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While the truly massive reorganization and executives layoffs last month sink in at Team Disney Anaheim (TDA), there's still the day to day business of operating theme parks and hotels, as well as planning for their future.

In this update we'll dig in to what some of the most recent plans currently look like for both parks, why the current round of DCA cancellation rumors are bogus, plus fill you in on some of the backstage buzz being generated by more TDA layoffs to come in March and April.

Got that croissant slathered in preserves yet? Have that latte un-lidded now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al

Hello, I love you; Won't you tell me your name?

Now that it's been two weeks since a few dozen Anaheim executives quietly disappeared, leaving some plum picture window offices currently vacant, the mood in TDA is growing more frantic by the day. Rumors of layoffs to come are sweeping through the offices all over Anaheim, and some managers are rolling out rather desperate PR campaigns to try and prove their department deserves to stick around. What has the managers and hourly Cast Members out in the parks and at the hotels laughing hysterically is the sudden need for many TDA types to be seen walking the property with their nametag on.

Since the late 1990's it was increasingly cool in TDA to not claim any previous Disneyland operational experience, and whenever the average TDA office drone went out into the park they purposely took their nametag off and tucked their ID card into a pocket, lest they be considered someone who works there and be pestered by lowly park visitors with questions about parade times, the closest bathroom, or directions to Space Mountain. Heaven forbid they might actually be bothered to help someone who had paid to get into the place!

But now that the new buzzwords being used by Ed Grier are simple things like "the Guest experience" and "operational needs," these are things too many in TDA know nothing about. Suddenly, the rank and file in TDA are boasting about the walk through the park they just took, and are hoping to be seen by a big boss out and about with their nametags proudly displayed. But it's a case of too little, too late, as the layoffs are coming in big numbers within weeks and the few remaining Vice Presidents who will help determine salaried staffing numbers already have a good idea of what departments need to be trimmed the most.

Everything new is old again...

Over in DCA, those nervous TDA folks could be put to use helping direct park visitors around the maze of construction walls that grow by the week and are taking over the Paradise Pier area.

When the economy took a sudden turn for the worse in '08, it did put a hold on some future plans for California and Florida that hadn't yet been formally budgeted. But DCA's 1.2 Billion dollar expansion is not one of them. Much like the two huge new Disney Cruise Line ships that were budgeted for and announced back in '07, and are about to get under construction this spring in Germany for delivery in 2011 and 2012, the huge DCA makeover that was budgeted for and announced in '07 will be underway all over the park this spring for completion in 2011 and 2012.

We'd laid out a basic timeline for you on all of the major pieces of the DCA makeover last year, but over the past six months there have been a few tweaks to the timeline and some additional details fleshed out, so it might help put some of the bad rumors to rest if we ran through the schedule again for you, including some of the new dates and latest information.

Eeeek! A mouse!

Paradise Pier and World of Color: Work continues on re-themeing and re-energizing the existing attractions and facilities all around this large area of the park, turning the 2001 cheap stucco version of this land into the lushly themed Victorian version of 2010. The Sun Wheel's transformation into Mickey's Fun Wheel has only been slightly delayed by the winter rains, and it should be ready to open in late April. The Games of the Boardwalk aren't far behind, and should be fully opened by May. While the lagoon will remain drained through the summer, and major construction continues behind the walls to build the new World of Color amphitheater designed for 9,000 spectators, the next big phase for Paradise Pier construction will wait to begin until the end of summer. In late August, the Orange Stinger will close to become Silly Symphony Swings by early 2010. Later in the fall is when the makeover for Mulholland Madness and the new beer garden work also gets underway.

The goal is to have most of the Paradise Pier makeover complete by the time World of Color debuts for the summer of 2010. And what a show that promises to be! Steve Davison and his talented team have been reveling in the tens of millions of dollars he was given for this show, a budget that dwarfs the paltry sum given to him by Cynthia Harriss to create the ill-fated Luminaria that was shoved into the lagoon in a frenzied panic back in '01 to try and create some positive buzz for the failing park. Where Luminaria's lasting impression for DCA visitors was simply to take a shower to get rid of the smoke smell, World of Color is shaping up to leave audiences in shock and awe. Thankfully, World of Color won't be using traditional pyrotechnics, although there is a number of stunning, and relatively smokeless, fire effects planned.

World of Color is clocking in at just under 25 minutes in length, and promises to tug at every emotion Disney has ever written in to an animated film. This will be the first Disney water show where the water and fire effects not only play out on the lagoon up to 100 feet high, but also rush toward you and then sweep through the audience using hidden fountains and infrastructure built into the new amphitheater itself. Disney suits that have seen Steve Davison's hyper presentations on this new show in Glendale and Anaheim have left the conference room with their mouths dropped open, and it promises to do the same for theme park visitors next summer as well.

Like Vegas, but without slots.

The Little Mermaid; Ariel's Adventure: Anyone who has seen the latest mockups and plans for this big budget E Ticket family attraction would understandably question whether or not it was going forward in this tough economic climate. But the truth is that it is all still right on track and on schedule for 2011.

The version of this new E-Ticket proposed for Walt Disney World's tired Fantasyland was originally postponed back in the fall, and then put further into the deep freeze just after Christmas by Orlando executives. The Orlando team's aversion to adding the expensive Little Mermaid any time soon might be where some of the rumors of its delay in Anaheim have been coming from. But the DCA version of Little Mermaid, which might end up being the only version available anywhere for the next decade, will begin its construction in April. (Yes, more walls!)

The budget on this one was allowed to swell to over 100 Million, and it's held there, as John Lasseter and everyone involved in the DCA makeover is adamant that the park needs a big, musical, animatronic family attraction of the type that Disneyland made famous back in the 1960's. While the creation of the set pieces and animatronics will be underway up in Imagineering's facilities in Tujunga and Glendale, the construction of the facility itself will be going full steam at DCA this summer. The current timeline has this mega-attraction with its attached water playground and lavishly themed building opening in June, 2011. This will be the same time that the current Ariel's Grotto restaurant across the boardwalk reopens as a Victorian themed "Princess Palace" character dining restaurant.

Buena Vista Street, Red Car Trolley: If you think the current rat's maze of construction walls is a pain, it's going to be nothing compared to this piece of the DCA makeover that has caused the most headaches for TDA planners. We've been telling you for over a year about the changing plans to try and work around the complete rebuilding of DCA's main entrance, the first time this has ever been attempted or needed at a Disney theme park, and a perfect example of just how much of an artistic failure the original DCA was when it opened in '01.

The original plan TDA's industrial engineers had worked up in '07 was to create a temporary park entrance on the eastern flanks of the main entrance, bringing in visitors to a turnstile facility in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area. Then, later in '08 the plan changed and the concept was shifted to the west, to a temporary turnstile complex to be built adjacent to the Soarin' Over California hangar. But since then TDA planners have become increasingly nervous that moving the main entrance to the park will only disorient visitors and destroy the small gains in yearly attendance that DCA has been eeking out in recent years.


So now, the plan is to rebuild the DCA main entrance and turn it into the 1920's hyper-themed Buena Vista Street one side at a time, while keeping the main entrance and exit gates for the park in the same place during the construction. To do that, TDA and WDI needs to shift the timeline for the construction back from an 8 month period that originally wrapped up in the fall of 2011 to a nearly 11 month period that now stretches from September of 2011 to May of 2012.

The thought of not having the DCA main entrance open and ready for the debut summer of The Little Mermaid was already giving TDA nightmares, in addition to the headaches behind the temporary park entrance concept itself, and so the entire Buena Vista Street project was moved back and lengthened. Work on the Red Car Trolley at the back of the park will begin before then, but that new attraction won't open until the entire entrance area is ready in May of 2012.

Cars Land: Here's the granddaddy of them all, and the biggest part of DCA's 1.2 Billion makeover budget. Currently slated for over 400 Million dollars, this sprawling new section of the park is purposely being saved for last. While grading and foundation work will be getting underway later this year once the World of Color construction prep-site is no longer needed, the heavy construction won't begin until late '09. We'd previously told you that some original elements won't make the cut for 2012, like the proposed Dine-In Theater restaurant that was cut in early '08.

But the guiding principal behind this new land that is being personally directed by John Lasseter is also the guiding principal behind all of DCA's makeover, and that is "Do it right the first time, or don't do it at all." Both the E-Ticket thrill ride and the two smaller C-Ticket rides in Cars Land, in addition to planning for the shops and restaurants in the new land, continue to get everything they require to put on the best show possible. We'll have more info on Cars Land, particularly the groundbreaking new Radiator Springs Racers E-Ticket, once our sources become a bit more comfortable with the details. But for now, rest assured that this one is going to raise the bar to a level previously seen only in Tokyo.

The deluxe playset.

And with those four major projects above, the 1.2 Billion budget has now been fully accounted for through fiscal year 2012. Again the current WDI mantra is "Do it right the first time, or don't do it at all," and so plans to remake the MuppetVision theater, flesh out the theme on Hollywood Blvd., and not only clad the Hyperion Theater building in period architecture but also add a much needed lobby and restrooms, have all been shelved for Phase Two of the DCA makeover.

Phase Two would also encompass a remake of the Condor Flats and Grizzly Peak areas into a Teddy Roosevelt era National Park, with the addition of several new attractions in that section. And that's where the weak economy finally does begin to impact DCA's future. If by early 2012 the economy hasn't turned around and people don't start spending big in the parks like they had earlier in this decade, then DCA's Phase Two could be put on hold. But, if the improvements to DCA generate increasing attendance in 2010 through 2012, and the economy improves enough that people start splurging on their vacations, then the big plans currently being dreamed up for DCA will start seeing the light of day by 2014.

Star Detours

While DCA's immediate future and construction budget remains intact and on track, Disneyland has seen some minor fallout from the economic crisis and resulting downturn in visitor spending. The Anaheim parks haven't seen the complete deep freeze mentality that gripped the Orlando parks late last year and continues to keep any meaningful expansion plans for the Florida parks in limbo, but some of the existing plans for Disneyland have been scaled back or postponed.

The first casualty that was once slated to get underway this year for a 2010 opening, but is now pushed back at least a year, is the remake of Star Tours. This new version of the popular E Ticket attraction is the worst kept secret on the Internet, with many people associated with the latest round of Star Wars films constantly dropping hints of their involvement in the new ride. The new version is going to take advantage of the in-cabin effects pioneered in Tokyo DisneySea's StormRider simulator attraction and the randomly changing plotlines that digital technology now allows. But the new ride will also be using new facial recognition technology that the Imagineers want to use to pick people out of the audience and incorporate into the show using the cabin video screens and the animatronic pilot's personalized dialogue.

They should destroy the negatives for the three latest.

The revamped Star Tours 2.0 was to debut in spring, 2010 as part of Disneyland's 55th Anniversary celebration, with a nearly identical version planned to open in Walt Disney World around the same time. But when the Orlando executives, who are a notoriously tough sell when it comes to investing in new attractions, put the brakes on not only Star Tours 2.0 but also most other major attraction additions in Florida, it threw the carefully crafted budget into disarray.

The large production and facilities installation budget was created by WDI on the ability to spread the costs between two properties, but with Walt Disney World backing out of the plan last year with no current interest in rejoining the project, the Disneyland version that TDA still wants is now left up in the air. And people wonder why I frequently have Orlando in my cross-hairs.

Luckily, the folks at WDI have been in frantic contact with the Oriental Land Company to try and sell Tokyo Disneyland on paying for the version once destined for Orlando. While the Oriental Land Company has yet to sign on the dotted line, negotiations are looking positive, and the new version of Star Tours may be able to debut simultaneously in Anaheim and Tokyo for the 2011 summer season.

Eggbeaters have more charm.
Not yet going away.

As part of the plan to debut a new Star Tours in 2010 that included updates to the attraction façade, the entrance to Tomorrowland was supposed to get an update as well. The AstroOrbiter was planned to be repainted in a new silver and blue color scheme, and the entrance to the land was going to be opened up and rethemed a bit. The refurbishment and new paint for the AstroOrbiter is still budgeted and planned for later in 2009, as the mechanical structure needs maintenance and new parts to allow the revolving planets to spin again. But that new paint job and refurbishment was really supposed to tie in with the dramatically redone Star Tours 2.0 next door.

Still, it's the last bit of the 1998 New Tomorrowland that has yet to be redone, so it's needed regardless of what is to become of Star Tours. And yes, once DCA proves itself and Tony Baxter gets the green-light for his big budget retheme of Tomorrowland, the Astro Orbiter will return to its rightful place atop the PeopleMover station. But the paint job and mechanical refurbishment is still needed in the meantime.


The second casualty was the remake of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show that was proposed to piggyback on changes coming to Florida's Hall of Presidents later this year. Instead of new animatronic figures of George Washington and Barack Obama (or whomever the current President is) joining honest Abe on stage, the Disneyland show will now be returning to a slightly revamped version of its 1965 original presentation. Gone will be the gimmicky headphones introduced in 2001 to try and breathe life into the aging show.

With his scaled down budget now green-lighted, Tony Baxter wants to bring the focus back to the man and his speech that was so important to Walt, rather than leave people giggling in the dark over buzzing flies and an odd haircut gag. And, just as they are happy to be relieved of the prospect of rebuilding an expensive animatronic every four years with the election of each new President, the Disneyland managers are thrilled to not have to pay for the extra labor required to pass out, collect, and clean all of those headsets every day.

Much of the current Disneyland history displays will remain in the Opera House lobby, with the giant model of the park on opening day in 1955 moved up to the display area currently dedicated to Disneyland Cast Members. Due to contractual issues, the 50th movie starring Steve Martin has to keep playing in the facility until the legal department can wriggle out of the contract, and the screen at the front of the lobby will likely be used for that 50th film. The original model of the Capitol building will take its place in the back of the lobby, to try and soften the lobby transition from Disneyland history exhibit to stirring patriotic drama.

No Mac jokes; Steve has too much stock.
Windows Vista.

What has survived the budget cuts is the big remake of the original Bank of Main Street into a new Disney Gallery attraction and store, thanks largely to the huge sums of money Californians traditionally drop on Disneyana during their pilgrimages to the park. The bank will be transformed into an artist's gallery, with more space for merchandise and rotating exhibits than the original gallery had in New Orleans Square.

The glassed in area that once housed Walt's private and public offices will be turned into glass cases that allow not only displays of rare Disney art, but also provide a view into the gallery from the Opera House lobby next door. New doorways will also be built in the shared wall between the two spaces, allowing for Gallery visitors to wander in to the Opera House lobby, and vice versa.

The hope of WDI is that Walt's offices can return to Anaheim in an exhibit to be housed in the Carthay Circle Theater at the end of DCA's new Buena Vista Street entrance complex. Their place in the Disneyland Opera House will finally be relinquished after half of it was sent to Orlando back in 2000 without a care by Cynthia Harriss, and then the other half was sealed behind 50th Anniversary displays five years later.

Night Moves

What is coming to Disneyland however is some big changes to the entertainment lineup this summer. Originally we had told you that the '09 summer lineup was going to be branded as "Tinker Bell's Summer Nights," with a marketing campaign aimed at locals built around the new floats in the Electrical Parade, a refreshed Fantasmic, and the usual Disneyland date night summer offerings of dancing and romancing under the stars. But in late '08, Michael O'Grattan, then the Senior Vice President of Resort Operations, began to dramatically scale back the Entertainment department's plans for this summer. The broader Tinker Bell campaign has now been shelved, as the free birthday admission is wildly more popular in Anaheim than anyone imagined it would be and the Celebration campaign will be the only marketing message for this summer.

Michael O'Grattan has now left Anaheim, one of the lucky few senior executives who got to keep his job but was still moved out of TDA, and he is now the Senior Vice President of Creative Entertainment for all American parks up in Glendale. But what he left is a dramatic rethinking of how the Entertainment department is allowed to dictate how the Anaheim parks operate, particularly at night. When Michael arrived in Anaheim just over a year ago he was amazed at how disruptive the big nighttime spectaculars were to Disneyland, particularly the Remember fireworks. Steve Davison did a great job of creating that monumental pyro display for the 50th, but it wreaks operational havoc all over the park, leaving in its nightly wake a dozen closed attractions, shuttered bathrooms and walkways, and gridlocked crowd control everywhere.

In order to put on the massive Remember display that shoots pyrotechnics from the rooftops of Fantasyland to the top of the Matterhorn, approximately one hour before showtime the ride operators in Fantasyland need to shut down the following attractions; Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Pinocchio's Daring Journey, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Dumbo, King Arthur Carousel, and Alice In Wonderland. Once those rides begin closing, they also have to shut down all access through and around the Castle, as well as Matterhorn Way, the major thoroughfare from the Central Plaza up towards it's a small world. This also closes the major Matterhorn Way bathroom facilities there for over an hour each night.

Such important potties too.

And if the wind is blowing from the north, it's a small world has to begin shutting down an hour before show time as well so it can also be cleared out, with the ride operators putting up barricade ropes farther down the mall, which shuts down yet another major bathroom facility at the Fantasyland Theater. The Disneyland Railroad also has to stop running for over an hour so that it doesn't enter the fallout zone as well. And finally, about 15 minutes before show time and regardless of wind speed, the Disneyland Monorail stops operation to prevent trains from traveling through the fallout zone along the beam on Matterhorn Way.

All of these closures and detours make for a maddening experience for casual visitors who don't know the why's and the how's behind this mess. Savvy Annual Passholders who stake out a spot in front of the Castle an hour beforehand couldn't care less that Peter Pan or the Monorail is closed each night, but the average tourist who visits infrequently is left confused and frustrated to no end by the closures. The ride operators who close all of the rides each night take the brunt of the frustration, and are routinely yelled at for closing a favorite ride for no apparent reason or denying an antsy child access to the bathrooms that are clearly visible just beyond the ropes. Some folks also end up at City Hall to complain there, or vent their frustrations at the Disneyland Hotel desk clerks once the packed monorail eventually starts up again and takes them back to the rooms they paid an arm and a leg for because of the alleged benefit of monorail access.

The operations departments that run Disneyland saw their political clout shrink to barely anything during the Pressler and Harriss years, and in Matt Ouimet's rush to put on a great party for the 50th they continued to be ignored and their protests over the Remember closures fell on deaf ears in TDA. But Michael O'Grattan witnessed firsthand the nightly anger of the park visitors around Fantasyland that was still happening nearly five years after the show debuted, and he shook things up quite dramatically before he left.

The end result is that the Disneyland Entertainment department has been sent back to the drawing board and told to create a new fireworks show that doesn't require a dozen closed attractions and massive visitor frustration every night. In its place this summer will be a simpler, shorter show that uses very limited pyrotechnics from the Castle and abandons the rest of the launch sites located around the park for Remember. The new show does not yet have an official title. Peter Pan, Snow White and the Castle drawbridge will likely still need to be closed for the limited Castle pyro to work, but the strict edict was that no more than two attractions be closed and Matterhorn Way is to remain open to allow north-south traffic flow.

And so, the upcoming spring performances of the spectacular Remember…Dreams Come True will be the last. That Michael O'Grattan has now been sent up to Glendale to head up the creative development of major park entertainment signals that these types of huge logistical headaches won't be allowed in the future. The Disneyland Entertainment department, a group that saw their clout and stature grow by leaps and bounds over the last decade, now has a diminished role in the new corporate structure being set up in Anaheim. We'll continue to update you on that issue, as more change is likely on the way.

Everything old is new again...

Beyond the parks, we'd told you last time how the economy has thrown the property managers at Downtown Disney for a loop and put the expansion plans on thin ice. But the ongoing saga of the Disneyland Hotel refurbishment continues to chug along, with a plan now being worked out that would keep the three towers pretty much intact, but require them to be closed and gutted one at a time. WDI has come up with a proposal to modernize every room in every tower, while still keeping the basic steel skeleton of the structures in place. Several model rooms have recently been mocked up in the existing towers, with different design schemes set up inside each one for executive viewings.

It's so... BLUE!
Not pink!

The new rooms are set to lose their sliding glass doors and faux balconies, as the legal department doesn't want to see a repeat of last year's suicide where a distraught man opened the sliding glass doors and jumped over the railing of his 14th floor room in the Disneyland Hotel's Wonder Tower. WDI was happy to gain the few extra inches of floor space offered by this new safety mandate anyway, and the overall look of the new towers and the rooms will play up their mid century modern roots.

With the two proposed Disney operated hotels in limbo over at GardenWalk due to the economy, it's a minor miracle that the Disneyland Hotel plans keep getting tentative green lights. But then the need to gut and rebuild it grows more desperate by the month it seems.


Oh-kay - that should do it for today. Your support is vital, and a heartfelt thank you goes out to all of those who so generously contributed last week. Since Amazon ended their Honor System and the ad market is soft, 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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