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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
UPDATE 4/16 - Mickey Mouse: ToonTown Slumlord | Splash Saga Continued | Think this year was bad for rehabs? | LuminAria: At least the punishment won't be as long this time | Burst Soap Bubbles | How to explain a price increase | Spiderman: The Musical?

 

Mickey Mouse: ToonTown Slumlord

While some areas of Disneyland finally have gotten some badly needed paint this year, others still get totally ignored. ToonTown is really suffering nowadays - my guess is that it is so far in back of the park that none of the suits ever bother to look at it.

Interspersed through today's update is a gallery of photos showing just how much of a slumlord Mayor Mickey is to his fellow toons. Hmmm, maybe it's time to vote the rat out of office? I dare say even Goofy could probably get things done better, if you ask me. (All photos were taken April 7th.)

You know, real brass might have worked better here...
You know, real brass might have worked better here...

 

Splash Saga Continued

The Splash Mountain story continues to get more and more interesting. It seems Paul Pressler himself took a much more active role in the issue as the original March 22nd reopening date came and went and customer complaints at Disneyland's City Hall began to pour in. Just before Easter, the various safety scenarios were presented to Paul to try and help break the logjam between the Burbank lawyers and the Anaheim executives and managers.

In previous updates we've told you how the Disney lawyers want the ride vehicles completely overhauled and retrofitted with over the shoulder restraint systems, while the Disneyland managers and Imagineers want to try and keep the vehicles as close to their previous setup as possible, to maintain the attractions hourly capacity and the riders ability to actually see and appreciate the "Show" alongside the flumes. But Paul Pressler had to step in and make an executive decision recently because all of the publicity over Splash Mountain now (hmmm, people DO read this web site) has the new State of California theme park inspectors intensely interested about what exactly Disneyland is doing with the 13 year old log ride.

Paul, who served as Disneyland's President in the late 1990s, knows full well that it is already a huge customer relations nightmare to have one of the Parks most popular E Ticket attraction, and its only real "water ride", closed during the busy Spring weekends. And it took Paul Pressler, after much discussion with the Resorts current president Cynthia Harriss (and Paul's old friend from The Disney Stores), to override the over zealous lawyers and try to avert the prying eyes of the State inspectors. The decision has now been made to try and get away with a delay tactic which will hopefully allow Splash Mountain to be open during July and August before it closes again for at least six more months after Labor Day. Please remember that this ongoing saga has had many changes, surprises and curve balls, but this is what is currently planned...

On Goofy's Bounce House the shingles are now falling, if not rotting off... we won't even discuss how faded the paint is...
On Goofy's Bounce House the shingles are now falling, if not rotting off... we won't even discuss how faded the paint is...

Splash Mountain will soon begin testing a small fleet of retrofitted logs without any type of safety restraint in them. The reconfigured logs will have five individual seats, instead of the previous bench seating for up to 8 riders. The individual seats will have much taller seat backs on them than before, and a much wider sculptured seat bottom on which to sit. Only one person will be allowed in each individual seat section, regardless of age or size. In addition, there will be a large padded cushion in front of each individual seat, and each seat will have several grab bars along the hull of the log for riders to brace themselves in their seats with.

The queue and loading area will have more safety signs installed requesting that riders act safely and responsibly. And finally, a recorded safety spiel in English and Spanish will be blaring constantly just after the logs leave the station area. Disneyland managers and the Imagineers hope that these changes wont cause the 40 inch height requirement on Splash Mountain to be raised any higher.

The hope here is that this "good faith" effort to retrofit safety equipment into the attraction will impress the State safety inspectors and the Company lawyers enough so that the attraction can be reopened for the busiest weeks of summer before its closed again after Labor Day. However, although this plan would allow Splash Mountain to be open during the vacation season, the hourly capacity of the attraction will be drastically reduced.

A ride vehicle that seats five people sends shivers up the spine of any Attractions Cast Member or manager who remembers the ill-fated Rocket Rods. Most visitors to theme parks arrive in parties of twos, threes or fours, from the typical young couple on a date to the average American family of three or four people. Very few groups are larger than four, and it is next to impossible to find a "single" rider handy to fill that empty seat.

With the old Splash Mountain logs, it was simple to put a couple in the first row, and then fill in the back two sections with more couples or a family group. Unless the Disneyland managers can figure out a way to cram a "single rider" line into the already crowded Splash Mountain loading area, most logs this summer will be leaving the station with just four people in them.

At least the slumlord treats himself like everyone else in town...
At least the slumlord treats himself like everyone else in town...

With the new logs being seriously considered for summer use, the hourly capacity of the attraction will be slashed by at least 30%. One of the longest Standby lines in the Park is going to get much longer. And the Fastpass tickets that can already "sell out" by early afternoon on hot summer days will be going even faster. If you don't run to the Splash Mountain Fastpass machines first thing in the morning, you will be waiting a very long time in the Standby line for this E Ticket. (And by the way, new Fastpass machines for Splash Mountain are currently being installed at the entrance of Critter Country, just near the exit to the Haunted Mansion. The original Splash Mountain Fastpass machines are going to be used for Winnie The Pooh when it opens in April, 2003.)

And what happens after Labor Day you ask? There are Imagineers currently working feverishly to try and design entirely new logs for Splash Mountain that meet the lawyers strict standards. Over the shoulder restraints are still at the top of the lawyers list, but Imagineering is trying to come up with something else that won't restrict peoples view of the Splash Mountain scenery and singing Audio-Animatronics. And of course the Disneyland managers want a log with side by side seating for 8 or 10, to gain back lost capacity while still allowing for all sorts of restraint systems.

But the basic plan is to close Splash Mountain again after this summer, and work on installing new ride vehicles and more elaborate restraint systems into the attraction feverishly over the winter so that the ride can reopen when Winnie The Pooh opens in late March or early April, 2003.

Please remember that this is all still very tentative. A delay in testing or fabricating the new logs, any hassles from the State inspectors, or any number of unforeseen issues could delay Splash Mountains reopening. (Not to mention the fact Disney suits change their minds constantly.) The official disneyland.com website currently lists the attraction reopening on June 14th. But in a recent Orange County Register article a Disneyland Resort spokesman was quoted as saying they hope to get the ride open "by July." (My thoughts on Splash remain the same as before - leave it closed and do it right, not half-assed. But then I'm not Pressler am I?)

Doesn't that sound like a mess? Disney theme park visitors should get used to it though, because this same type scenario is coming to many other attractions in Anaheim. Don't think Splash Mountain is the only attraction currently under scrutiny. What it comes down to is that the Disney lawyers have absolutely no tolerance for any more huge out of court settlements like that recently paid to the Zucker family, after their son was seriously injured when he fell out of a Roger Rabbit car in Mickey's Toontown and got trapped underneath. Witness the continued closure of Superstar Limo while Disney tries to install the same types of doors and safety equipment on to those slow moving dark ride vehicles that Roger Rabbit got. The lawyers are looking at every single moving attraction at the Disneyland Resort, and trying to decide what needs to be changed and beefed up.

The paint is so deteriorated on Gadget's Go Coaster that it is basically turning to dust...
The paint is so deteriorated on Gadget's Go Coaster that it is basically turning to dust...

If the lawyers get their way, California Adventure's (DCA) giant Ferris wheel (the Sun Wheel) will either have lap bars installed in all the cars, or have the swinging gondolas replaced with all stationary cars. DCA's Mad Mouse (Mulholland Madness) is also being eyed for reinforced and more elaborate restraints. And even the lowly Golden Zephyr is being considered for heavy duty seat belts and locking doors on every row, even though that attraction still can't operate in breezes above 10 mph.

Over at Disneyland, Thunder Mountain could receive new restraints for each individual rider, instead of the bench seat shared lap bar currently in use. The Matterhorn would likely receive new bobsleds that would bring an end to the cozy seating arrangements in use since 1959. And even the slow moving water attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise would get basic safety restraints for each rider, just in case someone falls going down the drops on Pirates or around the sharp curves on Jungle Cruise.

The bizarre new practice by Indiana Jones Cast Members of asking each row of riders sitting in their jeeps to "try to stand up" in order to test their locked seat belts is a good example of how out of control some of these safety fears may be getting. And the Disney lawyers, trying to stay one step ahead of the State inspectors, promise that there will be more of this to come.

 

Think this year was bad for rehabs?

Of course this extended Splash Mountain closure has been a real nightmare for the Guest Relations folks who have to deal with angry customers who visit Disneyland with too many attractions closed. We told you here on this site last year about the aggressive closure and refurbishment schedule planned for the winter of 2001-02.

The extension of the Splash Mountain closure made that even worse, as now there are two major thrill attractions closed this month (Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain), plus several other classic favorites like Its a Small World and the Explorer Canoes.

And since the wood rot and decay on King Arthur's Carousel was so frighteningly extensive, that refurbishment originally scheduled to last three months last Fall will now stretch a full year with a newly planned reopening date of late 2002.

This is the ToonTown backdrop, just behind the Gag Factory store - ugly isn't it?
This is the ToonTown backdrop, just behind the Gag Factory store - ugly isn't it?

As if things weren't disappointing enough for many visitors this year, next winter it could get even worse. The planned closure and full draining of the Rivers of America has just had planned dates extended. Originally the Rivers of America was going to be drained just after New Years Day, 2003 and be refilled and back in service for the Easter vacation weeks in late March. But now, after recent detailed inspections uncovered many more problem areas, the River draining process has been extended right up until Memorial Day, 2003.

Interestingly, Fantasmic! is currently slotted in on Team Disney Anaheim (the suits in the building out back - TDA for short) planning calendars as only budgeted for mid-June through Labor Day this summer, with no weekend performances planned for the Fall or Holiday Season of 2002. And Fantasmic! is now completely missing from those same planning calendars for 2003. If the River is drained until late May, it would take at least six weeks of rehearsals to get the show back and ready for visitors. They are currently already rehearsing on the Rivers of America late at night for Fantamsic's return on June 15th. If the Riverbanks stay dry until Memorial Day of 2003, there just isn't time for a quick turnaround for a summer 03 appearance of Fantasmic!.

Maybe this is the way the expensive and old-style Disneyland show finally slips into Yesterland?

Sometimes the paint just peels off in sheets, as with this planter in front of the restrooms
Sometimes the paint just peels off in sheets, as with this planter in front of the restrooms

While Disneyland's River is drained, closing 4 separate attractions with it (Canoes, Mark Twain, Columbia, Tom Sawyer Island), Splash Mountain is also scheduled to be closed of course. And then you've got the Fall and Winter closures needed to install and take down the Holiday shows for Haunted Mansion and Small World. Plus the yearly off-season maintenance on the large and aging E Ticket attractions like Pirates, Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, etc. The multi-layered closures and refurbishments of 2003 should easily dwarf 2002's headaches.

And don't forget, admission prices just went UP too!

 

LuminAria: At least the punishment won't be as long this time

LuminAria fans (basically anyone who could stand the waves of smoke and those itty bitty crayon drawing projections) will be interested to learn that the show is scheduled to return to DCA again this year, but only from Thanksgiving through New Year's.

The show won't run in November like it did this past year, just for the four weeks that comprise the more traditional Holiday season. But a night lagoon show that still has no working title or solid theme is now planned to debut in May, 2003 in DCA. Stay tuned on that one - they have to do SOMETHING!

 

Burst Soap Bubbles

Speaking of DCA, the Super Soap Weekends that had Resort planners worried (which we discussed in the last update) have turned out to be kind of a bust. Instead of the 32,000 visitors that were originally projected to pack DCA this past Sunday, around 18,000 actually showed up. And on Saturday, instead of the 24,000 expected, just 16,500 showed up. DCA's big brother next door, good 'ol Disneyland, was noticeably busier with just over 50,000 visitors each day this past weekend.

When you realize that DCA had a massive media campaign for Super Soap Weekends, is now allowing free park-hopping for each and every Annual Passholder, and is currently running several SoCal discount offers for DCA tickets, those types of recent weekend numbers are worrisome for TDA and Burbank. The last minute decision to open DCA two hours earlier than planned during Super Soap Weekends in order to handle the "huge crowds" originally expected has a few TDA execs fuming and trying to shift the blame for that ding to the budgets.

Since the weather this Spring has been dry and mild, but the DCA numbers haven't been impressive, TDA is currently looking at several new discount scenarios to run this summer. Last summer you'll remember they let adults in for the kids price, let kids in completely free, mailed out hundreds of thousands of complimentary children's tickets to Annual Passholders, and brought back the Electrical Parade to try and get people in to DCA.

Bonus picture: The Star Tours entry facade keeps peeling away (this is to the right of the first sign, facing the hub). No wonder Lucas is so angry with Disney lately. No new ride for you!
Bonus picture: The Star Tours entry facade keeps peeling away (this is to the right of the first sign, facing the hub. People take photos of this every single day!) No wonder Lucas is so angry with Disney lately. No new ride film for you Mickey!

What stunt will they pull this summer to bolster DCA's turnstile counts while Disneyland keeps on packing them in without much work next door? It could be an interesting thing to witness. Since the number of Disneyland Resort Annual Passholders nudged past the 450,000 mark just this month, they now have a huge pool of potential DCA customers to draw from. Its a good thing they not only changed their decision NOT to sell DCA Annual Passports after the new Park opened with a thud, but they actually threw in DCA for free to all Annual Passport holders, isn't it?

You know, when you make a bad movie - nowadays the way Hollywood operates you can still recoup what it costs, even if you don't reach a huge audience. What with cable, airlines, home video, foreign rights - even opening weekend disasters can eventually break even.

But when you build a bad theme park (as Pressler has with California Adventure) this is a mistake that can haunt a company for decades. We're talking concrete, earthmoving - this is a very expensive proposition to basically just "guess" at what people may like, which is what was done here. Every single fix done since the park has opened has only confirmed what a disaster this concept was. And sadly enough - it was all foreseen by lots of observers, including yours truly. Too bad, the customers deserve better don't you think?

 

How to explain a price increase

As you may, or may not know, Disney quietly increased their admission pricing at the Disneyland Resort in March, it's now $45 to walk in the door to either park. It was so quiet that the L. A. Times missed it in an article they ran about visiting the park for Easter the week afterwards, and the O. C. Register apparently didn't say a peep about it either.

Nevertheless - the press folks at Disney are always worried how the media will respond to something like this - so the following memo was sent out outlining the excuses / reasons / explanations anyone speaking to the media should give about why it was done. I thought you might enjoy some of the tap dancing here...  [My own comments in brackets]

PRICE INCREASE COMMUNICATION PLAN [Wow, that sounds official!]

Key Statement [i.e. you'd better stick to this script, or else back to the churro carts for you!]

Effective March 18, 2002, the Disneyland Resort implemented a $2.00 price increase for both of its theme parks for one-day tickets. Annual passports and multi-day ticketing are not affected. The increase primarily reflects the higher overall costs of doing business as well as added entertainment offerings, shows and attractions at Disney’s California Adventure and Disneyland. [This simply is not true, we have fewer attractions and shows than we did several years ago. We won't even talk about all the closed for rehab attractions right now.]

We believe that the cost of a one-day ticket to our theme parks is in line with our Guests expectations and the entertainment experiences they receive. [Just don't expect things to be painted, that's all.]

Key Messages: [What you have to drill into the media person's head to make us look good while we do this.]

1. Effective March 18, 2002, the Disneyland Resort implemented a $2.00 price increase for both of its theme parks for one-day tickets. Annual passports and multi-day ticketing are not affected. [What? No mention of the giveaway of DCA to passholders this year?]

2. The increase primarily reflects the higher overall costs of doing business as well as added entertainment offerings, shows and attractions at Disney’s California Adventure and Disneyland. [Again, not true - people are paying more for less.]

3. We believe that the cost of a one-day ticket to our theme parks is in line with our Guests expectations and the entertainment experiences they receive. [You also believe that California Adventure is worth full price, even though it is now always discounted via ticket giveaways / promotions and such.]

4. We offer a variety of vacation programs with discounts and promotions that make it more affordable for our Guests to plan vacations to the Disneyland Resort. [But just try to get accurate information about this from Disney staff, go head, TRY.]

5. There are a variety of theme park admission plans and options for our Guests to enjoy the Disneyland Resort including annual passports, seasonal discounts and multi-day tickets. [Our goal is to charge you more with these options.]

6. In spite of the latest price increase, it is our plan to continue to provide opportunities for Southern California residents to experience our Resort, with offers such as our current resident salute and our promotion with Albertson’s. (Consumers receive a coupon for one free child’s ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket to Disney’s California Adventure, when they purchase select Coke or Disney Beverage products). [In other words, yes, we know what a failure Paul Pressler's California Adventure was.]

Bonus Picture: The rubber walkway around the now turned off stone ball keeps getting worse and worse, this is near the entrance from "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience."
Bonus Picture: The rubber walkway around the now turned off stone ball keeps getting worse and worse, this is near the entrance from "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience."

[The following are typical questions media people might ask:]

Q: Why does Disneyland raise its admission prices every year?

A: Our last price increase was more than a year ago in November 2000. Our price increases reflect increases in our overall operating costs as well as expanded entertainment offerings. We continue to be an excellent and competitive entertainment value in Southern California, with new and better offerings each year. [This again needs to be corrected to "we offer less each year at an increased price."]

Q: Did only the one-day tickets increase in price?

A: Yes. The price of a Regular ticket (ages 10 and older) increased by $2.00 to $45. The price of a Child ticket (ages 3-9) is now $35 and a Senior ticket (ages 50+) is now $43. [In other words, the locals have caught on to us, so we have to shake down the out of towners.]

Q: How long will the current Resident Salute last?

A: Resident Salute is effective through June 19. [For Disneyland, we'll probably continue discounting DCA for the foreseeable future.]

Q: When was your last price increase and how much was it?

A: Our last Disneyland park price increase was in November 2000, over a year ago. Admission price at that time went from $41 to $43 for a one-day ticket. At that time, we also established the Disney’s California Adventure one-day adult ticket price at $43. [We were so young and naive back then...]

Q: When do you expect to increase prices again?

A: We continuously assess both the costs of operating in each marketplace and the value that we provide our Guests for their admission fee, but we have not made any decisions beyond this adjustment. [The goal is to try to do it about every ten months or so - that's what folks in the know tell me.]

Q: What new offerings have you added?

A: In the past year, we have added: [Note the following list mostly details California Adventure fixes.]

  • Disney’s Electrical Parade [We had to bring it back, this used to run at Disneyland along with a daytime parade, so no gain here.]
  • The Power of Blast! at the Hyperion Theater [This replaced the disastrous "Steps in Time" show, no gain here again folks.]
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Play It! [Well, we had to do something, even though the show is no longer on the air, and is probably cancelled.]
  • Playmosphere Entertainment [Much of which was already in place, just retooled, again no real gain here.]
  • Junior Explorer [A map and some stickers. Big whoop.]
  • More Character experiences [Due to near riots by angry customers at Guest Relations.]
  • Soap star appearances [And the ones last year were chopped liver?]
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday [Finally something that actually worked, and one of the few things added at Disneyland itself. Now if they can just get the music right...]
  • Disney’s LuminAria [Eye watering, choking smoke included as a free bonus too!]

And coming soon:

  • Flik’s Fun Fair coming in 2002 [Or as we know it in Glendale, "Honey, we blew off the kids."]
  • Tower of Terror coming in 2004 [In a budget version that looks like it will take longer to load - everything is pointing to a major letdown here]

Amazing isn't it? (And don't forget, there will be MORE closures next year too!)  Yet people still wonder why I am still so fascinated by the place... (a special thanks goes out to the kind soul who passed this on to me).

 

Spiderman: The Musical?

Before I forget, someone told me that Universal Studios Hollywood is now casting for "Spiderman Rocks!" to be presented in the old currently unused Castle Dracula / Conan Theater, located between the Animal Actor's Stage and the escalators down to the lower lot.

Yes, Spidy will swing, both physically and musically it seems. And sing too.  Geeze, I wonder if the guy who did "Tarzan Rocks!" at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom got laid off and is now working for Universal?

Also two minor Universal corrections to my last update, thanks to some kind readers: The restaurant being redone out front at the entrance wasn't ever a Fuddrucker's, it was a Whomphopper's (before it was a Country Star), and a second Cinnabon location is also open outside of the park - in CityWalk behind the Hard Rock Cafe. Also the old Victoria Station building is actually used to house the various Mazes the park has hosted, including the current Mummy one.  Thanks for the notes guys.

 

I know, I know - I didn't visit the park last weekend - me bad. But I was working on the rest of the "More Disney Than Disney" series, which many of you were kind enough to write encouraging notes about. Hopefully part two will be up this week.

See you at Disneyland!

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UPDATE 4/2 - Soapy Success? | A Hairy Cosmic Wave | Todd's Universal Update | April Fools | Upcoming Articles

 

Soapy Success?

DCA has had its hours of operation extended for the three Super Soap Weekends in April. During the Super Soap Weekends, DCA will now open at 8 am instead of the previously published 10 am. Event planners did not accurately judge the intense interest these types of events generate amongst Soap Opera fans, possibly due to how tepid some of the events last year went here.

As you may know, the Disney MGM Studios Park has been hosting these Soap Weekends to incredible success and crowds for several years now in Orlando - it may be that they finally got their marketing act together here, and are offering a better mix and larger amount of talent here for the fans to ogle.

From last year: Jacklyn Zeman (Bobbie Spencer on "General Hospital")
Promotional photo © Disney

From last year: Jacklyn Zeman (Bobbie Spencer on "General Hospital")

MGM Studios often attracts over 20,000 fans per day to these events, on top of the 20,000+ visitors who are just there to visit the theme park for the day. DCA planners had conservatively estimated the event attendance at 10,000 per day when the DCA version of the event was being planned earlier this year. However, as the first weekend approaches and hotel occupancy in the Resort area reaches capacity and calls continue to pour in to the Disneyland Resort operators, event planners are now afraid that DCA may not be able to handle the crush of people.

Disney MGM Studios is both physically and operationally a much larger Park than DCA, and it can handle the extra 20,000 Soap fans without too much discomfort. These popular events do present some fairly challenging situations for the average visitor who is just trying to visit the theme park however. Many WDW Resort Hotels encourage their guests to visit Epcot, Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom or a WDW water park on days that Super Soap has overtaken MGM however, in order to avoid the incredible crowds and their accompanying frenzy.

From last year: Coltin Scott (Nikolas Cassadine on "General Hospital") - Promotional photos © Disney and Marisa Ramirez (Gia Campbell on "General Hospital") - Promotional photos © Disney
Promotional photos © Disney
From last year: Coltin Scott (Nikolas Cassadine on "General Hospital")
and Marisa Ramirez (Gia Campbell on "General Hospital")

So, DCA will now open its gates early in order to try and handle the tens of thousands of visitors now expected to visit during all three Super Soap Weekends. And, since the Disneyland Resort sits in the middle of a metropolitan area with 20 Million residents, many folks may return for all three weekends. Since WDW has a much smaller local population base to pull from, event attendance can easily be predicted by the occupancy rates of WDW Resort Hotels. But Disneyland Resort planners are now worried that tens of thousands of Southern California Soap Opera fans may descend on the DCA Main Entrance unexpectedly first thing next Saturday morning.

The Disneyland Resort ticket folks are battening down all of the hatches in anticipation of the crowds in the Esplanade next weekend. And the suits out back in the Team Disney Anaheim building (TDA) gave the unprecedented go-ahead to spend the money necessary to get DCA in its entirety open a full two hours before it was originally scheduled and budgeted to open.

They are even making plans to open the DCA Main Entrance, Sun Plaza and Condor Flats areas, including the popular Soarin Over California attraction, open an extra half hour early at 7:30 am. The rest of the Park, including all attractions in Paradise Pier, Golden State and Hollywood areas will open promptly at 8 am. Park managers will wait until the day of the events to decide whether or not DCA will extend its operation past the published closing time of 9 pm.

If all of this plays out as event planners now think it might, DCA will actually see the first of its "maximum capacity" days since the Park opened in 2001. Managers in DCA Attractions, Stores and Foods, as well as all Resort support areas, are now madly changing Cast Member schedules and calling in all the reinforcements they can get for the first of the three Super Soap Weekends next week.

Since the first Super Soap Weekend on April 6th and 7th is actually the last weekend of the traditional "Spring Break" period, the first weekend could see the largest crowds as unsuspecting tourists and day visitors try to gain entry into DCA along with possibly tens of thousands of excited Soap Opera fans.

It should be interesting to see how it all plays out, and how DCA as a Park actually deals with the maddening crowds TDA and Burbank originally expected for the place back in 2000 and early 2001. Just a reminder, Super Soap Weekend days are April 6th and 7th, April 13th and 14th, and April 20th.

 

A Hairy Cosmic Wave

From the "you gotta wonder" department: seems a little girl got her hair caught UNDER that giant stone ball you can roll around on water in the mostly defunct Cosmic Waves fountain in Tomorrowland about a week or so ago.

The fountain before it was shut down
The fountain before it was shut down

They surrounded the shrieking little thing with quite a few cast members to shield everyone from what was going on, until they could get a pair of scissors to the scene to snip her out of it.  Apparently, other than looking like a young punk, she was fine afterwards.

I've spoken to more than a few ride / park designers in the past about these freak kinds of things - no matter how well you plan out something, inevitably someone somehow will figure out a way to get in trouble with it.

You got me as to how she could get so right up under the thing that her hair could get trapped under it.

 

Todd's Universal Update

As you may have noted in my last update, I was planning a visit to Universal here in Hollywood just to see what was up. MousePlanet contributor Todd Regan also stopped by the park, and well, he did such a bang up job on his note to me about it, I thought I would just run it here. (I do have a few observations of my own, which I will append at the end.)

Howdy Al, I just [stopped by Universal] this past weekend and have a few pics that might be of interest to you. I've included a few of my thoughts about my visit as well:

Universal is trying very hard to get the locals into the park right now. What with the pay for the day and get a whole year free campaign and all the passholder perks in the park, it really is a good value. It was also quite evident that they are trying to be more customer friendly on a lot of fronts. I had no less than 3 cast members thank me for coming to the park! Now that is a major change in attitude.

Al's note: Universal appears to be catering to its Latin visitors also. The above candy / snack display is duplicated everywhere in the park - all items are from Mexico or are brands familiar there. Their merchandising department appears to be on their toes.
Al's note: Universal appears to be catering to its Latin visitors also. The above candy / snack display is duplicated everywhere in the park - all items are from Mexico or are brands familiar there. Their merchandising department appears to be on their toes.

One especially nice perk is that they now give you a full day of refills on your popcorn if you buy the larger size. I didn't end up refilling, but it is the thought that counts. Prices in general seemed very reasonable and at times even cheap! The park was filled with signs offering Sales and special discounts to passholders. What a change from a few years ago when Universal tried to match Disney dollar for dollar on everything.

In a very funny move, they have initiated pin trading at Uni. Some key cast members are now wearing lanyards. They will eagerly trade you a Universal pin for one of your Disney pins. Not quite a fair trade since the average Uni pin only costs $4 and its Disney counterpart costs around $10. There doesn't seem to be much interest yet. The two cast members that I spoke to had yet to make a single trade in the two days that they had been wearing lanyards. It would be fun if it takes off, but I have a feeling that this is one Disney phenomenon that can't be replicated.

The bad news. The park was packed over the weekend! (Al's note: I also saw huge crowds too when I visited a few days later.) I was there at noon and had to wait one hour for tickets. Every window was open. I later learned that they now use ATM type machines to sell self-service tickets. The self service tickets are much shorter and are located to the far right and left of the ticket booths. I'll keep that in mind for the future. Once inside the park, the lines were long, but bearable if you keep an eye on the Digital Park Maps and go to the attractions and shows with the shortest waits. The nice thing about all the Uni shows is that you can almost always get a seat, even on the busiest days.

The ALL NEW Special Effects stage (one scene shown above) was a major disappointment and far less entertaining than past attempts in this venue. The concept is the same with demonstrations of sound editing, special effects, green screen, minor guest interaction, blah, blah, blah, the usual. However, it was less than polished and felt a little cheap. I have a feeling that the script will improve as the cast members get used to the new routine.

The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show was rushed back into production just in time for Spring Break. Don't count on it staying around, unless crowds are big. The show had been shut down but was brought back when it was clear that the park didn't have enough entertainment for the larger than expected crowds. Uni was VERY lucky that the cast was still available. There have been no changes to the show and several cast and crew members have confirmed that the show is on very shaky ground right now and is not likely to survive much longer.

A picture of the newly painted roof of the ET adventure.

Above is a picture of the newly painted roof of the ET adventure. Too bad they didn't spend the money on the attraction itself. It really looks old. In fact, ET isn't the only attraction suffering from neglect. Back to the Future looks so bad that you can't help but notice the dust, scraped paint, and poor print quality of the movie itself. I asked a cast member if there are any plans to fix the attraction. He seemed quite embarrassed with the shape of the attraction and said that guests complain all the time. Although, usually about pain caused from the out of tune ride vehicles which frequently cause head and neck pain.

On the way out of the park, I was stopped by a Uni employee who asked if I had time to answer a few questions. Rather than tapping out a few answers on a palm pilot, they took me in to a small room behind Guest Relations and interrogated me for half an hour about the cleanliness of the park and friendliness of the employees. They asked specific questions about the attractions and really seemed to want to know what I did and did not like about the park.

Al's note: Every time I visit, I try to take a photo of the shooting schedule and post it here - if you're planning a visit soon (especially on a normal weekday), chances are good that these productions may be on the lot somewhere.
Al's note: Every time I visit, I try to take a photo of the shooting schedule and post it here - if you're planning a visit soon (especially on a normal weekday), chances are good that these productions may be on the lot somewhere.

Let's hope that they get the information that they need to take this park to the next level. With fewer shows and attractions than DCA, Universal really is a few E-Tickets away from a great park and I let them know. They ask several questions which are aimed at having you compare Universal to Disneyland and DCA. "Is Universal Better than Disney's California Adventure, comparable, or not as good"? My Grandmother always said not to ask a question that you don't want to hear the answer to.

Despite the rumors, there does not appear to be any major construction going on at the park. My hopes for a major new attraction this summer have faded. Looks like we'll have to wait a bit longer for Men in Black or whatever else they are thinking about for the next attraction. I don't think that Vivendi has any clue what a jewel Universal Studios is and what great potential it has.

All in all it was a very enjoyable visit and far less expensive than an average day at Disneyland. With all the new passholder discounts and the fun shops and restaurants of City Walk, I think I'll make the trip back again just as soon as Spring Break ends.

A few things I noted this last visit: They no longer are searching bags or making you walk through metal detectors as in the recent past. They also have stopped checking your cars with mirrors at the parking entry.

The former Fudruckers / Country Star restaurant just outside the main gate (above) is undergoing an extensive renovation. That leaves the former Victoria Station the last empty building up on the hill there - hopefully they will do something to work what is left of it in better.

On the tram tour Spartacus Square was opened up after being partially walled off from view the last few months, exposing the Scorpion King exteriors shot there. The newly built facade you can now see is of an Egyptian temple.

I was impressed with the dressing up of a street on the upper lot (shown above) even to the point of including fresh paint. A nearby sign shows before and after photos of the area that explain the important role props and set decoration play in creating a film environment. (Maybe Paul Pressler could learn a lesson or two here?) I was certainly impressed at how Uni was making the effort to upgrade that part of the park.

The longest line? At the new Cinnabon outlet near Back to the Future. They kept piping the scent out into the area. ;)

 

April Fools

Thank you all for the kind notes about our April Fool's items yesterday. Brian Bennett certainly had me going with his item, one Disney employee wondered via e-mail why his list couldn't just be printed up and handed to the powers-to-be - as it was full of such wonderful ideas. I couldn't argue with that wish!

I'll let you in on a secret about the DISNEY'S HOMELAND ADVENTURE third park press release we had up yesterday - what you were actually reading was about 90% of three actual Disney press releases, with more or less 10% replaced words or sentences and a few edits.

I was originally thinking of doing an "exclusive" interview with Paul Pressler, but in doing the research I was so struck by the hyperbole and inanity of what was being said in some of the press releases, it was just a lot easier to change a few words here and there and get a much better piece.

Hopefully (we'll keep our fingers crossed) they won't actually consider any leaf blowing attractions for the little ones.  ;)

 

Upcoming Articles

Besides the "X" coaster review I am still typing away at, I just wanted to give you folks a heads up about a three piece series I am also working on, which has kept me away from the park a bit longer than I had planned.

Two thirds of the photos illustrating it have been taken, and with a little more work it should be ready this week or more likely next. Below is a teaser shot, (NOT taken on Disney property) about which you'll learn more when the story goes up.

Normally I wouldn't toot the horn so early on something like this, but keep an eye out for it. You may be asking the same question I was that inspired the series, "More Disney than Disney?"

 

OK, hopefully if things work out, I'll see you at Disneyland this weekend folks.

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Al Lutz may be e-mailed at al@mouseplanet.com - Keep in mind the volume of e-mail he receives may not allow for a personal response.

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