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6/5 - First, thank you!
| Paint, glorious Paint! | But why all the sudden moves?
| Splash Rush | Bugs
come to Life | Putting
DCA on the Map | Is
Tom Sawyer on the next raft out of Disneyland? |
Gotta get that 250 million out of
somewhere | Crowd
control problems | The
DCA Screamin' welding show | 50
Years of? | Will
you be late for a very important date? | Say
Goodbye | Spiderman,
the Musical at Universal
First, thank you!
A couple of quick notes before we jump into the meat of things here today (I suggest you get that cup of coffee and bagel now, it's a long update!):
First, a big thank you to you all for your patience while I was first getting ready for and then going away on my trip last month. I finally got to spend a wonderful week in Paris, and it was a real treat. Even a problem with my scheduled return turned into a plus (a long story, I'll detail it once resolved if any of you are interested) - as I got the extra time to finally make a visit to the Disneyland Paris resort.
Thanks to all the adventures I had, I have two (and possibly three) future articles for you underway. The first will be a quick comparison of the Disneyland resorts in both Anaheim and Paris, and the second will be a photo tour of the Amélie Paris movie locations. (Trust me on this one folks, this simple tour is much more interesting than visiting that dreadful new Disney Studio park).
I'll do the third piece only if there appears to be some interest, it will be a quick run down on how to plan a short visit to Paris so as to hit most of the key sights. (It should fill in our Paris section a bit more for those of you who don't want to dedicate your entire trip to the Mouse).
Please be patient as I continue to assemble the articles, as they will probably require more research. (And for those of you who keep asking, I haven't forgotten that I promised you all a write-up on Magic Mountain's latest coaster "X." Considering just how long the lines have been on some days, and how it breaks down so much, I may still end up being timely on this one! Plus riding both Space Mountain and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in Paris gave me a bit more perspective on it too.)
Paint, glorious Paint!
Let's start with the good news shall we? Disneyland (while I was off on my trip) painted and repaired more than a few of the things I had noted were ignored (some for years it seems) in my recent Mickey, ToonTown Slumlord column. (Some shots illustrate this below.)
They fixed the paint on Mickey's house and on the tire shaped planter in front of the rest rooms, and touched up the ToonTown sign itself so it doesn't look so faded anymore. (This is in addition to finally replacing the rotting rubber surfaces on the disabled Cosmic Waves fountain in Tomorrowland.)
I missed my regular visit to the park last Sunday due to a really nasty cold - but I heard that they were working very hard on a major small world rehab (some new flume work, freshening up of some paint and wallpaper inside, and the replacing of some of that tired carpeting here and there too). Although the facade still really needs paint, the toy shop at the exit (naturally) got a fresh coat (right over the holiday light clips of course) leaving the roof itself still peeling.
I have to tell you, seeing the newer (and I was told just repainted) small world facade in the Paris park (shown above) really demonstrates just how badly they have let things go here in Anaheim (seen below).
Of course, the King Arthur Carrousel overhaul (nothing is left but the post shown below) and the other continuing projects (such as Critter Country, and Tom Sawyer Island, further detailed below in the update) only goes to show just how much can be down and off limits to the recent bigger than normal Disneyland crowds.
You know, if they had just bothered to keep spending on upkeep and maintenance, all those closures at these peak attendance times could have been avoided.
But who am I to criticize right? ;)
But why all the sudden moves?
Lots of folks are probably wondering why all the new focus on paint, and the sudden press announcement yesterday about disclosing all the theme park safety procedures is all about. (Adrienne Vincent Phoenix attended the press event, and has written it up here on the site for you.)
I've asking my sources about this, and I get two answers - both of which (or neither for that matter) may be true. The first response is that all the sudden activity at the parks division is due to the increased pressure the Disney board is now placing on Eisner to fix things.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed that the Enron mess (among other such events) has sort of woken the sleepy Disney board a bit - and they are pressuring Eisner. First on that list of course is the network, then the slump in park attendance / lackluster public and critical reaction to the newest theme parks, recent less than hit movies and entertainment projects, it goes on and on... the list is a long one.
While I don't doubt the WSJ has some of the best information around, I tend to think from what I can see and hear that really only two divisions are really in real major pain lately, the network and the parks. (The Disney stores have been slow, but are doing a bit better. Cable faces some problems, other areas [in particular consumer products] depend on hits to fuel them.)
While they keep firing and shuffling around people at ABC, the fact remains that the same two people at the top (Eisner and Iger) are still calling the shots - and they continue to refuse to see or admit they themselves may be the real root of what is so very wrong.
Meanwhile Paul Pressler, the head of the parks division (based on one popular theory going around the company) may be in "cover his butt" mode - trying to now fix all the things he ignored or blew off since he took over that are now really causing him problems. [The deferral of almost all upkeep, the lack of any exciting new attractions, two parks now built and running (DCA and the Studios in Paris) that have proved unpopular and are under their numbers, etc, etc.]
(And while some folks may also point to feature animation as another mess - I simply think they are like all entertainment operations, prone to a boon and bust cycle that most show business is subject to. We'll see if Lilo and Stitch does what Monsters Inc. accomplished.)
As Walt Disney himself once said, (in of all places a rather bizarre promotional TV show about The Parent Trap movie which is on the new special edition DVD of the movie): "My father taught me to never worry about tooting your own horn if you think something you've done is really good, as everyone else will certainly let the world know when you failed at something." (This may be a paraphrase.)
To me at least, it seems there's an awful lot of tooting (even as we may all know better about what is really happening) going on at Disney lately, no? ;)
As you all know (and we had been detailing here the past few months) Splash Mountain reopened just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. It was the ultimate rush job, decreed by none other than Paul Pressler himself, but it made it... barely.
The "show" inside Splash Mountain still had lots of touch-up work to be done, after the painters and set designers were originally told not to worry about getting Splash Mountain open after its original 10-week-long rehab plan was tossed out the window back in January. But over the past week since the ride reopened, the set designers, painters and prop people have been going in each night to put the finishing touches on Splash Mountain's show scenes.
Contractors that were quickly brought in a year early to dig up the surrounding pavement and ground treatments in March were put on mandatory three-shift overtime schedules to get it all cleaned up by Memorial Day. Although first-day riders on Splash Mountain got glimpses of trash and cigarette packs alongside the flume, plenty of non-working show effects, bright halogen work lights left on inside the dark portions of the ride, and even the signature animatronic "Mr. Bluebird" flapping his wings next to the passing logs with his head on backwards, the attraction is finally looking better now.
The logs themselves, however (and again as we detailed here) are proving to be just as troublesome and problematic as many long-time cast members predicted. The station gates installed in the Splash Mountain station were designed for the three-section logs that everyone thought the attraction would still be using, so they are causing some confusion for riders when the five-seat log (below) pulls in to the station. (You can see the occasional log they used for larger riders, with three seats - the back seat being bigger, above)
New safety rules also require a Splash Mountain Attractions cast member to sit on a chair in the dark at the base of the big lift before the final drop, and it's quickly become a despised position among many cast members. The purpose is to hopefully prevent anyone who may jump out of their log from seriously injuring themselves, but most cast members agree that there's not too much they could do for someone in the pitch dark like that. However, it's a compromise between the Disney lawyers and the Park Operations managers to prevent Splash Mountain from raising its height requirement of 40 inches, to 46 inches.
Up until just days before Splash Mountain reopened, there was a serious proposal to increase the Splash Mountain height requirement to 46 inches, plus additional rider requirements about being at least 7 years old regardless of height. The park's Operations management fought back furiously against the lawyers, and the 40-inch height requirement remains for now. However, that Attractions cast member sitting in the dark hopelessly peering out at the passing logs at the base of the big lift hill is one of the silly casualties of that decision. And the lawyers are still watching Splash Mountain as ominously as the vultures perched just above your log as you head up that final lift hill, waiting to see if there are any accidents during the first weeks of the summer. If it can be proven that a small child may still climb out or be thrown around too much inside the log, then the increased height requirements may be imposed at any time before Labor Day.
All of the new operational changes to Splash Mountain have slashed several hundred riders an hour off of the attraction's previous capacity. And that obviously makes for longer lines, as was noted this past Saturday when the standby wait time for Splash Mountain was posted at two-and-a-half-hours long for most of the afternoon. Again, we highly recommend that you head directly to Splash Mountain in the morning and pull Fastpass tickets for everyone in your party before the passes run out later in the day. Otherwise, try out Splash Mountain's new single rider line that was hastily developed by Attractions management to try and fill every single seat in the newly cumbersome five-seat log arrangement. (As of this writing, your feedback seems to indicate that they have a long way to go before this operates as smoothly as it does on other attractions, such as Indy.)
As we've been detailing in the past, Splash Mountain is still tentatively set to close again this fall, for another long re-design of the ride vehicles. The Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) folks have cooked up a plan that uses a slightly shorter vehicle that seats eight people in four rows of two. It would be much like the Walt Disney World (WDW) version of the Splash Mountain logs, except with a sleeker look. The vehicle may even cease to be a "log," and instead be themed as a swamp boat or small keelboat. Those decisions will be made later this summer however, as the lawyers, Disneyland Operations management, and Imagineers watch over Splash Mountain like a hawk in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned on this one for sure.
Meanwhile in Critter Country, someone in the "synergy" department from the corporate Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) thought it would be clever to put up a movie poster for the upcoming Country Bears movie with large pictures of the Country Bear characters on the construction wall across from Splash Mountain (above). This lone poster has caused plenty of confusion among Disneyland visitors, however, since the Country Bear Playhouse stood just behind that construction wall for 30 years.
As you can imagine, the cast members in Critter Country and at Disneyland's Guest Relations department are now getting bombarded with questions from visitors who want to know what is going on behind that wall, and wondering when the walls come down and the Country Bears are going to reopen. It usually takes the Cast Members a few minutes to explain that the Country Bears is a feature-length motion picture coming to local theaters, not Disneyland's old Country Bear Playhouse theater.
Of course the logic behind closing down a large animatronic attraction less than a year before a major motion picture based on that attraction opens in theaters baffles the confused visitors even more, not to mention the cast members trying to explain the whole concept to them.
To make matters worse, because of an ongoing and very messy court case regarding rights to Winnie The Pooh, Disney's legal department refuses to allow the park to publicly admit that what is actually being built behind that wall is a new Winnie The Pooh attraction. For this reason, the natural choice of putting up a "Coming in Spring 2003!" promotional sign about the new Pooh attraction is simply not an option here. The Country Bears poster up on that construction wall in Pooh's place, however, makes sense to someone in TDA. (They really should make those people get out into the Park's more.)
(We won't even discuss the missed opportunity of tying into the recent Pooh DVD release either - for a company that touts its never ending synergy, they sure don't do much of it anymore. Things usually get done only once, get priced out as too expensive - then never happen again. Emptying out my truck's glovebox the other day brought that home to me - among all the parking stubs were all the old full color flyers and booklets for ABC, movies like The Kid, and merchandise brochures, all of them getting the old heave ho. All I could think of is all the wasted money and effort that the company could ill afford.)
Bugs come to Life
At DCA, another animatronic theater attraction has actually seen its daily attendance skyrocket, even though park attendance at DCA remains over 10 per cent below those of last Spring. It seems as though the very narrow temporary entrance to the "It's Tough To Be A Bug" 3-D show has actually increased the hourly and daily attendance at that fun attraction, and more visitors are now seeing it each day than ever before.
Before work began on the entrance to Flik's Fun Fair with the redesign and shrinkage of the Bountiful Valley Farm area (seen above), the entrance to "It's Tough To Be A Bug" was back in the lackluster Farm area, and not visible from the main thoroughfare. Many DCA visitors simply passed it by because they didn't know the show was there, hidden behind the orange trees, and static agriculture and tractor displays. But the nearby construction has forced the temporary closure of the main entrance and moved the entry location to a former emergency exit now staffed by an Attractions Cast Member standing underneath an umbrella, resulting in more people visiting this witty and technologically impressive DCA show.
Apparently a beach umbrella and a small sign on a stick out on the main DCA thoroughfare was all that this forlorn attraction needed to start packing them in, which is a good indication of how poorly the Bountiful Valley Farm area (among so many others at DCA) was designed in the first place. The removal and downsizing of several of the agriculture farm beds, the redesign of some of the boring agriculture exhibits, as well as the addition of a larger marquee for the new "A Bug's Land" area of DCA will hopefully give that area a much higher profile for visitors.
Putting DCA on the Map
Speaking of higher profiles, DCA is expected to get a big boost of exposure by the middle of this month. Starting June 14th, a new type of guide map will debut at both Disneyland and DCA.
Instead of separate maps distributed at the main entrance of each park, there will now be one larger guide map for both parks. One side will contain information and a map for Disneyland, while the other side will offer the same for DCA. Thus someone entering Disneyland for the day will automatically receive a splashy map and explanation of what DCA has to offer. When unfolded, the new "Guide to the Magic" maps will be larger than the current single-park maps.
Although some people may assume this change is a budget cut, it actually won't save Disney money at all. The cost increase to produce the larger and splashier maps will outweigh any savings incurred by producing fewer maps due to park-hopping visitors not needing a separate map for each Park. Rather, the change was made to very specifically give the local Disneyland visitor a clear idea that there is a new theme park right next door with its own "attractions and adventures." (Entertainment information will no longer be included in these maps, and will instead be available in separate handouts prepared weekly or daily, depending on the season.)
In most executive's minds, DCA simply needs the exposure to the tens of thousands of locals that continue to flood Disneyland every weekend... and hiring a bi-plane to drag a "Visit Disney's California Adventure!" banner in the skies above Disneyland on weekend afternoons seemed a bit tacky to most Disney execs. And with the new maps showcasing Downtown Disney, the Disney Resort Hotels, and all of the dining and entertainment options those locations have to offer, it has management teams excited at the revenue possibilities from 50,000 Disneyland visitors.
Funny how they seem to not want to admit though that the park itself (with its poorly chosen overall theme, and uninspiring carnival attractions and overabundance of movies passing as rides) is still the real problem here isn't it?
And at the same time, that new map worries some managers -- those who deal on a daily basis with the confused who wander around Grizzly River Run angrily asking for directions to Pirates of the Caribbean or Storybook Land. Believe it or not, there are still many visitors who enter DCA by mistake, not realizing that DCA is not simply an addition to Disneyland, but a different theme park entirely. These park managers worry that this new two-maps-in-one concept will actually confuse some people even more. Regardless of the outcome of this decision, Disneyland collectors will want to pick up an extra copy of what could be the last of the Disneyland-specific guidemaps before the new version arrives later this month.
Is Tom Sawyer on the next raft out of Disneyland?
The rocks and caves on Tom Sawyer Island, which have hosted millions of children since it opened during Disneyland's second summer in 1956, will remain closed to visitors for the foreseeable future. Ropes were set up all around the signature rocky playgrounds and caves of Tom Sawyer Island several weeks ago, and extra cast members were deployed to prevent anyone from even getting near the area.
Two separate accidents in May, in which two children tumbled off the rocks and hit their heads, were apparently the last straw for the lawyers. Although these types of accidents have been happening regularly since the 1950s, Disney is no longer willing to put up with them and their possible involvement from newly minted State theme park regulators. So the lawyers decreed that the island is patently unsafe: no one should be allowed to play or climb on the rocks and in the caves. So the play areas will remain roped off while the lawyers, executives, and accountants decide what to do with the aging Disneyland attraction that has seen better days.
As we mentioned here before, the Rivers of America is planned to be drained for at least three months this winter, and an island refurbishment may be able to be budgeted into that plan. Before extra money can be allocated to an island rehab however, Disney must decide on the issue of "Do we stick with this 1950's attractions concept?" Basically, it's time for Tom Sawyer's Island to fish or cut bait. Disney should either really spruce it up and return it to its former glory as the "ultimate playground," or close the area down and send it off to Yesterland while it still has a little bit of respect left.
Gotta get that 250 million out of somewhere
With Disney stock still in the dumps and needing a push, rather than build parks that excite customers, or focus on putting in new attractions that would boost attendance, Paul Pressler's apparent solution (as always it seems) is to cut back on budgets yet again. He promised Eisner another 250 million in theme park cutbacks this year (which the financial press detailed a few weeks ago).
As a result, rumors are flying again about yet more salaried layoffs coming to Anaheim later in June. This would be the third round of layoffs in the last year, after the much-publicized layoffs that came during the middle of 2001 (after DCA had a lousy start), as well as a hushed-up, smaller round of layoffs that swept through some Anaheim departments this past February and which continued up to a few weeks ago. This time the rumors are centered around the park Foods, Entertainment, and Merchandise divisions.
There are also rumors that some of the salaried "make work" positions created last year when many influential middle and upper managers from Park Operations saw their title and position go away, but were able to keep their pay and a new made-up title and job duty, will likely be finally asked to leave. With the newest round of cutbacks, the Disneyland Resort of 2002 can simply no longer afford to pay all of the salaried management that TDA execs assumed would be needed back in 1999 and 2000 when it was planning on DCA being a runaway hit with 30,000+ visitors on weekends and holidays. It's time to update resumes for some Anaheim salaried cast members.
Crowd control problems
One of the most unpleasant things that happens at Disneyland when they cut back on budgets is the loss of crowd control people in all the walkways throughout the park.
Memorial Day weekend brought out the hoards - it seems many people finally started to really get out after slowing things down since last September - and the old area managers were sorely missed this time around.
For example, in Fantasyland, what with all the fencing up for the Carrousel rebuild, and the extra busy days, all four Fantasyland dark rides had lines out into the walkways - Peter Pan, Mr. Toad, Snow White and Pinocchio. Since there were no area managers to lay out overflow queues, crowds gridlocked behind the castle, causing all sorts of headaches, foot trampling and pushed children (shown above).
Of course the Jungle Cruise and Indy within the tight confines of Adventureland causes similar problems, as well as the tight spacing between Star Tours and the AstroOrbitor in Tomorrowland.
Before anyone gets hurt by a stampede, the park should get area managers back out into the various lands and their known bottlenecks and get queues and walkways properly laid out for traffic.
I'd hate to see a story on the evening news that some kid in a stroller got trampled during a panic should that ever be the case.
The DCA Screamin' welding show
Want to see the what seems to be the almost nightly welding they are doing on the DCA Screamin' coaster? Tune in KABC 7's 5 AM Morning News with Phillip Palmer, and wait for the live camera shots from DCA during the weather segments.
The camera aims right at Paradise Pier, and you can see the lights on the big crane and the welding going on at the loop many mornings.
That's an awful lot of work going on at that coaster - and funny, they spent a week or two cleaning up the Screamin' control and backstage areas so they could host the safety press event there yesterday.
Speaking of the big announcement yesterday, I asked some of the folks who work on the attractions if the document you can now download as a PDF file online from the Disneyland site has any basis in reality - and I got almost the same answer from all of them:
50 Years of?
Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) executives are now holding weekly planning meetings for the events that will surround Disneyland's 50th Anniversary in 2005. The initial blue-sky plans, which started very big, have yet to be cut back or reigned in much it seems. In fact, the mission statement for the 50th is to make this event the "biggest thing Disney has ever done."
Rather than just celebrating the event for a single year, the celebration is now planned to last at least 18 months, from the fall of 2004 through the winter of 2006. It may even get started earlier than that, with an anniversary countdown beginning in the summer of 2004. The current objective is to make this much bigger than WDW's 25th Anniversary, or Epcot's recent Millennium Celebration. In fact, the execs in Burbank and TDA want to incorporate the three other Magic Kingdoms around the globe into the party, as well as just about every other arm of the Disney media empire.
One particular group of marketing execs (with a giant media empire at its disposal) has vowed that "every single American citizen" will know that Disneyland is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, and will want to be a part of the exciting events. What's left of WDI still hasn't been given the green light as to what their exact role in all this hoopla will be, but they have been moving full steam ahead on the big budget plans to redesign and improve the five classic E Tickets: Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, small world, Space Mountain, and Jungle Cruise.
And although TDA and WDI know that Tomorrowland is the laughing stock of the theme park industry -- and has fallen off the radar screens of "been there, done that" park visitors -- they may try to disassociate from the 50th celebration any attempts to fix Tomorrowland. That may mean that a permanent Tomorrowland fix, or simply a new attraction to liven up that dying land, may have to wait until 2006 or later. But again, the details are still being hammered out.
With the official kick off for the event barely two years away however, plans will be solidifying very quickly over the next several months. From the scope of things being discussed in TDA and Burbank, it doesn't look like the lackluster and embarrassing way Disneyland celebrated its 45th Anniversary will be repeated with Disneyland's 50th.
Will you be late for a very important date?
Disneyland Park has just changed its operating hours for weekends and the upcoming summer season, while DCA will stand pat with its shortened operating hours for now.
As you may remember, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks Disney quickly reeled in its operating plans for fiscal year 2002. One of the casualties of those budget cuts was an elimination of the Magic Morning program at Disneyland, and a shortened operating schedule for both DCA and Disneyland that took effect right after New Year's. For the first time in decades, Disneyland began closing at 11 pm on Saturday nights instead of staying open until Midnight. From the early '60s through the early '90s, Disneyland always stayed open until Midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, with one a.m. closing times during Spring weekends and daily through the busy summer months.
The 11 pm closing schedule for Disneyland was planned out on the Resorts master plan to continue through the summer and the rest of the 2002 fiscal year. The shortened operating hours and reduced attendance projections are the main reason that the planned "Spring Fling" promotion that was mentioned on this site last year never made it to Disneyland for March and April of 2002. Final designs had been drawn up for the festive flower bunting that was going to line Main Street, the Spring Fling merchandise had all been chosen, and final strategies were being made for the lively entertainment and dancing that was planned for different areas of the Park. The "Spring Fling" promotion was going to be a return to the popular "Date Nite at Disneyland" concept that defined spring and summertime weekend nights at Disneyland in the 1960s. The shortened operating hours and tightened budgets that came after 9/11 however put a quick end to the Spring Fling plans.
Now it seems that TDA reversed the decision to stick with 11 pm closes through the summer and has decided that sufficient customer demand has been steady for months now to warrant a return to Midnight closes for Disneyland this summer. For the next two weeks Disneyland will remain open until Midnight, and then it will begin Midnight closes 7 days a week during the third week in June. Those Midnight closes will continue nightly until late August, when Disneyland will return to Midnight closes just on the weekends. The operating plan for Disneyland's summer 2002 season will look very familiar to decades past, with an 8 am to Midnight operation for Disneyland Park. However, there are currently no plans to bring back the costly Magic Morning program.
Over at DCA however, the summer outlook doesn't look quite so rosy, or nearly as crowded, as Disneyland. (Keep in mind, attendance is actually dropping this year.) DCA will continue its shortened operating day of 10 am to 9 pm for the next two weekends, and daily summer operation beginning in late June. The entire Hollywood Pictures Backlot area will continue to have a delayed opening of 11:30 am for the summer. There just isn't the demand to open this park any earlier than 10, or stay open any later than 9.
You may remember that last spring TDA kept DCA open from 9 am to Midnight during the Grand Opening weekends, and successive weekends through the Easter vacation period in a hope that the huge crowds originally predicted would eventually show up. It has been duly documented that they didn't. Even with the reintroduction of the Electrical Parade at DCA last summer, the DCA operating hours were scaled back to 9 am to 10 pm for the 2001 summer season.
The summer of 2002 at DCA should see even lighter crowds than last summer, and so two additional operating hours have been cut with the 10 am to 9 pm operating plan appearing to stick around through Labor Day, plus the delayed opening of the Hollywood section of the Park. Next September (as they now have planned), DCA will return to 8 pm closes on Saturday nights, while Disneyland rolls on next door until Midnight.
The word at DCA now is that the Hollywood & Dine restaurant, and Superstar Limo attraction will never reopen. And it appears that Millionaire will most likely also close as the show dies off on ABC.
While no one will really miss the two operations, along with the demise of Millionaire (now that the show is pretty much off the network schedule) this means that the company is taking a very hard second look at this whole area of the park.
We could get a big new attraction, (and folks, forget about Armageddon, it's a turkey - you've never experienced anything until you hear a room full of French tourists all say "Merde" at once as the exit doors open), or we might get something else...
...like a connection to Disneyland itself?
Sure would solve a lot of problems wouldn't it? It would certainly make Disneyland a one ticket / value packed destination resort - and joining together the two parks in this one spot would just happen to shut off easy access to all those non-Disney Hotels, which turn out to be much closer and cheaper than Disney's own lodging?
There are lots of options they can explore, aren't there?
Spiderman, "the Musical" at Universal
I stopped by Universal Studios here in Hollywood last Friday (before my cold took a turn for the worst) to see the new "Spiderman attraction" (as the billboards promote it). This kind of ad campaign can be a bit misleading of course, since people may think that the critically acclaimed Spiderman (Indy-type) attraction from Islands of Adventure may have finally opened on this coast.
Instead, as staged in the old Castle Dracula theater (which also housed Conan among many other things as I remember) the folks at Universal tried hard, but didn't succeed very well at a new show for the summer season to tie into the movie.
Things start out quite promisingly as they recap the first part of the film in about five or so minutes, playing such arena favorites as Queen's We Will Rock You with new lyrics to tell the story up to the part where nebbish Peter Parker gets bit by the spider. (Singing for the most part is live.)
Unfortunately then (in what always seems to happen in theme park attraction story lines) "something goes terribly wrong" as they suddenly veer off to an inexplicable Britney Spears type musical number (for which Spidey disappears for what seems forever) and finally the bad guy hovers in and above the audience. (Below)
You can see how the show's writers and directors knew that they were in trouble - as the use of fireworks and strobes increases through the rest of the show (it seems they fire off more explosives than LuminAria ever did in a very enclosed space - asthmatics are duly warned here). You finally get to the point that you just don't care anymore and end up praying that you don't get hit by falling ash or glowing embers.
(None of the problems are the fault of the performers by the way, they all try hard enough. They are simply defeated by a poor quality show script.)
The problems are easy to fix, but I don't see them going back to do anything with it. (Rerecording the taped score would be expensive.) Basically they need a lot more Spiderman and much less teen dance numbers - also fewer fireworks would mean the ones left would get better showcased. They need to mirror the movie a bit more and when Spidey is on stage, have him do more than just get pulled up and down and then swing around a bit on the same rope device for the entire show. (You don't even get the famous upside kiss between the guy and gal that is the trademark of this current movie adaptation.)
If you are making a first visit to Universal this summer, I would do things such as the tram tour, WaterWorld, Backdraft, Jurassic Park or Terminator instead and place this at the very end of your to do list. Return visitors should only take a peek if they have already seen all their favorites.
By the way, it seems that some of the lady annual passholders (and yes, a few guys too) are now becoming regulars. The actor that plays Spidey takes his shirt off for part of the presentation (above), and his growing set of fans feels he gives Toby Maguire quite a run for his money in the physique department. ;)
Meanwhile, if you take the tram tour, you'll get to see them working on the next Marvel super hero movie - the Hulk. (Above you can see last Friday's filming schedule.)
Below is a photo of the Hulk house set they are building in front of the "world's largest freestanding backdrop," which you drive by near the finale of the tour (before entering the Mummy tunnel). Last time they did something this big in this area, it was for Jurassic Park III.
This kind of thing is what I like so much about visiting Universal, it really is a working movie studio - not just a pretend one. It's neat to see the sets for upcoming projects, and sometimes you can spot the actors too, (such as pro wrestler The Rock who was filming the Scorpion King) all over the backlot for example.
Ok, you did finish that cup of coffee and doughnut didn't you? Now get back to work. We'll have another D-I-G update for you soon.
UPDATE 4/30 - A Smaller Splash | Screamin' Less Than Ever | You Do the Math | Bugs Destroy Farm | Disney's California Adventure - so long, so ungainly, so much of a mouthful | Readers Write and Shoot - Rehabs, Bachelors plus AP Price Hikes & Admission Reductions
A Smaller Splash
Splash Mountain had its first initial test run this past Saturday morning using the first prototype log that has been designed to keep riders safer and lawyers happier. The test was conducted with 300 Disneyland Resort Cast Members and their family members who had all signed legal waivers in order to participate in the test.
WDI set up cameras throughout the attraction to take pictures of the riders during different portions of the ride in order to gain information on people's posture and reactions as the logs went through Splash Mountain. At the same time industrial engineers studied the way people got into and out of the logs while they were in the loading area.
Since there was only one test log to use, plus one old-style log that was used for riders also, it took about 4 hours to conduct the test and cycle all 300 test riders through the attraction. (Sounds just like a busy day? ;) ) There were 8 additional logs in the flume for the test, but they had been stripped of their seats and were just empty shells used to maintain timing.
The test was a reasonable success, although several troubling issues came up during the morning, and here's where Splash Mountain now stands....
The attraction and its new prototype log has been given tentative approval from the lawyer's and the Imagineers. WDI has now begun a frantic job of retrofitting the remaining 45 logs with the new seats and safety measures in order to have the attraction ready for the summer season. The Disney lawyers have agreed to go along with the new plan to allow Splash Mountain to operate with the new 5 seat log for the summer season, while WDI and the industrial engineers conduct further tests on Splash Mountain and its new ride vehicles.
The test was also important because Splash Mountain has had new station gates installed during this rehab, and they need to be fine tuned. In fact, when Splash Mountain closed just after New Year's, the new station gates were the only major change planned for Splash Mountain's original 10 week refurbishment.
Those station gates are now installed, and they work just fine. However, they were planned and built to be used with Splash Mountain's old logs that had three rows, so they have three individual gates for each log. But now, thanks to the Disney lawyers, the Splash Mountain logs now have five individual seats. So those three gates open onto five seats, and the engineers are trying to figure out the most efficient way to load riders in that botched scenario. It just means that loading will take a few extra seconds than planned, but of course you can expect that over the course of a day it will shave even more off the attraction's hourly capacity.
The Disneyland operations folks are bracing themselves for a particularly tough summer at Splash Mountain however, as the new logs will cut hourly ride capacity by at least several hundred per hour while simultaneously prohibiting some large adults from riding at all. Yep, it seems that the new 5 passenger log, with 5 individual bucket seats, offer a markedly smaller space for larger riders to fit into. With the old style logs, large guests could stretch out in the long bench seats in the second and third row. But the new logs are much more confined, and many large adults simply will not be able to ride Splash Mountain any longer.
During Saturday's testing process, three different test riders were not able to fit into the new seats at all. There simply is not as much leg room to stretch out with now, and each bucket seat creates a small "well" that you must be able to step down into. They actually used one of Saturday's larger test riders who was a Disneyland Resort Cast Member (CM for short) as an impromptu testing tool, spending a half hour trying to see if there was any way he could fit into the seats. It was not successful, and all three of the large test riders were unable to go on Splash Mountain on Saturday.
While the attractions CM's and management running the test panicked over the fact that some of the larger test riders could not fit into the new seats, the lawyers and industrial engineers in attendance at Saturday's test shrugged the problem off as a necessary casualty of "being safer." But the Disneyland Attractions operations managers are now scrambling to rethink their loading strategies, their queue signage, and the way they are going to have to train CM's to tell some large Park visitors that used to be able to ride Splash Mountain that they will no longer fit in the logs.
See why I keep saying they should just keep this ride closed this year and fix this correctly? It is simply too bad all those lawyers and safety bureaucrats won't be able to stand next to the hourly CM's at the Splash Mountain entrance this summer, picking large visitors out of the line and explaining to them why they can't ride. It could get ugly there folks. Take a look at your typical Disneyland visitor - they come in all shapes and yes, even large sizes. Again, the front line hourly Cast Members are going to have to take the brunt of the customer heat here for decisions made by lawyers and out of touch Team Disney Anaheim (TDA for short) executives.
There is also now a new issue of parents trying to "hold" their small children in the new logs. Each rider is confined to their individual seat, and parents were photographed and observed leaning over the seat back in front of them to try and hold onto and restrain their children down the numerous drops on Splash Mountain. The attempt to make the vehicles safer may have inadvertently created a situation where parents have no apparent choice but to act less safe than they had in the past.
With the old logs with their inline bench seating, most parents simply held smaller children between their legs and "protected" them that way. It's hoped that the new logs won't cause the height requirement for Splash Mountain to have to be raised however. The initial reports from the engineers on Saturday is that the height requirement will stay the same. The lawyers however want a week or so to study the data and pictures before weighing in with their recommendation.
Right now the optimistic plan is to try to get Splash Mountain up and running with an entirely new fleet of logs in time for Memorial Day weekend. Disney had originally pegged Memorial Day as the new reopening date, then pushed it to June 15th, and now moved it back to Memorial Day. The fact that WDI has a daunting task ahead of it to try and rebuild 45 more logs in the next 3 weeks could delay the opening again however. Stay tuned here as that part of the story develops. If your asking for trip planning advice, I wouldn't plan a visit (if this ride is what you really are interested in) around any dates Disney is giving out at this point, nor would I expect to be able to ride at all if you are larger sized.
And meetings and discussions with the lawyers and engineers are continuing about what they will do with Splash Mountain once the busy summer season ends. The lawyers are still pushing their desire for some kind of mechanical restraint systems in the Splash Mountain logs, while Burbank and TDA express their desire to keep the spiraling costs of this bizarre project in control.
It could only happen at Disneyland folks.
Screamin' Less Than Ever
Meanwhile, over at DCA, another major E Ticket attraction has slashed its hourly capacity by half and created unnecessary waits of over an hour. During recent weekends this winter and spring, California Screamin' has been only running three trains during busy, warm weekends.
California Screamin' was designed to run with a maximum of six trains. Disney bought a total of seven trains from Intamin, the ride's manufacturer. The original thought was that there would always be one train going through a scheduled refurbishment process, while the other six trains were at the attraction and ready to be used on busy days.
This past Sunday however, our observers witnessed California Screamin' running with only three trains at 12:30 pm. The attraction had a posted Standby wait time of 60 minutes, and the Fastpass ticket distribution area was swamped with people and was giving out Fastpasses with 5:30 pm return times. Only a few hours later, the Fastpass tickets had all been given out for the day and the machines were shuttered. The Standby wait continued to fluctuate between 50 and 75 minutes for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
The reason for this long line is that the CM's in the loading area were only using the western side of the double sided station area, since they only had three trains on the line and the attraction was essentially running at half it's hourly capacity. It is possible to run four trains while only loading riders on one side of the station. Only when California Screamin' adds a fifth or sixth train to the fleet is it necessary to expend the extra labor dollars to add CM's to the second side of the station. Still, they were only using three trains and one side of the station on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday's are DCA's busiest days of the week, now that over 450,000 Annual Passholders get Parkhopping privileges into DCA along with their formerly single park ducats. This Saturday's attendance at DCA was just under 15,000, while Disneyland received just over 52,000.
On Sunday however, DCA had it's highest attendance of the week at 18,000, while Disneyland declined to 46,000 for the day. Since Sunday's are the "big day" for Annual Passholders to Parkhop over to the still-struggling DCA for a few hours of their day, you would think Disney would run one of their three major DCA attractions at full capacity right? Apparently, you aren't thinking like a TDA executive however.
It seems that TDA Vice Presidents and financial planners made some major mistakes during 2000 and 2001 when it came time to plan the long term maintenance strategy for Screamin's seven coaster trains. We learned that on Sunday afternoon, when there were two additional coaster trains just sitting in the California Screamin' maintenance bay, ready to be used. However, since major mistakes were made with the budgets needed for the seven trains refurbishment, they were unable to use those two extra trains sitting back there all weekend.
If the CM's running Screamin' that day had pulled on those two extra trains, a process that takes about five to ten minutes to complete, they would have "stolen" a day from those trains planned future use. Unlike the themed roller coasters at Disneyland like Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain that hide their maintenance facility "backstage" from the visitor's view, it is very easy to look back and see the ugly aluminum shed maintenance facility at California Screamin'. Next time you wait an hour in Standby at California Screamin' and finally make it into the loading area, look towards the maintenance bay and count how many idle trains are parked back there unused. If they pulled those extra trains onto the track, your wait would have been a fraction of the time.
Each coaster train on Screamin' can only be used for so many days before it needs to head to it's major, off-site refurbishment. But since major mistakes were made planning for and budgeting those refurbishment dollars, they are purposely limiting the use of all of their trains in order to buy more time for each individual train. What they are doing now is basically "banking" time that can then be used this summer, when consistently larger (hoped for) crowds should descend on DCA seven days a week, instead of just on Sundays.
However, even when summer rolls around and the days get hotter, Screamin' will not be able to use all six trains it was designed for. Even with the "banking" process currently going on, summer days are only budgeted for a four train operation. Summer weekends may see occasional five train use at Screamin', but that is still pie in the sky at this point.
You would think with DCA's attendance numbers still running at one third the amount of Disneyland, (even though they are offering DCA specific freebie tickets at supermarkets and even the single park priced Annual Passes now allow Park Hopping privileges), that they would want to make the DCA experience the best it could be for those who do actually visit the struggling Park. But apparently, the poor planning and penny pinching back at TDA won't allow for even the popular DCA attractions to run at their full capacity.
Just remember that it's not the fault of the costumed, hourly CM's who operate the rides that the coaster isn't running at it's potential capacity. Our observers witnessed several groups of upset DCA visitors really laying into the nonplussed Screamin' CM's this past Sunday over this capacity issue. You don't have to be a roller coaster expert to realize DCA's big coaster is not operating at its full capacity when one half of the large station is being unused. And when you've waited in a 75 minute Standby line, only to get to the loading area and discover half the attraction sitting dormant on a busy weekend, it's understandable that you'd be upset.
But also understand the person who actually made those poor decisions that caused your long wait isn't the young Cast Member working the ride, but rather a fat cat executive who works Monday through Friday back at TDA, and who really has little interest in innocent old Disney customs, traditions and quality standards. These suits avoid the park like the plague - in their cloistered culture it is very uncool to step foot where the visitors hang out.
Walt was right - the park's offices needed to be nasty hot non air conditioned trailers, so unpleasant that they'd be forced to spend time in the park with the public. But hey, when boss Pressler has automatic door openers installed in his office (when he used to be at TDA), whaddya expect?
You Do the Math
We mentioned DCA attendance earlier in this update, and it bears mentioning again. DCA has been in the 12,000 to 18,000 range for weekends since January, and in the 4,000 to 6,000 range for weekdays. Disneyland during this same time period has seen weekend numbers in the 43,000 to 54,000 range, with weekday attendance holding at about 13,000 to 21,000. Overall, DCA attendance has been at just slightly less than one third of Disneyland next door.
(And the Soap weekends were a major disappointment - the costs were massive to host all the personalities, all so that nonplussed cast members could observe people in line take out their sack lunches while waiting for their autograph sessions. While the passholders showed up in significant numbers, they didn't spend much on merchandise or food. I understand that the costs involved for Susan Lucci alone were breathtaking - apparently the word from the network was "give her whatever she wants - and if she complains, we will never do this again." Apparently she was kept very happy.)
If attendance patterns hold out, and the recently revised summer projections pan out, the 2002 calendar year will have Disneyland tracking for a yearly attendance of around 13 Million, while DCA ends up with about oh, 4.25 Million. That would be a slight increase for Disneyland, and a simultaneous slight decrease for DCA, over its 2001 numbers.
Even if DCA has an unexpected summer surge in attendance with another "Kids Get In Free" ticket promotion, (some kind of promotion will most likely be continued) DCA will be nowhere near the original yearly attendance estimate of 7 Million that was pegged for the Park in 1999 and 2000. The numbers, as we expected they would here in the past, will continue to languish, if not continue to decline - DCA (even with the difficulties experienced since 9/11) continues to prove what a major miscalculation it has been. One need only look at the continuing success across the esplanade to confirm that.
Flik's Fun Fair is moving along quickly, and should be on track to open around Labor Day weekend. But Flik's is not expected to be any sort of major driver of attendance for the Fall. Instead, the mission of Flik's Fun Fair is to simply quiet the customer complaints that still pour in at DCA's Guest Relations Lobby that "there is nothing for my kids to do here!"
Bugs Destroy Farm
Speaking of Flik's, some of the details of this new expansion have recently been decided on. The Heimlich's Chew Chew Train, which is a downsized version of Casey Jr. over in Fantasyland (and goodness Casey is already a small attraction), will offer two "scents" as the train passes by the oversized food items that make up the ride's scenery. The smell of watermelon and animal crackers will be spritzed at passing riders during the 90 second (yes, 90 second) trip time.
They have also decided that there are two expansion areas located outside of the current "sound wall" area that was recently finished. There is room on the western and southwestern sides of Flik's to add two additional small attractions in upcoming years, if visitor demand deems it necessary. No word yet on what those two kiddy rides might be, but WDI has been looking at current inexpensive offerings from the carnival industry to see what could be themed to "Bug's."
And when Flik's Fun Faire debuts, the Bountiful Valley Farm "district" of DCA will be the next casualty in the new Park. The current area of Bountiful Valley Farm will receive a light retheming and redressing to the Bug's Life characters. Santa Rosa Seed and Supply Store will be renamed "P. T. Flea's Market". The food offerings in Bountiful Valley Farm will also be rebranded, losing their current reality based theme and taking on more of a fantasy based "Bug's" flavor. The inexpensive educational agriculture displays will be reconfigured, and many will simply disappear.
The walkways in and around Bountiful Valley Farm will be widened, and big new "Bug's" signage will be placed out along the DCA parade route. The Bountiful Valley Farm name itself may still be found among the old remnants of the area, but the name given to the Farm area on the DCA maps will be called "A Bug's Land" when Flik's Fun Fair opens. (No word yet if they plan to paint the big mural over yet.)
Caterpillar Tractors, the original sponsor of Bountiful Valley Farm, will still remain as a sponsor of A Bug's Land. The tractors will be moved around a bit before Flik's opens, but will remain out near the parade route and near the industry displays. Of course the fact they have nothing to do with the Disney/Pixar movie won't be dealt with. (Unless they appear in a made for video sequel - Bug's Life II - Caterpillar Adventures?)
Remember that this Farm area was one of Eisner's big ideas, and a DCA concept he mentioned glowingly to the press throughout DCA's planning and construction. (Although most of the Imagineers - even the rah rah we adore Paul ones - saw a problem in the making.) The paying visitors however found the budget slashed area lifeless and dull, so Bountiful Valley Farm will slip into DCA's growing list of Yesterland attractions and locations, along with Mondavi, Wolfgang Puck, Step's In Time, etc.
Of course the new Bug Land has nothing to do with the California theme - yet again shining a very bright light on the fact that this park was saddled with such an unworkable and inflexible overall theme.
And before I forget - there will probably be one other casualty at DCA, the Hollywood and Dine food court just isn't working out at all as ti how they envisioned it (as a Tomorrowland Terrace type and size of operation). While the space could house some kind of attraction, or even temporary setups (the Monsters Inc. funhouse stuff from the El Capitan engagement was discussed at one point) chances are we may see the equivalent of the same "closed / coming soon" sign on the doors that we saw up for years at the former Carousel of Progress / now Innoventions building in Disneyland.
Disney's California Adventure - so long, so ungainly, so much of a mouthful
And finally, speaking of the acronym "DCA". It's official now, everyone in Anaheim can freely use the acronym "DCA" when talking about Disney's California Adventure Park. During DCA's construction phase in 1999 and 2000, and especially during it's opening in early 2001, the executive directive from TDA was that NO ONE was to use the acronym "DCA" when referring to the new Park. Managers and executives went out of their way to slog through the full and complete title of "Disney's California Adventure" when discussing the place in meetings and presentations. There were even managers who made their underlings put a dollar in a jar if they were ever caught saying the letter's "DCA" instead of the full Park title.
Now that unfortunate era has now apparently passed in Anaheim. Even big Vice Presidents in "rally the troops" meetings with their management staff use the DCA acronym openly now. And many Cast Member's in the Park and at the Resort Hotel front desks and restaurants use the acronym "DCA" when speaking with paying customers. That obviously rubs off, and folks staying at the Grand Californian for a few days leave the Resort calling the new Park "DCA". People still call Disneyland, "Disneyland" by the way. No one has begun calling Disneyland by the acronym "DL". It just seems to be the overly complex mouthful of an official title of DCA that has everyone using the easier acronym.
You know, all this was seen in advance. Sigh.
Readers Write and Shoot - Rehabs, Bachelors plus AP Price Hikes & Admission Reductions
One of the nicest things about doing this column are the kind notes and photos people send in. The Disneyland Resort is a huge operation, and sometimes it isn't easy to keep up with everything. Reader's notes and photos help bridge that gap - giving readers even more information.
First reader Scott dropped by the park yesterday (Monday the 29th) and shared the following photos and note:
Thank you for the photos and update Scott! I can't always make it to the park during the week - as much as I would probably enjoy the more leisurely crowds.
I found the Bachelor publicity stunt utterly baffling (I saw footage on KABC 7 here locally) - the show was pretty much an adult entertainment, yet here were these folks posing with Disney character royalty and riding down Main Street in the crystal pumpkin coach. I guess Ariel & Eric, not to mention Aurora & Prince Phillip, and Cinderella & Prince Charming too most likely also went to third base on their first dates?
This reminded me of another recent publicity stunt - which I also found rather unbelievable, but may have spun out of control due to a language barrier.
Channel 54 KAZA TV (a Spanish language Azteca America network station based in Glendale) has a chat show called "Ventaneando" - mostly it seems to be a Spanish language version of Extra or Access Hollywood combined with the harder edged Inside Edition style of stories, it is pretty much a gossip forum and a promotional vehicle for the network.
Unlike the American shows though, they don't seem to shy away from delving into adult themed subjects - as sexual scandals seem to be the major topic discussed daily.
So you can imagine my utter amazement to see an episode about a month or so ago where the hosts are sitting on couches right in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland (even introducing the Mouse himself and his gal later on) - gabbing away about the lurid details of ex-Latin singer / bombshell and current accused child molester Gloria Trevi's life. (Other non-Disneyland broadcasts had ambush-style investigative video interviews of Trevi's family and relations.) I guess the English language equivalent would be to have Debra Norville reporting on the latest Catholic Church sex scandals while Mickey & Minnie waved to the audience from behind.
Hopefully Disneyland Publicity will have someone on staff soon who a] speaks Spanish, b] actually watches the show asking to film inside the park ahead of time, and c] discusses what would be appropriate subject matter to be dealt with in front of some of Disney's most famous icons.
The deal between the two entities (the network and Disney) seems to be rather extensive though - as they seem to be hawking DCA constantly in a current promotion on the network.
As far as the Cosmic Wave photo - I think David Koenig mentioned in a recent column that they may be converting the whole fountain into a planter. We'll see how it progresses - anything is better than what is there now.
Reader Owen noted:
You didn't hear anything Owen because the park quietly upped the prices. I guess they saw Magic Mt. hiked their annual pass by five dollars, so they saw the way was clear.
I not only think you are wise to wait - but seriously wonder why anyone would make any kind of admission investment right now with the huge amount of current and future rehabs they have going on.
If you ask me, they should have discounted the annual passes, instead of hiking them.
Finally, Reader Carrie asks:
Don't worry Carrie, they are still there. You just have to get up earlier. They usually perform from when the park opens until mid-afternoon.
Pressler hasn't zapped 'em... yet. ;)
Lord, I still have so much to talk about (Disney's use of "Janitor Insurance," Eisner's very insincere recent comments about fixing the board of directors, the upcoming budget cuts, etc, etc,) not to mention a big thank you to all who wrote (and hopefully we can share some of those notes) about the recent "More Disney Than Disney" series we just did.
But it will all have to wait until next time. Until then, see you at Disneyland!
Al Lutz may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org - Keep in mind the volume of e-mail he receives may not allow for a personal response.
UPDATE 6/5 - First, thank you! | Paint, glorious Paint! | But why all the sudden moves? | Splash Rush | Bugs come to Life | Putting DCA on the Map | Is Tom Sawyer on the next raft out of Disneyland? | Gotta get that 250 million out of somewhere | Crowd control problems | The DCA Screamin' welding show | 50 Years of? | Will you be late for a very important date? | Say Goodbye | Spiderman, the Musical at Universal
UPDATE 4/30 - A Smaller Splash | Screamin' Less Than Ever | You Do the Math | Bugs Destroy Farm | Disney's California Adventure - so long, so ungainly, so much of a mouthful | Readers Write and Shoot - Rehabs, Bachelors plus AP Price Hikes & Admission Reductions
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