Friday may take some Annual Passholders by surprise who only have a point of reference for Disneyland’s operating hours that go back five or ten years, this type of operation actually brings back fond memories for the Cast Member old-timers who remember when Disneyland closed at 6:00PM nearly every Friday throughout the year to host private evenings for companies. In the '60s, '70s and '80s, back when corporations spent more lavishly to maintain employee morale, the Disneyland calendar had a never-ending stream of private parties for McDonnell-Douglas, Boeing, General Motors, and any number of successful companies big and small with an employee base in Southern California. The local aerospace firms in particular were a huge source of the business behind these Friday private parties, up until that industry suffered a nasty downturn in the early 1990’s.
You do have to wonder, what with the Internet and easy cell phone access to Disneyland’s info line (714-781-7290) staffed each day by those every-so-perky hostesses sitting in a phone room behind City Hall, not to mention the multiple signs noting the days operating hours in the parking structure and bag check tents, how there could be any way to not know what time Disneyland closed on any particular day by the time you got to the entrance. And yet, some visitors are amazed and angry every Friday evening around 7:00PM when the park’s crew of crowd control CM’s start herding anyone without a party wrist band towards the exits.
While the line of complaining folks has been fairly consistent in City Hall on party nights, and again that’s a hit TDA knew they would have to take, the overall ratings the parties have been receiving from the Guest Research department has been higher than when the parties were held in DCA. The higher ticket prices don’t appear to bother people who perceive they are getting a better product at Disneyland. Thus far, the party ticket sales have been capped at a limit of 18,000 per night. And with the exception of the first couple Tuesday’s in October, most of the parties have reached the 18,000 mark. Of course, the first few hours of the party also include 6,000 to 8,000 day visitors who are trying to outrun the crowd control crews, but by fireworks time most of the people in the park actually paid for a party ticket.
Aside from the relatively smooth sailing inside the park once the party starts, the dramatic improvement to the parking situation and the surrounding surface street gridlock that has nearly disappeared this year has TDA wondering if they shouldn’t push the envelope a bit and add a few thousand additional tickets to the sales mix for the last two weekends in October, particularly the parties on Friday the 29th and Sunday the 31st. Since those dates are already sold out, if they do add a few thousand more tickets to the mix, you can likely expect a chirpy yet carefully worded announcement from the Disney Parks Blog crew the day they go on sale.
Pumbaa Parking Pause
Since the parking troubles have cleared up for both the Hallowen parties, and average busy weekends, the TDA planners are trying to figure out the impact that the new Toy Story parking lot has on the Resort. That parking lot, which generally gets high reviews for easy accessibility and a faster way to get to the parks than the grimy parking structure and the over-burdened trams, has yet to actually fill up all of its 3,600 spaces on even the busiest days. But just taking a few extra thousand cars out of the parking structure seems to have made a big improvement in the overall ebb and flow of cars and traffic around Disneyland.
It’s for that reason that the big parking structure we told you about last year to be built on the Pumbaa parking lot has been put on hold again. TDA has amassed a surprising list of land parcels surrounding that Pumbaa lot, and eventually the 8,000 space structure will be built. But for now, TDA is happy to bank the $200 Million they had approved from Burbank and wait a bit longer. The uncertainty of where all the funding will come from for Anaheim’s people-mover system that will have a major station in that new structure hasn’t helped push the project forward either. So, for now, TDA has pushed the new structure on to the back burner and is happy to wait a bit longer.
Meanwhile, over at DCA, the elecTRONica replacement for the popular Glow Fest got off to a rousing start on October 8th. We’ve told you in the past how the infamously catty group working for Disneyland’s Entertainment Department was not-so-quietly seething all summer long over Mary Niven’s decision to let an outside contractor invade their territory and design and staff much of Glow Fest. Their jealousy-fueled hard work seems to have paid off though, as elecTRONica has duplicated most of Glow Fest’s success, while adding some much-needed Disneyfied theme and backstory to it all. The movie doesn’t open for two more months and the elecTRONica equipment is just as ugly and out of place during the day as Glow Fest was, but after sundown no one seems to care.
The elecTRONica go-go dancers are as talented as the Glow Fest dancers were, the list of invited DJ’s keeps the music fresh and just as hip as any west LA nightclub, and the repurposing of the old Hollywood and Dine food court as Flynn’s Arcade was a particularly inspired touch. (Although only opening the arcade during evening hours is baffling to many visitors.) Interestingly, it is the addition of some notable “outside” talent that makes elecTRONica the smash hit it is, such as the very impressive Laserman performer and those nightclub DJ’s brought in each weekend, but don’t mention that little fact to the Disneyland Entertainment department as their egos are just now recovering from Glow Fest.
Another departure from Glow Fest, and a big success for elecTRONica, has been the souvenir sales. The Tron merchandise has been flying off the shelves each night, which has perked up the ears of the merchandise team up in Burbank, you can be sure. My favorite? The elecTRONica logo tshirt at a reasonable (for Disney) $20. Nice to see something specific to the park. It almost makes up for those rather generic Tron trucker caps at a jaw-dropping $36.
Sadly, one thing not duplicated from the previous event is the inclusion of a gourmet food truck, like the Louks truck that had everyone salivating at Glow Fest. For elecTRONica the DCA Foods team took over the old catering truck that’s been sitting there since 2001 and it now offers up some rather uninspired and noticeably mediocre offerings, much like the rest of Disneyland Resort’s fast food offerings. Louks’ food truck is sorely missed here, as even TDA execs admit quietly that the current in-house food offering is elecTRONica’s weak link.
This would have seemed a great opportunity for Disneyland’s food team to prove they can react quickly and provide fresh and tasty food in a themed environment, but they really blew that opportunity here. You do have to wonder what they were thinking with offering bland nachos and cheap-tasting chocolate cake, which isn’t particularly good or themed in any way to the rest of the experience.
Duffy, just barely...
On the other side of DCA, it’s been all about Duffy’s arrival this past week. The opening day had the predictable numbers of Japanese expatriates who needed their stateside Duffy fix or eBay sellers sensing an easy markup, and they rushed in that morning and snapped up quite a bit of merchandise that first day. Since then, however, Duffy has been getting rather lonely in that nicely dressed party tent they built for him.
It doesn’t help Duffy’s self-esteem that Mickey’s meet n’ greet tent just down the boardwalk has long lines, nor did it help when the Tangled meet n’ greet opened the next day in Disneyland to instant 30 minute waits. Make no mistake, they are going to flog Duffy until he finally catches on in a big way. There’s already some talk of moving Mickey over to Duffy’s meet n’ greet tent to help drive interest in Duffy and help educate Americans that he is Mickey’s teddy bear. After what they invested in launching him in America, they aren’t about to let Duffy wither away just yet, so stay tuned for the evolving Duffy story.
Almost Part of Your World
Near Duffy’s new digs is the big Little Mermaid show building, which is still right on schedule for a May grand opening. The interior of the attraction is having the last of the major mechanics installed for the Omnimover ride system, and then the bigger set pieces will move in by the end of the year. Once the big stuff is in place, it’s relatively easy to snap the 108 clamshell vehicles on to the track from the maintenance bay on the northwest corner of the ride building, plug in the dozens of animatronics sitting in storage, and begin a few months of testing and adjusting this winter.
If all goes well, they’d like to be doing soft openings for Mermaid by April, 2011, and then debut it at a big media event in May hyping Mermaid, Star Tours 2.0, Disneyland’s new Soundsational parade (that opens later this winter), and the revamped Paradise Pier section of DCA. 2011 will be a very exciting year for Anaheim, with the debut of several big new attractions and a new parade, and a growing fan frenzy as the towering tailfins of Cars Land take shape over the construction walls.
Back over at Disneyland, planning continues for the follow-up act to DCA’s 1.2 Billion extreme makeover. We’ve detailed before that two main concepts have been in the running here, another makeover for Tomorrowland that brings back a PeopleMover concept and repurposes the rotating waste of space that is Innoventions, and a big expansion on the northern edge of Frontierland. Tom Staggs may have sent much of WDW’s Fantasyland remake back to the drawing boards, but after several presentations and a few walking tours he is letting both TDA and WDI move forward with their Disneyland expansion planning.
It helps immensely that Staggs visits Disneyland quite regularly with his young family, and so he is familiar with the Anaheim property and its leadership team. We’ve told you how he's a very different type of Disney Parks leader than Jay Rasulo was, as Rasulo could go for more than a year without stepping foot in Anaheim, and then only for a scripted media event where he showed absolutely no interest in the actual parks. John Lasseter’s giddy focus on absolutely anything related to Disneyland continues to help the cause here as well.
As of this fall, it’s that Frontierland expansion that is gaining traction to be the first out of the gate, so much so that TDA has recently commissioned work on the feasibility of moving the park’s Circle D horse ranch (shown above) off-property so that the Disneyland expansion can take up all of the space currently used for horse corrals and animal care facilities. In order to preserve the animals appearing daily in Disneyland in Frontierland and on Main Street however, a new piece of land will need to be found nearby where a ranch could be set up and the animals shuttled in trailers to and from the park each day.
Currently in the running is some vacant land sitting just south of the Toy Story parking lot, although the residents living in the apartments nearby probably won’t be big fans of that move. There is also some space on the opposite side of the Santa Ana Freeway, on land currently surrounded by industrial parks where the smell won’t be as big of a problem.
Also to be ironed out is what exact form the small collection of attractions here will take, as TDA has been wanting another water-based family thrill ride for Disneyland, while Imagineers keep sketching wagon trains or stagecoaches. What may also weigh into all this is the Lone Ranger film that's in the works at Disney, apparently with Pirates director and star (Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp) attached.
There are quite a few hurdles to clear, both logistical and financial, before bulldozers start to move in behind Frontierland, but the need to expand Disneyland’s overall capacity continues to be at the top of the Anaheim executives to-do list and it will be a major part of their planning here in fiscal year 2011.
Neverland beyond Disneyland
Normally, my esteemed MiceAge colleague Sue Kruse covers entertainment offerings on the site, but schedules being what they were I found myself at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on the third of this month thanks to a complementary pair of tickets for the threesixty production of Peter Pan.
If you've read or heard about this presentation before, it's most likely due to the unique technology utilized in its performance. The show is performed in a custom built theater in the round tent, which also serves as a circle-vision like screen for an elaborate high definition video projection system.
While it can be immersing, oddly enough all the razzle-dazzle can hamper some of the key moments of the show. In particular the first flying sequence suffers the most as the actors dangle relatively motionless above the middle of the stage as the scenery whirls all around them on the tent walls.
I don't envy the producers of the show, they had a difficult task in bringing a turn-of-the-century theater production to an audience routinely dazzled by the latest Pixar or Potter projects. So, while it doesn't succeed on every level, in particular with the adults; the kids in the audience will find enough to enjoy themselves with.
Peter Pan is scheduled to run until November 21, although a press kit I was given indicates performances may continue beyond that. For further information, and ticket orders visit www.OCPAC.org