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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
UPDATE 12/20 - They're NOT going to Disneyland / New Year's Eve at the Disneyland Resort / What's big and white and NOT an elephant - yet? / Disneyland's merchandise problems / Not so Magic Mornings / Blast a hit - One Man's Dream / Mansion, Mansion, who's got the Mansion? / Poor Pooh / Tomorrowland - I hope this isn't our future / Wild Tiki & Monsters Inc. rumors / Dress Up Dress Down / Universal QuikShots

I'm giving you a warning. ;)

Get a cup of coffee and a nice big muffin now, before you sit down to read this one as it is a bit long.

So much to catch up on, those Disney executives have been ever so busy you know...


They're NOT going to Disneyland

The locals have been staying away in droves. Word of mouth, despite millions spent on entertainment and other quick fixes continues to be poor. It's been well documented that California Adventure (DCA) as a theme park has underwhelmed the masses to no seeming end.

Most companies would take a serious look at an underperforming product and either a] fix it, or b] try something, ANYTHING else.  More than a few companies would just c] scrap a product that was so unpopular with its customers.

But this is Disney we're talking about here in general, and the rather stubborn Paul Pressler in particular. The corporate mindset has everyone blaming everything (including the "internet") for what has gone wrong, everything it seems except the very real fact the park is failing to attract / impress / retain its intended audience.

So if the new park is perfect (in their eyes, if no one else's of course) what would their solution be?

The solution is to force the issue. "People will like it once they see it." is the mantra. "We have to get bodies in there." This is forgetting full well of course that when customers do come (sometimes in droves by giving away admission in ever new and so creative ways), a good majority of them still make a stop by guest relations on their way out and express their desire never, ever to return again.

The customers won't even buy souvenirs from the shops unless they say Disneyland on them for goodness sakes! Talk about a vote of no confidence...

So, with that mindset in place, (some in the industry say bunker mentality) it comes as no surprise that the suits in the Team Disney Anaheim building out back (TDA) have decided to break with tradition this year and push the visiting Rose Bowl teams to go to DCA instead of Disneyland. "They and the public will love it once they see it," they reason.

So now the two teams, their marching bands, and the fan entourages will now be hosted exclusively at DCA. Instead of the marching bands coming down Main Street for a Town Square concert, Paradise Pier will be the location for the battle of the bands. All team players, team staff, and their families will be escorted through DCA with a VIP Host or Hostess.

As long as the teams stay at DCA, they will get the royal treatment, catered food, and backdoor access to all the attractions. However, if any of them want to go next door to Disneyland, they will be on their own. Those eager beaver, live to please VIP Hosts and Hostesses will stay at DCA, and the teams and bands will not have any (nada, zip, zero) special privileges at Disneyland.

Since the media will be covering this event, (and trust me, some of them are not thrilled with this idea either) the suits at TDA want all the pictures and TV coverage of the star quarterbacks to be on Grizzly River Rapids and California Screamin' instead of Splash Mountain or Indiana Jones.

Now mind you, this comes at a time when not even Michael Eisner will be caught in public riding a DCA ride. Want proof?  In those new California tourism commercials Governor Davis just presented to the public, there is a quick shot of Eisner riding a coaster.  It's not hard to see that he's on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mt. of course. (I wonder if he's heard what I've heard about the big Screamin' coaster at DCA too?  More below on this.)

So it looks like they'll take the DCA coverage any way they can get it now, even if it means not being a very good host next door at Disneyland. What I wouldn't give to see a commercial with "I've just won a chance to be in the Rose Bowl, and I'm NOT going to Disneyland." I can tell you at least two competitors have mentioned that one in recent marketing meetings.  ;)


Uniformed Police in Disneyland

UPDATE 12/20

The above is the norm now - the Anaheim Police now are visible in the park on a regular basis.

Disneyland security as an apparent result is now delighted to report fewer problems with bad apple rave / goth / gang kids. No more midnight séances or tokes at the Wishing Well it looks like.

Ah, remember the days...


New Year's Eve at the Disneyland Resort

With Christmas rapidly approaching, it's time to start thinking about what you are going to do on New Years Eve if you visit the Disneyland Resort.

Disneyland will continue with the basic agenda it's had for the last few years, without Fantasmic! of course. But DCA has received a bigger budget than what was originally planned for its New Years Eve festivities.

There will be three main celebration areas at DCA; An airstrip themed dance area in front of Soarin' Over California, a more subdued gathering geared toward adults in the Pacific Wharf food court, and a beach themed dance area in Paradise Pier near the Sun Wheel and midway games.

The Condor Flats area will have a dance floor and windsock capped towers with go- go dancers in them, the Pacific Wharf area will have live bands, and the Paradise Pier area will have a "Beach Blanket Bingo" feel with more go- go dancers, dance contests, and actual fire rings on the boardwalk. Each area will have it's own DJ and sound system, several "balloon drops" for midnight around the dance floors, and lots of New Years specific decorations.

There won't be a park- wide DCA "moment" like Disneyland has with the pyro on the Matterhorn and fireworks, but the fact that DCA will be serving alcohol and has decided to beef up it's plans for dancing and live entertainment may convince more people to head to DCA for the Midnight moment.

If you decide to spend New Year's at DCA let me know how it goes, OK? I'm sticking to Disneyland's celebration. I've spent one New Year's Eve with drunks in Times Square - I don't intend to repeat that experience again.  ;)


What's big and white and NOT an elephant - yet?

...besides DCA of course? Well there is that big white thing that looms over a section of DCA.

Three sources have now told me about some of the ongoing and increasing problems they are having with this big white thing.

I've been told that wood as a building material is known to deal with stress really well, as it can give a little. (You know the old adage: "I'm a tree, I can bend.")

Steel on the other hand, well, does not deal with any kind of stress really well. It can be a fracturing experience as a matter of fact.

Right now it seems that this situation is a warranty problem. The builder of that big white thing is making all sorts of ongoing fixes to make sure everything is A-OK. (And one shouldn't really worry right now about being in, on, or near this big white thing, because it is being very well attended to.)

But warranties run out eventually. And when that time comes, it could well be that the problems with this big white thing will have to dealt with in a finite manner.

I guess you could say the view may change sometime in the future in Paradise Pier.

Hmmm, maybe the old man was right.


Disneyland's merchandising problems

Some of you may remember an old Disneyland merchandise honcho by the name of Ann Dale. She was formerly with the GAP, blew into Disneyland under the wing of then park president Paul Pressler and in a few short months managed to dismantle and destroy one of the best merchandising operations on the planet. It was breathtaking.

Ms. Dale at that time was more focused on eliminating park specific merchandise lines, and turning all of the park into one giant GAP store, since that basically was what she had done before. It was Ms. Dale who made sure the park was well stocked with 101 Dalmatian peeing dog toys, as opposed to Disneyland logo product.

It got so bad as a matter of fact, that it brought newsgroup campaigns and petitions begging the company to make items they wanted to purchase, such as toy monorails, and Disneyland specific (not just duplicate Disney Store) merchandise and plush characters. Imagine, customers were begging Michael Eisner to spend their money at Disneyland. Amazing eh?

Well eventually Ms. Dale moved on, and we finally saw the quality and quantity of park specific merchandise begin to reappear on the shelves at the resort. The Monorail toys as a matter of fact were some of the best selling items they ever carried in the park. Pressler after this was reminded by the higher ups that even though he saved a few pennies by sharing inventory with his beloved Disney Stores, that people did want park specific stuff - we all can pretty much understand that on a visit to Anaheim no one wants a Disney Store souvenir, they want a Disneyland souvenir, right?

It's been said nothing good ever lasts, and sadly it appears that the new woman in charge of merchandise seems to be now following in Ms. Dale's backwards footsteps. The crux of the problem appears to lie with all the park specific merchandise they did for DCA. None of it sold in any numbers, (even though a lot of it was of very good and creative quality) and most of it is now in transit to a clearance center near you.

Most folks facing this situation would probably understand that the new park did not succeed with its customers, so it would be no surprise that the merchandise didn't take off.

But that's not how the gal now in charge sees it, no way, no sir. What she has gathered from all this is that people don't want Disneyland or DCA specific merchandise, they want only Disneyland Resort generic merchandise. And that quality didn't sell. This also will make things so much easier for her and save her a lot of work and budget since she won't have to bother with two parks worth of varying items anymore and she can cut back on the quality too.

I noticed the complaints about merchandising start to come in over the last few months - and they increased dramatically when more of the generic "resort" product started to fill the shelves over the last few weeks. This is merchandise that is not designed or produced with a customer in mind, it is stuff that is designed for what someone thinks people should buy.


Prime example? The brand spanking new $30 Souvenir Disneyland Resort DVD. Mind you, Disney Home Video just put out a $23 numbered limited edition two disc set with historical footage of the park, (shown above) complete with Leonard Maltin hosting that runs 3 hours and 48 mins. This is the set people have been asking for, it is priced to sell, and even comes in a collector's tin with a postcard.  (See our recent review of this collector's title HERE.)

Now why would anyone spend $30 to buy a 50 min. long DVD in today's marketplace (which is what the resort offers), when most major movies at your local entertainment retailer sell for about $20? And what Disneyland visitor wants to look at carnival footage - when historical materials about Disneyland itself can be included at little or no cost to the company (since all costs have already been amortized by these classic shows)?

Let's not even discuss how they dropped the ball merchandise-wise for the 100th birthday earlier this month, ok?

Why do I see the customers yet again having to petition the company to buy things they really want?

I don't need to call Miss Cleo to see that coming.


Not so Magic Mornings

After being mentioned in a previous update, it's now official... Magic Mornings at Disneyland have been cancelled as of early January, 2002.

In their place is a very different, and very limited, range of operating hours for Disneyland. DCA has its own set of hours that will only be good through March for now. Gone with the Magic Mornings are the numerous operating hour templates that Disneyland drew from in years past. In their place are three different operating hour schedules for Disneyland, and two different ones for DCA. And some old Disneyland traditions have been axed as well.

At Disneyland for 2002 the Park will now be open an hour earlier than usual, from 9 am until 8 pm on Mondays thru Thursdays. On Fridays and Sundays, Disneyland will be open from 9 am until 9 pm. No more Midnight or 10 pm closes on Fridays and Sundays.

And in late June through late August, on all Saturdays, and during Holiday periods, Disneyland will be open from 8 am until 11 pm. Midnight (and even 1 AM) closes have gone the way of the Rocket Rods for Saturdays and the summer months too. And again, there will be no more Magic Mornings offered for 2002. Actually, barring a loud outcry from customers, Magic Mornings may never return to Disneyland.

There are a few "exceptions" of course to the earlier Disneyland openings. To save a few bucks, Mickey's Toontown will not open until 1 hour after Park opening, year round. And the Park Operations management teams are still hammering out the budgetary details on when things like Tom Sawyer's Island, the Mark Twain, the Tiki Room, etc. open.

Let's hope they remember how great the Mark Twain has looked recently steaming around the Rivers of America after dark, and don't try to cut too much.

Meanwhile over at DCA, things are more short term, as TDA will not commit to anything past March for the struggling park. But, for January, February and March, DCA will be open from 10 am to 6 pm Monday thru Thursday. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, DCA will be open from 10 am to 8 pm.

The biggest change however (as you probably already know by reading this column) is in the Hollywood area. The Hollywood Pictures Backlot will open one and a half hours after the rest of DCA opens in the morning. They are trying to decide if they should go to the expense of a nicely themed barricade for that DCA area, or just put up a rope with a security gaurd standing behind it for the first 90 minutes of DCA's operating day. On a weekday, the Hollywood area will only be open from 11:30 am to 6 pm, so make your plans accordingly.

After March, things could get even more bizarre for DCA, if the marketing folks get what they want. In this time frame DCA may be open until 9 pm every night of the week this spring. If TDA gets its way (and a sufficient budget from Burbank) a marketing campaign aimed at teens and twenty- somethings, plus all those AP holders who now have two park privileges tacked onto their passes for free, will be rolled out that will feature bands, dancing and restaurant promotions in DCA.

There could be days this spring when DCA is actually open later than Disneyland, in an attempt to lure locals to the new park. And instead of the exciting new E Ticket attractions that usually drive the "local" attendance, be prepared for go- go girls and drink specials. Yep, why bother with a new ride, when liquor may be quicker?

All of these operating hour changes are designed to shave off some labor from the budget, without too much of an inconvenience to visitors. And actually, for those who aren't staying at a Disney hotel, or have purchased a multi-day passport, the earlier Disneyland openings are a good thing.

But for those who go to the expense of staying at a Disney hotel, or purchase multi- day passports and Good Neighbor Hotel packages through Walt Disney Travel Company to get the Magic Morning program, they have just lost the biggest benefit for staying with Disney.

UPDATE 12/20

If you were using Walt Disney Travel Company for travel arrangements mainly to secure the Magic Morning early entrances into Disneyland, it may be cheaper to now use online travel agencies instead. In addition, now that there is a dining reservation hotline available to anyone for reservations at all Disneyland Resort restaurants, a person can easily put together their own travel package including meal reservations without the cost of going through Disney's own travel agency.

There just aren't any more perks or benefits left from Walt Disney Travel Company that can't be secured by any other travel agency, or by a person just spending a few minutes on the phone or Internet. The suits are basically bending over to pick pennies up, while the bucks will be flying above them.

In addition to the labor savings with the reduced Disneyland hours, the new operating hours will eliminate the rampant night- time park hopping that was causing chaos and lots of overtime at the Disneyland Main Entrance.

This past fall, Disneyland would stay open until Midnight or 10 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. DCA would close at 8 pm on those nights, and a huge migration would take place across the Esplanade as everyone headed back to Disneyland for the late evening hours.

Now that the two Parks will be closing within one or two hours of each other on most nights, that unforeseen and unplanned for migration will hopefully be reduced greatly. And, by closing the Parks earlier, as we mentioned here long ago, people are pushed out to Downtown Disney to spend their evening entertainment dollars. This way TDA doesn't have to go to the expense of staffing and operating the dozens of Park attractions, not to mention the army of Park support staff in Security, Health Services, Guest Services, Guest Relations, etc.


Blast a hit - One Man's Dream

Below is a photo of the line to get into the first Blast show at DCA last Sunday:

UPDATE 12/20

I've seen the show and it is terrific, much better than the mess it replaced. (Anyone who can take Chuck Mangione's boring music and turn it into an exciting production number is tops in my book.) Apparently the word is out to the public, as the theater is filling up like never before, and visitor comments upon exiting have been just great. (You may want to read Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix's article on the show if you missed it, come to think of it.)

The cast has been working hard outside the theater to expose people to the show, below is a shot of a quick routine the performers do in the Sun Plaza just before showtime to pull in even more crowds:

UPDATE 12/20

A funny tidbit - Eisner a few weeks ago finally ventured into DCA on a weekday and wanted to see Blast. So a panicked call went out all over the resort to pull in bodies to fill the empty seats, since DCA was having a typical low attendance day. People were asked to change into street clothes, some delayed going home, it was a mad rush to say the least. Don't want Eisner to think anything is out of the ordinary, right?

They fill the theater up, and low and behold there's no sign of the head maus. Turns out he shows up 20 minutes late, whereupon they finally let the show start. Never mind the poor paying customers who were there on time, they didn't matter I guess, only Mike did.

Hmmm, with this kind of tomfoolery maybe the guy doesn't really know what's going on? That could explain a lot eh?  ;)

The Walt Disney birthday centennial film that was done for Walt Disney World, One Man's Dream — From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms, is now playing in the animation building in the Hollywood Backlot. Below you can see some of the simple wall exhibits they have done in the theater lobby for it:

UPDATE 12/20

They've done a nice job with this short film in showing archive footage of Walt, and letting his own words tell his story. Eisner even manages to pretty much stay out of the way, as he just sets up each section of the movie. It's nowhere near as comprehensive as the Disney family bio film, but considering where it is playing, it is a nice addition to the building. Spend a few moments on your next visit and catch it, it's a pleasant experience. Too bad that they couldn't find a home for it where it really belongs, at Disneyland, the park Walt actually had something to do with.

Meanwhile over in the Condor Flats area a new vocal acapella group, by the name of "Route 66," replaces "Vocal Flight featuring Jondo." It seems Jondo and the boys may have been doing some, well um... for lack of a better description... "unauthorized flying" of their own - and, well, we can't have that at the Disneyland Resort can we?  Musicians will be musicians you know.

I'm looking forward to the new group.  ;)


Mansion, Mansion, who's got the Mansion?

A group from Walt Disney World (WDW) recently visited Disneyland's smash hit "Haunted Mansion Holiday." The Floridians want a version for their very own, but they have something different in mind.

The WDW group is very seriously considering making their Haunted Mansion into a Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction to have year round. In effect, this would turn the WDW Haunted Mansion into a permanent "Nightmare Before Christmas" attraction.

WDW's Haunted Mansion opened with that Park in 1971, and was one of the original E Tickets. But it has sat relatively unchanged for 30 years, and the WDW crew feels that they could "get away" with permanently changing the attraction over to the Jack Skellington theme.

UPDATE 12/20

The Floridians feel (with their Paul Pressler blindfolds firmly on) that a vastly different Haunted Mansion could be marketed as an exciting all new attraction, which is something the Magic Kingdom needs desperately since there are no current plans to build a new E Ticket at that WDW Park. Burbank and the WDW execs are spending most of what Attraction funds they do have on the Mission: Space attraction (which now appears to be on hold due to problems with the sponsor), the remake of the failed Imagination pavilion at Epcot, and a few spinner and carnival rides at Animal Kingdom.

There are no current plans to leave the Mansion Holiday show in permanently at Disneyland, as the TDA folks realize that they would be burned at the stake with many of the regular Disneyland visitors if they tried such a stunt, even though the Holiday version has turned out to be the most popular new attraction at Disneyland since Indiana Jones. But the WDW demographic is very different from the Disneyland crowds, and the Floridians think they could get a "new E Ticket" for a steal if they permanently remade their Haunted Mansion with a Jack Skellington theme.

Do you think this time they'll actually use Danny Elfman's music? I bet they will.  ;)


Poor Pooh

The Winnie The Pooh attraction is moving along on schedule. The building that used to house the Country Bear Jamboree is now just a shell of its former self. All interior walls, ceilings and floors are gone. The building is surprisingly large inside now that the two individual "theaters" have been removed.

From what people have been describing that have been inside, it looks like a medium sized warehouse now, with steel girders holding up exterior walls, and dirt floors. The large basement area where the show control systems were located, and where the Bear performers would sink down into in-between their sets, is now being sealed off from the ground level. That basement will serve as a huge new office space for area management once the new and changed "Critter Country" debuts in April, 2003. (That is if the term "Critter Country" makes it to 2003).

The only thing that doesn't seem to be going well for the Pooh project is the hunt for a sponsor. Disney's "Participant Relations" department has been actively courting several firms, (makers of snack foods, sandwich fixings, honey and jam have been popular recent targets) to try and find someone to have their logo tacked onto "The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, presented by......" attraction name.

The Participant Relations folks almost had Nestle' signed up as a sponsor for Haunted Mansion Holiday, but the Attractions folks put a stop to the concept of passing out tens of thousands of little candy bars a day to visitors stepping inside the Haunted Mansion. Can you imagine the mess all those candy wrappers (and crumbs) would make? Apparently so did the Attractions folks, and they successfully put the kibosh on that sponsorship idea.

But so far, no one has been interested in the Pooh concept. Since it's just a little dark ride, and not exactly Indiana Jones or Space Mountain, Disney hasn't found a company willing to shell out the big bucks (and this IS Disney, and the bucks will be BIG) for the little ride.

Not helping with the search for a Pooh sponsor of course is the fact that the buzz amongst many current Park sponsors is not very positive. Dole Pineapple and Federal Express in particular have been quite upset this past year about the condition of "their" attractions at Disneyland. After Dole threatened to pull their sponsorship, The Tiki Room received a modest cleanup that has at least removed the cobwebs, even if dozens of the show's effects and characters are not working or are simply missing. (The unfortunate visit from Dole was covered here in a previous update)

The loading area at Space Mountain also received a quick cleanup when FedEx bigwigs were horrified to see the condition of the banged up queue and ratty loading area with the FedEx logo placed about under a thick coating of dust. Those types of problems aren't conducive to courting new sponsors obviously, and the Pooh ride is still sponsorless.

Don't expect any changes in the status quo as upkeep continues to be placed on a back burner... speaking of which...


Tomorrowland - I hope this isn't our future

They finally put some new paint on the almost destroyed Tomorrowland sign fixture...

UPDATE 12/20

...but you can see there's already a scratch in it. The problem of course is in the design of the thing. People climb all over it, damaging the paint. Note they still haven't fixed the plaque itself, or replaced the medallion. We're going on a year now on this one.

Meanwhile over at Cosmic Waves (or Cosmic Bidet as the CMs call it) in front of Space Mt. they have decided to just patch the rubberized non skid flooring, rather than replace it...

UPDATE 12/20

Even Norm in This Old House does better work than this.

I liked it in the past at Disneyland when our future was supposed to be all white, clean, freshly painted and kept up. I've never been too keen on the Blade Runner / future slum concept, have you?

By the way, the bringing back of the America the Beautiful CircleVision film was passed on - I guess they needed the storage space more than they wanted to return another attraction to Tomorrowland.


Wild Tiki & Monsters Inc. rumors

Here are some interesting rumors...

Lilo & Stitch may be overlaid into the Tiki Room next year. Steve Davison (who did Mansion and the Fireworks shows) is pitching it, complete with Elvis music.

This could be fun. But after LuminAria, well, Mr. Davison will have a lot of people ready to say "show me" on this one. Not to mention the Tiki Room die hard fans will be in an uproar. (What will make the folks really scream is that this will be like Tarzan's Treehouse - it won't go away after a while, it would be permanent.)

The other rumor is that they have given up on Hollywood & Dine over at DCA (which was supposed to be that park's Tomorrowland Terrace type of fast food location).

The replacement? Monsters Inc. - with the entire set up replicated (basically just trucked on over) from the El Capitan's adjacent theater installation. The building outside would even need a minimal makeover to match the one in the movie no less.

How this will work, with the limited hours they want to impose on this area we'll see.

But you know, the whole thing could fit into that old CircleVision building at Disneyland too. I know that's what Pixar would prefer.

There's a third rumor flying around about Star Wars that I hope to God doesn't come to be. I don't think even Lucas will go for it either. I won't share it with you just yet, at least until some more folks confirm it with me.


Dress Up Dress Down

New costumes are on their way to the Main Street restaurants and some Tomorrowland locations. The Plaza Inn and Carnation Cafe will soon get rid of their current individual costumes, in favor of a new shared costume. The different cream and burgundy costumes will be replaced by a lighter color palette that is accented by a light pastel plaid.

In Tomorrowland, Star Tours is slated to get rid of the jumpsuits that have been worn there since 1987. Instead of the bright orange costumes for the girls, and bright blue for the guys, a dark orange jumpsuit will be introduced. The dark orange fabric will be shinier, with black undertones. Several of the Tomorrowland merchandise locations are also planned to have their costumes replaced with the shiny new fabric, instead of the drab orange and brown cotton currently used that would look more at home at a Del Taco drive-thru window than a futuristic spaceport.

There was a plan rolled out 3 years ago to replace all of the Parks costumes, but big sections of that plan designed for 2001 and 2002 have been cancelled or put on hold due to budget cuts that have continuously come down from Burbank.

Speaking of Disneyland costumes, the "Costume Shopping" concept has been formally rolled out to every cast member (CM) group now. All CM's now wander amongst the racks of costumes and pick out their own stuff. They then take them to new checkout lanes recently built at the end of the building, where their costume pieces and ID card are scanned. It's pretty much a free for all, and some CM's are bragging that they have "shoplifted" all sorts of stuff from the costume racks and exited with building without getting all their merchandise scanned. Now that CM's can leave property wearing their costumes, once a piece of clothing leaves the costume building without being scanned, it's theoretically gone for good.

Meanwhile, the long counters originally designed to be the checkouts at the 2 year old costume building now sit empty. The huge space heaters above the outdoor counters have been turned off, the specially designed conveyor belts that were built to cart dirty costumes to the back of the building sit motionless, and the large screen televisions mounted above the service counters to placate waiting CM's now blare the in-house "Cast TV" channel to no one in particular.

The new costume building, called "H-5" in the backstage Disneyland lingo, was opened with much fanfare in 2000. They hosted a long Open House weekend with tours and displays of how great the new costume building would be. Within weeks, the lines at the building for CM's trying to get a costume stretched to 45 minutes long on weekends, the costuming CM's were working 70 and 80 hours a week to keep up with the poorly planned building, and a fist fight actually broke out amongst two CM's trying to clamor for a spot at an open counter. Nevermind the fact that they can't even keep the most basic of themed costume pieces in stock. The costume division, their mis-management, and their new costume building is a perfect example of the incredibly poor planning that went into many backstage aspects of the "Resort expansion" of 2000-2001. And you thought DCA's Steps in Time and Superstar Limo were the only bad ideas!

And a final note on costumes pertains to the nifty Fastpass system. Fastpass was rolled out at Disneyland in late 1999 on Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. It became incredibly popular with Park visitors, and actually makes the Parks more money since a person who isn't waiting in line is usually out spending money.

But now that Fastpass has been installed at over a dozen attractions at Disneyland and DCA, it's time to start cutting the budget, naturally. What that means is cutting on staffing, and the Fastpass CM's who earn about 7 or 8 bucks an hour on average.

To streamline the operation, different attractions are going to be sharing CM's while they cut out non- vital positions. But since each Fastpass attraction has it's own separate costume to wear, and it would be cheaper if Fastpass attractions could share CM's throughout the day, the Fastpass CM's have been going to a "universal" costume.

What does that mean? At Disneyland, the new Fastpass costume is blue trousers and a white polo shirt. At DCA, the new Fastpass costume is a classier looking khaki trousers and blue denim shirt.

It's at the more intensely themed Disneyland attractions that this new Fastpass costume sticks out like a sore thumb. And when you consider that many of the Fastpass positions are well inside the attractions themselves, and thus inside the "Show", it becomes very tacky, very fast. And if the Fastpass CM taking tickets inside the Indy temple doesn't have to wear the full Indiana Jones costume with signature fedora hat, why bother with having all the other Indy CM's wear the full costume?

The Fastpass CM who stands below the train trestle at Big Thunder won't be wearing the "old miner" costume, so why should the CM's out at the front of the ride or up in the station wear them either? It's just another little slip in the high standards Disneyland used to have for it's parks and E Ticket attractions, but it's a slip nonetheless.

Does anyone want to start a pool when all Attractions CM's start wearing polo shirts instead of their decades old "costumes"? It won't be long before those CMs now shopping at the nearby Target in their costumes won't be able to be told apart from the Target employees ringing them up.


Universal QuikShots

Hopefully today you've also been able to read David Koenig's column about Universal Studios Hollywood and their possible shuttering forever of their stunt show.

I visited a few weeks ago and saw two other major things going on - out in front, besides all the metal detectors, I saw they are getting the old Fuddrucker's / Country Star restaurant location ready to open again:

UPDATE 12/20

...looks like another ribs / steakhouse from what I could gather.

Down on the lower lot they are digging up the ground in front of the old CineMagic attraction - looks like they are rerouting or upgrading electrical:

UPDATE 12/20

...we'll see what happens I guess.

Don't forget that up until Christmas Eve if you purchase a regular ticket to Universal, they will automatically upgrade it to a regular annual pass (with some black out dates) for you, saving you just under $10.

Knott's also has an annual pass deal - buy four adult annual passes, and you'll get them at the kid's price of $49.95. They promise no blackouts on their passes too.


OK, I'm tired, and it's time to enjoy the holidays. You too have fun OK?  Have a safe and sane New Year too.

See you at Disneyland!

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QUIK UPDATE 11/27 - Flik's Fantasy Faire - The DCA Bug addition / Other DCA Attraction News / Beyond Disneyland...

The holidays have thrown all sorts of kinks in everyone's schedule, so here's a shorter than normal update for you today.


Flik's Fantasy Faire - The DCA Bug addition

The next phase of California Adventure (DCA) continues with a new children's play area. The working title of "A Bug's Land" has been dropped. The area is now officially known as "Flik's Fantasy Faire". The name change came about to rid the area of the term "Land", and avoid any confusion with Disneyland's "Lands". The concept is that Flik is hosting a carnival for his bug friends, (they can't seem to understand that carnival thing can they?) and humans are invited too. For some unfathomable reason (due to the poor theming in this park) it has to take place near the farm area - they would have replaced it outright, but Caterpillar (a major sponsor, one of the few that are staying it seems) made somewhat of a stink about being pushed out.

Promotional art © Disney / Pixar
Promotional art © Disney / Pixar

As has come to be the norm for Disney lately, the attraction roster is looking very modest, and if you are over 45 inches or don't have a child to ride with, don't bother getting in line for any of the rides. "Flik's Flyer" is the working title for a small spinner ride that lifts children up in the air a few feet. A comparison to Dumbo or Astro Orbiter would not be accurate, as Flik's Flyer is going to be a much smaller scaled (and cheaper to build) spinner ride. The vehicles won't reach as high off the ground as the Dumbo elephants do. Knott's has a Snoopy balloon ride in it's Camp Snoopy area that is the most accurate comparison. The modest Camp Snoopy concept is also probably the best way to describe what will be happening here overall.

There will also be a miniature bumper car attraction likely named after Tuck & Roll from the Bug's Life movie. Again, these will be a small version of bumper cars, and the vehicles will be sized to children. There is also a small train ride, possibly themed and named after the character Heimlich. The train will loop in a basic figure eight circuit, and pass by some large painted props. If you think of one of those little kiddy trains many shopping malls now have for children, or like the Disneyland Hotel used to set up for the holidays in the past you'll get the basic premise behind Heimlich's train ride.

The ride vehicles will all be sized to small children, and they won't be able to fit two adults per seat - which means of course that Pressler's platoon is NOT listening to the main complaint about the California Adventure park - the lack of attractions that a family can ride together. All vehicles, with the exception of Flik's Flyer, will be able to accommodate one adult, but the Operations management folks are trying to figure out a way to discourage lone adult riders.

It's not the mature adults they want to discourage actually, but the teenage and college crowd that might want to "play" on the kiddy rides. However, to keep the rides safe from rowdy teens, or college kids and twenty-somethings who may have had a beer or two in the food court next door, there will be "maximum" height restrictions for all Flik's Fantasy Faire attractions (think ToonTown here). Only adults accompanying a small child who is below the maximum height restriction will be allowed to ride. All of the attractions will be themed and sized to not be intimidating to small children though, in order to convince those very young visitors to ride by themselves while their parents watch on the sidelines. Since these attractions have very low capacity anyway, it will keep the lines moving quicker if parents can be encouraged to give up seats for other children.

In fact, the original entry idea for this area when it was called "A Bug's Land" or "Bugs Town" was scrapped due to concerns about small children. Originally, visitors would enter this area by going down into a tunnel at the edge of the farm. The tunnel would serve the purpose of getting the visitors underneath a service roadway that runs along the eastern edge of DCA that is used for all sorts of vehicles and parade units. It was decided however that entering through a dark tunnel may scare off the littlest kids right off, so that idea was scrapped. Now, the service road will be moved and visitors will enter Flik's Fantasy Faire by walking through a giant popcorn box at the edge of the current Farm area.

When they enter the new area, everything will be sized to bugs. 10 and 12 foot tall fiberglass grass blades and giant cloverleaves will rim the edge of the area, and there will be a kiddy play area made of giant sized props like flowers, more grass, and crawl through soda cans and cracker jack boxes. (Sound like they are recycling the Honey I Shrunk play area from Orlando's Disney MGM Studios?) There will also be a small water fountain that the kiddies can run through, in case the bigger kids scared them off at the full-sized aqueduct water area out in The Farm. There are no major food or merchandise locations planned for this area. Expect vending carts to be set up on busy days for Cokes and snacks.

The pressure is on to get this rather modest addition up and running by Labor Day, 2002, as is no way they are going to be able to get this in for the summer season. But the Team Disney Anaheim suits (TDA) are determined to get this small, and adult unfriendly, area up and running as soon as possible. September is the earliest that is humanly possible, although certain attractions or a part of the play area may be able to soft open to DCA visitors by August, 2002.

Even with all the discounting going on, and the giving away of the park to annual passholders, DCA still has customers who purchase day tickets complaining that there is nothing for their kids to do, and this rushed DCA addition is aimed at stemming the tide of those parental complaints.


Other DCA attraction news

In addition to the new Flik's Fantasy Faire area, there are also scenarios that have the Golden Zephyr, Mullholland Madness and Jumpin' Jellyfish being replaced with three new attractions that have no height requirements. Disney has been shopping the amusement park trade fairs looking for carnival rides that could be purchased and installed that would allow children of all ages and heights to ride them. That is how damaging the constant complaints about "lack of children's attractions" have been for DCA in 2001. And the complaints are almost always from people who innocently bought the full-fare admission tickets at 43 bucks a person.

Tower of Terror is also back on the front burner, (thanks to all who sent me the Amusement Business Cynthia Harris interview where she confirms it, although knowing Disney lately, we shouldn't hold our collective breaths) and the rushed deadline is now February, 2004, in celebration of DCA's third anniversary.

The long term goal now is to retrench a bit on operating expenses, and get ready to "re-launch" DCA to the local SoCal market in the Spring of 2004. (Ignoring of course the crux of the problem with the park, the mistake in theme - which is why it is so unappealing to locals.) Operating hours will be tinkered with at DCA throughout 2002 in order to find ways to cut costs. The current thinking is that after the holidays DCA will begin keeping the Hollywood area closed off until noon since the few visitors DCA does get all head straight to the 3 E Tickets (Soarin', Grizzly River, and Screamin'). Only after lunch do DCA visitors begin to trickle into the Hollywood area to see it's three attractions.

As you know from our recent article by Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix, the Blast! show has been engaged for at least a year, it is DCA's first real hit show, and performances could be adjusted to feature mid-day and early evening shows after the Hollywood area opens at noon. There are also scenarios they are looking at that have the Hollywood area closing down early, around 5 or 6 PM depending on the day, even after its delayed Noon opening. There just isn't the demand from visitors for that area, and until Tower of Terror opens in '04, so the planners just figure it's best to open that entire district late, and possibly close it all down earlier than the rest of the Park. The direction they seem to be taking here doesn't bode well for some of the other ideas they have to help trim costs at DCA either! Stay tuned.

Photo of the Orlando attraction by Shelia Hagen
Photo of the Orlando attraction by Shelia Hagen

Speaking of the Hollywood area, I keep hearing the Disney MGM Studios Walt Disney biography film "One Man's Dream" will replace "Return to Neverland" in the Animation building at DCA. While it will be nice to have here - it really belongs at Disneyland, not DCA. Disneyland is where Walt did walk - and DCA is just about everything that he did NOT want in a park that he built.

This last minute attempt to finally tie into the 100th Birthday (which was pretty much ignored on the west coast here) is supposed to open on the 5th of December, the birthday itself. It also somewhat promises to be a bit of an underwhelming event, since that's also the day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar™ people) have a special presentation planned at their theater at 8 PM in Beverly Hills.

I don't know if any tickets are left for the general public (they are only $5), but you may want to check the Academy website to find out. I'll take a Leonard Maltin live / film clip presentation over Eisner hosting a movie any day. And you can bet that since Disney will try and hype the film's opening at DCA for the press, that anything special they do at the park will be for the media only. Disneyland publicity has a terrible history of treating the paying public like paupers at these wingdings. You get better views of what happens on the five o'clock news.


Beyond Disneyland...

A few notes from other theme parks -

This was mentioned on our news page - but it is worth repeating I think. Universal announced a special annual pass deal on the same day Disney made their announcement, and it got somewhat overshadowed: Basically if you buy a regular priced admission between now and December 24th your ticket will be considered an annual pass - which saves you about nine dollars from buying the normal lower level AP upgrade. That's a nice deal.

Here are Universal Hollywood's holiday operating hours:

Now - December 24th:  10 AM - 6 PM (Daily)

December 25th (Christmas Day):  Closed

December 26th - December 31st: 9 AM - 9 PM (Both weekdays & weekends)

As always, park hours are subject to change without notice.


From a kind soul:

I've got a few tidbits of information from a couple of different VERY reliable sources. First off, pieces for Knott's new for 2002 coaster, have started to arrive. I don't have a name for it yet, but the theme is 50's HOT RODS... and the track that has arrived so far is neon pink! (To match the neon on the nearby Coasters diner?) They could always call it "Barbie: The Escape"

The coaster is a launched inverted coaster from Intamin; it was SUPPOSED to be announced November 19, when Cedar Point announced it's new for 2002 coaster, but they pushed the announcement back a bit while the Perilous Plunge investigation continues. If you're interested in seeing the track for yourself, it's visible from Supreme Scream, Sky Cabin, and if the fence is open, you can drive into Walter Knott Elementary school and see it close up.

The other news - which I got from three different sources within minutes of each other. December 19 is the date for X. The problem it was facing, as explained to me by a maintenance tech from SFMM, wasn't one that caused any damage to the ride, but made riding very uncomfortable for riders on the outside seats - the gearing caused excess vibration.

Arrow prototyped a few new parts, put them into place, and now the ride is much more enjoyable. One train is already completely outfitted with the new parts and has cycled over 1100 times. The second and third trains will be testing in the next week.

Wow - imagine that! New rides. Why doesn't Disney think of something simple like that?  ;)

See you at Disneyland, and don't forget to click on the box below if you find this of use to you.

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QUIK UPDATE 11/20 - Giving Away DCA / LuminAria Press Mess / Monsters Show at DCA / Some quick photos


Giving Away DCA

In case you missed our news update yesterday:

Disneyland Resort radically reduces two park Annual Pass pricing

Reacting to continuing attendance problems at the California Adventure park, the Disneyland Resort has dramatically reduced prices of and restructured their Annual Passport (AP) ticket program. Pricing for both parks is now at past single park levels, with the premium $299 dual park passport level discontinued.

What this means is that the $199 Premium level annual pass now allows admission into both parks (the same as the previous Disneyland only price) with no blackout days, which is a $100 reduction from the past price. (If you have paid $299 after August 1st of this year, you will get four months added on to your pass to reflect the new pricing levels.) Current Disneyland only $199 premium passholders will be upgraded for free for the remainder of their passes, but need to have a new card issued to them at the park.

Current single park lower level Disneyland only passholders may upgrade their passes to gain admission to both parks for $10. The new prices are $149 for Deluxe level (some blackout days) and $99 for Southern California (more blackout days).

All future Annual Passes will be only for both parks - basically giving the customer admission into California Adventure for a $10 increase over the past single park Disneyland only price. Upcoming incentives for passholders also include a free dessert with $20 food purchase, and a free pin offered starting December 5th.

They had planned California Adventure (DCA) to be packed all of last year. Pricing was set at the same levels as Disneyland, and they only provided a quarter of the attractions - many of those just movies.

With this new AP price point, and the current resident $6 one day ticket upgrade which allows two days at any single park, (or the ability to park hop on the same day) this is about the clearest signal yet that this new park has failed in everything it was supposed to do.

The constant misfires - particularly in entertainment offerings such as the Steps in Time and LuminAria shows only served to create more bad word of mouth this year. Last minute "fixes" such as the return of the Electric Parade, and giving away kids tickets served to fuel media attention on how bad the park was doing, as will this latest discount.

For people eligible for the discount, I do think they have finally valued this new park at what it is worth to a visitor expecting Disneyland quality, which it does not deliver. For out of town visitors who purchase a multiple day ticket that allows park hopping, the value is there also now for them. Treating DCA as an addition to your Disneyland day, at either same or just a little bit extra admission ($6 in this case) deals well with the value issue which has dogged this park since before it was built.  (Mind you, the park is still a mess, but the price is now in sync with what a visitor gets.)

But there is still one group of visitors that gets left out, and I'll let Chicago based Werner Weiss (who you may all know as the webmaster of the wonderful Yesterland site) detail it for you here:

I'm disappointed that all good discounts for Disney's California Adventure (DCA) so far have only been offered to Southern California residents. We're visiting the Newport Coast in 2001. We'll spend at least a full week there.

I just can't justify buying four adult tickets to DCA. (My pre-teen daughters are adults according to Disney's pricing.) We've seen Muppetvision, Tough to Be a Bug, and Millionaire Play It in Florida. The rapids ride seems like the one at Animal Kingdom. The animation attraction is similar to the one at Disney-MGM. None of us care for the Paradise Pier type of rides. And there's nothing new at Disneyland Park since our one-day visit in 2000, so I don't feel compelled to visit Disneyland either.

So that leaves Soarin' and Superstar Limo and the tortilla demo and whatever live entertainment is going on. Is that worth $172 (plus parking and food)? I don't think so.

(Yes, I want to go to DCA just so that I can see it for myself, but I'm not going to go without my family while on a family vacation.)

If the price were much more reasonable, or if there were a one- day Disneyland + DCA hopper, I might feel differently.

What's the chance that Disney will figure out a way to make DCA attractive to those of use who are regular guests at WDW? What about a special deal for WDW Annual Pass holders? What about special family pricing that isn't limited to Southern California and that recognizes that pre-teens (and even teens who are with their parents) are really still kids? What about deals that include a significant food credit? What about... any creative pricing solution that provides a "Win-Win" for Disney and any guests who would otherwise not go at all?

I think you will see some kind of discount soon Werner - its not just the locals who complain about this park, but all the customers including the type you fit into.

Disney is banking on a Tower of Terror to fix things. Yet I'm willing to bet that it won't even begin to address what is fundamentally wrong with this park, which is the wrong choice of theme, and a determination to reduce quality while creating it that Disney in the past had built their reputation on.

With people like parks head Paul Pressler in charge - who never even had been around the Rivers of America at Disneyland on the Mark Twain until they made him go a few months ago for a video shoot, and entertainment honcho Anne Hamburger, who did not know where Tom Sawyer's Island was, or what it was for that matter, until just a few weeks ago when someone had to show her - the parks will continue to suffer. These people are simply not interested in what they work with, and on, day in and day out.

Get rid of them Michael.  Your customers deserve better.


LuminAria Press Mess

They had the press premiere for the DCA LuminAria show, and well... things didn't go the way they had planned. I was going to cover it in the update, but I got the following email which pretty much says it all:

Hi Al, Thanks for having such an awesome website, it's incredibly informative. I had a question regarding the LuminAria show at DCA. My family and I visited DCA on Thursday, Nov. 15th. and watched the LuminAria show that evening. Most of the park was corded off and we weren't able to get a very good view of the show.

We were told by one of the cast members (after asking what's going on) that all of the "regular guests" can sit on the boardwalk because it's a special Press event for that evenings show. It was very frustrating attempting to get a good seat to view the show, but anyway... we got to see Roy Disney and Co. share a few words with the press, etc.

It would have been nice to actually hear him but they only had him come over a sound system that was set up in the amphitheater area of DCA. After all the "hoopla" I was real curious what "the Press" thought of the show? Once the show started I thought it was very ironic that most of the show didn't seem to go as planned. I'm sure the technical folks were pulling out their hair and ol' Roy was probably hiding his face.

On the lake there are 15-20 small gift boxes containing lights and special effects, only 5 of them actually worked! When all of the larger gift boxes opened up (containing all of the projection screens) the video didn't work, the screens were blank. It was sad. At the very end there was a very lackluster round of applause.

"The Press" area seemed to clear out immediately after the show. Within minutes after the show completed the projection screens reappeared on the lake and pictures that children have drawn appeared on the screens. The people that we sat around were saying, "I don't think that went off the way it was supposed to." I kind of chuckled to my wife and said, "After the press takes up all of the paying customers seats I'm real curious to hear what they have to say about the show, because THAT was now Disney quality."

I checked multiple websites this morning in hopes of reading a scathing review but I haven't seen anything. Any news?

Thank you Kent for that note - many people were upset that the Cynthia Harriss and Roy Disney speeches were not broadcast to the public around the rest of the lagoon - the track record is that Disney almost always blows off the paying public at these types of events as a matter of course.  (I'm sure that was a contributing factor to the tepid applause that night - although that response was typical for the show since it opened.)

Judging from the email I got from some press folks afterwards - I wouldn't be surprised if the failure of the show to impress is what pushed them to do the discounts this week.  (This is on top of the overwhelmingly negative feedback they constantly get from the public on their surveys.)  I also understand that Roy had some choice words about this.

While some of the show failed that night, and the smoke managed to blow right into the press area on top of all that, what most people didn't know is that the show presented was shortened from the first public debut - they tried to reduce some of the more smoky fireworks, and eliminated the Stepford kids segment.

After only a few shows, the lagoon is already filling up with flotsam from the show - what a mess
After only a few shows, the lagoon is already filling up with junk from the show - what a mess

Now this was on top of an already cut ending, done before it first debuted. The original ending produced way too much smoke and noise complaints not only from Anaheim's fire marshal, but the local hotels - and the guests in the two Disney hotels. (Not to mention some of the viewing areas were bombarded with spent shells!)

I understand Steve Davison was furious he didn't get what he wanted - but the reality is that the Paradise Bay lagoon is ill suited for this type of big fireworks show. Disney tried to save a few bucks by not putting in what was needed for a quality presentation ahead of time - and they are now paying the very expensive price for that shortsighted decision. It's no secret they had hoped LuminAria would enable the new park to pull in more bodies - but instead it has turned into yet another black eye for them.

I would expect this is a one season production.  And it throws the idea of a summer edition of the show into real limbo.


Monsters Show at DCA

Meanwhile, in an attempt to try and push attendance up yet again at DCA, they have made the Monsters, Inc. characters and little show they now perform only available in the new park.

Of course they don't really fit in there - as they belong over in Fantasyland. So in the little show they have to spend a good deal of the first part of the script explaining why they are there.

Now if maybe this presentation had some quality to it, they could pull it off. But if I were Steve Jobs, I'd be on the phone to Eisner and try to find out what I had done to deserve this awful presentation.

The show's stage is mobile - as you can see above. It trucks on out from behind the Sun Plaza hubcap either five or six times a day, down the walkway next to the raft ride, and ends up parked between the Bakery and the Winery.

The stage is supposed to be a kids bedroom that has been ripped out of a house and brought to California (for a vacation, get it?) After endless excuses as to why they are in this park, as opposed to Disneyland, they finally get around to asking everyone to scream so they can collect them.

One big scream is elicited when the scary mask below is sprung on the audience. (Yes, I have nightmares about that mask too, funny I can almost pinpoint the day they started too.)

After everyone screams a lot (which is quite delightful for the people across the way trying to relax and enjoy their wine tasting I might add) everyone is asked to line up for photos - but they have to hurry, "since the line will be cut off right away" as the CM cheerily (and very loudly) announces.

As I mentioned before with the Minnie Christmas show (below) - Disneyland Resort entertainment lately seems to forget that there are adults in this audience and that they (since they most likely paid the chit that day) would like to be entertained also. This show is only for the most undemanding of children.

The taped voiceovers are done by impersonators (not the stars of the film unlike some past shows) - and they sound just awful. The line readings are so slow (and the script so unimaginative) that you can finish what they are saying before they do. Listen (and see) for yourself in the two short MPEG clips provided below:

Monsters talk | Monsters get screamed at
(MPEG clips about 550k each - click to view)

No wonder the rumor is that Pixar is talking to Lucas about bolting from Disney. Monsters, Inc. has been a solid hit, and deserves better treatment that this from the parks.

(Please note this does not reflect upon the hard working performers / techs / crowd controls folks who put this on - they try their best. They are just undermined by the lousy quality of the show.)


Some quick photos

As you can imagine, we're taking some time off this week to start our holiday - so this update isn't as long as it would normally be. But the following few photos are probably of interest to folks, so we'll just do a quick rundown:

Mickey's Birthday this past weekend got a little parade on Saturday, and the banner below on his house in ToonTown...

...if I were Michael Eisner, considering how much Mickey has done for the company, I would have sprung for a paint job on his house as a gift, and the rest of ToonTown too, as shown below...

...could also use some attention. (There is a rumor that ToonTown may go down for a month right after the new year for a major rehab, including all new paint, but I won't hold my breath on that one.)

Meanwhile, on nearby small world way, they have modified the decorations on the light stands a bit this year - the wreath below...

...struck a chord with me. With all the countries in the world small world celebrates, its nice to see the US get this treatment this year.


Ok folks, enough for today. Enjoy your turkey day - see you at Disneyland!

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Photo Scott Bruhn ©
Photo © Scott Bruhn,

UPDATE 12/20 - They're NOT going to Disneyland / New Year's Eve at the Disneyland Resort / What's big and white and NOT an elephant - yet? / Disneyland's merchandise problems / Not so Magic Mornings / Blast a hit - One Man's Dream / Mansion, Mansion, who's got the Mansion? / Poor Pooh / Tomorrowland - I hope this isn't our future / Wild Tiki & Monsters Inc. rumors / Dress Up Dress Down / Universal QuikShots

Promo art © Disney / Pixar

QUIK UPDATE 11/27 - Flik's Fantasy Faire - The DCA Bug addition / Other DCA Attraction News / Beyond Disneyland...


QUIK UPDATE 11/20 - Giving Away DCA / LuminAria Press Mess / Monsters Show at DCA / Some quick photos

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