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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
UPDATE 9/5 - DCA's Lumi-aria Lagoon Show starts 11-6 / Chance to Shine moves / Millionaire's ever so cheap set / Parking structure problems - Disneyland upkeep slipping again / Zephyr up again - Coaster safety issues remain / The clown moves in - Did Pioneer get rooked? / Snow White on DVD - Fantasia 2000 "lost" commentary / Disney Store problems mount / Annual Passholder renewal policy changes / Universal tries harder


DCA's Lumi-aria Lagoon Show starts 11/6

Now you can make plans to see the new lagoon show at California Adventure (DCA). Lumin-aria will have cast member (CM) Previews beginning Nov. 2nd. then the show is scheduled to perform "officially" Nov. 6th through January 6th! If you are wondering, yes, that is an incredibly short time left to prepare, and it is a race against the clock like you wouldn't believe!

Lumin-aria will mirror the Disneyland performance schedule for the Holiday Believe show, which begins nightly performances the first week in November and runs through New Years. Walt Disney Travel Co. has also been briefed on the DCA show and the dates so that it can immediately start hyping it to customers once the official press release comes out, and before the local TV commercials start running.

This skiff was spotted on and off the last few weeks on the Paradise Pier lagoon - it was parked next to the Avalon Cove restaurant
This skiff was spotted on and off the last few weeks on the Paradise Pier lagoon - it was parked next to the Avalon Cove restaurant

All of the previous show rundown we detailed in the last update still stands. (The children's Lumin-aria artwork will be scanned into computers at kiosks around DCA to be used in the show. It will be pitched as a major event at this child unfriendly park.)

Of course it all points to the fact that DCA HAS TO offer nighttime entertainment to get anyone to stick around for more than 4 or 5 hours. Park Hoppers especially move right back to Disneyland when the sun goes down at DCA without an evening "event" like the DEP. The hope is Lumin-aria will do the same as DEP did this summer.

No word yet on what discounting (which now seems a given) will also be in place to try and draw in more attendance.  It could very well be that the new lagoon show, and Millionaire may not be enough to stem the tide.


Chance to Shine moves

The best show in the park is now front and center!
The best show in the park is now front and center!

Some good news to report about DCA for a change - the terrific "Chance to Shine" show has been moved from out back of the Hollywood Backlot area to front and center on Hollywood Boulevard.

Yes, the poor gals have to still work the cement - and they have the added distractions of people asking to take photos with them as they ramp up to the show - but this location is superior in every other way.

I caught the first show of the day at 11 AM last Sunday - not knowing I had a front and center seat (you can too if you grab a seat on the bench in front of the Animation Building). The gals always put on a terrific show, but they seemed even more energized by the larger crowds and front and center location.  I have yet to see them during afternoon performances, when the crowds will be at their peak.

Thank you Entertainment (and Annie Hamburger I guess?) for a] this gem, b] the talented people who perform it, and especially c] for putting it out where it has "a chance to shine."


Millionaire's ever so cheap set

Publicity photo © Disney
Publicity photo © Disney

Wow was I shocked by how cheaply put together this attraction is. (Above is a publicity photo from the Orlando edition)

Thanks to "technical problems" the soft open performance I tried to see was scrapped as we sat waiting for it - but that gave me a chance to really look at and explore around at what this thing consists of.

Now mind you - the actual real life Millionaire television show set is probably just as cheaply put together - but I would have expected at least some kind of permanent looking structure / ramps or stairways here considering just how many thousands of people will be pushed through it at DCA.

Everything (and I repeat, everything) is simply scaffolding - from top to bottom - which means after a few months it is going to sway and move when you load all those people all the way up on it and then load them all off. It all sits of course in a mere shell of a building - with spray painted insulation for walls.  (Again, most likely what a real TV studio is like, but still...)  Already in soft open the paint was peeling from the metal goosenecks they have the response pads on - and the Plexiglas™ floor was deeply scratched and marred.

I guess the days of quality workmanship are over eh?

The worst thing though is how the whole set is positioned in the room - with the one low end (where you can look into the bowl shaped set) away from the entry doors - facing a wall. What would it have taken to position it so you could see the whole thing when you walked in? Oh yeah, common sense. Absolutely no thought went into the presentation of this to the visitor.

So far this has been an Annual Passholder favorite - and the soft opens have managed to burn them off quickly from what I understand.  (There is a limit to your prize winnings over a certain amount of time to avoid people hogging the hot seat.  I hear they also ask for a social security number for record keeping purposes.)

If you're a fan of the show, from what I can tell you will really enjoy this (lots of positive email has come my way about it from attendees).  But if you're like me, wondering why they keep skimping on this new park - well this way too cheap install only will confirm things even further for you. (Maybe they already know the show itself is aging none too well?)

By the way I already hear that they are revamping the script after a few way too similar responses to some of the host's questions - from an exchange this past weekend:

Host: So, what's your favorite thing at California Adventure?

Guest: The EXIT! (Which gets wild applause and cheers from the audience.)


Parking structure problems - Disneyland upkeep slipping again

Remember when I had photos up here in the update (11/3/00) of the huge metal braces they were installing in the parking structure to (apparently) keep the large auto ramps from pulling away from the main structure?

Well now it looks like Michael Eisner's garage design (yes, he really claims he worked on it) is now having other problems. Below are two shots taken on the Mickey level looking up where the individual sections of the building abut - the black thing you see in each shot is a metal and rubber gasket placed over the gaps so cars can ride smoothly over:

Above is the damaged lip (showing cement falling off in chunks exposing rebar - yes that is sunlight though that crack) and below is a another shot taken of another area in the building where things are normal.

I also have noticed that in many areas of the Mickey and Friends parking structure that the floors have somewhat sunk in between the pillar areas - what used to be a smooth ride now feels like you are driving over those bumps they had in drive in theaters to lift the front end of your car up a bit to see the screen.

I do understand buildings have to settle a bit - but I question if the type of problems I am seeing are normal. The settling here seems extreme. Let's hope the city of Anaheim takes a look at their building (since they apparently paid for it) and makes sure these are not major problems we are dealing with.

Meanwhile, inside Disneyland itself, they seem to have really just blown off letting people see things being worked on...

...the above two shots (combined into one) shows that yes, they were refurbishing and repainting the Candy Palace facade (which is good) - but they left the stripped wood sitting out there in full view during operating hours (which is, um BAD). By the way, thanks to reader "N" for those shots.

Meanwhile other areas of the park continue to deteriorate - look at the Tomorrowland entryway plaque below: big was Eisner's bonus last year?

The photo above is a sad sad thing to see in the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland. Pressler, Harriss and the rest of them should be ashamed of themselves.

It does look like they are aiming for Six Flags quality doesn't it?


Zephyr up again - Coaster safety issues remain

They have apparently made enough adjustments in the Golden Zephyr at DCA that it can now be run in harrowing winds of up to 10 MPH (as opposed to the hurricane force 5 MPH when it opened). ;)  It was up and running most of the day last Sunday, and (due to its limited capacity of course) had a very long line.

But I really got a scare when I heard two sets of problems with the Mad Mouse (Mullholland Madness) and big coaster (Screamin') that happened in the last few weeks.

First: Apparently the Mad Mouse was shut down - then powered back up without following proper procedures. Normally most coasters with several stop areas such as this one have manual releases for the cars from the stop areas. In this case this coaster had an automatic system, which the software automatically releases the cars once the ride comes back up.

It seems that visitors were standing in one of the cars when it was released - and thankfully a quick thinking cast member grabbed the car, manually held it, pushed the folks back in and then rammed the seat bar down. Without this quick thinking the people in the car could have fallen from the top of the coaster to the ground below.

Two people were fired for this from what I understand - what made matters worse was that the one person who let them get the coaster to start up again was not authorized to do so.

Second: On Screaming (the big Paradise Pier coaster) the manufacturer was working with Disney to try and avoid the frequent shutdowns this coaster is still undergoing daily. They basically narrowed it down to some track sensors that may be too sensitive from what I understand.

Rather than tweak the sensors - or look at the design to see why they were shutting down the ride so much - they apparently have decided to disable the sensors in the software program.  In other words, they wrote a patch that ignores these things on the computer.

"That gets the ride running more efficiently" one person told me. "But is this really the right solution?"

I asked myself the same question folks.


The clown moves in - Did Pioneer get rooked?

One thing that can be said about Disneyland under Barry Braverman now - they simply don't care about theme anymore, nor detail. Carts, signs, everywhere you look there is less and less focus on quality theming.

Below is the freshly painted (yet STILL ramshackle) Harbour Galley under the McDonalds sponsorship.

By freshly painting over the building which was intentionally built to look like it was falling apart, they made it look like a ToonTown facade was dropped into New Orleans Square / Critter Country.

I also think the whale seen in the sign above with the urine yellow McDonalds "M" shaped spout is really tacky. It's one of the first things you see when you exit the Haunted Mansion by the way.

The cheap Millionaire setup and the tacky new McDonalds location don't even begin to tell the story of the new Disneyland like the Pioneer Virtual Resort exhibit in Innoventions though.

Cheap stick on lettering and inexpensive signs already are wearing off on heavily trafficked exhibits - a show script that goes on and on and on performed by a virtual bellhop that is a large step down in professional acting from what we had seen in the past from Disney - plus the fact many of presentations in the area are slow and boring - really make me wonder if Pioneer got sold a bill of goods here.

Compare this to the GE Carousel of Progress folks - where a snazzy script entertained us (and yet sold us on stuff too) with the technological marvels of audio animatronics, a little wit and style, production quality and top notch showbiz presentation. Even with what amounted to a Broadway style musical score from the Sherman Bros.

Watching the pitiful video editing demo, or sitting in the very uncomfortable hard seat virtual resort room itself (with cheap LCD projection to save money, instead of easily available DLP equipment which would improve quality) makes you wonder what happened to professional showmanship at Disney.

Oh yeah, I forgot, Pressler / Braverman / Eisner are in charge.

With Compaq (another major Disney sponsor) now being swallowed up by HP, (which is probably not going to continue the current agreements) I wonder if they are whipping the corporate sponsor department even more now that advertising budgets are slow all over due to the economy.

They must be really pushing I guess, they just signed Kellogg's this morning.  ;)


Snow White on DVD - Fantasia 2000 lost commentary

Promotional artwork © Disney
Promotional artwork © Disney

Luckily I recently had a chance to preview the Snow White DVD - and I do recommend it for everyone, it is a real treat. (Tip: Let the menus sit for a bit to hear the Magic Mirror get bitchy, it's fun).

I won't go into any further details (that's the job of our Home Theater maven / reviewer Kevin Krock), but I will offer you this one other tip: if you have the LaserDisc box set, make sure to keep it - as there are a few things left off the DVD (or redone for it). The major item is the music and effects only track on the Laser - as a fully restored music score is the highlight here.  It was probably not included in the DVD since Disney doesn't own the music rights to the early films and the DVD has a much lower price point than the LaserDisc box set had.

Also there is an hysterically funny video bit by Roy Disney - which you can see as you make the choice for the first introductory tour of the disc. After you select the tour he comes back on the screen and "summons" the mirror to do his bidding.

See if when you get your copy if he doesn't look like the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea flailing about and grunting away.  (Poor guy, I don't think he knew how bad this came out. I think he was probably trying to ape Walt a bit, who did the same thing - but with a bit more panache - in the TV special "One Hour in Wonderland")

Promotional artwork © Disney
Promotional artwork © Disney

A much more charming side of Roy is revealed in the Fantasia 2000 DVD second (not first) audio commentary during the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment. (You have to select this option in the menus first before starting the bit.) 

Roy starts telling you about this original animation from the first Fantasia, when suddenly Mickey Mouse himself comes in to join him and they do a rather comic riff on what you are watching. Mickey admits to way too many takes, Roy asks if the union had enough brooms to which Mickey admits sheepishly they had to borrow some from Warner Bros., and then he tells you (among many other things) that he did all his own stunts during the whirlpool sequence.

It's really well done, very charming - and it's nice to see corporate icons have a little fun every once in a while. It's not quite an Easter Egg - since it's right out there to access in the package - but not many people know about it.


Disney Store problems mount

We've been watching the increasingly frantic actions of the Disney Store as they try and "fix" things. (Frankly the "fix" they really need is a new Disney animated hit movie that audiences like.)

The latest thing is "theme" stores - where locations are just carrying one type of merchandise, such as Christmas or Halloween. Of course they come up with these ideas at last minute, and try and get everyone to accomplish the changes with already understaffed and underpaid crews.

"It's like they forget there are actually hard working people out there" one very saddened person told me. "There seems to be no respect for the cast members at all."

It's a common problem in a fossilized business like Disney - which in this case is only getting worse, rather than better under this flailing new store management.

It shouldn't be too much longer...


Annual Passholder renewal policy changes

I got the following letter from reader Denise:

Hi Al, I'm not sure if you are aware of the new policy implemented at Disneyland regarding AP upgrades, but since I haven't seen it mentioned on the site I thought I would pass on my experience.

Yesterday my five year old son and I went to the bank on Main Street to upgrade our single park So Cal Resident APs to two park passes. I had assumed that we would be credited for the unused days and issued new passes, as had been the procedure previously. The amount we were charged seemed low, so I pulled out the receipt and our passes and checked them. We were charged $60 per pass- the difference between the single park pass ($89) and the two park pass ($149) - and the new passes we were issued expired on the same date as our old ones. So we ended up paying $60 per person for only three months of access to DCA.

I went over to City Hall and asked if there had been a mistake of some sort. An entirely unsympathetic cast member replied that the upgrade policy had changed and what I had been charged was indeed correct. I asked when the new policy took effect, and she replied, "August twenty- something." I expressed my dissatisfaction over not being informed of the new policy in any manner, and she merely pointed me across the street to the bank.

So I waited in line again. Expressed my dissatisfaction again. The supervisor there refunded my money, gave us our single park passes back, and proceeded to reprimand the cast member who had failed to inform me of the new policy before I purchased the upgrade.

They aren't exactly making it easy to get into DCA, are they? I was so frustrated after our experience yesterday (primarily due to the indifferent attitudes of every cast member I came in contact with as I tried to resolve the problem) that I have really lost my desire to upgrade our passes when it comes time to renew.

On a lighter note, I really enjoy MousePlanet, particularly your column (which I read back in the old days when you had your own site on AOL and posted DIG updates on the newsgroups) Please keep up the good work!

First thank you for the kind word Denise - they mean a lot to me.

Second, yes they have changed the policy, and I agree with you, it's an accountant's dream and a kick in the teeth to passholders.  Oddly enough the feedback I am getting is because it seems they may be making some major changes to the annual pass program come this December (when just about everyone it seems upgraded to the two park pass as they offered it comes due).

There are all sorts of rumors as to what they have up their sleeves - but rest assured they will probably try to jack up DCA's numbers in some way shape or form with the new AP program. As I understand it they are very aware that many people who upgraded may be looking to go back to a one park pass now that they've seen what a poor value the new park is.

Third - as far as how the CMs treated you - well, I'm noting the same problems in small pockets all throughout the resort also. It can be especially bad - like one waiter who is absolutely totally completely utterly worthless at the Storyteller Cafe.  (Did I use enough adjectives there?  ;) Lord knows people have complained enough about him in person.)

The lowering of quality of service is a direct result of the policies put into place by management - they simply do not feel this area is of the same concern to them as it had been in the past.

For those CMs who do still try - thank you, it is appreciated.


Universal tries harder

Speaking of annual passes... and service by staff... last week I had the pleasure of renewing my annual pass at Universal Studios here in Hollywood. (You can't always say the word "pleasure" and Annual Pass in the same sentence at Disneyland can you?  ;) )

It started when I went up to the window, about a week after my pass had expired. "You would like to renew?" the kind lady asked, "Well I have a present for you!" For renewing she gave me free parking. (Normally $30!) I was flabbergasted. She made a point of showing me on the renewal form that she authorized it, and then directed me to the gate. The staff there smiled and welcomed me (something Disneyland's main gate also still does quite well I might add) and then walked me over to the Celebrity Annual Pass area.

"You're  renewing!" another helper said to me, "That's great! Come along to the front of the line, we'll take care of you right away." They processed my pass quickly, put the parking sticker on it, and thanked me for returning. But the best was yet to come...

"You'll want to see what new benefits passholders now have" the young lady said, handing me a brochure. Looking it over I was surprised to see a whole slew of new offerings - which rather cunningly addressed many of the complaints Universal passholders had in the past.

First up was a new 25% discount on in park merchandise for all passholders (excluding photo products and concessionaire purchases). This is a substantial discount folks. We're talking making holiday shopping easier here.

The biggest complaint Universal passholders had before was the steep food prices inside the park. Many APs solved this problem by stamping their hands and eating over at CityWalk instead. (The two for $10 lunch deal at Tony Roma's was especially popular.)

They have now addressed this two ways - first they have made sure that almost every meal in the park tops out at no more than 7.99. (Disneyland and DCA now routinely goes beyond nine and ten dollars.) Secondly, and most importantly, they have now given passholders a 20% discount on all food and beverage (except of course alcohol and strolling vendors). Not bad eh?

On top of all that they also offer all sorts of discounts at CityWalk itself:

15% off at Buca di Beppo / Cafe Tu Tu Tango / Gladstones / Panda Inn

10% off at Camacho's Cantina (food only) / Cafe Puccino / Daily Grill short order / Hollywood Freezway / Jerry's Famous Deli / Maroni's Sausage / Pit Fire Pizza / Shanghai & Mein / Tropic Nut / Wasabi / Wetzel's.

Clubs: Free admission, no cover at B.B. King's / Free admission, no cover Sun - Thur at Howl at the Moon / 15% off dinner show Sun - Fri at Wizardz.

15% off regular priced merchandise at: Adobe Road / Sparky's / UCLA Spirit (except for class rings, course materials)

10% off merchandise at All-Star Collectibles (no memorabilia or cards) / Awesome Atoms / Cirque de Bijoux / Dapy / Harly Davidson / Laundry Matt's / Out Takes / Retro Rad / Universal Studios Store in CityWalk / Quicksilver Boardrider's Club (regular priced merch)

Special discounts are also available at: Atomic Garage (5% off snow, ski, & surf boards and accessories - 10% off fashion apparel and shoes) / Martin Lawrence Gallery ($100 off any LE sculpture or graphic valued at $1000 or more - 15% off LE works by Hallam, Kindakova, Erte, McKnight, Kostabi and Kaufman.) / NASCAR Speedway (one free Driver's Club membership) / Skechers USA (20% off any footware purchase) / Things from Another World (15% off purchase of $50 or more, plus free bookmark with every purchase)

This is on top of Universal Amphitheater discounts and privileges, nine nearby hotel discounts and some other local attraction discounts. Do Disney passholders get any discounts at Downtown Disney? Nope.

Another Universal passholder recently informed me they had called him at home asking if he would renew on the phone (talk about wanting your business) and they also offered him the parking pass OR a free ticket OR a free front of line pass. The no brainer answer here of course is the parking pass. (Mind you it does have some limitations - it is only good during park box office hours  - usually in the summer 8:30 to 6 PM, non summer 8:30 to 4 PM. This is done to avoid clogging up parking for CityWalk later on in the evening when those crowds come in.)

Earth to Disney here: If you are having trouble getting people into DCA - why not offer an expansive discounting program like Universal's ONLY if you buy a two park pass?

What with food prices at the Disneyland now surpassing fifteen dollars for lunch (at Plaza Inn, with a meal and a drink) you may be trying to force that Annual Passholder goose of yours to lay too many golden eggs.


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UPDATE 9/5 - DCA's Lumi-aria Lagoon Show starts 11-6 / Chance to Shine moves / Millionaire's ever so cheap set / Parking structure problems - Disneyland upkeep slipping again / Zephyr up again - Coaster safety issues remain / The clown moves in - Did Pioneer get rooked? / Snow White on DVD - Fantasia 2000 "lost" commentary / Disney Store problems mount / Annual Passholder renewal policy changes / Universal tries harder

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