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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
12/18/00 UPDATE: California Adventure (DCA) early ride reviews - Plus more rumors / DCA prices already being raised - OUCH! / Speaking of food... / Parking structure escalator cover problems / Emperor's New Groove characters appear

 

California Adventure (DCA) early ride reviews - Plus more rumors

Cast members (CM's / Disney speak for employees) have been riding the attractions at the new park, and the word is filtering back out. Herewith many comments from many different people - all disguised of course to protect the innocent... ;)

Soaring (IMAX ride film) is a true E-Ticket ride. It's the highlight of the park.

Calif. Screaming (the big Coaster) is smoooooooth. One of the best Disney coasters I've ever seen. It has over- the- shoulders restraints, but I gave it "the test". Closed my eyes on the second ride thru (before I knew the layout) and didn't once bump my ears. Onboard soundtrack very nice. Best surprises: good airtime (esp. on bunny hills) and nice transitions from left bank to right bank, etc. I didn't expect CA Screaming to be so fun.

The Maliboomer (Space Shot) has windshields on each seat. Something to do with noise ordnance. This makes the ride quite sucky indeed. Bad view, bad whistling sound, and what if people spit into it? Bad show.

Sun (Ferris) Wheel is relatively scary. Two of 3 cars in each "group" will swing, the middle one will not.

The non-Paradise-Pier sections of the park are not sub-par for Disney. They are good. They feel like Florida parks, actually. The PP section is about what you can see from PP hotel, and about what you expect.

Also, there are a couple spots in the Pier area where I could see the outside (non- Disney) world, but the views otherwise out of the park 'feel right'.

And the courtyard 'show' in Disney's Animation is an E experience. Surrounded by screens up to 30 x 40 showing backgrounds, pencil tests, animation and final film, it's a meal for animation lovers.

Two viewpoints on the BUGS 3-D movie:

1. Bugs is indeed identical to the WDW version. Meaning the theater is really quite ornate, the AA's are great.

2. I wanted to give you some hope. I saw the Bug's show at DCA and it's a 100% better than the WDW version: screen, sound, effects, all together raise it a grade.

Continuing on:

Chew on this: only 30,000 people may be in here, but remember there are 22 things to do instead of Disneyland's 65. So every day will feel like it does at the older park when there are 60,000 people around. And it gets scarier: everything at DCA will have a Fastpass. Imagine the standby lines... lordy.

I guess we'll all know soon enough for ourselves... :)

Here are some other tidbits:

Disneyland will accelerate any and all rehab work so that come the first week of Feb (as the press event gets underway for the new park) there will be no walls up in the park.

The press event will show off the older park first to all the media (which will probably consist of happy talk local weather personalities from across the nation) - then the new one. (Boy, are they asking for it! ;) )

There is a model of Tower of Terror now at WDI - and they seemingly have designed it to be adjacent to another hotel they want to build in the Timon parking lot behind the Hollywood area. It's an interesting idea to make this a Hollywood Hotel type of theme, with a Twilight Zone wing being the ride inside the park - but it shows the continued focus on more of the shops, restaurants and hotels rather than the attractions this park so badly needs.

One rumor I cannot confirm is that all spending for anything new in the park is supposed frozen until they can decide what capacity they will need. Like um, duh - JUMBO isn't enough of a description for them?  ;)

Monsters (as an off the shelf ride) is supposedly to be still on tap though to PIXAR's complete dismay.

 

DCA prices already being raised - OUCH!

The sign shop out back at Disneyland got flooded with orders to repaint DCA signs. Seems they already are raising the prices at all the food locations in California Adventure BEFORE it even opens.

Sheesh!

 

Speaking of food...

They've changed the menu again at the Casa Mexicana replacement, Rancho del Zocalo - here's a kind note someone sent me with what appears to be the latest permutation of what to expect:

I read your update on the "Rancho Del Zocalo" menu offerings. I guess some boards you saw at the Disneyland Job Fair confirmed what you had already announced: The restaurant would have a Fresh Salsa Bar (think Baja Fresh), a Hamburger grill area with Onion Rings, and the Big Thunder Ranch menu.

The boards you saw were actually old concept boards from very early in the planning stages. That's why they were out at the faire - nobody needed them.

Here's some updated info on the menu for you:

1. There will be no Hamburgers, no Onion rings on a stick, and no Fresh Salsa Bar.

2. The menu is divided in two - a Mexican section featuring tacos, burritos, quesadillas, taco salads and the like. The meats will be grilled on stage. Chicken, beef and fish tacos will be available.

3. The second section is the BBQ section, featuring baby back ribs and chicken. Prime rib will be available at dinner. BBQ sandwiches will be available at lunch only.

4. A great dessert section will be available, with a delicious hot fudge brownie ala mode.

That's some of the info... sorry, I can't give it all to you. I just want to tell you that much so people won't be disappointed when they come into the restaurant for a non-existent salsa bar.

Thanks kindly for the update, I'll miss the salsa bar, but already it does sound better than the original menu.

For photos of the newly opened up dining area (it opened Sunday, the restaurant itself won't open until the Feb. press events) see the REHABS section today.

 

Parking structure escalator cover problems

Someone was kind enough to forward me the following, and darn if it doesn't point up a problem with the new covers to the parking structure:

Last week I noticed that there was something amiss about the new escalator cover at the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. I took some pictures that show just what the problem is.

Apparently someone forgot that it does occasionally rain here in Southern California.

Below is a view from in front of the elevators. Notice where the new cover attaches to the wall. Between the support tube and the cover itself, is a wedge- shaped overhang.

Parking structure escalator cover problems

From a slightly different angle, you can see that there is open space between the cover and the overhang.

Parking structure escalator cover problems

Viewed from right next to the tram loading, you can see quite a bit of open space. Note that you can see directly through to the escalator.

Parking structure escalator cover problems

Since Minnie (Level 6) was open , I went up there and took this (below) from directly above the escalator. The overhang is the large white shape at the bottom, and the cover arches across the top. The open space looks to be about 2 feet or so at its widest.

Parking structure escalator cover problems

Note the open slat cover for the walkway that overhangs the building by a few feet. and its relation to the cover, open space, and wedge-shaped overhang.

Parking structure escalator cover problems

Viewed directly from the side, you can see that when it rains, the water is going to go between the cover and the building, then wash down the overhang right onto the heads of the people stepping onto the escalator. Also, because of the dome shape of the cover itself, the runoff from it is going to add to the problem.

Parking structure escalator cover problems

We finally get a nicely designed cover for the escalators (The other two frameworks are next to the parking lot), and its going to rain not only on the guests, but right into the escalator itself. Removing the wedge overhang won't fix the problem either, as there is just too mush space between the cover and the building.

I guess that's what happens when you have Michael Eisner designing parking structures?  ;)

 

Emperor's New Groove characters appear

There's no merchandise, no parade, almost nothing you can see, touch or purchase from Disney's newest, Emperor's New Groove, except for these two walk arounds at Disneyland, Kronk's on the left, the llama's on the right.

Kronk Kuzco

It was kind of sad to see the kids scurry up to the llama and ask for autographs - which he can't sign - as the hooves he has prevent him from holding a pen.

Now why didn't SOMEONE at the park come up with at least a rubber stamp the nearby handler could use to leave a hoof print in those ultra profitable and unfathomably popular autograph books the kids adore so much?

 

That's it for now - see you at the park!


12/8/00 UPDATE: Monsters in California Adventure / Annual Passport upgrade processing improved / DCA AP Party - could it be Light Magic II? / Will FastPass get us some old favorites back? / Guest Service problems increasing due to staffing woes - part two / Dole's Tiki Adventure / Margaritas and signs / Candlelight Info for this weekend

 

Monsters in California Adventure

MousePlanet columnist Jim Hill will return soon with part three of his latest series of articles on Emperor's New Groove. In the meantime, he was kind enough to forward the following note - it now looks like we know what's in the cards for the new park...

Speaking of unbelievable ... I just spoke with a friend of mine with strong ties to WDI. He talked about the "Monsters, Inc." ride that's supposed to be up and running at the Disneyland Resort by Thanksgiving weekend 2001.

Monsters, Inc. promotional art  Disney / PIXAR
Monsters, Inc. promotional art Disney / PIXAR

Bad news, big guy. Not only will this attraction be something that Imagineering buys off the shelf and retrofits themed elements on to, but -- as of this week -- the "Monsters, Inc." attraction is now going into DCA in the studio backlot area.

Why DCA? Eisner and Pressler understand -- based on the reactions they got during this week's press walkthroughs -- that there is already a strong preconception out there that their new park doesn't have nearly enough rides and attractions. So look for the "Monsters, Inc." ride to be played up big-time at the DCA press event in February to show that the company is being proactive about this perceived problem.

(Jim will have more on this - along with PIXAR's reaction to this news in an upcoming story here on MousePlanet.com)

As you may remember, we here in this column mentioned Steve Jobs' recent visit to Disneyland with Eisner - and filled you in on the private screening they had of the work in progress of the film at the park just a few weeks ago to drum up enthusiasm about the project.

It makes sense now that they were prepping the way for what Jim discusses above. Barry Braverman has been quoted in the L.A. Times as suggesting that rides for smaller children will be the next things added to California Adventure.

HEY, it's THEMED, OK?
HEY, it's THEMED, OK?

Anyone want to take any bets now that it will be something like one of those spinning Octopus rides from the KMart parking lot carnivals? That's what Paul Pressler and Michael Eisner think are Disney quality attractions - look at what Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom in Orlando just recently got.

Meanwhile, all may not be good on the PIXAR front - if this kind e-mail is any indication of what to expect of Monsters, Inc.:

Just a word about Pixar. Despite all of the great things folks have been saying about Monsters Inc, I would not expect much.

I am lucky enough to know some of the folks who have been there from the earliest days of Toy Story up to and including Monsters. To be somewhat blunt, things are not well there. Even with the move from Point Richmond to the new campus in Emeryville, rude awakenings are on the horizon.

Monsters, Inc. promotional art  Disney / PIXAR
Monsters, Inc. promotional art Disney / PIXAR

Monsters has suffered from the usual foolishness as there was no script written when the story started production. Lack of real direction on anyone's part has led through the typical Pixar minefield as story concepts where conceived and abandoned, conceived and abandoned with an alarming consistency. What could have been an imaginative journey through the world of childhood fears has instead become a cute, cuddly and fuzzy cut-rate cartoon. Nothing new there, but this may be the movie that under performs for Pixar, and Disney.

The next few films in the bag don't look to have much in the way of power either. Folks who were the genius behind TS, Bugs and TS 2 have left Pixar for a variety of reasons.

Once upon a time, the idea was for Pixar to do one movie a year. Now, that's not looking possible at all. Considering what's been happening in the animation industry as a whole, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Pixar's just been a bit insulated.

Maybe that Octopus ride is exactly what's needed then...  ;)

 

Annual Passport upgrade processing improved

Fellow MousePlaneteer Sue Kruse was kind enough to send me an update about the improved Annual Passport upgrade procedures she experienced at Disneyland - I am so glad the park made these changes, I wouldn't wish what had happened to me last week to happen to anyone:

I thought you might like to know that they seem to have ironed out the problems with upgrading the AP. At least it went smoothly for me tonight. I opted to take care of it at the AP processing center within the park because there was no line to deal with (though lord knows the park was packed due to some kind of Vons night-it was perfectly horrid). After reading what you went through, I had calculated approximately what I thought I should be charged for the new pass and was ready to argue if need be.

The cast member (CM) on the front line took my pass, scanned it into a Palm Pilot-like thing and after a few seconds told me the new pass would cost me $142, $3 cheaper than I had figured. She clipped my pass to a piece of paper and directed me to the CM waiting at station number 8. He did something in the computer, had me verify my personal info, took a new picture (which is *the* most god awful picture -- I look like a side show freak), took my money and handed me my pass. It took all of ten minutes (if that) and was completely painless (unlike the process you described).

Thanks for the update Sue - the device utilized sounds like a real improvement. Kudos to the park for moving quickly to fix this.

 

California Adventure Annual Passholder Parties - could they be Light Magic II?

Here's the ticket sent out for the event - note the generic logo (Art  Disney)
Here's the ticket sent out for the event - note the generic logo (Art Disney)

It now appears that most of the AP nights for DCA are sold out for about 30,000 tickets. MAXIMUM expected capacity for the new park - IF each attraction is operating fully - is just over 31,000.

So you know, right now they cannot get up to six cars going on the big new coaster - it operates best with four cars - starts to have problems with five - and just doesn't function with planned for six for any extended period of time. This is one of their major "crowd soakers" folks - which even if optimally running is still woefully under the numbers something as old fashioned as Pirates in Disneyland handles on a regular day.

A major part of the problem is in training - there are so many new hires - and so few attractions employees transferred over from Disneyland itself (more on this below) that many new recruits are helping run and man rides for the first time with the opening of this park.

If you remember how a Disneyland attraction like Space Mountain operates - a lot of capacity is gained when it is optimally staffed and run. If for some reason a loader employee doesn't move folks along fast enough, or a group of less familiar riders (such as those in a non- English speaking tour group) get on, it can considerably reduce the capacity.

The biggest problem may be with what should be (from all accounts) the highlight of the park, the "Soaring over California" IMAX ride film - since it has a capacity of about half to a quarter of what a normal major ride at Disneyland across the way does. Estimates now are that not even a quarter of the people attending on a maximum capacity day of 30,000 will be able to ride this attraction. Add a loading problem or two - or the normal breakdowns new rides experience, and well you will have problems.

Hearing about all these headaches they have coming - I asked someone in the know "Just WHY are they pushing this so hard, especially during something like a series of Annual Passholder nights? Don't they remember what happened when they did this with Light Magic?"

"Greed, Al" was the response. "They saw a way to make a huge amount of money fast and they went for it. If that park ends up not delivering on those nights - and chances are likely it won't - they will pay again like they did for Light Magic."

"Couldn't have they let in half the crowds - given everyone a great experience - and helped to get good word of mouth going?" I asked.

"Universal isn't the only park that didn't meet advance booking numbers," he responded, "Disney expected a bit more for DCA's first year, and they are a bit slow in meeting what they planned that the demand was. They have been worried for a while about the economy slowing. (Al's note - it was even mentioned in a recent Times piece). Little did they expect that a park they purposely built to expand the audience for the resort - by aiming for tourists instead of locals - would possibly come back to haunt them so quickly. In a slow economy people stay close to home - they don't travel as much. This park is hard- wired for the exact opposite of that dynamic. Why do you think they suddenly decided they needed to offer Annual Passes? - They are hedging against any slowdown. Pressler did not want locals in there originally - he was adamant."

I responded back that by charging full price, and only offering limited access by design to about half the attractions, in comparison to what Disneyland has right next door, just seemed so off base. He replied, "Keep in mind, these guys have numbers presented to them all the time. They take pride going ahead and doing what they want anyway. Eisner's the worst of the bunch. He's done it in the past, and it looks like he's doing it again. Hunches can pay off - but usually the odds are the same with the lottery too aren't they?"

As Jim Hill mentioned above - press reaction hasn't been all that great. I can confirm that from what I have heard here. Funny, we knew this was going to be an issue the day they announced the plans for this.

 

Will FastPass get us some old favorites back?

Meanwhile, back in Disneyland, it looks like FastPass not only dumps all those folks in line back out to shop and dine, but also to find other rides to go on. Congestion is increasing in the park - and non- FastPass line waits for lesser rides are climbing rapidly.

What's the solution? Apparently they are looking at bringing back some past closed attractions and rides to help. Higher on the list are those easy to put back in operation attractions like the Motor Boat Cruise and Keel Boats, (even with their limited capacity). Other options include bringing back CircleVision (the future of the Rods continues to look bleak - look for an eventual Buzz Lightyear ride much further down the pike) and the much missed Submarines.

Don't look for any spectacular improvements or fixes to anything - (for CircleVision for example they are just trying to figure out how to empty the theater out without overwhelming the much smaller exits they put in for the Rods redo) - they just want to get things back up again as cheaply as possible to help soak up the ever increasing hoards that eventually get their fill of shopping and dining.

Major continuing attendance declines in both Innoventions and "Honey I Shrunk the Audience" (which were predicted here) are also adding fuel to that fire. "Honey" in particular is really dropping in numbers - they are missing attendance predictions by over 20% and growing - which again stresses the difference between the two coasts and the two very different crowds each resort pulls (Disneyland with over 300,000 Annual Passholders now and growing - that means a lot of locals, and Walt Disney World's almost complete opposite mix of out of towners).

This is a problem Pressler in particular is directly responsible for - as he really pushed for these kind of filmed attractions (which are cheaper to install and produce). He doesn't understand why so many more people rent films than buy them for example in the real world - as they get tired of them quickly.

So you can imagine the problems to be had in only three short years once all the locals get familiar with the extremely high ratio of movies in the new park. And mind you - DCA was designed and locked down BEFORE they had a chance to find out about how FastPass really works - they did not plan for a park full of people out of lines looking for things to do.

 

Guest Service problems increasing due to staffing woes - part two

I mentioned above that the rides in the new park are going to suffer from staff training problems and headaches due to lack of experience and training.

Meanwhile, you can probably rest assured that the attractions in Disneyland proper will be more or less properly run - if and when they can remain staffed fully. The real problems are expected in the next few weeks with Foods and Merchandise - as large percentages of those employees have gone ahead and taken the incentive to move over to DCA. (Mostly because they get to work in shiny new facilities, instead of the old ones at Disneyland.)

As also mentioned today in Kevin Yee's Cast Place Mail Column - you can expect some SERIOUS declines in quality of service due to this massive change of personnel. We had a perfect example of this just last Friday night, as we watched trainees struggle with getting food to people at the Riverbell Terrace.

Yes, they do have a very good new menu, (which I will detail in a future update) but it's pointless when your selection gets cold because it got all backed up in the distribution process. We watched about ten orders sit there, while managers stared on at two women who were utterly lost in gathering together the food plates and drinks for each order that had been placed by the cashier. Of course the back up made for cold food - as it kept coming even if they didn't get it out - and a stop developed at the cash register as the cashier could no longer ring up anyone or take their order

After about twenty minutes, we finally switched lines and got promptly served. The cast member helping us, as well as the cashier, rolling her eyes at the new trainees all the way.

And remember - with this drop in service, prices have still gone up. Typical eh?

 

Dole's Tiki Adventure

The Tiki Room, when it's open...
The Tiki Room, when it's open...

Sometimes you gotta wonder...

So Disneyland wants to make sure Dole not only renews their sponsorship for the Enchanted Tiki Room, but also expands it to host fresh fruit carts at DCA. (I guess it looks pretty barren out there with only all those margarita and beer carts...)

Turns out the head honchos from Dole are just across the street at some kind of convention, and the park gives them a tour of DCA, and then the beloved Tiki Room.

The execs in charge of wooing the sponsors feel it's kind of embarrassing to show Dole a Tiki Room that keeps going down (not only are a lot of the animatronics not working, but Jose has been freezing up and closing the show down). So a quick rehab is done.

The execs also feel that Dole may not like the fact the attraction only opens for a few hours each day either. So on the day they expected the Dole folks to walk through - they grabbed someone from the Jungle Cruise, decked them out in a Tiki Room outfit, called foods and opened up the Pineapple bar hours earlier than usual.

The poor guy in charge of the attraction is running around sweating bullets and praying that Jose warbles and rattles on cue - and that they don't get wind that Tiki only operates for limited hours. Quickly they turn on the preshow - and they start to run that antique Dole ad film on the screen behind the Pineapple Bar. The exec from Disney has been talking to the guys from Dole all morning about this wonderful film, and wants to show it, so he can talk them into paying for a new one.

Well the film is barely visible. It's been barely visible for years. Antique technology makes it so, and it's something in the whole Tiki setup that maintenance folks just blew off. All due to no budgets of course.

"Turn it on!" the guy in charge screams. "It IS on, you just have to walk right up to it and look at the screen, then you see it." came the reply from the employee behind the counter. Frantic flicking of the switch behind the counter by the guy in charge proves the cast member right. It is working, just no one can see it because of how dim it is and the sunlight.

The guy in charge tries to get the Disney exec to hold off a bit, just so they can miss the preshow. Thanks to a busy day, a short walk over to the attraction is made a bit longer, and the preshow is JUST missed by the Dole honchos.

The Dole honchos arrive - and of course they would like to see the film. The guy in charge looks like he's passing a brick, the Disney exec notices there may be a problem, and tap dances the Dole guy into the attraction promising him he would FedEx a video copy of the film to him so they can stay on time for their executive luncheon over at DCA.

Crisis averted for now.

But wait - what's this? The technology utilized for that film is antique. There's going to be no real way to make a copy of the film for the Dole honchos. Well, I guess they'll deal with that later.

Saddest part of the story - that Dole is apparently clueless about a] how badly the attraction is kept up and b] its very limited operating hours.

Happiest part of the story - well, they now know don't they?

 

Margaritas and signs

The Rita's Margaritas stand in the new California Adventure park has undergone a quick name change for the press events. Rita's Baja Blenders [or some such variation] is the name on the new sign that was hastily just installed.

Why the change? "They were worried about the perception of the press during the previews - that there was too much of a focus on liquor in this new park."

Gawd, how could they miss all those beer and margarita cart locations they have planned?  ;)

The sign will be changed back after all the hoopla for the park dies down. Margaritas are high mark up items you know.

 

Candlelight Information for this weekend

From last year's show
From last year's show

Dates: 12/9 and 12/10

Processional: 5:15

Shows 5:30 and 7:45

Narrators: Sat. - John Tesh / Sun. - Barry Bostwick

The first show both nights will be invited guests only. Empty seats will be filled on a 1st come, 1st served basis. (Go ahead and line up for that first show in case you don't get tickets - there is always a chance a seat may be available.)

The second show both nights will be ticketed. Tickets will be distributed to visitors and CMs at the OLD guest relations window outside the park at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning and 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning. 4 tickets max per person, tickets are needed for ages three and up.

 

See you all at MouseAdventure this weekend!


12/5/00 UPDATE: Imagineering to be further cut back / Annual Passport upgrade processing nightmares / Guest Service problems increasing due to staffing woes - parking will be inadequate for the upcoming crowds also / WDW complaints / California Adventure buzz / More Snow / Quick Photo essay: Haunted Mansion FastPass / Disneyland NOT Forever?

 

Imagineering to be further cut back

It's going to get worse, and some folks I've been talking to don't see it getting any better. Several have let me know that there are even more severe cutbacks coming in Imagineering - this time in the shutting down of all the research and development they normally do.

"Basically" one person told me, "they feel (Pressler and Eisner) that designing new ride systems and technologies from scratch is no longer worth it. Despite what they expect to be a generally negative reaction to the new park (California Adventure) they do expect it to make plenty of money. Just in case it tanks, they do have a plan in place to pour tons more money into it, but it will have to be a major failure for it to get that."

Another source continued: "Unless someone else foots the bill, the days of innovation and pushing the envelope as far as attractions at Disney are over, period. Neither guy - Pressler in particular - wants to spend anymore. They feel California Adventure shows the way in how you can take off the shelf stuff and just gussy it up."

Someone else was more blunt: "It's over Al. They will just shop around for everything like all the other parks in the industry do."

Sadly I do think this time around, especially with the recent appointments made to the division, this is the path we'll see.

 

Annual Passport upgrade processing nightmares

Think you're confused by the new Annual Passport upgrade structure? Well so are the folks at the Passport processing centers and the ticket booths outside. Apparently the rush was so great to get the new passport program into effect before the critical holiday shopping season that there was little or no advance warning to anyone how it was being set up. Sadly due to this, you should expect long lines, slow service and possible mistakes in calculating what you should pay to upgrade.

New APs
The new, rather bland and corporate looking annual passports to be used for both parks - how non-Disney can you get?

I'll detail my experience here - in hopes that someone will take pity on the customers here.

First of all, we decided to pay for the upgrade at the outside ticket booths, which was in retrospect a smart move. Why? Because they keep the crowds moving out there (unlike the Passport processing centers inside the park) and they at least had some supervisory people there trying to help out.

The first hurdle comes in determining what you will get credited. You are supposed to get a credit for the unused days left on your passport, unless you purchased within the last month (whereupon they just give you a full credit for it). This is determined by a series of charts they have, one each for each of the levels of annual passports available. They apparently, in what we could see our cast member helping us with, were ultra confusing and difficult to read.

Once a price is settled on, that the passport is worth (and this we came to find out can vary, depending on how the clerk reads the charts) you get a credit for that amount for a new passport - but they ONLY will upgrade you for a full year. In other words, even if you passport expires before next December, you still have to renew for a full year to get an upgrade. This upgrade is supposed to include a renewal discount, PLUS the upgrade price now being offered is supposed to take a month off (which they calculate at $10). In other words, you are supposed to get credit for renewing, and until Feb. 1st, they charge you $289, instead of $299 for a full year of both parks.

Note the misspelling of "commercial" on the new passes
Note the misspelling of "commercial" on the new passes - I guess they were in a real hurry. Special thanks to Mrs. Cindy Stephens for pointing that one out

The problems lie in the understanding of what your credit is supposed to be, and in the determination of the new price. In my case, my old Disneyland passport was supposed to expire in May. At one point during the whole process, after which one poor gal excused herself because she got so confused, I had one upgrade price offered to me that was at least thirty dollars over what it should have been. A supervisor came and took over, and he refigured the amount down by that for the second number he gave me.

Now mind you, this process took us over 45 minutes to complete at a ticket booth - where there were plenty of experienced (?) staffers to help. The situation, from the many e-mails I am starting to see come in is much worse at the two in-park processing centers. This is due to two problems:

One, there is less experienced staff at the centers, and Two, problems and delays happen due to the way they just ask everyone, both new and renewal passport holders, to wait in the same line.

Due to Disneyland's inept (for lack of a kinder word here) procedures, we ended up waiting an additional hour at the processing center on Main Street after we had already paid outside at the ticket booth.

Kind of stupid to keep customers who are spending $300 a pop in line for so long isn't it? I guarantee you if you dropped that wad at the Emporium or the Disneyana Shop you would not end up waiting an hour and a half for them to get to you.

Right now there is no real incentive to upgrade to the new pass until the end of January - but once we get near to that date, it will become a nightmare if they do not improve the process to do so.

Here are some suggestions I think could help reduce this pointless waiting in line:

1. Establish lines JUST for AP upgrades at the outside ticket booths - and staff them with people properly trained to deal with this procedure. Right now, unless a supervisor is available, you will end up waiting almost an hour for an upgrade - if Las Vegas treated its high rollers like that, they'd be deserted.

2. Inside at the passport processing centers, establish express windows for paid upgrades. There is NO reason at all a current passholder needs to wait in line with other people waiting for photos or to buy their first passes. This is because if you already have an AP your photo is now in the computer - they just need a quick signature from you and they print out the pass on the spot. The inability of the people running this program to understand this is unfathomable to me.

3. Provide an extra incentive to push renewals away from ONE common date - they are making for a massive bottleneck by determining only ONE date you have to upgrade by. Come the end of January it will be impossible for you to renew under the current way they have it now set up.

Most of the problems we've seen come from badly or poorly trained staffing... which leads us to the next problem at the Disneyland resort...

 

Guest Service problems increasing due to staffing woes - parking will be inadequate for the upcoming crowds also

As we mentioned here before on MousePlanet (in both David Koenig's continuing coverage and on these updates) the problems with getting the resort staffed up for the two parks are continuing, and now apparently really ramping up. Not only are you now waiting hours for passport processing (as mentioned above), but it is affecting attractions too.

As I understand it last Saturday night Splash Mountain had to be at reduced capacity (about 15 to 20%) due to insufficient staffing. They also dropped all the extra staffing at the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain Fastpass, and operated both those locations with only about half of the required staff. At one point several visitors told me there was no one to assist them at the distribution machines at Splash and Mansion during the evening.

At Thunder Mountain, they were also at a reduced capacity several hours as they had to drop trains because there weren't enough CM's to staff the attraction and its Fastpass location properly. It was all very frustrating to the people waiting in the unnecessary long lines.

Up until just the last few weeks (when CM's started moving over to DCA en masse), a call for reduced capacity would usually only last 10 or 15 minutes and was almost always due to coincidental tardiness for several CM's. For instance, if there was a big accident on the freeway and lots of CM's were running late, then perhaps an attraction would have to drop ride vehicles or staffing positions for a short time until everyone showed up. Or, if several people called sick on short notice, then an attraction may go reduced capacity for awhile until Scheduling could pull in extras off the Parade or from other Attractions. There are also a few dozen "pad shifts" built into the daily staffing around the Park to help smooth out the inevitable tardies or sick calls.

But Saturday night the staffing was razor thin all over the Park, and the Big Thunder and Splash Mountain schedules were issued with many open shifts the week before. Since there was literally no one to pull from anywhere, there was nothing that could be done. About half the open shifts were filled with CM's working 6th day or 7th day Overtime, but many simply went unfilled which caused the attractions to operate at reduced capacity. Some of the CM's at both Thunder and Splash on Saturday night had been at work since 8 or 9 in the morning and worked 12 to 14 hours on Saturday.

Let's not even speculate about rider or operator safety shall we?

Meanwhile, on the recruiting front... I now understand the attrition rate is at 31%. They had planned for a rate of 12%, but it is now much higher. From the time new CM's are hired at the job fairs to the time they are trained at their location, 31% are quitting or simply not showing up. Of course due to all this influx of new staffers, long lines have again developed at Costuming, and shuttle and parking delays are being called once again over Park radios to excuse CM's late for their shifts because the Cast shuttles are backed up, the Cast parking lot is full and grid- locked, and lines at Costuming extend past 15 minutes. None of those issues really impress many of the newly hired CM's, which worsens the attrition rate.

Things will only get worse folks.

Meanwhile, we take a quick look at the parking lot... The day after Thanksgiving the Park had a total paid attendance of just over 67,000. At 3 pm, the Park had an in-Park total of 52,000. Normally, they shut the gates at 55,000. So, it was certainly very busy, but not quite a record setter. But, they filled the Parking Structure up to the 5th floor, then proceeded to park all surface lots including Pumba (former Grand Hotel property). They then began parking cars at the Convention Center and the Marriott Hotel in the early afternoon. The old Pinocchio lot will become Valet and Self Parking for the Grand Californian and Downtown Disney, but that won't help much. The day after Thanksgiving has made TDA (management at the Team Disney Anaheim building out back) very aware that parking will be inadequate on anything more than a moderately busy day once DCA opens. There is no where else to put people.

With more and more Fastpass locations coming online, the Park is becoming very crowded at lower and lower In-Park attendance levels. There is a group of TDA Operations Managers and Execs working to re-evaluate the attendance breaks used to add capacity and / or close the Main Entrance turnstiles until the in-Park attendance falls. The very real possibility exists that increasingly you may be turned back at the gate.

On the Fastpass front... They are now working around the clock on Pirates Fastpass. The repaving of the courtyard is taking longer than expected on the side where the future Standby line will be located. They haven't even started on the side of the courtyard that will house the Fastpass machines and their associated infrastructure.

Last weekend we noticed that the only time the work crews stop work and turn off the noisy equipment is during Fantasmic! performances and the fireworks show. But as soon as the shows end, the generators and cement mixers start back up again. It's terrible Show, but it will be even worse if Pirates Fastpass is not up and running by the first day of the busy Christmas weeks on December 16th. Now that Fastpass construction has started, Pirates only has 40% of it's queue space to contain lines. The Christmas crowds will overwhelm that small queue space by mid-morning if they don't finish by the 16th.

 

WDW complaints

I am getting increasing amounts of complaining e-mail from visitors about resorts head Paul Pressler's "commonization" of the various resorts at Walt Disney World.

It's been no secret that Pressler does not understand the resort hotel set up - and neither do the financial and numbers guys below him.

New polices being placed into effect basically have all the resorts being run in the same manner, no matter if it's the $500 a night Grand Floridian, or the $100 a night All Stars. Pressler wants to save money by putting into the cost structure all the same procedures and charges on all the resorts.

For example: People staying at an All Star would probably understand why certain things need to be paid for in addition to regular room rates, like, oh say in room refrigerators. But customers of a pricier resort, such as the Floridian, probably expect these kinds of things to be either included or provided at no additional cost.

Likewise with park shuttles - an All Star customer understands if the route is busy and a bus is full. The Floridian customer is at a loss to understand why he must wait for any kind of space on any bus at all (if the monorail is mobbed) - after watching one bus after another on the route full of other visitors from other nearby resorts zoom on by. For those prices, they should expect their own shuttles, even if they don't run at optimal capacity.

I've mentioned "high rollers" in Las Vegas before - these are the kind of big spending customers that usually get royal treatment at the Nevada hotels due to the amounts of money they drop when they come into town.

Disney apparently is continuing to phase out high end perks and tighten up costs at all the properties, all the in name of budget, despite the increasing anger from that higher spending level of customer.

"The guy has never even been trained in hotel management Al" says one source, "he doesn't have a clue different levels of service and amenities are expected at different levels of resorts. He sees the concierge services at the Floridian for example as being an expense he can cut."

You guys remember that Star Trek movie where Kahn is battling with Kirk don't you? Kirk zaps Kahn good when he realizes that he is only thinking of how to do battle on a 2D surface - not a 3D area like outer space can be. If I remember the movie right, Kirk comes up from under Kahn and heat's the guy's toes quite a bit.

Paul Pressler cannot seem to understand beyond the 2D way of his spreadsheets is what I've been coming to see - the real world of resort management is 3D if not 4D considering how much customer service should be involved at a premium priced Disney quality operation.

 

California Adventure buzz

They've been conducting tours of the new park for cast members, and boy are there two camps on how they feel about it. There are a few who feel "it's wonderfully detailed" and they "like how it works."

Most though are appalled at how few things there are to do, and just how much less "Disney" this park comes across as. "I hate seeing outside of the park" - "You keep walking and walking, and there isn't much to do" - "It's just so, bare, for lack of a better word. People used to Disneyland will be asking what happened."

They still want to charge full price for admission - do expect one more price increase for both parks just before opening day - maybe hitting $45.

 

More snow

Due to the increasingly mobbed Main Street during holiday fireworks they created an emergency budget to install several extra snow machines in the three current "Snow Zones". The snow has really caught on, and attendance is up 15% over projections for the Holiday season so far.

Six new machines went up along the Rivers of America, several machines went up at the north end of Main Street in the Central Plaza, and more machines were added in the Small World Mall area to extend that Snow Zone southward towards the Mad Tea Party.

People still want to be on Main Street for the effect though - and with increasing crowds it doesn't look like its going to get any easier.

 

Quick Photo essay: Haunted Mansion FastPass

Sure, we can continue to talk about what the park needs to do right, but we should also look at what has been done right too... the Haunted Mansion FastPass installation is finished, and they did a super job with it.

[This section of the update has moved to the REHABS section since it was first posted.]

 

Disneyland NOT Forever?

Still thinking about getting some of those Disneyland Forever custom CDs that are featured in All About Merchandise today?

I would suggest you consider moving on it... I wish I could say more, but I can't.

 

See you all at the park... hopefully you won't be in too long a line...

ON THIS PAGE

12/18/00 UPDATE: California Adventure (DCA) early ride reviews - Plus more rumors / DCA prices already being raised - OUCH! / Speaking of food... / Parking structure escalator cover problems / Emperor's New Groove characters appear

12/8/00 UPDATE: Monsters in California Adventure / Annual Passport upgrade processing improved / DCA AP Party - could it be Light Magic II? / Will FastPass get us some old favorites back? / Guest Service problems increasing due to staffing woes - part two / Dole's Tiki Adventure / Margaritas and signs / Candlelight Info for this weekend

12/5/00 UPDATE: Imagineering to be further cut back / Annual Passport upgrade processing nightmares / Guest Service problems increasing due to staffing woes - parking will be inadequate for the upcoming crowds also / WDW complaints / California Adventure buzz / More Snow / Quick Photo essay: Haunted Mansion FastPass / Disneyland NOT Forever?

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