Now that spring break is over, Disneyland and California Adventure head into a few weeks of relatively light crowds and calm days through the end of May, but the sense of urgency back in the Team Disney Anaheim administration building seems to be ratcheting up by the minute.
The Imagineers working five or six nights per week on World of Color are down to some tinkering with most of the show programmed, but the Anaheim managers are now realizing this show and the one million Annual Passholders that have built up in recent years are about to rewrite the book on theme park operations this summer.
In this update we’ll fill you in on the corporate fire alarm Bob Iger recently pulled over his World of Color concerns and what it all means for you in the coming months, as well as all the usual rumors from Disneyland. Got that granola bar out of its wrapper yet? Have that imported mineral water
poured now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
it's a small world of color
The World of Color show has been well documented as the latest, greatest, and most expensive of the modern Disney theme park spectaculars. As part of the 1 Billion dollar extreme makeover for California Adventure that was set in motion three years ago, World of Color was lavished with money, talent and passion by some of the best minds currently working in the themed entertainment industry.
The hype for this show amongst Disney fans is perhaps now at such a fever pitch that nothing short of a UFO landing in Paradise Bay could live up to the expectations, and that has the executive suits and strategic planners in TDA willing to do anything to handle the maddening crowds they expect to descend this summer. The plans TDA has for this will have Anaheim veterans drafting entirely new strategies for getting to the parks and seeing World of Color, while the summer tourists will be staring at their park entertainment guides and realizing that afternoon naps are going to have to be mandatory.
Part of the new strategy TDA is drafting for DCA is rooted in some problems that have recently popped up with the nicely themed and very handsome Paradise Park, the custom built amphitheater designed specifically for the World of Color show. WDI sold the concept of Paradise Park to the Anaheim executives a few years ago on the claim that it would hold the same number of spectators as the popular Fantasmic! show at Disneyland does with 9,000 viewers. That 9,000 viewers per show number was then used by the sharp pencil boys to help amortize the cost for the lavish amphitheater and boost the budget for the 100+ Million dollar show.
But recently, after gaggles of TDA cubicle dwellers were pressured by their bosses to stay late and act as guinea pigs to simulate crowds of park visitors inside the roped areas, it was discovered that Paradise Park actually holds a much smaller number that is closer to 6,000. And the periphery of that viewing area (mainly towards the back and near the Golden Zephyr) equaling about 1,500 of those spaces, offers a noticeably crummy view that prevents you from seeing most of the shows best effects. The sweet spot for viewing areas, in the middle towards the middle tiers, has room for only about 2,500 people (and it helps if you are tall).
That late realization has TDA planners scrambling to try and carve out more viewing area, as well as rewriting the book on theme park operations. (In addition to starting a blame game for the industrial engineers and planners that swore Paradise Park would hold 9,000.) The recently green-lighted plan to cope with the problem has the 27 minute long World of Color now performing three times per night, seven nights per week, through at least the end of summer. The times that TDA is now working with have the first World of Color show at 9:00 p.m., with additional shows every 75 minutes at 10:15 p.m. and again at 11:30 p.m.
When soft openings for the show begin, perhaps sometime between May 12th and May 18th under the current timetable, the plan is to quickly ramp up to three showings per night so that by early June they are already performing the three-show schedule. While the final nightly performance of World of Color won’t be ending until nearly Midnight, the actual park operating hours for DCA are going to be 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., which is an hour later than DCA normally stays open in summer. The Paradise Pier attractions, except for Midway Mania and its new Toy Story 3 balloon game, will all be closing by 8:00 p.m. so that the Pier backdrop can be darkened and silenced for every show.
That would leave the rest of DCA (and Disneyland’s Summer Nightastic offerings) to soak up the crowds through 10:00 p.m. It was for this reason that the long-running Aladdin musical had its schedule turned on its ear, much to the consternation of the Cast Members who perform in it. The first two early afternoon shows were flip-flopped to the back of the schedule, becoming 7:15 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. shows until the musical ends its 8 year run in August. But it’s going to take some tricky crowd control maneuvers to prevent people waiting for the second and third show from hanging around the Paradise Pier area, where Steve Davison hates the idea of having anyone watching the show from a bad angle on the other side of the lagoon. The solution is to create a pre-show queuing area, an elaborate World of Color waiting lounge of sorts, in the Sun Plaza and Hollywood Pictures Backlot.
We’d told you in a previous update of a plan to have a DJ and a “party atmosphere” in the Sun Plaza, and then get the thousands of waiting guests to march en masse up the parade route and in to Paradise Park. But with the recent addition of the third nightly show that plan has now morphed into something much bigger, as TDA realizes they may not be able to pull off the Showpass concept for the second and third show, and that corralling thousands of people in a closed theme park creates all sorts of logistical headaches. So now the plan is to create a sprawling area in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot that they are calling “Festival of Color”, to include DJ’s, carts selling snacks and souvenirs, games for the kids, and perhaps keeping MuppetVision 3-D or the Animation pavilion open late for entertainment.
When each World of Color show ends, the exiting crowd would be herded down the trail along Grizzly River Run, and then either pushed out the emergency gate near Soarin’ Over California towards the parking lot trams or dumped out the main park turnstiles. Meanwhile, the next audience would be led out of the Festival of Color area and up the parade route to be sent scrambling for viewing areas in Paradise Park.
In addition, there’s the annoying plan by Disneyland’s Food & Beverage department to sell up to 2,000 “reserved spaces” per show for folks who commit to pricey dinner packages to be rolled out at the end of May, not unlike the process they once tried to use for Disneyland Candlelight Procession packages. You would think the rocky history of the Candlelight Dinner Packages would give TDA pause about trying to repeat the process for World of Color, but the lure of huge restaurant sales in a down economy has them hooked on the concept.
Then you’ve got the D23 folks trying to pull strings from Burbank to snag a reserved space for their card carrying members, plus Club 33, Disney Vacation Club, and the Disney hotel concierges trying to lay claim to reserved World of Color viewing for the inflated egos that often inhabit those three organizations. The whole thing promises to give the crowd control CM’s a real workout, cause quite a bit of confusion with the hapless tourists, and challenge the savvier locals to come up with their own nightly battle strategies.
World of Iger
Against that backdrop of planning headaches and mega-hype came a recent event that was supposed to be more of a formality than a hurdle; the official roll-out last month for Disney CEO Bob Iger and Parks chief Tom Staggs of all of the World of Color merchandise, food and collateral offerings that TDA had created for the show. The reaction from Bob was not what TDA planned however, as Bob is said to have hated almost all of the trendy merchandise presented to him. Bob and Tom also didn’t like the gimmicky and sugary food concepts that relied more on miniature LED lights than actual quality ingredients, and the result was that TDA was sent back to the drawing board and told to scrap nearly everything they had planned.
Bob’s displeasure was so great with the Anaheim team that he has reportedly cleared out big chunks of his weekly schedule in Burbank so that he can be personally updated on every major World of Color decision that needs to be made and remade in the six weeks until the premiere. Bob’s mandate to TDA to redesign most of the World of Color offerings also forced the last minute postponement of Cast Member training sessions that were supposed to take place this week.
The World of Color training sessions, a rather smart idea from DCA VP Mary Niven where hourly DCA Cast Members from all departments will be led through presentations and exhibits of all of the World of Color offerings and crowd control scenarios, have now been postponed until early June when the replacement products should be available for display. The cancellation of the scheduled training was explained away as a desire to wait until “closer to the premiere”, but the reality is that they had too little left to display after Iger vetoed most of it earlier in April.
Tom Staggs, still learning his way around his new role as Parks Chief, is also heavily involved in the Anaheim plans now as well. This is all a dramatic change for Anaheim, as it wasn’t too long ago when Parks chief Jay Rasulo could go more than a year without setting a disinterested foot in Disneyland, and Bob Iger usually only drove down to Anaheim to pass out candy canes at the Cast Member Christmas party in early December. But suddenly, the CEO is very involved in the minutiae of this theme park show’s execution, right down to the snack packs and the t-shirt designs. And with Bob’s sudden attention focused on DCA, everyone reporting to him in Burbank, Orlando and Anaheim is focused on Paradise Bay as well. I guess if you are spending a Billion dollars to fix a theme park, you want to know you are getting your money’s worth now that the goods are about to hit the market.
You can bet the TDA merchandise group will be paying extra money for air freight to get those redesigned World of Color t-shirts over from China in time. The drop dead date for everything is really June 10th, as that’s the night of the big media event when Disney’s corporate machine will pull in favors with the Hollywood crowd to fill a fleet of limos and get as many celebrities down to Anaheim as possible. Local, national and international media will be there in force, as Disney is framing this water show premiere within the entertainment industry as a major event not to be missed. The night of Friday, June 11th is when the general public will be able to see the show for the first official time, with the three-shows-per-night format running through August.
The Annual Passholder blockout calendar is also sending the TDA planners into panic mode, as June 14th and 15th, and the 22nd and 23rd, are the last four days on the summer calendar without blockouts for the hundreds of thousands of people who have SoCal and SoCal Select passes. TDA has blocked out Cast Member sign-in privileges on those days, and the evening hours in particular promise to be horrific when it comes to parking and getting around the Resort.
Once the summer blockout dates end in late August, September and October are also pegged with extremely busy nights for World of Color since TDA knows that it will be simply impossible for all one million Annual Passholders to have seen the show this summer, even if they all pay for blockout tickets.
The prospect of an extremely busy fall has forced TDA to come up with a new plan for the increasingly popular HalloweenTime events. If the current proposal gets the green light, the wildly successful Mickey’s Trick or Treat Parties will be moved over to Disneyland this October, and DCA will be the park that stays open late with up to three World of Color shows to soak up the crowds.
What’s ironic about this whole thing is that almost ten years ago George Kalogridis, then as the Senior VP of Operations in Anaheim, was quoted in that infamous LA Times article a month before DCA opened stating that his team was preparing for massive crowds to descend on DCA that first year and that they would be using Disneyland as the overflow valve to soak up anyone turned away from a full DCA. Of course we all know that not only did that not happen, but DCA quickly became known as the Edsel of the theme park industry sold at fire sale prices while Disneyland continued to thrive at full fare.
Lucky for George, he arrived back in Anaheim just as DCA was being readied to actually fufill his original crowd predictions from 2001. Now his team has to deal with the results and a Resort that has primed the pump with a million Annual Passholders looking for cheap summer entertainment. But with World of Color, DCA is being positioned as the park everyone wants to go to, while Disneyland is rented out for parties and special events.
Parking will continue to be one of the biggest problems all of those crowds face this summer and fall, as we’ve been telling you for over a year now. With the recent opening of 3,700 new spaces in the Toy Story satellite lot, the parking situation has improved a bit. At the very least, the Toy Story bus system is proving to be far more efficient and friendly than the overcrowded and often miserable experience on the trams from the Mickey & Friends parking structure. Disney’s “Guest Research” department recently conducted a study that provided glowing reviews and positive statistics showing how enjoyable it was parking in the Toy Story lot and taking a quick bus ride to the park compared to the parking experience at the hulking and unfriendly Mickey & Friends structure, only to descend the escalators and fight your way on to an overcrowded tram.
Toy Story is only a fix for light to moderate attendance days however, as the World of Color opening is going to tax the expanded parking options all over again. The real fix is still the 200 Million dollar parking structure to be built on and around the Pumbaa lot. That structure has already received its funding from Burbank, but the plans are still in limbo as Disney tries to piece together as much property around the site as possible. Disney’s goal is to have enough property for clearance to build that sweeping ramp of moving sidewalks over Harbor Blvd. to avoid having any type of tram or shuttle needed to get people to and from their cars. Meanwhile, Anaheim city planners are dreaming big and want to integrate the new structure into their regional transit system that then plugs into the California High Speed Rail network that may or may not ever be built.
The Anaheim transit website we’d told you about earlier has launched in a limited form at http://aconnext.com and you can see the map of their Anaheim Rapid Connection (ARC for short) peoplemover system with the “Resort” stop labeled right there on Disney Way, built into the flanks of Disney’s huge new parking structure. This ARC peoplemover system is optimistically hyped on the website as “Coming 2015”, and the Anaheim planners want the ability to have ARC trains dump Resort bound guests right on to the moving sidewalks heading to Disneyland from the new structure. The Disney planners are trying very hard to play nice with Anaheim, although a growing contingent in TDA is realizing that both High Speed Rail and ARC may still be decades away, or may not happen at all. Regardless, Disneyland needs more parking, and they needed it 3 years ago. We’ll keep you posted if and when that new structure moves from its current yellow light to a green light. At least TDA now has the money set aside from Burbank.
Old Man River
Meanwhile, back at Disneyland, the finishing touches are being placed on the big Rivers of America rehab that has had that sprawling area of the park closed for over four months. Tony Baxter was tasked with reinvigorating the show that people see as they travel the river on one of the big boats or a canoe. The task was a big one however, as the Rivers of America at most Disneyland-style parks have become simply overgrown landscaping along a canal with some animatronic Indians and static wildlife to break up the bushes.
Disneyland has the liveliest river however, with four operating attractions playing host to thousands of people per day, compared to Florida’s Magic Kingdom that has let their river experience degrade into just one working boat sailing on limited hours past the most dated displays. Walt always thought of the River rides as not just attractions in themselves, but part of the larger Frontierland and New Orleans Square “show” by having that body of water alive with boats and activity, and it still works that way at least at Disneyland.
Tony wanted to take advantage of all of that operating capacity at Disneyland, while trying to break up the monotony of the River experience by creating different zones that pay homage to four great American rivers; the Rio Grande, the Columbia, the Potomac and the Mississippi. The result is certainly a huge improvement over the previous homogenous look, although it may be difficult for the average visitor to pick up on all of the subtle changes in theme along the route.
Perhaps the most noticeable will be the new pine trees, tumbling streams and wildlife along the Columbia River section that runs from the Hungry Bear Restaurant to the canoe rapids, as it now does look more like Oregon than Ohio. A close second would be the red rocks and dry vegetation, with new mountain lions hiding in the shrubs, now representing the Rio Grande section towards the end of the cruise. However, the Potomac and Mississippi sections really just blend together with all the previously existing flora and fauna. What’s noticeable here is that this is the first time Disney has tried to segment the theme of the Rivers of America into specific geographic areas, and it works pretty well.
As the water returns to the river while you read this, the Columbia and the Canoes will open first this weekend, along with the pirate rafts to Tom Sawyer Island, barring any last minute issues with all of the new equipment. The complete overhaul of the Mark Twain is running quite a bit behind schedule, and the flagship of Mr. Disney’s fleet won’t return to service until May 21st at the earliest. The river rehab also gave the Disneyland Entertainment team a chance to thoroughly tune up the existing Fantasmic! infrastructure on the island and along the river bottom, as well as install some new mist effects, lasers and lighting for the show. Murphy the infamous dragon has also received some TLC down in his pit.
Fantasmic! at Disneyland has never looked better, and this summer it will truly sparkle, but it’s going to have quite a bit of competition next door with World of Color.
If anyone can see it, that is.
Special thanks to CaptPhoebus for most of the photos today.