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With Disneyland still reeling from record crowds in October, the busy weeks of November are now turning into the even busier weeks of December. As attendance falters a bit out in Florida, pressure is being applied to the busy Anaheim property to pick up the slack. Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) is solidifying its plans to keep Disneyland busy this winter and spring until the attention shifts to California Adventure (DCA) and World of Color in April, and we'll fill you in on where those plans currently stand as well as the desire of TDA planners to squeeze blood from a turnip when it comes to investing in the Cast Members.

Got that gingerbread man ready to dip in that cinnamon flavored coffee? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al

Thanks a Million!

The crowds this past Thanksgiving week were huge, but not on the days you would expect them to be. We've been documenting for you the meteoric rise in the numbers of Annual Passholders the past few years, and it seems almost quaint that we once breathlessly announced that Anaheim had passed the 500,000 mark. That number hit 800,000 coming out of the summer season, and as of late November the number of Annual Passholders has now nudged over 925,000.

With the busiest Annual Pass buying weeks of the year still ahead around Christmas and New Years, TDA planners now fully expect the numbers of Annual Passholders to break the million mark just as the calendar flips over to 2010. That huge number is good news for the sharp pencil boys tallying up TDA's ticket receipts, but it's bad news for anyone trying to find a place to park, get a Fastpass for Indiana Jones, or buy a Dole Whip once they get into the park.

The Thanksgiving week illustrated perfectly how the huge numbers of Annual Passholders have turned half a century of theme park operations on its ear. From Sunday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving, none of the cheaper Annual Passes which make up the bulk of the 925,000 figure were blocked out. Those days were pegged for huge daily Disneyland attendance numbers of 60,000 and above, with AP's making up 35,000 or more of those daily visitors.

Special Olympics Mickey?

For instance, the day before Thanksgiving had an attendance estimate of 61,000 and by the end of the day around 64,000 had shown up. Of that huge number, nearly 40,000 were Annual Passholders, all arriving in their own personal cars and stretching the Resort infrastructure to the breaking point. The park itself was slammed with crowds in the days leading up to Thanksgiving; walkways ground to a standstill, trashcans overflowed, lines were long for everything from E Tickets to bathroom stalls, and the tempers of both the customers and the Cast Members flared at the slightest provocation.

But then Thanksgiving arrived, with all but the Premium Annual Passes were blocked out, and the daily attendance figures plummeted. Even the day after Thanksgiving, which has traditionally been one of the busiest days of the year for decades at Disneyland, barely saw 47,000 people through the gates. By Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, the attendance at Disneyland had slumped to 38,000, ranking as one of the slowest Saturdays of the entire year.

As anyone who was there on Saturday can attest, Disneyland performs beautifully at that easy attendance level, with wait times nearly nonexistent, the Custodial team staying ahead of the curve, and the park open until Midnight and the full roster of holiday entertainment offerings available. This same pattern will play out in December, with the first few Fridays and Sundays dealing with record crowds, but in late December when the blockouts kick in the attendance will decline noticeably.

TDA is now grappling with how to best manage the growing number of Annual Passholders. It's had to spend millions of dollars over the past year to set up alternate parking at GardenWalk and the Convention Center, and then contract out private buses to transport those grumpy folks left waiting in the satellite lots back up to the park entrance. The cost of the massive shuttle bus operation won't be going away in 2010, with World of Color promising to bring in epic crowds to DCA this spring and summer.


Parks Parking

On paper it would seem the Resort had enough parking space available, currently around 29,000. But as we've told you before, those figures were all compiled in the 1990's using a formula that assumed the visitors would be falling into patterns set in place in the 1950's through 1990's when the average family arrived in a group of four or more and stayed in the park for at least 8 or 10 hours. The average Annual Passholder today is arriving with just one other passenger in the car, and is staying for only three or four hours, with many Passholders arriving on their own and staying even less time. The end result is complete havoc out in the parking lots and surface streets, and near pandemonium in the parks on days when all of the Annual Passes are unblocked.

Celebrate finding a parking space

Meanwhile, the new Disney Parks executive structure has leaders out in the boonies of Orlando that are only seeing the huge dollar signs attached to the growing number of Passholders here in Anaheim. With WDW attendance slipping by single digits, the double digit attendance gains that Anaheim has made in 2009 has them giddy with excitement.

Nevertheless the Disney Parks and TDA team has been dragging their feet on building a new 8,000 space parking structure just north of GardenWalk, and that has caused several important permits to lapse with the local governments. The permits can be reissued eventually, but it's caused more delays on a parking structure that should have been finished before they wiped out 2,200 spaces in the Timon lot for CarsLand construction. The Anaheim leaders are left to clean up the operational mess nearly a million Annual Passholders are causing, while the Orlando leaders count the cash that Anaheim is now padding the bottom line with. It's all causing a bit of tension between the coasts, as the Orlando folks seem incapable of getting it.


Spare the Turkey

Those weaker numbers out in Orlando are causing plenty of belt-tightening in Anaheim, even while they had to shut the Disneyland main entrance due to overcrowding in October and Anaheim visitor spending is thus far slightly ahead of projections. As is usually the case with TDA, the first things to be slashed for Fiscal 2010 were the little niceties extended to the front line hourly Cast Members dealing with those huge crowds. The traditional and very classy cloisonné pins that TDA used to pass out to Cast Members working on major holidays were cut entirely.

And if you are under the impression that TDA takes care of the CM's working the big holidays with a nice meal backstage, think again. Long gone are the free turkey and ham dinners with all the trimmings that Disneyland used to serve to Cast Members on Thanksgiving and Christmas back in the 20th century. In recent years that traditional free meal had been reduced to grocery store pies on paper plates being set out in the break rooms, while the cafeteria served soggy enchiladas and frozen pizzas.

Mickey protects pardoned turkey from hungry CMs

But this Thanksgiving, even the free piece of pie disappeared. Instead, someone in TDA thought it would be perfectly acceptable to send out all of the unused Halloween candy left over from the DCA trick or treat parties to every break room and work location around the Resort as a cheap way of thanking the CM's for working the holiday. The hundreds of pounds of unused trick or treat candy was put in big shopping bags and distributed around the Resort, with a flier taped to the side of each bag thanking them for working the holiday from "your management."

Most CM's were embarrassed for their 'management' with this lame gesture, especially since these were some of the same CM's that had been passing out this same candy just a few weeks earlier. Never underestimate the power of TDA to demoralize the Cast Members over the holidays with their cheap morale-building attempts. As George Kalogridis digs in to his new role this month, many are waiting to see if he can put his money where his mouth is when it comes to "focusing on the Cast Members."


EO, EO, Oh...

Meanwhile, George and his executive team are still wading through a sea of corporate red tape in getting Captain EO up and running this winter. While the plan has hit plenty of last minute snags and obstacles over the last few months, the greenlight it finally received earlier this fall is still shining bright for the Michael Jackson show to return to Disneyland in 2010. They won't be making the mid January debut they had most recently been working with, but as of now, the show should arrive by early February (subject to change of course).

The latest delay has been over the Kodak sponsorship of the attraction, not surprisingly. It seems there's not a thing Kodak can do about what plays inside the theater itself, and lucky for them the Kodak folks are very supportive of changing the show back to Captain EO. Even Kodak can't pretend that the tired old Honey I Shrunk The Audience show is doing much for their image, as most days Dole gets more people filing through the 45 year old Tiki Room than Kodak has visiting the Imagination Institute.

Honey. I Smell Money

But Kodak does have a legally binding contract on what the pre-show video and their commercial looks like, and in what context it is presented. The end result now has WDI keeping the Imagination Institute theme for the overall facility during Captain EO's run, and shoehorning the EO introduction into the Kodak commercial that plays in the lobby beforehand.

What has also come online in the meantime is the plan to return Captain EO to the Epcot version of the Imagination Institute as well, which is just one part of the larger Kodak pavilion in that Florida park. And the latest wrinkle is that the Oriental Land Company also wants in on the retro-fun and is looking to replace their current MicroAdventure! attraction at Tokyo Disneyland with Captain EO in 2010.

As of this writing, it looks like the Imagination Institute theater at Disneyland could close as early as mid December in order to receive the heavy theater refurbishment and light lobby refurbishment needed before EO can return by February. While the Disney Parks structure was supposed to streamline the theme park operation, in its infancy it is throwing up more roadblocks than its helping when it comes to the Captain EO project.


Trading Places

Speaking of the meaningless Disney Parks moniker, about the time EO opens Jay Rasulo will have settled in to his new CFO role in Burbank and Tom Staggs will have moved over to Jay's Chairman role.

The buzz coming out of Burbank and TDA both on this one is centered not so much on the individuals, but rather on their titles. Rasulo is seen to have dropped a notch on the corporate totem pole with this move, while Tom Staggs was considered elevated one, as a Chairman title outranks the Senior Executive Vice President role that Tom Staggs had. They are both powerful positions to be sure, but since Rasulo already had plenty of financial experience, this move is seen as Iger grooming Tom Staggs specifically as an eventual successor, while getting Jay Rasulo out of a division (theme parks) he clearly had little interest in.

Unfortunately the initial buzz on Tom Staggs in TDA is that he is a fairly typical corporate type with little emotional attachment to any of the Disney parks. Staggs recently made his debut in Anaheim's Cast Member newsletter with a rather painfully scripted interview, complete with a nametag Photoshopped on to his shirt, where it was obvious he didn't have much knowledge or passion for the parks or their attractions he was being questioned on.

Handy dandy list for Tom

(Advice to Tom: When they ask what your favorite attraction is, make sure you can actually think of one and don't try the "they are all great" line. And if you honestly don't have a favorite, just make something up! It's a very basic question, but one that separates the men from the boys when it comes to Disney theme park culture.)

Aside from his unfamiliarity with the Disney theme parks, Staggs is thought of as a nice guy, so hopefully he can really throw himself into his new role by spending some time in the resorts in 2010. Let's just hope he doesn't borrow Jay Rasulo's playbook and stay away from the parks entirely unless there is a major media or corporate event to attend. Tom Staggs should take note that in 2009 Bob Iger visited Disneyland more than Jay Rasulo did.

Tom should also make sure his handlers script his answers to questions from Cast Members and Imagineers more carefully, and avoid the Photoshopped nametag look. (The nametags are free Tom, so go ahead and have your secretary pick up a couple for you before January.)


Finding In

Meanwhile at DCA, or 'Disney's California Adventure' as park Vice President Mary Niven is still trying to get everyone to say, things are moving furiously along on every project except the Buena Vista Street entrance makeover. The TDA planners and DCA executives are simply beside themselves with worry over how to get a Million Annual Passholders, plus a few casual tourists, into and out of the park over the next two years while World of Color and then Little Mermaid open to huge demand and epic crowds. We've told you of the plans to move the entrance to the Hollywood side of the park, then over to the west side of Soarin', and then by simply trying to do half of the entrance at a time leaving the other half open.

The end result is a project that has been delayed many times now, and won't see any work begin until further along in 2010. And what they've landed on now is a mish-mash of those different plans with some turnstiles and main entrance facilities remaining open while the other half is worked on, while simultaneously running a park exit and auxiliary entrance alongside the Soarin' building. It was going to be a headache regardless, but the rebuilt entrance to DCA and the heavily themed Buena Vista Street area won't make its original 2011 timeline and now will finish up in 2012 just as Cars Land is being completed.

2010 and the debut of World of Color will really be the first chance DCA has to prove that it's changing for the better, and a million Annual Passholders will be a very tough audience to impress. Except for Captain EO this winter, there won't be much else new going on at Disneyland now that the 55th Anniversary plans have been dramatically scaled back since the economy tanked so quickly in 2009. And once Downtown Disney opens the gourmet cupcake place and boutique pet store that are on the way, they'll be pretty much done for 2010 as well.

2009 will be the last full year where Disneyland has to pull all of the weight for Anaheim, with DCA acting as a rather unfortunate safety valve when Disneyland gets too crowded. Disneyland will go out with a bang though, looking and feeling better than it has in over a decade. Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, as one example, has proven to be wildly popular at Disneyland.

And there's the silver lining of the Disney Parks corporate headache, as the original plans for the Jubilee on the Mark Twain were picked up and transported to WDW as well under the Disney Parks banner. The Disneyland-level of entertainment polish went over even bigger out in WDW, where they've had noticeably lower showmanship standards for far too long. The feedback from the Guest Research department at both properties has the Jubilee very highly rated, even though most folks have no idea who the characters are yet.

Tiana Turner Revue - river deep, mountain high

Even though the Disneyland version of the Jubilee was better funded, with more bling on the boat and more performers and extra special effects and that picture-perfect New Orleans Square setting, the Disneyland standards set up for the WDW Jubilee still took the Floridians by surprise.

When the Princess and the Frog opens nationwide later this month, make sure to listen for the steamboat whistles in the film, as John Lasseter was insistent that in addition to the animation team making plenty of field trips to Disneyland and New Orleans Square, that the Studios sound department drive down to Disneyland to carefully record the exact whistles the Mark Twain makes to use in the movie. With that Lasseter ensured a little piece of Walt's own steamboat will be playing in every movie megaplex in the country this Christmas.

Note: A special thanks to David "Darkbeer" Michael for his photos.

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. (People do change their minds you know.) 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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