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
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
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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
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.
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.
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.