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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
UPDATE 9/26 - Fixing Tomorrowland / MIA / Speaking of Cynthia / No dignity for the Bears / Mansion's Nightmare? / Golden Zephyr fix / From a source well worth reading... / In case you missed this...


Fixing Tomorrowland

Disneyland Resort head Cynthia Harriss has recently drafted planning meetings to discuss the "Tomorrowland problem." There has been a very real acknowledgement that Tomorrowland '98 was a complete failure, both from the design and Imagineering side and the business side.

The Rocket Rods were originally approved because they would be the product that "drives attendance" for at least several years for Disneyland. The complete lack of plans for any other major product after Tomorrowland '98 is proof of that. It will be 5 years after Tomorrowland '98 when Pooh opens in '03. Tarzan's Treehouse grew out of a planned Swiss Family rehab budget, and Autopia only happened due to Chevron's deep pockets.

The Rocket Rods and their halo effect they were supposed to have on Tomorrowland '98 failed miserably on all fronts. In addition, remember that the park closed the Subs in '98 because they felt that Rocket Rods would carry the flag of "exciting E Ticket attraction" for Tomorrowland. Now the Rods are gone, and so are the Subs, and Disneyland is short two E Tickets it used to have.

It does appear one quick fix will be made ASAP - heeding the many suggestions made both in and out of the company, it looks like "America the Beautiful" will return to the Tomorrowland CircleVision theater very shortly. It will help the area out a little bit (and is a good idea anyway what with recent events) - but those E-Tickets are still very sorely needed.

Now about the issue of paint Cynthia...



Tongues were wagging again last Sunday when Paul Pressler was conspicuously absent from the flag ceremony Eisner and Harriss presented to the media. He even made a point of only popping in, in casual dress no less, as Eisner was speaking one on one to the media. Pressler who usually is allowed to talk to the press as news breaks about the resorts, was even replaced on the Morning network news shows by Al Weiss, who heads up the Walt Disney World operations.

As we mentioned here before, it does appear he may be in the "doghouse" (as one kind source put it) with Eisner.  Cynthia Harris also suffered from this same problem a while back (for something it turned out she did not do - which later Eisner found out.)

Could it be those really pesky problems with that ever- so- problematic new park that have made for rough feelings between the two?


Speaking of Cynthia

Bless her, she does seem to try it seems.... from a kind source:

Just a bit of news for you on just one of the many ways Disneyland has been affected by the tragedy of the 11th.

A few weeks ago (before the terrorist attacks) Cynthia Harris was on a walkthrough of Disneyland Park with some other executives and was struck with just how much of the park was closed for refurbishment. The area that concerned her the most was Fantasyland's Alice and Tea Cups section.

Knowing that much of the park would be behind wooden construction fences until Thanksgiving (and then again at the first of the year), Cynthia ordered the entertainment department to script a new stage show to fill the void. This new show was tentatively titled "Remember the Magic" - and was cast and set to begin rehearsals. Sadly, as a result of the worst sustained attendance levels in Disneyland history, the show was mothballed on the very day of its first rehearsal. The first performance would have been last Sunday in the Carnation Plaza area.

Disney employees are now openly wondering when the next big layoff is coming. No one expects Disney to continue paying cast members to man empty shops, restaurants, rides, and hotel shifts. Let's hope people start visiting the parks again soon. Otherwise, these will be dark times not only for the Mouse, but its employees as well.

Thanks again to the kind source for the above.



No dignity for the Bears

The Country Bears attraction is almost gone. WDI (Imagineering) flatbed trucks have been taking animatronics away for two weeks now, and many assumed that they would be staging them somewhere so as to put tarps over them before they drove up to Glendale. Sadly they are just driving up the Santa Ana Freeway with all the naked Country Bear animatronics in the back! Talk about tacky.

People have seen Trixie, Big Al, Henry, etc. all heaped in the back of the trucks as they load them out of the theater backstage. They take their clothes off so that they are just clear plastic skinned robots with wires and servos visible, but their face skin stays intact so that their identity is very easy to see. They've been hauling them back like that since the 13th, and we've made a decision here not to run any photos of this to help keep some of the illusion alive for this poor show.

The inside of the building is stripped completely now. There is really nothing left. And the construction for Pooh will be able to start soon inside. For the time being, you won't be able to tell much is going on in there. It won't be until the ten week long Splash Mountain rehab that starts after New Years before the Critter Country area will become a construction zone. Since there won't be any attractions operating, the Critter Country stores will all close in January as well. Critter Country will basically be walled off this winter, and the transformation will begin.

When Splash Mountain reopens in March, the walls will be pulled back a bit to allow access to Splash Mountain, but the construction will go forward with lots of construction walls in Critter Country through 2002. As was detailed here online earlier, there is much work to do to reconfigure the current stores and food facilities into a giant Pooh Emporium, as well as widen and re-contour the landscaping and walkways.

Remember that Pooh is planned to soft-open in March, 2003, with a official ceremony and press event tied in with the Spring Break and Easter weeks. Apparently any announcements have been held off due to rights problems.


Mansion's Nightmare?

Mansion continues as well. Some of the vendors supplying items or decorations are behind schedule of course, and the Entertainment department (who put this all together) is starting to panic. But, apparently this is the type of thing that always seems to happen with these big projects. Everything usually pulls together for the most part in the last 72 hours.

People are wondering if the real finished installation will be available for the party on the 3rd, the media day on the 4th, or the public opening on the 5th? They may be adding things through the 10th of October or so, but at the very least 90% of the Show will be in by the party on the 3rd. The Jack Skellington AA figure is in, and that will be impressive from what observers have seen.

Meanwhile, on the merchandise event front, the park is still reeling from how badly botched the ticket sales were a few weeks ago for the event. People calling in for information were told one thing, flyers said something else, and operators didn't much know what was going on.

Biggest problem? Flyers told folks to call in on a certain date to order tickets. People who called a few days before to confirm that, were then told they could go ahead and fax in orders the day before. Big mistake. That and a few other things have made for lots of hard feelings with customers - who in the past have endured botched Pirates and Divas events.

Is running the whole merchandising special events department out of Orlando really such a good idea? You tell me.


Golden Zephyr fix

You all know it as the ride at California Adventure that was never open. Why? Because it could not operate in harrowing wind conditions of over 5 MPH. Well, they finally fixed it, and here is what the majority of adjustment consisted of:

1. Added weight to vehicles to increase stability. [This would in fact increase stability, reducing lateral force vectors that would cause instability.]

2. Increased compression for springs on landing wheels. [Makes landing less "bouncy."]

3. Slightly reduced rotation speed. [Increased weight (mass) would increase centrifugal force. Reducing RPM mitigates this. An anecdote, when the first fired the system up after weight changes, they did clip some trees near Jellyfish. So cutting RPM got the ride back to its operational radius.]

The net effect is the Zephyr can now operate safely in 15 MPH winds. While this is only a 10 MPH increase, the additional pad substantially increases operational time.

All that effort, for what most folks feel is a real lackluster attraction. Listen to people as they disembark sometime, it's depressing.


Finally, from a source well worth reading...

...who has been quoted here on MousePlanet before, and been very accurate in his discussions about Disney's stock problems, the California Adventure "heroin monkey" problem, etc:

What fans of the Walt Disney Co. have to keep in mind is that the company, like most companies, is now facing a bear market & a bear economy -- during which it is the ideal time to cut fat and position ones self for the next bull economy.

Disney's (and also some other entertainment companies) huge problem is that they have already cut the fat and have nothing else to cut without sacrificing their own foundation. Disney's position may or may not be one of the worst of the entertainment giants.

As an example: Eisner's plan to purchase Fox Family did not work out on paper which is partly why Disney sold their stores in Japan (heresy!) and announced that they would sell bonds (for acquisitions). But recent events have made it necessary for the company to buy back its own stock, downgrade projected income and face negative analyst recommendations.

While it would be a great time to buy Fox Family at an adjusted price (and foreign networks, the Jim Henson Co. & Pixar [after "Monsters" perhaps]) the company's independence (if that's still important) rests upon making those investments which will not be a drain but instead lead to profits during economic recovery.

I would expect that transforming DCA to "Disney's America" will not be one of them. This is not the time for spending millions on a gate which cannibalizes the attendance of the park across the way.

In Japan, my business contacts inform me, that the Oriental Land Company is facing something quite different. With the Japanese canceling foreign travel they expect DisneySeas to succeed.

In the United States, with Americans canceling domestic travel (please note the distinction) it is the motion picture business which could see record attendance.

The challenge now for Disney is to address motion picture content -- more than ever.

Now on to some specifics and observations:

During the time of Walt Disney Productions there was some sentiment against building a Magic Kingdom in Florida and certainly Tokyo Disneyland (I remember the stockholder's meeting well). But now, with the current state of terrorism, all the Disneyland clones suddenly serve a new purpose -- making the original less of a target. For the first time ever, I am grateful for the clones.

However, all the parks are still a target. 5 to 6,000 people were lost at the World Trade Center. Now think about how many are in a park at a peak hour on a peak day. (The threat is not a car bomb as some have suggested but concealed weapons and biological/chemical attacks from the ground.)

Which is why the company must encourage to spread attendance. Consumers are not going to be comfortable in large crowds for a long time. (This is the Christmas for online shopping!) The company must encourage off-peak attendance. Cutting back hours discourages the local market. What the park should (& Florida could) try is staggered hours. For California this would mean:

Disneyland open Thursdays through Tuesdays: 12 Noon - 9pm

DCA open Wednesdays through Mondays: 9am - 6pm

Unfortunately, these times really should be reversed since children don't seem to like DCA but Disneyland attracts visits for Fantasmic, Fireworks and the Christmas parade. (A mea culpa here, I was the first to publicly suggest rushing a lagoon show for DCA--but it should be dark enough by 6pm for their Christmas show.)

The company should not have longer hours for the weekends or the holidays. Further (and you will all hate me for this) there could be no parades, fireworks or shows on the weekends. It'll be cheaper and safer as it will cut down on crowds and encourage weekday visits.

It's a bitter pill to take but actually better for all concerned.

And now a final observation concerning why Michael Eisner may "change." Mr. Eisner has had some heat taken off of him concerning the financial condition of the company. He now has a really good reason / excuse for the future poor showing with the terrorist attacks. Analysts now believe that Disney is in an ideal position not to make money. Eisner can only exceed expectations (or merge with another company).

Hey Michael, now how about improving Disneyland? It should impact the bottom line as never before.

Another interesting observation recently made by another insider to me about Eisner may dovetail with the above:

It looks like Michael has finally decided that he doesn't have to make movies anymore that he may not like.

As always, the observations are very intriguing.


In case you missed this

...when it ran on the MousePlanet News page earlier this week instead of here on the update:

Disneyland Resort attendance has been increasing slowly in the past week after a serious drop in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. Attendance at Disneyland on Saturday the 22nd was about 40,000, versus 26,000 a week before. The original estimates (before September 11th) were about 50,000 for both Saturdays.

Disney's new California Adventure park continues to underperform from original company expectations, with 10,000 visitors on Saturday, down from a previously downgraded (pre- attack) estimate of 17,000. The end of an unprecedented summer discount (with free child's admission), and poor word of mouth are also seen as major factors in a disappointing opening year.

Despite some media reports indicating an increase in attendance, Walt Disney World appears to be also dealing with problems. While European visitors remain at previous levels, (and are still arriving as scheduled) vacationers from within the United States have declined - and the company is actively working with many of the visitors calling in cancellations to try and retain bookings.  In many cases MousePlanet readers are reporting that Disney is offering substantial accommodation upgrades to retain reservations.

The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim has a much larger local base of visitors, averaging about 60% of overall attendance. Walt Disney World in Orlando has a 40% local base of visitors, and many times during peak periods half of that. A reduction in attendance affects the Orlando operation more critically, since visitors to that resort tend to stay longer. There was a surge in local visitors to both resorts this past week - in particular among annual passholders with year round admission to the parks. Both resorts saw an almost total cancellation of all Japanese tours / visitors in the past weeks. 

It should be noted that Disney officially does not offer numbers, nor break down attendance by type.

California Adventure (DCA) numbers continue to be problematic since we ran the above, not helped of course by the cancellation of the press event for the new Millionaire attraction.

Meanwhile construction continues on Tower of Terror (a budget version, as noted in the last Ask Al™ column.), BugsTown (a kiddie ride area) and a backstage staging area for the new holiday "Luminaria" lagoon show. Press announcements were placed on hold due to the September 11th events.

It looks like we can also expect an upcoming summer edition of the lagoon show, along with a Christmas version of the Electrical Parade for next year (using the Paris holiday soundtrack.) That means of course the parade will stay a while longer at DCA - with a possible year round schedule.

Also mentioned in the above column was the apparent go ahead for the Reign of Fire attraction at Animal Kingdom, finally giving the Beastly Kingdom area a boost.


Next time, we'll take a look at what they are looking to do for the Disneyland 50th. I was surprised, you may be too.


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UPDATE 9/19 - Tower of Terror delay / Eisner affected? - Doing the right thing / Attendance drops / Resort security increased / Haunted Mansion Holiday / Luminaria problems / Millionaire cut back / Adventureland trees gone / Rehabs / Disney-MGM overhaul?


Tower of Terror delay

Last week's sad events apparently put a major damper on a planned press / media event for California Adventure. They were supposed to announce Tower of Terror (along with a few other additions, most probably for start sometime next year) to try and give some kind of major boost for the diminishing attendance. (Numbers had dropped back down after the end of the discount.)

As you can well imagine, any kind of attraction that deals with falling off a damaged / distressed building would be in poor taste to announce at this time. So as much as the Tower of Terror is needed in their minds (and frankly, I don't think it can salvage things - there are just too many other problems with this park), they will have to probably look at something else in the meantime.

This announcement apparently was the result of a conversation that Eisner had with Pressler, where he was told in no uncertain terms "to fix DCA." It was rather unpleasant from what I was told.


Eisner affected? - Doing the right thing

Since last week, I've heard some other interesting things about Eisner - thanks to one kind soul who alerted me to them, and then a few others who confirmed what had originally been passed on. 

Eisner's supposed to have somewhat changed after the attack on the trade center. Apparently he's feeling more pride about the Disney company. He now wants to announce a third golden age - after a bit of a retrenchment for the next two years to gather forces. (This may already have been in effect, since the Japanese Disney Stores were already passed off to Oriental Land.)

Personally I'll believe it when Pressler is finally moved over to consumer products where he really belongs. ;)

But I do want to note one thing - as I mentioned before the Disney company did a lot right the last week for their customers at the parks. (Adrienne Vincent Phoenix detailed it in her article.) They did it all without any customer prodding, and in a first class manner.

Again, compliments to them.  They showed an awful lot of class. This is more like the Disney Company I grew up with and admired so much.


Attendance drops

As mentioned above, the already slow attendance collapsed with the recent events, as I'm sure you noticed if you visited this past weekend. Disneyland was at about 50% of it's original estimates this weekend. DCA was about 40% of it's original estimates. (The Albertson's $10 off promotion apparently wasn't working before last Tuesday either.)

Obviously the problems with the airlines, and fear of recent events were preventing many from visiting, and many were just glued to the TV. It will be worth watching to see if attendance picks up in one or two weeks, or if this sizeable dent in attendance is going to last longer. If the numbers continue this way, expect some huge staff layoffs, and even more reduced resort hours to come shortly.

One thing about DCA that's consistent - it's empty
One thing about DCA that's consistent - it's empty

Looking at the day's attendance patterns - i.e. very slow during what would be a peak time (noon) and then a busier bump through the turnstiles in the late afternoon - it looks like the Annual Passholders are what is making their day at this point.

Wouldn't it be a good time now to reward those good passholder customers with some additional dining and merchandise discounts? And perhaps some kind of discounted admission price for their friends?


Resort security increased

The heightened presence at the resort
The heightened presence at the resort

There have been some more increases in security since the resort first opened back up - some routes have been made harder to cross etc. (above)

I'd still like to see them block off Disneyland Drive to through traffic - but we'll continue to see what they are planning


Haunted Mansion Holiday

They won't paint, but they will hang stuff everywhere
They won't paint, but they will hang stuff all over the place

From a kind source - who usually nails it by the way... (this note arrived just before last week's events - so that drop in attendance is not acknowledged here):

I can tell you that the Haunted Mansion interior is coming along very nicely. This is going to be a genuinely fantastic show. Many of the effects and Show concepts that were scaled back or cut completely from the budget last Spring have been reinstated in the last 60 days. The feeling here is that this new Show really needs to be a "Wow!" and not a "that's nice" reaction.

Obviously this is seen as the silver lining to the DCA problems of this year. They have to do something to get people talking positively about Disneyland again and ensure a solid attendance boost the final three months of the year. Haunted Mansion Holiday should repeat the Small World Holiday buzz of '97 and the Holiday Believe buzz of last year.

By the way, the locals really drive the attendance on these seasonal Holiday events, and this year is no different.

From what I understand (without giving away too much here) some of the additions are on the scale of "spooky" Christmas decorations, plywood props, etc. But several of the additions are really amazing effects, and are quite costly. The Jack animatronic in particular will be great.

There is a concern some have however now that the show being installed has turned out to be quite elaborate. Many of the most recognizable icons of the Haunted Mansion have been taken out, scenes will be changed almost beyond recognition, etc. This may upset some diehard Mansion fans, since this particular attraction tends to have a very passionate cult following.

But it is felt that the large amount of improvements to the infrastructure that all of this requires is the legacy that will benefit all visitors for years to come (not to mention the classic stuff comes back at the end of the holidays). For instance, in the Graveyard scene, they have taken down all of the huge hanging scrims in that large room - new scrims will be installed, and the improvement will be substantial, with new cobwebs, new speakers, etc., etc.

It will be noticeably scarier and creepier however, and a few of the scenes or effects could be quite shocking for the little ones the first time around. Again, I'm trying hard not to give too much away. ;-)


Luminaria problems

Meanwhile the problem child across the way continues to stumble, this time with the new lagoon show.

With the current plans, California Adventure's (DCA) new holiday lagoon show, "Luminaria" is only going to be able to be performed once each evening. The plan is to start this show right at Park closing each night. (Most likely 6 pm) and have it end about 20 minutes later.

The big headache here is that all of the Paradise Pier attractions are going to have to be cycled out of riders and shut down with the current plan. Then the lighting in Paradise Pier will be turned off, and Luminaria show lighting will take over on and around the attractions. Even the big Screamin' coaster has to be clear of guests and non-operational before the show can start. On light attendance days this may be a nuisance, but manageable. On busy days, if they can pull in bodies that is, this will be a logistical nightmare.

There is also the question of audience control, flow and viewing areas. All of that was just beginning to be addressed, although no one has the foggiest idea as to what the strategy is going to be.

With only one show, at Park close, on busy days this will be a real challenge to get everyone to where they can see the show. The word I got was that you have to see the water. That's not a good sign, considering the flat concrete surrounding the vast majority of the lagoon. Fantasmic! viewing had to be sloped and terraced after the first year, which they will not do here. DCA's lagoon perimeter is almost completely flat with limited waterfront area - the amphitheater waterside is way too small.

This show is on the ultimate fast track, so the viewing details are being tossed to the side for now. The requirement that Paradise Pier attractions must be stopped before show time is a mistake many think.


Millionaire cut back

I finally got to see a few Millionaire shows - and although it is not my cup of tea, I can see where if you are a fan of the show you will really enjoy it.  It's almost too bad they can't incorporate some of the changes they made to it to the actual show (especially the time limits to answer questions). Millionaire on TV is still too pokey for me, which is why if I do watch something like this, I go for Weakest Link instead.

The DCA hosts I saw at each show were entertaining, the hot seat occupants a mixed bag (seems lightening- fast video- game- trained trigger fingers don't always mean you get the brightest contestants). The questions range in difficulty from groaners to hardball - and the audience has a very tough time not shouting out the answers as they get to play along with their seatback keypads.

Publicity photo © Disney
Publicity photo © Disney

A kind reader did point out one thing to me though - that shows just how much DCA continues to not give a visitor the proper bang for the buck:

Hi Al, my name is Scott, I've written to Mouse Planet a couple of times. You have a great site and I check it on a daily basis. Anyway, recently you mentioned about how cheaply the set for "Millionaire" looked to you. Well, just last month I went to Walt Disney World (WDW) and today I had a chance to go to DCA, so I can give you the similarities and differences first hand.

First of all, I hate to disappoint you, but the sets for both the Florida and the California "Millionaire" are virtually identical. One of the disconcerting things about how it's presented is the fact that you come in with the house lights fully up, so you see just how cheaply everything is made. Maybe if they had their "show" lights up instead, it would look better, but then it may become a safety issue.

The big difference between California and Florida is the "bullpen" area. In Florida, you are in an enclosed space ( a lobby- type area) that is carpeted and air- conditioned. There are also monitors up above, so you can watch clips and bloopers from the show. Very well done.

In California, well... as you know, you are outdoors (with no covering for when the winter rains come, thank you very much) with some cheap speakers playing God knows what, because you can barely hear them. Although I will give credit to the Cast Members who were really energetic and tried to keep the audience pumped up.

There's just no end to the budget cutting in that park is there?  ;)

Also Scott mentioned what Adrienne had reported earlier this week:

I've noticed one other difference between FL and CA -- and I'm not sure if this was removed because of the NYC terrorist attack. When I saw the Florida show, there was a pre- show reel that was shown in the studio just before the show gets under way. It shows Regis Philbin backstage getting ready to host the Florida "Millionaire" show. When it is pointed out to him that his hosting the Florida show would mean that the Florida host would have to go to NYC to do his show, Regis beats a hasty retreat.

Also (and I'm sure this was done because of the tragedy) no mention is made of the 1 Million point winner receiving a trip to NYC to view a taping of the real "Millionaire".

Anyway, keep up the good work and remember to stow those ears in the under-seat compartment before take off.

Yes, the changes were made due to the recent events. Hopefully soon they can get back to the normal set up, once things calm down. Thank you Scott for making those astute observations.

(By the way, the reason you readers keep seeing the same publicity photo for Millionaire everywhere is because they request that no video or photography be taken inside the attraction.)


Adventureland trees gone

The trees continue to fall at Disneyland - thankfully during off hours. :)  The walls shown below are set up around what once were tree planters.

I hated to see the Adventureland trees go though - not only did the "Little Man of Disneyland" get his house cemented over a few years ago, now he totally lost it last week.

Adventureland has always been rather congested - with the new Tarzan Treehouse entry placement and the Indy ride only making things worse - but the trees (even though they may have also been in the way) made this a nice shady area to visit.

Let's hope some good sized trees make it back into those spots. (They also replanted the trees yet again in front of the Castle too.)



Some quickie photos:

Work continues (above) on walkways in Fantasyland - being converted from asphalt to either cement (like in Frontierland) or pavers (like Tomorrowland).

Tomorrowland continues to suffer from maintenance neglect - torn out carpet on the Monorails greets us as we board (above). This is in addition to the peeling paint, and the trashed entry plaque to the area (shown in the last update).

They have fixed some things, like the Sleeping Beauty Castle drinking fountain - but it's like a drop in the bucket.


Disney-MGM overhaul?

Finally I keep hearing that Pressler's hot new idea is to redo the Disney MGM Studios into an Islands of Adventure type of "adventure / coaster park" - because a] any more new Walt Disney World parks would continue to cannibalize the current visitor base, b] they really do need something new (and cheap!) in a few years, and c] they want out of the studio business in Orlando.

The word from several folks is that they would demolish the studio portion, keep the Hollywood area, and build lots of cheap coasters / and put in lots of film type of attractions.

Pressler SHOULD be fixing Animal Kingdom, but hey - what do I know? ;)



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UPDATE 9/26 - Fixing Tomorrowland / MIA / Speaking of Cynthia / No dignity for the Bears / Mansion's Nightmare? / Golden Zephyr fix / From a source well worth reading... / In case you missed this...

UPDATE 9/19 - Tower of Terror delay / Eisner affected? - Doing the right thing / Attendance drops / Resort security increased / Haunted Mansion Holiday / Luminaria problems / Millionaire cut back / Adventureland trees gone / Rehabs / Disney-MGM overhaul?


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