Disneyland is still recovering from the most successful and star-studded Pirates movie premiere they’ve held yet. While the huge clean up around New Orleans Square continues through this week, the Resort is barreling towards a major media event three weeks from now for the two new attractions, the new parade, and completion of the first phase of major reconstruction at the Disneyland Hotel.

In this update we’ll fill you in on what to expect at both of the new attractions and what the timeline will be like for soft openings prior to the grand opening date of June 3rd. Of course special thanks go out to Andy Castro and Fishbulb for help with the photos in this update. Got that space food stick out of its wrapper yet? Have that Tang mixed now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al


Depp in Time!

The buzz is still reverberating in the celebrity-driven media over the splashy movie premiere Disneyland hosted this past weekend for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Building on the logistical success that TDA has with hosting these massive events, Burbank lavished the premiere with a big budget and worked their iPhones for weeks to get as many A and B Listers down the freeway to Anaheim for the weekend.

There’s usually a culture clash between the more aggressive and often pretentious Hollywood (or wannabe Hollywood) crowd from the Studios and the more laid back Orange County vibe from the Disneylanders, and this premiere was no exception. But for the most part the drama stayed backstage, the Disneylanders bit their tongues a lot and hosted the crazy Hollywood scene with grace, and the end result was a surprisingly strong celebrity turnout and some great PR for the movie and the park. (Sue Kruse covered the event for us, and you can read her write-up as well as see some great celebrity shots, at this link.)

Real movie star
Penelope Cruz

It helped that Burbank asked Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) to eliminate plans for a similar celebrity-driven party on June 2nd for the Little Mermaid and Star Tours opening, to help focus Hollywood’s limited attention span on the premiere instead. The hard work paid off for the teams in both Anaheim and Burbank, and this premiere was widely considered to be the most successful yet, and it certainly featured the most impressive line-up of celebrities from around the entertainment world. Rich Ross as the Studios chief is thrilled with the relationship the Studios now have with George Kalogridis and his Disneyland team after the positive buzz from both DCA’s elecTRONica and the Pirates sneak peak concept in Disneyland’s Festival Arena, and the executives are now looking for future movie concepts to bring to Anaheim theme park audiences.

For now though, everyone is patting each other on the back as the major clean up at the park takes a few more days. The Mark Twain Riverboat and Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island will reopen on Thursday, and by Saturday when the Canoes, Columbia, and Fantasmic! all return to service it will be impossible to tell there ever was a 2,000 seat 3D theater there in the first place.

Everybody neat and pretty?

With that big Hollywood success under Disneyland’s belt, and with Bob Iger and Studios chief Rich Ross very satisfied with the results from the Anaheim team (judging by the congratulatory emails now being forwarded around TDA), the entire Disneyland Resort could only pause for a moment of satisfaction before heading back to work yesterday to focus on the major media events and debuts scheduled three weeks from now.

With June’s schmoozy celebrity party taken out of the equation, the focus now will be solely on the media for the events on June 2nd and 3rd. The main elements of the two day media blitz and grand opening ceremonies will be as follows, with slight changes to the schedule still possible between now and then of course:

Thursday, June 2nd:

Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure Grand Opening Ceremony - 3:30PM
Mickey’s Soundsational Parade Disneyland Media Debut - 6:30PM
Disneyland Hotel Re-Imagineering Cocktail Party at Tangaroa Terrace - 7 to 10PM

Friday, June 3rd:

Star Tours Grand Opening Ceremony - 9:30AM
“What’s Next?” Media Presentation in Cars Land - 11AM

The “What’s Next?” session that wraps up the two day media event will be held outdoors behind the Pacific Wharf area, in the soaring new entry portal into Cars Land. The opening of that nearly completed rock archway (shown below) perfectly frames the towering Cadillac Range beyond with a sweeping turn of the Radiator Springs Racers track still under construction just below it, and the event planners want the media to be wowed by that impressive vista of things to come in 2012.

Support arch

Imagineers will be there to show off some new artwork and storyboards for Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi’s Flying Tires and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, in addition to an explanation of the Buena Vista Street concept and the growing construction mess out at the front of the park. An update to the Blue Sky Cellar Preview Center later this summer will feature those two big projects heavily, once the final phase of the Paradise Pier remake is unveiled in July.

Both the Little Mermaid and Star Tours grand opening ceremonies on June 2nd and 3rd are planned to feature big production stage numbers from the Disneyland Entertainment team. While the new Soundsational Parade will publicly debut a week earlier, the parade will feature heavily in the media blitz thanks to the decision to christen this summer’s events as Soundsational Summer.

I hear that...

As we told you in a previous update, the Let The Memories Begin push has fallen flat with visitors, and most people surveyed couldn’t even identify that it was an actual campaign. The nightly performance on the Small World façade, while technically impressive, is playing to dwindling crowds, and most don’t even get the daily picture connection or its marketing message.

Realizing this, the Anaheim team got the approval from Burbank’s marketing gurus to move away from it and play up the Soundsational Summer marketing message in its place. The Walt Disney World executives decided earlier this year to not invest in a second summer of Nightastic! extra-cost entertainment, as they are going to dog the fizzling Memories campaign for all its worth out in Florida instead, and so Disneyland was allowed to go their own way while moving away from the Nightastic! concept they came up with back in ’09. In Anaheim the usual pumped-up roster of special summer entertainment will all return, from the popular Magical fireworks and elecTRONica street parties to old favorites like the All-American College Band and nightly dancing under the stars at Tomorrowland Terrace and Plaza Gardens.

World of Color won’t get a movie-themed encore this summer. But, based on the wild success of DCA’s New Years Eve fireworks and water show at Midnight that used the massive World of Color infrastructure to great effect (pictured below), Anaheim’s Entertainment team has been creating a new patriotic version of World of Color that will play over the entire Independence Day weekend this July. It promises to give Disneyland’s impressive patriotic fireworks show a run for its money, and help spread out the crowds over that very busy holiday weekend.

Fireproof - darn it!

You really have to give credit to the World of Color and DCA’s operations teams for allowing DCA to turn the corner in 2010, and the Anaheim executives have been extremely happy with how strong DCA’s performance has been in 2011 even before the Little Mermaid opens. The positive vibe in DCA is palpable, even with all those construction walls, and this summer should allow DCA to take another giant step forward towards full-fledged Disney theme park status.

The decision to extend elecTRONica through the summer is also turning out to be a good decision financially, even though the movie disappointed Burbank at the box office. But you wouldn’t be able to tell the movie wasn’t a blockbuster from the recent customer survey results of happy Annual Passholder’s dancing the night away, and drink sales at the mobile bars that are still raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars per week above their already healthy sales goals. elecTRONica grew from last summer’s wild success of Glow Fest, which was originally supposed to just keep people entertained while they waited for World of Color.

But now TDA has stumbled into a machine that makes money with this DCA street party concept, and it seems to be particularly popular with AP’s who are notorious tightwads when they drop in for just a few hours on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon. If only they could bring back last summer’s Louks food truck instead of relying on the DCA Foods team to serve up uninspired and mediocre snacks for elecTRONica. In spite of the bland food at elecTRONica, the summer of 2011 is shaping up to be one of those magical seasons that people remember fondly for years, all bundled up in the Soundsational Summer marketing brand.

With that in mind, on Thursday June 2nd there will only be one Soundsational parade at 6:30 P.M., instead of the usual two-parade run at 4:00 P.M. and 6:30 P.M. That way, the parade will be headed southbound at 6:30 P.M. instead of northbound, and once it passes the media risers in the photogenic Town Square area the invited media can then race their photographers straight to Trader Sam’s cocktail party at the Disneyland Hotel to start testing which interactive effects in the bar get activated with different drinks.

TDA isn’t stupid, and they know it takes plenty of wining and dining to loosen up the most flattering adjectives from all of those reporters. It shouldn’t be that hard to get good press though, because Disneyland is debuting two of the most thrilling and impressive new attractions they’ve had in years, along with a sparkling new parade and stylish new digs at the hotel. That kind of quality product can sell itself.

And then slowly he turned...


By now some of you might be a little curious what these new attractions are like. At Star Tours, the entire storyline has been freshened from the entry doors to the exit through the new Star Trader gift shop. The Disneyland version of the ride got a very thorough refresh with every surface inside the queue and pre-show being replaced, repainted or refinished. The look is darker and sleeker, yet more luxurious than the more utilitarian cargo bay feel of the 1987 original.

SPOILER ALERT! Yes, we're going to tell you about this newly revamped ride. Yes, you will know the basic plot and branch points. Yes, you can skip all this by clicking here. No click? Then, keep reading:

In a sign of the times, as you move through the queue you quickly realize that the pre-show is now focused on getting you cleared through spaceport security, getting your baggage screened and getting yourself cleared by droids who work for Customs. (This theme is also seen in the Star Trader exit shop, shown below.)

There aren’t any overt TSA jokes in the pre-show, but it can’t be a coincidence that the security droids are called “DSAs” or Droid Security Agents, and there’s an undercurrent of putting up with security hassles and inconveniences in this busy terminal that will certainly play to contemporary audiences. (Time will tell if it will be a gag that will hold up with time, or worse, suddenly be in bad taste in the event of another terrorist attack).

Baggage claim

Thin-skinned TSA agents visiting Disneyland might take offense to some of the snippy dialogue from the overly-suspicious DSA stationed near the end of the queue right before you get assigned to your gate, but most folks will chuckle as they shuffle past and pick up their 3-D glasses.

The Starspeeders will look familiar yet freshened as you board, and then you are off on your adventure. The 3D effect is understated and works smoothly with the larger front screen in the simulators. While much has been made of the random possibilities of this latest Star Tours, each journey will begin exactly the same way during the boarding process and opening act. C3PO will bumble his way accidentally into the cockpit, and just as R2D2 is trying to override the autopilot and return to the gate to retrieve the real pilot, one of the different plot twists, or “branches” as the Imagineers call it, will kick in and begin the various storylines.

The 54 different versions of the ride are cycled through automatically, and they can slot in with any of the previous branches of plotline in any cabin. The various plot points and options are as follows;


Part 1: Your Starspeeder begins to depart the spaceport as R2D2 is trying to override the autopilot, but you are suddenly stopped by either Darth Vader or a battalion of Stormtroopers who are looking for a Rebel Spy suspected to be onboard your ship. The video screen in the cabin displays the image of one of your fellow passengers and sets up the base plot that they are the spy that must be smuggled away from the Empire’s bad guys.


Part 2: After some fighting with Vader or the Stormtroopers, R2D2 jumps to light speed just in time and you are on your way to either Tatooine, Kashyyyk, or Hoth. You arrive at whichever planet the branching plotline led you to, and the typical mayhem and excitement ensues as you explore the planet. Tatooine leads to the obligatory Boonta Eve pod race, the Kashyyyk plotline involves racing Imperial Scout troopers on speeder bikes through the forest with help from friendly Wookies, and the visit to Hoth quickly devolves into an icy toboggan run down the mountains dodging Empire AT-ATs along the way.


Part 3: The action is brought to an end when R2D2 launches you off each planet and back into space where you suddenly receive a hologram transmission from either Princess Leia, Admiral Ackbar, or Yoda. They give you instructions on how and where to safely deliver the Rebel spy onboard, and with another jump to light speed you are on your way to a second destination.


Part 4: You arrive from the light speed jump at either Coruscant, Naboo, or an asteroid field that leads you to the Death Star. In typical WDI fashion, something goes terribly wrong here and you go through a final ordeal of either outer space dog fighting, dodging rush hour city traffic, or fending off alien sea creatures. Each of these options leads to an obligatory happy ending with the spy satisfactorily delivered, and then you gather your belongings and exit to your right and out to the gift shop.

By the way, don’t forget to drop those very expensive 3-D glasses in the bins on your way out. The glasses for Star Tours cost many times more than the usual theme park 3-D glasses, and Cast Members will be doing double duty to get every pair of glasses back in the exit hallway.

Save and print
Save and print the above graphic to keep track of what you've seen.

Sounds fun, right? It should be, and it will take the average Annual Passholder many, many visits before they get to experience all of the various plot twists. Also take note: There are no in-cabin physical effects a la’ Stormrider at Tokyo DisneySea, and the simulators don’t generate a wilder ride than before, although they do feel noticeably smoother.

A great deal of the video is done with CGI, and it’s not as believable in spots as it should be, particularly in the pre-show video shown in the boarding areas. My guess here is that they think the detail won't be missed in all the rush and excitment to board the ride. But anyone who has seen any of the CGI effects in the most recent Star Wars films will recognize the technology for what it is, and for the most part it is rendered very well.

Those quibbles aside, even for people who aren’t big Star Wars fans, overall the experience is much fresher and decidley more impressive compared to the long in the tooth 1980’s version it replaces.

Welcome back those who skipped the Star Tours spoilers!

Deep Six

Next door at DCA the Little Mermaid ride is being put through its paces, with lots of last minute tweaking and adjusting still going on to all the lighting, special effects and 183 different animated characters in the ride. Cast Members are being trained this week on the Omnimover ride system, and like last week’s opportunities for hundreds of Cast Members to ride Star Tours, the call has gone out for any Anaheim Cast Member to sneak in the side door and ride the attraction while the new Attractions Cast Members are trained this week.

One of the outcomes of the final testing has been a decision to not slow the Omnimover system down much more, getting back to a ride time of closer to six minutes. The change there is based on a realization that the dialogue from the animatronic host of the story, Scuttle the seabird, becomes too repetitive at slower speeds, in addition to similar problems with dialogue from Flotsam and Jetsam and Ursula in two different scenes later in the ride.

Cannery Row

While a lot of the marketing message for Mermaid is going to tout the huge Under The Sea musical production number with 128 animated characters, it’s the more intimate yet technically advanced scenes with Ursula and Flotsam and Jetsam that are really impressing the first test riders who have been on the ride already. The operations teams at DCA are also concerned with managing epic lines this summer, and at a ride time closer to six minutes they can pump through about 1,900 riders per hour instead of 1,600 per hour, making Mermaid the second highest capacity attraction at DCA behind California Screamin’.

Official Cast Member Previews, where Anaheim CM’s can bring friends and family with them to ride, begin May 20th, and on Friday the 26th some local media will get a sneak preview of both Mermaid and the Soundsational Parade. After the media preview is finished, and assuming all goes well, the attraction could be open for soft openings for park visitors at any time over Memorial Day weekend up until it gets locked down again on June 2nd for the media event.

Flight Delays

Meanwhile, next door to the big Mermaid attraction building, the new Paradise Garden restaurants and Goofy’s Sky School ride have all had their opening date pushed back to July 1st. We’d told you earlier how behind on the schedule they had gotten over the winter, and the resulting delays forced TDA to make a rare change to the construction schedule. Credit should be given at least to be willing to let the timeline slip by a full month, to allow the finishing details to be applied correctly, instead of rushing it with tons of overtime and debuting the new facilities prior to final completion.

Dog batterers

Goofy’s Sky School and the adjacent Corn Dog Castle and Seaside Souvenirs stand are really just receiving cosmetic changes, since that entire section of land is slated for future development years down the road. Corn Dog Castle, for instance (shown above), won’t really be rethemed from its original Airstream trailer look, and the castle theme is also remaining. They will be making changes to the color scheme and installing new signage and accessories that give it a more realistic vintage feel however. This area does get the benefit however of a few dozen of the hundreds of new trees that will have been planted in DCA between 2009 and 2012, as well as new paving and themed street furniture. But since the optimists in Imagineering see an entirely new attraction complex on this plot of land ten years down the road, no big money is being spent here on a new theme.

Beer improves it

But it’s the two big restaurants and attached patio dining area in Paradise Gardens that are getting the most attention from Imagineering, as the restaurants are slated to remain there for the long term while the mad mouse coaster next door will go away eventually. The larger Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta in the former Pizza Oom Mow Mow space is the main location, obviously (above, left). And there is still a great deal of work to do with that building, as they haven’t even begun to finish the interior. When it’s done, there will be huge glass clerestory windows creating an airy atrium entrance that leads to an ornate open-concept serving area with a massive antique brick oven in the middle.

Even the July 1st date is looking ambitious for the restaurants, and the plan to let Cast Member Preview riders at Little Mermaid also take a spin on Goofy’s Sky School is now out.

WDI: We're Darn Important

Speaking of restaurants, over at the Disneyland Hotel they’ll soon be rebranding Steakhouse 55 with the name originally proposed for that restaurant and bar; “Walt’s”. The plan to name the restaurant after Walt was proposed when the steakhouse was redone back in 2006, but Wing Chao who was then the top Imagineering executive for the hotel properties vetoed the idea. Wing’s thinking behind that was the last vestige of an era when playing up the Walt angle was taboo amongst the executives who wanted to get away from that 20th century emotional baggage of focusing on quality like Walt did. This was also the same time that they ditched the original tower names and came up with the bland and meaningless Wonder, Magic and Dreams monikkers.


The Imagineers working on the restaurant still installed some great old pictures of Walt from the 1940’s and 50’s, with the cigarettes all photoshopped out of the hands of course. But while the sight of cigarettes is forbidden now, it’s no longer taboo to mention Walt around Anaheim, and it’s actually become quite fashionable amongst the current crop of Disneyland execs. With that, the Walt’s name is now planned to replace the less-inspired Steakhouse 55 name.

Meanwhile on the other side of the hotel, the new monorail waterslides are looking good from a distance, but they are also now facing delays in opening by Memorial Day. The list of problems with them is made up of rather minor yet important issues, and that’s a concept that any WDI project is unfortunately known for. The problem stems from an infamous Imagineering habit of not asking the people who will operate the facility after it is built what they need or how they will staff and operate it.

In the case of the waterslides, the problems are many and include steps that have no lights on them, launch platforms and splashdown pools that don’t have adequate line of sight for lifeguards, and an overall layout that is going to require the hotel to hire a lot more lifeguards than they had planned for or even have to cover right now. These same types of last-minute operational headaches have been repeated on many WDI projects inside the parks, the hotels are also no exception.

Paging Bob Gurr

It’s a corporate culture issue really, with WDI taking on the role of contractor and project manager for construction of facilities for their clients in the various departments at the theme parks and hotels. But unlike any good contractor in the outside world that would want to make their client as happy as possible, the Imagineers are on the same payroll as their clients and the ultimate goal is usually just to make themselves look good, and not necessarily please the client.

The result is that the Imagineering attitude taken is often one where they feel they know better than the operations folks and that whatever problem is presented by their completed design will simply have to be fixed by the operations folks who staff and manage it for the next 50 years. After all, it’s not like their client can go to some other design firm for this work. WDI has a monopoly on theme park and hotel design and construction, they know it, and so the concept of a happy customer rarely comes in to their artistic decisions.

This nasty cultural issue also manifests itself in a class system where the Imagineers regard themselves as superior to the lowly ride operators or life guards or fry cooks and their immediate supervisors who will staff their completed facility for decades to come. During the testing of new rides, many Attractions Cast Members have stories to tell of haughty Imagineers who refuse to acknowledge the Attractions Cast Members by name even with their nametags on, and simply call the Cast Members “operator” as a way of establishing rank and position.

While they spend long hours together week after week helping test and adjust any new attraction, too many Imagineers simply call out to the theme park Cast Members and say “operator, cycle the start button” or “operator, we’re going to lunch now, come back in an hour”. There’s a few infamous Imagineers who genuinely seem to get a kick out of the verbal putdown, too. The ugly truth is that the company’s line that the front-line operations Cast Members are the heart and soul of the theme parks and are the people that bring the “magic” to life is a concept that’s widely dismissed by too many in WDI.

So it’s no wonder that if some Imagineers think so highly of their own work yet so little of the resort’s front line Cast Members, there’s certainly not much respect for their input and opinions during design and construction phases. WDI is known to steamroll right through a project, rarely seeking out information from the “clients” they are building these projects for, or simply ignoring their input if a brave operations manager dares to speak up in a meeting they were lucky enough to be invited to.

Often any input Imagineering requests is asked at the very last minute when it is too late to do any good, or is discovered when the clients walk through the nearly completed project for the first time on their own, as was the case with the hotel waterslide project. The end result is a new waterslide and pool complex that looks fantastic from 50 feet away, but is proving to be an unworkable mess for the hotel staff that will be operating it for decades to come. The Disneyland Hotel will be putting in a rush requisition to the Casting office for more lifeguards this summer, and the hotel management is furious over the potential for suddenly increased labor costs from WDI’s latest creation.

If you do use the new waterslides this summer, give a word of thanks to the friendly lifeguards struggling with the attractive yet troublesome design. The Cast Members deserve that basic respect.

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. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Al Lutz did not receive any payments, free items, or free services from any of the parties discussed in this article. He pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

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