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Bon Voyage? Are the Subs history? A Disneyland Update, Al Lutz at MiceAge.com

The June relaunch of Disney California Adventure went over better than anyone in Anaheim or Burbank could have hoped for. In a clever move, most of the independent Disney websites were muzzled by an 'embargo' that kept them off-line about Cars Land as the Disney company parks blogs aggressively went after their traffic with daily updates. As the events unfolded the weather was perfect, all the domestic and international media coverage was full of lavish praise, and a large portion of the nearly one million Annual Passholders dutifully turned out day after day to help set new attendance records.

In this update we’ll fill you in on just how successful the relaunch has been, note a few of the small hiccups along the way, and also what could be next for the Disneyland Resort now that DCA appears to have been fixed. Let's get our bear claw doughnut (what? no 'Brave' tie-in?) some of that new blonde Starbucks Coffee and get ready for not only a jolt from the java but an even bigger jolt from one of the update items today. (As always, special thanks to Andy Castro and Fishbulb for the use of their shots.) Let’s get going shall we? - Al

The Park that Can...

The preparation leading up to June 15th had been absolutely all-encompassing for the Disneyland Resort in May and June. The focus on June 15th was even more intense than the focus on launching the 50th Anniversary party for Disneyland back in ’05. And although the 50th celebration in 2005-06 turned out more successful than TDA had originally hoped, the expectations for DCA’s relaunch were much higher.

This simply had to work to not only fix DCA as a theme park, but to get the entire Disneyland Resort back on the track it should have been on since 2001 to become a true multi-day vacation experience for a big chunk of the United States and most of the Pacific Rim. The good news is that the 1.2 Billion invested in the park since 2008 seems to be working, and the relaunch festivities of June 13th through the 15th pretty much went off without a hitch.

The biggest change in Anaheim in the last 10 days has been the radical alteration in the attendance pattern for both parks. With DCA now opening at 8AM alongside Disneyland, both parks are pulling from the same crowd at the same time, but DCA is where they head first in the morning. That means that DCA’s entry turnstiles are getting the “first click” of customers entering one of the two parks, and in Disney’s internal attendance counters the “first click” is the most important one and is how they measure daily and annual attendance.

Tile free

In the recent past, even after World of Color, Little Mermaid and Midway Mania had all been added to the mix, the busiest days for DCA would have netted them 30,000 people entering the park. But those types of 30K days were generally only found during the two weeks around Christmas when Disneyland is packed to capacity and has to close its gates, shunting later arrivals into DCA against their will to wait for Disneyland to reopen.

Earlier this year, some of the most optimistic projections for DCA attendance for late June were pegged at 42,000 per day, and it was assumed that this type of crowd would fill DCA to the rafters. They even had a plan ready to go on such days to close off Cars Land to people and queue them up in giant holding pens that stretched to Paradise Pier, borrowing a concept needed at Universal Orlando for their Harry Potter area.

But what surprised everyone in TDA over the past 10 days is just how many people chose to visit DCA first, and how easy it was for that park to soak all the crowds up and still perform well. The crowds on June 15th that started lining up the night before swelled the daily attendance to 43,000 and broke a new attendance record. And on Sunday, June 17th the number went above 45,000 and set another attendance record just 48 hours later.

As the crowds built more and more each day, by Tuesday, June 19th the daily attendance for DCA approached 55,000, and still the park never had to shut its gates or deal with overcrowded conditions. The plan to close Cars Land in the afternoons and create massive holding pens was abandoned as the park crowds overall ebbed and flowed with ease around Cars Land with over 30,000 people in the park at any one time. Much of the time the last 10 days there have been more people inside DCA than have been inside Disneyland, a phenomenon never before seen since DCA opened in 2001.

You really like me!

And with those huge attendance numbers, larger than anyone could have imagined just a few weeks ago, came the next shock for TDA. The customer surveys on Cars Land, conducted by the “Disney Guest Research” team, kept coming back with statistics that would have once been unthinkable. One of the most important statistics the Guest Research team tracks is called “Intent To Return”, which is the sentiment of whether or not a paying customer would pay money to come back to experience the same thing again. Any new attraction, or any major new offering like a water show or parade, has an Intent To Return statistic attached to it with a few days of extensive Guest Research soon after opening.

The highest-rated attractions like Indiana Jones Adventure or Soarin’ Over California typically deliver an Intent To Return figure in the 85% to 92% range, as there are always a few people who dislike even the most popular attractions and don’t have plans to return. But for the first time ever in the history of Disney’s consumer feedback scoring, Cars Land has been pulling in 100% Intent To Return ratings on most days. This was once thought statistically impossible, but the consistency of the 100% ratings day after day, across all customer demographics, has now convinced the number crunchers that it’s not just a fluke of delirious Annual Passholders.

Life in the fast lane

It seems that anyone who even wanders in to Cars Land, and especially those who ride Radiator Springs Racers, can’t find anything meaningfully wrong with the expansion and would gladly pay money to return in the future. To say the TDA execs are thrilled with this finding is an understatement. Not only can the new DCA hold huge numbers of visitors with ease, but the visitors that are there are thrilled with the experience and very satisfied that they got their money’s worth.

You're perfect, now change...

That’s not to say everything has been perfect in Cars Land or on Buena Vista Street. There have been a few stumbles around the new land and with the new park. Most notably is the woefully inadequate supply of Cars Land specific merchandise. The summer’s supply of orange cone cups offered as an upcharge option at the Cozy Cone Motel sold out within the first week, the first big batch of Cars Land CD soundtracks arrived a few days late but were gone within days, all the adult sizes are gone in the most popular styles of button-up shirts at Ramone’s, and they sold 3,500 of the Luigi’s Tire Hats in the first 10 days and are now begging the factory in China to ship more over as soon as possible.

The attraction themed play sets and toys for sale in Sarge’s Surplus Hut are also flying off the shelves, and Disney’s out of touch merchandise group is now scrambling to backfill dwindling supplies by fall to be ready for the Christmas rush. What’s worse is that as supplies of the unique Cars Land merchandise dwindle TDA’s merchandise team will be forced to fill out the barren shelves with more of the generic One Disney corporate junk they’ve already filled the Curios shop with (and that sits there gathering dust).

Not quite such a super soaker

Cars Land has also been challenged with crowding issues around the main intersection and the poorly designed dead-end that leads to the Racers queue entrance. John Lasseter has not been happy with the way the Cars characters are limited in the land, or shunted off to the sides like Red the Fire Truck (above) performing against a barren wall way out near Flik’s Fun Fair. Per Lasseter’s request (or creative demand) the vehicles have been moving as much as possible around the land, but that movement is mainly relegated to the early morning hours before the crowds get too dense. The evening performances with DJ and his dancing waitresses (below) are, well, how to say this... "artistically questionable," and only seem to succeed at bringing traffic around the main intersection to a standstill.

Back to making burgers girls

For a land based on living cars, there are very few of these denizens in existence in Cars Land, and those cars that do appear are just static parade floats with dated 20th century technology instead of 21st century interactivity. The deluxe animatronics used inside the Radiator Springs Racers showbuilding have raised the bar, making the character cars appearing in the land itself seem hokey and fake in comparison.

Open and Shut Case

The other issue nagging both Cars Land and Buena Vista Street is the design of the shop and restaurant entrances. Disney’s new corporate “green standard” is for all shops and restaurants to have doors that automatically close to keep air conditioned air from escaping. The result in Cars Land are stores that simply look closed when the front doors are closed, and after a few days of slow sales the doors are now propped open permanently with the air conditioning on (below left), in defiance of the corporate standard.

A tale of two doors

Over at Buena Vista Street however, where stores have multiple banks of doors, the doors have all remained closed in compliance with the corporate standard (above right). The result on Buena Vista Street is that foot traffic into the stores has been light, even though the street itself bustles with people. The shops along Main Street at Disneyland are exempt as they get a grandfathered excuse to keep their smaller doors open at all times. The stores management at DCA is currently arguing the issue with the corporate green police, but the propped open doors in Cars Land are already earning DCA management a warning flag.

Survey Says...

But those smaller issues aside, the response and reaction to Cars Land has been overwhelmingly positive. In just the last week the attendance patterns and crowd movement around the entire Resort has shifted dramatically. As both parks open simultaneously at 8AM, the biggest crowd heads in to DCA first and DCA’s in-park attendance rises quickly in the morning and easily surpasses Disneyland. Only by the mid-afternoon, after the first Pixar Play Parade, does Disneyland finally begin to capture more attendance and can meet the number of people inside DCA.

So very 4th
It has 48 states - thanks for the correction!

The result is an overall Resort crowd level that has grown by double digits compared to this time last year (when Star Tours and Little Mermaid were opening), but it’s a crowd that is nearly evenly distributed across both parks now. Disneyland has had a noticeable load taken off its back, with roughly 10,000 to 15,000 people at any one time shifted over to DCA. The very manageable Disneyland wait times the past week, especially on Saturday (the lowest attendance day of the week now), have created crowd levels at Disneyland not seen in June since the late 1990’s.

This exact type of crowd mitigation across both parks is what DCA was supposed to do back in 2001, but simply couldn’t because few people chose to go over there, and if they did they only stayed for a few hours before heading back to Disneyland. TDA is obviously thrilled with this new crowd pattern, especially for the busy summer days ahead, and the busiest weeks of the year at Christmastime when Disneyland often has to close its gates due to overcrowding.

Back to the Future

The new allure of DCA gives Disneyland some breathing room this summer, but also adds fuel to the growing fire of park expansion for Disneyland. We’d told you last year of the developing plans to add several new attractions to Disneyland by mid-decade, in either the unused portion of Frontierland north of Big Thunder Mountain or the eastern flanks of Tomorrowland.

While Bob Iger and Tom Staggs have visited Anaheim constantly the past few months to shepherd the DCA relaunch (and have returned for several days this past week to check up on the place), they’ve also spent several days in Anaheim inspecting the two main expansion areas for Disneyland. It goes without saying that John Lasseter continues to practically live in Anaheim, even after the opening of Cars Land.

The attention for both TDA and WDI is shifting quickly to two main goals for Disneyland; increased ride and crowd capacity. In the Tomorrowland area particularly, WDI has convinced Burbank’s sharp pencil boys that a large swath of the 1959-67 Tomorrowland must go to make way for the future. The result is that three current attractions are now on WDI’s radar for demolition and redevelopment; Innoventions, Autopia, and - get ready - the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The first two attractions likely don’t come as any surprise, but the addition of the Submarines to the endangered species list is a new twist.

Grandma could scamper down back then
Not so yellow back then

It's no secret that the Submarines have no friends in Anaheim’s operations departments, where they are disliked for their inefficiency, very low ride capacity (800 riders an hour at full speed), and very high cost of maintenance. The Submarines have the dubious distinction now of being the costliest attraction to operate and maintain at Disneyland, and just the cost of replacement bulbs alone for the underwater projection screens can tally tens of thousands of dollars per month.

Now that John Lasseter got his wish list fulfilled with Cars Land, even as their biggest defender, he's acknowledging it might be time to retire the subs permanently. The huge amount of space they take up, with the Autopia freeways sitting on top of them and the adjacent Innoventions building amounts to almost 20% of the available land in the park. These proposed changes may also have prompted an end to the Chevron sponsorship of the Autopia this past week.

The work on Disneyland expansion is moving very quickly, with several key proposals for new E Tickets and D Tickets coming together this summer. If Lasseter and WDI get their way, Disneyland will get a three year period later this decade not unlike the last three years at DCA where almost a half dozen new attractions opened in quick succession. Burbank still wants to see how the spending and visitation numbers  come together for DCA this summer, but the initial DCA reaction has lent support to the argument that Disneyland needs the same type of major attraction expansion in two areas of the park at the same time.

You look Marvel-ous...

One other stop on the recent Iger and Staggs tours was the sprawling Toy Story Parking Lot down near the Anaheim Convention Center, and the adjacent land Disney owns but has not yet developed. Bob Iger has made public comments about his desire to get the Marvel characters “into the parks”, but the restrictive legal agreement with Universal over the Marvel characters means the Florida parks are off the table for Marvel. But Anaheim is definitely in play, and Bob is convinced the Marvel franchise is too big for just a single ride or even a small land in an existing park.

It’s no coincidence then that WDI has mocked up a detailed model of an entirely new theme park based solely on Marvel characters and stories, featuring mainly thrill rides and energetic shows aimed at teens and adults. And WDI, always looking for their next big gig, conveniently used the roughly 100 acres available to Disney on and around the Toy Story Parking Lot as their exact footprint for this new park model. The Marvel park could also be slotted in as a second park at either the Hong Kong or Shanghai resorts sometime in the next decade (or later), but the third park expansion land in Anaheim is the location where this concept would likely first appear.

Before anyone gets excited though, there are several things that must come before the Marvel park gets the green light. The first is at least a year or two of solid performance at DCA, with financial numbers that prove the park is now drawing new customers all on its own, instead of just acting as a temporary safety valve when Disneyland gets too crowded.

The second thing that must happen is that Disney and the city of Anaheim have to come up with a comprehensive parking and transportation plan to get people into and out of the Resort District more smoothly. TDA has been able to barely keep their head above water most days when it comes to parking. But the current system is stretched to its limit and made up of stopgap measures, fancy footwork by the operations teams who often squeeze 25,000 or more cars per day into 18,000 spaces, and fraying goodwill with the city of Anaheim.

Avenege... Parking!

With Cast Members now parking miles away at the Honda Center on days with high Annual Passholder attendance, an improved and expanded parking plan is a must before new attractions open at Disneyland, much less before a Marvel park takes over the 3,500 spaces at the Toy Story Parking Lot.

The last thing that needs to slot into place before the third park gets underway is an expansion of Disney owned hotel rooms in Anaheim, with more DVC units attached to any new development. We’ve told you in the past about the solid proposals to build a new hotel and arrival complex in the East Esplanade shuttle bus loading area, as well as a fourth DVC tower at the Disneyland Hotel slotted for the vacant land just west of the ESPNZone. But again, TDA and Burbank will be looking at the numbers coming out of DCA through the rest of this year before either of those plans gets the green light.

The lingering sour economy doesn’t help any of these projects of course, but it is impressive that they have been allowed to wait at the starting gate while DCA’s fortunes rapidly improve, as they could have easily been mothballed entirely during the recession.

The Disneyland Encyclopedia: A review

The publishers of the newly released second edition of the Disneyland Encyclopedia were kind enough to send a copy for review. At over 500 pages it's a grand collection of the history and trivia of Disneyland, all nicely organized with concise entries for just about everthing that has been installed, exhibited, removed or considered for the Happiest Place on Earth.

There are even all sorts of handy lists scattered all throughout the book - including a listing of the many parades over the years, total ridetime listings) etc. Without a current edition of the Mumford/Gordon Nickel Tour book, this paperback is just about the only other major collection of this type of content available.

Is it the perfect resource? Not quite; one entry that stood out was the listing for the Observatron (the spinning sculpture on the top of the former Rocket Jets platform). While the listing implies that the item was installed new for the Tomorrowland makeover, it actually was just a re-dress of the old Rocket Jets ride mechanism. Also the blurb on Light Magic leaves out the online reaction to the show, which helped speed its demise.

You can tell that they worked on updating this very useful resource right up to the last possible minute - as they make note of the Memories campaign and the ugly esplande structure that was just recently removed. Overall it's a great addition to any Disneyland aficionado's library, especially at the price offered above by Amazon.

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!

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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 recieved a complimentry copy of the book reviewed above.

© 2012 Al Lutz