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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
3/27 Update - Superstar Limo Goofy? / Buzz greenlit / Nice things at Disneyland / Upkeep problems mount / Catching up on the new park - Some reasons it isn't impressing visitors / Hamburger Helpers leave bad taste

 

Superstar Limo Goofy?

California Adventure's (DCA for short) first mess has been acknowledged - Superstar Limo. Currently they are looking at what they can do to fix it, as cheaply as they can of course.

One "blue sky" concept that is exciting the folks at WDI is to just have Goofy host the tour - sort of giving the new park the equivalent of the ToonTown Roger Rabbit ride.

This very rough concept has them replacing all the movie star likenesses currently in the ride with cartoon characters, then changing the narration voice to Goofy. A new soundtrack, a few new plywood cutouts, and voila - they fix a mess and get one other kid attraction into a park that sorely needs them.

We'll have to see if this one works - anything (even closing it) is better than what is currently in place. But it sort of throws attractions head Paul Presser and head DCA Imagineer Barry Braverman's original concept for the park to be as characterless as possible out the window doesn't it?

More DCA stuff in a moment... but first...

 

Buzz greenlit

While Superstar Limo heads into the shop for a major fix - word also comes now that the Buzz Lightyear attraction has been set into motion for Disneyland's Tomorrowland.

No word yet when this gets going - nor if we get the Rocket Rods (whose CircleVision queue building will host Buzz) back for one last summer run. The total lack of any recent activity on the Rods indicates they may not run again.

 

Nice things at Disneyland

Besides the good news about Buzz - two nice little things have been done recently to improve things for visitors: They now take reservations at Carnation Cafe on Main Street, and they put in a single rider line into Indiana Jones.

It's good when they put the customers first like that.

And before I forget - they finally put in a metal guard to protect the way too low Monorail track where it crosses Downtown Disney (shown below).

As you can see - this should help. But people with kids on their shoulders can still risk a hand reaching up to the side of the train.

 

Space Mt. construction

Construction continues back behind the "Honey I Shrunk..." theater at the Space Mt. exit - for a new ride photo sales counter they are putting in.

In the photo below you can see some of the work going on - although its a hard shot to get due to all the walls they have up now:

The photo above looks up beyond the current fences: passageways let visitors exit Space Mt. (left) and enter the bathrooms located back there (right). As you can see from the work going on, this looks like a good-sized project.

 

Upkeep problems mount

While Disneyland has been working on upgrading and improving some areas of the park - such as the recent (and sorely needed) Frontierland rehab - other areas continue to be let go, making for some depressing sights. Below is a mini gallery of some of the problems, all shots were taken last Sunday:

Above you can see how much more the King Arthur's Carrousel canopy has deteriorated - you don't have to strain to see this mess. The paint just looks awful. In the shot below you can see they have boarded up the old Fantasyland skyway station - what with the pried off shields, and the unpainted plywood, it looks like a tenement.

Below is a view of the roofline above the Pirates entrance (the railing on the lower right is for the Disney Gallery balcony). Paint all over New Orleans Square is peeling, apparently in the major overhaul the Pirates ride is now getting the exterior is not on the list for a fix.

What with the sorry state of the Tiki Room - and the neglect that only gets worse daily in ToonTown - it all overwhelms the few recent projects that have improved the park lately.

No wonder people have been continually defacing Paul Pressler's stone out in the walkway between the parks.

 

Catching up on the new park - Some reasons it isn't impressing visitors...

Besides the Superstar Limo overhaul discussed above - other problems continue to plague the new park. Attendance is still way below projections, and complaints continue about the lack of things to do.

Things weren't helped on Sunday for example, when not only was the Mad Mouse still down (due to the many injuries it was inflicting on riders), but the Screamin' coaster then also went down.

Below (thanks to photos from Todd Regan) you can see how hard it is to fix things on it - the techs have to wear waders to get into the mechanism:

It's bad enough when what few rides the new park has are not operating properly - but when Disney decides they need to promote the park at the expense of what few folks show up, they risk even more bad word of mouth.

Below are two examples sent in to me by readers of how poorly recent customers of California Adventure have been treated in the company's desperation to promote it.

Boy Band Bumps Customers

DCA's Grizzly River Run is often referred to as GRR by Cast Members. However, a lot of guests were making the same noise when they discovered that the ride was closed for over two hours on Friday. "Technical Difficulties" was the official explanation, but it became apparent about an hour after the ride was closed that there was really another reason.

The boy-band BB Mak had filmed a concert at DCA earlier in the day, as part of a Disney Channel concert series. Once the concert was over, the group was taken around the park for a series of "location" shots. One of these shots was at GRR. So, the entire ride was closed for the filming.

For the first hour, nothing happened. The ride just wasn't running. CMs turned guests away, offered them FastPasses, and assured those whose FastPasses were current that they could use them once the ride "was working again". Then the technical people started to arrive. And then a camera crew showed up. Next came a confused looking balloon vendor, being led by a really- in- a- hurry entertainment person. They were soon followed by another CM, pushing an empty ODV cart. (All Disney park shots must include balloons and ODV - it's some sort of law)

For about 20 minutes, this assembled group milled around on the GRR loading dock. The trails through and around the ride were roped off. Guests were still being told the ride was closed for "technical difficulties", but it was obvious that there was something else happening.

Finally, the band arrived, with a few female "seat fillers". These girls had been selected from among the group of winners from a local radio station contest. Some of the winners had been there as early as 5 a.m. The ones who were chosen to be seat fillers / extras were filmed at the concert and at the various location shots. The girls who were NOT chosen seemed to be a little.... envious?

The band was outfitted with a collection of "camping gear", and filmed entering and exiting the raft a half- dozen times. Then the girls were filmed doing the same. Finally, the camera crews donned their protective water gear, and got into the raft with the band (sans girls). Instead of taking an actual trip on the river, other crew members "bounced" the raft up and down, while it was still in the loading area. Other people used the CM's prop paddles to create "splashes" (see below).

(In case you're wondering, it is possible to take a motion camera on GRR during a real ride - this was done for any interested media organization during the Grand Opening events for DCA.)

Finally, the band was escorted off the loading dock, and the camera crews packed up. When the ride re-opened, two and a half hours worth of FastPass holders were finally allowed to enter the line. Of course, by this time, the sun had started to set, making it too cold for many people to ride. During the filming, a crowd of BB Mak fans and idle spectators gathered on the bridge overlooking the loading area and watched the proceedings. Several parents were heard trying to explain to their children why "those people" got to ride when they, FastPass holders, couldn't.

The Spy Kids mess

That Spy Kids promotion at California Adventure made the trip miserable for visitors when Miramax overwhelmed the park with invitees for the film's recent premiere at the Hyperion Theater.

First of all, visitors were in line for Soarin' when about 100 people walked up at the same time with backdoor passes (NOT FastPasses, back of the line passes) that they wanted to use. Not only was the standby line backed up, but the FastPass line was, too. They waited in the standby line for almost 2 hours while all the backdoor people and then FastPass people were let in ahead of them. No one was happy. The CM's were trying to tell the backdoor people to come back later and the FastPass people and stand-by people were not pleased.

I don't know what the people attending the event were told but apparently some of them felt that their tags were enough to be backdoored onto attractions. At one attraction they came up and wanted to be backdoored. The CM told them that their badges weren't a backdoor pass. So the visitors got very upset saying that other attraction CMs had let them backdoor rides with their event badges. Apparently whatever the guideline was, it was misunderstood by the CMs and / or visitors and applied inconsistently.

Frankly, I would be a pretty unhappy guest if I was walking around DCA and 3000 people in the park had "backdoor" rights on the attractions. With as few attractions as DCA has, this would really limit the regular (PAYING!) guests' opportunity to get on rides. And I could see people just backdooring the same attraction several times in a row while the "regular" guests just had to stand there and watch them.

Sheesh, its not like the park jinxed is it?

 

Hamburger Helpers leave bad taste

Meanwhile, they continue to make small fixes to the awful Hyperion Theater show at California Adventure, "Steps in Time." They are so minor, even people who are familiar with the presentation don't seem to notice them. None of the fixes, sad to say, even begin to address the huge problems this thing has.

Anne Hamburger

Anne Hamburger - the head of entertainment now for the Disneyland Resort - has also been on a tear lately, both her and her crew (known as the Hamburger Helpers) are angering long timers left and right, while the executives above her just stay out of her way.

Recently she came up with one "money saving" idea to please Paul Pressler - the creation of a couple of shows that would "tour" the various parks, saving each resort development costs as they would share funds with others.  Tokyo Disneyland took one look at her plans, (and the horrific Steps show) and said simply, NO.

Without any kind of real feel for what a Disney show can be, it looks like a very dismal two years ahead for Disneyland entertainment (as Anne's contract runs for that long).

Mind you, the entertainment staff in the past gave us the terrific Lion King & Mulan parades, and the Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Hunchback shows too.

Now we get messes like the current Parade of the Stars and Steps in Time.

Well, at least the Fab Four (a Beatles tribute band) plays the Tomorrowland Terrace on a regular basis now...

And before I forget - it looks like Anne will be putting forth some cutbacks very soon in her department. Lowered attendance at the new park means they have to squeeze budgets everywhere - it should be an interesting summer I'd think.

 

That should cover things for now... see you at Disneyland...


3/19 Update - The Annual Pass mess / California Adventure numbers up, but only a little / Ushers buying beer / Yeargin still moving on / Attraction round up: California Adventure & Disneyland

 

Before we start the update today, you may wish to stop by Mouse Tales' David Koenig's article to read up on some info he has on Roger Rabbit's return, possible changes in Fantasmic, and a few other items....

 

The Annual Pass mess

First the word begins to leak out Friday morning, with an executive's name attached no less, (Sheesh!) and almost gets the fellow fired. (Turns out that other sites, in particular travel agencies / companies, are getting angry calls from their customers, and are furious they did not get a heads up to help them book better admission deals. This is because some Annual Pass parkhoppers are almost as cheap as flex passes.)

Then we confirm it on the phone via the poor guy's office (Exact quote: "Oh dear, everyone's been calling him.") - as sales on the annual passes start up that evening, and this site is the first to alert folks to their immediate availability, as opposed to the original news that had everyone waiting a week or so to buy them.

Then the long lines start to form on Saturday and Sunday at the Plaza Pavilion processing center in the park. "It's that website" said the Cast Member there. "The minute MousePlanet posted the passes were available now, we got swamped." Are you sure that was the site we asked, "YES" chimed in several people waiting in line, "that's why we came."

Glad someone reads us...

Anyway, kudos to the park for moving fast to get sales going when the word started to leak before it was supposed to. It was a smart business move to help get numbers up in the new park, and a good gesture towards the customers.

Heck, maybe the savvy quick moves even saved the poor exec's job?

 

California Adventure numbers up, but only a little

This was the first big Spring weekend, with temps in the mid to upper 70's and bright sunny skies. Disneyland had it's busiest weekend since Christmas, with attendance around 45,000 for both Saturday and Sunday. DCA hit its newly lowered estimates, with attendance in the mid to upper teens Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday was DCA's busiest day, due to a big promotion in Hollywood Backlot for the movie "Spy Kids." There were several thousand invited guests and contest winners involved in the daylong event, and they all counted towards the end of day total.

(Before we forget - the Spy Kids thing was a nightmare because Miramax totally overbooked the event and there were hundreds of "VIP's" and contest winners who did not have seats for the 2,000 seat Hyperion Theater premiere of the movie. Apparently this event had around 3,000 people involved in it, all adding to the DCA gate total. Miramax flubbed everything, promising special treatment and Hyperion seats that couldn't be delivered, and lot's of event "winners" took it out on the closest DCA or Hyperion Theater CM's.)

Getting back to the subject at hand... attendance at DCA has picked up with the warm weather, but compared to the previous estimates that had been forecast at 35,000 for weekend attendance, the turnout around 17,000 on Saturday was not what had originally been planned by TDA. DCA still empties quickly in the early evening. By 9 pm, DCA is very quiet until the Park mercifully closes at Midnight. The last parade at DCA on Saturdays is at 5:30 pm, and the last Hyperion Theater show is at 6:15 pm. After the sun sets, there isn't anything special for DCA visitors to do but wait for the wind to die down so the Golden Zephyr can reopen.

What is very interesting however, is the fact that Disneyland's attendance for this same weekend last year was just over 60,000 for Saturday. This is always a big weekend, if the weather is nice, as West Coast schools and colleges begin letting out for Spring Break. Disneyland was much busier than DCA this weekend, but not as busy as it has been in recent years on this same weekend with comparable weather conditions. DCA is still having the effect of draining several thousand bodies away from Disneyland's historical numbers, while not pulling in a great deal of it's own visitors. DCA attendance has improved with the weather to be sure, but it still is drastically below what was forecasted a few months ago. Instead of being completely desolate, DCA is now moderately active.

Keep in mind the forecasts were for 32,000 to 38,000 every Saturday and Sunday at DCA on weekends from February's Opening Day through May. Disneyland Park managers were prepping their crews to be ready to smile profusely at hoards of disgruntled Disneyland guests who had been turned away from the DCA entrance earlier in the day and had to settle on Disneyland as a compromise. As we all now know, that concept fell flat on it's face, and DCA managers are now scrambling to prep their CM's to smile profusely at DCA Guests upset that their child can't ride on anything. Meanwhile, it's easy street over at Disneyland as the original park still hosts very manageable, yet healthy, crowds. Summer is still predicted to see daily DCA crowds in the 30,000 to 38,000 range, while Disneyland pulls in numbers in the 47,000 to 58,000 range. Stay tuned to this story to see how it develops, and if they even come near those projections.

Meanwhile - the Guest Relations Lobby at DCA is still getting hit with concerns from visitors upset with the lack of attractions. Parents with small children are the most frequent complainers, and they are still being comped into Disneyland to appease them. There are also many who get upset with the main gate ticket takers when they try and use their DCA admission ticket to gain entry into Disneyland in the afternoon, after spending several hours at DCA. Just hang out at the main gate or near the Guest Relations Lobby for a while, and you'll get a real earful from some of the customers.

 

Ushers buying beer

The recent State Labor Board settlement regarding costuming is a harbinger of things to come. As part of the settlement, Disneyland has agreed that all costumes will be on "Fast Track" by this summer. Every costume in the Park, including the Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Big Thunder Mountain, Canoes, Mark Twain, Tiki Room, everything. Not a single costume in the Park will have to stay on property.

Thanks to this policy, you will soon be able to see a Haunted Mansion butler filling up his Mustang at the gas station on Harbor Blvd., a Tiki Room hostess in her orange muumuu buying cigarettes at 7-11, and a Davy Crockett Canoe guide buying beer and chips at the liquor store.

These Cast Members (CMs) can of course discard whatever parts of their Fast Track costumes they want when they leave property, so partial pirates and half hearted steamboat captains are an increasing possibility. We have seen many Indiana Jones Adventure CM's, complete with jaunty fedora and corduroy jacket, buying Mocha's at the Katella Avenue Starbucks. A group of rowdy Hyperion Theater ushers, some still wearing nametags, were also observed buying cases of beer at an Anaheim Ralphs Supermarket on a recent Friday night. It is always easy to spot plenty of DCA and Disneyland CM's, in varying states of costumed attire, eating, smoking and hanging out at the fast food joints and bus stops all along Harbor Blvd.

Just a few short years ago, the thought of a Disneyland Cast Member being seen off-property in costume was unthinkable. If someone was caught sneaking a costume piece off property, they were hauled in to the supervisors office and disciplined. As recently as 1997, Cast Members were even terminated for appearing off Disneyland property in partial or complete costumes. Changes in this policy begun under Paul Pressler, and continued by Cynthia Harriss, have ended that 20th Century concept completely. All to save on laundry.

With the lax oversight over costumes, the flood of new Cast Members has also brought with it a very liberal interpretation of what used to be called "The Disney Look". Remember the recent past when Disneyland was populated by clean-cut and fresh faced hosts and hostesses? Older Leads and managers are scrambling nowadays to try and keep up with the less than polished appearances of many new CM's. The scraggly mustaches and shaved heads of many young male CM's are the least of the worries.

Now Prison tattoos, tongue piercings, bleached hair, and black nail polish are constantly seen onstage. The fact that Costuming is now passing out some very tired and haggard costume pieces for many locations, or can't seem to purchase the hats and accessories that once finished off many costumes, does not help instill a sense of pride in old or new CM's alike. An era seems to have passed into the history books as Disneyland employee appearance and costuming standards sink lower by the day.

 

Yeargin still moving on

The rumors still swirl that Attractions honcho Paul Yeargin is going away. No big reorganization announcement has been made yet, but it's supposed to be coming.

 

Attraction round up: California Adventure & Disneyland

The view out of the Sun Wheel - beyond those falling bolts...
The view out of the Sun Wheel - beyond those falling bolts...

Heard some clanks near the Sun [Ferris] Wheel at California Adventure's Paradise Pier lately? That's probably the sound of bolts dropping off the thing I understand. The wheel was closed on Friday, and we observed a gondola missing on it, presumably for a repair. Let's hope the cabs float, just in case they end up detached somehow, shall we?

(And you remember from our last update that Mulholland Madness is going to be down for a long time - apparently due to too many injuries.)

The Ursula spinner ride to be located in California Screamin's east turnaround currently is the only new DCA attraction that has been given the official green light, to open for the Summer 2002 season.

Tower of Terror - originally planned to be across the entry plaza from the Hyperion Theater - has now been apparently moved to another location in DCA - behind the Chinese restaurant in the Pacific Wharf area. Since a Hollywood Hotel won't quite theme well there - we can imagine the folks at WDI (Imagineering) are working on all new concepts for this ride - maybe you fall into a tin of sardines instead of plunging down an elevator shaft?

Everything else (including the children's theater that is replacing Armageddon on the schedule) is on hold, or still several years away and / or in a changeable state. It now appears that what you see at DCA now is what we will have for at least the next 18 months, probably longer.

One sign that won't be lasting that much longer...
One sign that won't be lasting that much longer...

Back at Disneyland, let's talk more Pooh shall we?

2003 is now the date that everyone is working with, most likely late winter. There is no definite date yet for Bears closing, maybe May, most likely September. There is also no plan to celebrate the closing in any major way. Look for a final show, a few pictures in the Disneyland Line, and then lots of press releases about Pooh to distract the fans. I'll keep you posted, because it looks like they want to close this 30 year old attraction very quietly - just as they did the skyway it seems.

Hungry Bear going upscale
Hungry Bear going upscale

Next door, the Hungry Bear redo is going full steam ahead, and we now understand that parts of Bears will show up in the dining room. Basically, the Five Bear Rugs will play selected songs every 15 or 20 minutes on a small stage on what is now the upper patio. (Think Chuck E. Cheese with a bear band, and you've got it. Don't get mad at me, this is Pressler's idea, ok?) As a result, this will be the driving force to send the Hungry Bear up market in terms of pricing.

As we mentioned before, lots of Critter Country will be redone, from the bridge in front of the Splash drop, all the way down to the "Pooh Emporium" as the Critter Country merchandise folks called it. Finally, the name Critter Country will most likely pass into Yesterland, replaced by something with the word "Woods" or "Forest" in it.

Tony Baxter (in what may be some of his final work on Disneyland) apparently wants to move the Canoes over to a new home in the Friendly Indian Village, accessed by a new walkway off the Big Thunder Trail. He wants to get Davy Crockett out of there, to separate him from the completely fictional new Critter Country.

In other areas of the park, the Small World facade is looking very dark at night recently. Almost all of the bulbs on the facade that stands behind the clock is burned out, and it looks like a very gloomy version of the world's architectural landmarks.

Mind you, this isn't an energy conservation move, it's simply burned out lights and inoperative fixtures. Keep in mind that Disneyland currently has no formal Onstage energy conservation program, except for a half-hearted memo that went out recently asking backstage office workers to turn off the lights when they leave a room.

Meanwhile, don't look for Ursula in Fantasmic anymore - the barge is too beat up to be used anymore, and they don't want to spend the money to get a new one.

We mentioned in this column previously that it seems Cynthia Harris has given up even her meager battle for any kind of regular upkeep at the park lately. So far there's nothing we've seen in the lowered quality of upkeep at Disneyland that will change that opinion.

Maybe she's been too busy trying to figure out how to get more bodies in the gate across the way?

 

See you at Disneyland - and now probably also at California Adventure - since you can finally buy a pass again...

ON THIS PAGE

3/27 Update - Superstar Limo Goofy? / Buzz greenlit / Nice things at Disneyland / Upkeep problems mount / Catching up on the new park - Some reasons it isn't impressing visitors / Hamburger Helpers leave bad taste

3/19 Update - The Annual Pass mess / California Adventure numbers up, but only a little / Ushers buying beer / Yeargin still moving on / Attraction round up: California Adventure & Disneyland

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