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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update

6/25 UPDATE - DCA Emergency Discounts | Budget tickets, budget acts | LuminAria 2.0 | Mr. Issac's Disneyland Photo Tour | Universal thanks

 

DCA Emergency Discounts

Let's be honest here. (That is why you read this column, right?) No one likes Disneyland PR flack Ray Gomez, (and I'm being kind here). But his co-worker, John McClintock is the one guy at Disneyland I really feel sorry for.

Being a Disneyland press rep under the Eisner regime can be a truly awful job - you have to spin things a certain positive way, even if (most times it seems) it means you have to do some rather blatant bald-faced lying to the media.

Ray is the best at this - most media types feel the man simply has no soul - and on more than a few occasions he has gotten so angry that reporters won't take him seriously that he vents in the most un-Disney way at them. Just ask the folks at KCBS Channel 2, they still have a copy of that nasty little obscenity filled temper tantrum he left them on an answering machine a while back.

McClintock though tries his best to work with the media - even if sometimes he just can't follow up with a return call due to the untenable position they put him in. So you can imagine how bad I felt for the guy when he made the following pronouncement to Reuters News on May 20th in an article named Disneyland plans discount-free travel season. Below are two quotes from it:

The Walt Disney Co.'s California theme parks will not offer any discounted admissions this summer, reflecting improving business at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, a spokesman said on Monday.

Disneyland and California Adventure are currently offering southern California adults admission at the children's price through June 19, said spokesman John McClintock. "We have (the discount) in place through the 19th, but then that will stop," he said. "There won't be any other promotions of that nature during the summer months."

Poor John, he probably just did as he was told, even though the mechanics were already in place to do otherwise.

Yesterday the Disneyland Resort started a huge advertising campaign announcing a new round of California Adventure (DCA) discounts, keeping in place the "adult ticket at kid's price" and "kid's ticket free with each adult ticket purchased" deals that have been the norm now for what is seeming to be years. (You may remember I mentioned this might happen in the last update, but even I didn't expect it this quickly.)

What triggered the emergency discount was the huge drop in numbers after the supermarket discounting program and the standard winter discount ticket promotion for both parks ended on the 19th.

While poor John takes it full on the chin (yet again) for the failure of Paul Pressler, Michael Eisner and WDI / TPP honcho Tom Fitzgerald to admit they are totally wrong when it came to this park, and employee (cast member) morale takes yet another huge hit at DCA, you have to wonder just what these executives are thinking.

Well, I can even fill you in on that. The head guys think things are just peachy. "It's an education problem," they keep saying to the media and themselves, "once we get enough people in the park and show them the wonderful attractions and choice of theme, they will come in droves."

You know, this is really getting to be a game that is getting very tired now.

First they blamed the rain / cold weather when the park opened and no one showed up. Then they said "the economy is really bad" after the sun came out a few weeks later. Then they blamed the media for giving the park a hard time. 9/11 hit, and of course they blamed that for the low numbers, even thought the effect wore off a few weeks later across the way at Disneyland proper.

The truth is people are staying away in droves due to the wrong choice of theme and bad word of mouth - and all of their efforts at trying to pull in customers with discounts is only making matters worse.

People don't like the low quality cheap carnival attractions. They don't like all the closed dining facilities. They think the Eureka parade is bizarre. They find most of the entertainment childish, (except for the ultra high cost Blast! show) and the movies that pass for rides are simply not worth their time. Let's not even start with the tortilla making and bread baking.

So the numbers continue to drop - and the percentages of those drops from last year's figures are truly remarkable in some cases. For example, for the three week Christmas / New Year's season, while Disneyland across the way entertained a little under 1.1 million people, DCA barely broke the 280,000 mark.

During a four week period this past April (including the high cost DCA Super Soap weekends), while Disneyland processed through another almost 1.1 million visitors, DCA barely got past 375,000. (Both park's admissions being discounted of course, even with the money it dearly cost them to bring in Diva Susan Lucci.) My guess here from the trends I can spot is that the whole Soap event probably only increased attendance by about a 100,000 those four weeks - and most of that was for the first week only, with the All My Children salute. It seems the General Hospital / Port Charles week was the least successful.

Recent weeks for DCA have shown attendance numbers roughly 25,000 below what they were last year. Recent weekday projections (based it somewhat seems on last year's numbers) of 8,000 to 9,000 rarely are met (attendance is usually off by 3 to 5 thousand from those figures) - the weekend numbers never make it, usually they project 20,000 or so on Sundays and get 15,000 or less, and 15,000 are expected on Saturdays, with less than 10,000 customers waltzing in. If you deduct annual passholders - which can be a couple of thousand a day, the numbers really start to look ragged.

When you realize they had built this park with projected numbers for the whole first year at about two thirds of what Disneyland does (they had expected 32,000 to 35,000 visitors daily the first year alone), then to only get about one quarter of the business (and with heavy discounts, plus massive expenditures in last minute added entertainment and advertising - not to mention the AP price reductions) it's not hard to see this is still a failing enterprise.

Meanwhile good old reliable Disneyland across the way continues to just about meet its projections - and even exceed them in some cases (as during the Christmas season / Mansion makeover). This is remarkable for a park with no major new attractions to speak of since Indy (as the new Tomorrowland was a failure), many major rides and Fantasmic down for months, and with a very tired character parade and recent shows that can reduce the IQ of the audiences subjected to them (Mickey's Detective School / Minnie's Holiday Party).

Yes, from what I can see 9/11 did impact Disneyland park in the weeks immediately afterwards, but the effect was negated with the huge success of the holiday makeover, and they have been close to their numbers, (and last year's figures) ever since. It's probably safe to say they would even have exceeded those numbers by some very large margins IF they had a new top of the line E-ticket attraction.

There are also other repercussions, the following is from a salaried management CM who filled me in on the discounts:

I can't wait to see your online reaction and commentary to this mildly embarrassing development. The buzz at work today after these DCA discounts were announced was... "Uh oh, things really are as bad as they appear to be." These discounts have done nothing for morale, especially with the upcoming layoffs and restructuring rumored in Anaheim.

And salaried folks were wondering out loud today around the office water coolers if we'll be receiving a raise or not this year. All salaried folks went without cost of living or merit raises of any kind for 2002, after the attacks on 9/11. That disappointing financial news was swallowed with a bit of patriotism though last Fall. But if we go another year without raises, or if the raises we do receive don't at least cover the cost of living increases for 2001 and 2002, then many salaried CM's are going to become quite cranky.

We won't even discuss the fact the one park discount pretty much obliterates the "two park" media campaign (complete with combined hand out park maps) they had been trying to push since January.

I only wish Disney's board of directors would do their jobs and replace some execs - but they just seem to think everything is peachy keen with current management in place.

You know huge money losing blunders like DCA get people fired in normal companies. Why do Pressler / Eisner / Fitzgerald still get to waste millions, if not billions, of Disney dollars chasing their out of touch whims?

 

Budget tickets, budget acts?

As some of you may remember, I used to be in the music biz more than a few years ago. Whenever we had a major act that would give us a really hard time about something inconsequential, we used to joke that eventually the cycle would catch up with them, and then we'd be able to ignore their phone calls to us when they ended up on the County Fair / Gardena card club tour circuit.

As cycles would then usually go - the acts would get lost out there in the heartland Holiday Inns until their original medley of hit got used in some movie soundtrack, or the public would "rediscover" them, and then we'd take their calls again. The second time around would be much easier for us, mostly because they finally understood the world didn't revolve around them. More than a few times we really did enjoy working together again, and the respect would grow back between everyone.

In looking at the acts Disney slapped together at last minute for this DCA emergency concert series (yes, those admission discounts are still not deemed enough to pull 'em in) I see some of those very acts some of my colleagues used to deal with. Here's the list from the official press release of last week (they are now showcasing acts daily, not just on weekends):

The Beach Boys at the pre-opening bash for DCA - photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix
The Beach Boys at the pre-opening bash for DCA - photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

July 13th - 14th: The Beach Boys
July 15th - 17th: The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards
July 18th - 19th: David Clayton Thomas with Blood, Sweat & Tears
July 20th: The Commodores
July 21st - 22nd: Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone
July 23rd - 25th: Starship featuring Mickey Thomas
July 26th - 28th: The 5th Dimension
July 29th - 31st: Paul Revere and the Raiders
August 1st - 3rd: (to be announced)
August 4th - 6th: The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie
August 7th - 8th: The Buckinghams
August 9th - 11th: (to be announced)
August 12th - 14th: (to be announced)
August 15th - 17th: The Four Tops
August 18th - 20th: America
August 21st - 23rd: The Monkees starring Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz

The only "A" list band is the Beach Boys - the rest usually have to be packaged with two or three other similar acts to pull in any kinds of numbers even on the less demanding fair circuit. (For example, for Disco Saturday Night at the Hollywood Bowl this coming weekend, K-BIG had to group the Village People with Kool and the Gang and Chic.) Also keep in mind that many of the older bands only feature a few of the original members (if any).

I was joking about the Captain & Tennille last time, but I have to tell you they were talking to them, as well as a few of the other acts I had mentioned. The Village People were also on the list. (Just think, old Walt would have had a heart attack!) The saddest thing about all this though is the huge educational effort that is now required to tell the young cast members who these groups are. Many have never heard of them or their hit(s). The Turtles may have well been from Mars.

I also learned that the plan for installing audience bleachers (to expand the seating area for the shows) is meeting some resistance from Legal and several other divisions. Entertainment doesn't want the bleachers next to the parade route, and Horticulture doesn't want to rip out all the landscaping where the bleachers would be anchored. And, the accountants don't want to pay for all of it either. So now the plan is to just do chairs and floor seating in the existing amphitheater.

The stage will measure 40 by 40 feet, with a collapsible roof to shade the stage from the afternoon sun. The talent will be shuttled out to the stage using small boats. The viewing area won't be shaded however, and you can be sure that it will get very hot there in July and August. (Didn't they learn their lesson about lack of shade in DCA the first summer, once they had to spend a small fortune installing shade and more trees all over the Park all winter long?)

My source's hunch is that now that they have the bands nailed down, and it's a less than a blockbuster list, they are going to go ahead and back away from the bleacher plan. But again, this is not 100% yet. Remember, this mess got thrown together very quickly, and if they had been able to get bigger names they could have needed bleachers quite easily. We'll have to see what is finally decided.

While I look forward to the Beach Boys (even with the shortened sets the acts will all play) the rest of the list is, um... well, let's just say underwhelming.

They could have done a whole surf concert series - Dick Dale, Jan & Dean, etc. It might have even worked into the California theme, right? But all those acts are booked way in advance during the summer every year aren't they?

 

Luminaria 2.0

You all remember last year's (gasp) LuminAria (choke) holiday show at DCA (wheeze), right? It was sort of like Christmas in Beirut - what with low level fireworks terrorizing kids and adults and the incredible waves of eye watering smoke that would cake the crowds with ashes.

Well, all the late night testing in the DCA Paradise Bay lagoon the past few nights was for (be afraid, be very afraid) LuminAria 2.0. A new effect uses a large inflatable ball that is sort of translucent. The ball is about 15 feet tall and is held in place on the "island" from the last LuminAria, and has a projector inside that displays animation on the ball surface.

At the same time that the ball animation is going, there are water screens that pop up in front of the ball with animation projected on to them a la' Fantasmic's water screens. The water screens are about as tall as the ball, basically a 20 foot long strip of fountains that simply shoot straight up and create the "screen" for the projector. It's a smaller scale effect than the three big screens in Fantasmic, but it seemed to work very well in the test.

The animation they are planning on using for the reworked show is sort of a "Snow Fairy" type thing with little white snow pixies dancing with snowflakes and ice crystals. (No "gay eskimo" jokes please.) All of this animation was used for the test runs this past week. The ball is being looked at to replace last year's tiny "Christmas present" screens to show the LuminAria children's craft cards as well.

According to the Entertainment folks, they want to use these new effects, plus some different types of water fountains, and new low level pyro for the next LuminAria. The reduction in fireworks, the increase in water effects and use of water screens will hopefully cut down on the excessive smoke (and the complaints it generated) that plagued the first edition of the show.

While on the subject of lagoon shows for DCA, there have been rumors about a summer show. One very kind note I got detailed the following, which seems to jive a bit with what I am hearing from other sources:

The testing might (also) be for a new night time lagoon show for DCA. The rumor is that [this] show [may also] feature mist screens and pyro. And when I say pyro, I don't mean LuminAria's pyro. [It] will be short bursts here and there. The [summer] shows will center [around the] Little Mermaid movie. Interesting huh?

My [source] has [also] seen the story boards for the show and it looks massive. I haven't heard anything concrete yet, but here's some info that might be true, The show will feature a "epic pyro battle between Ursula and King Triton. Also, it will feature live performers. There also might be a stage built where the old LuminAria stage is.. Rumor has it that the themeing of the stage will be sort of a rock formation type mixed with a little Aztec ruins. Weird huh?

But if all this is true, and I hope it is, I think it kind of fits into the land. Paradise Pier is supposed to be in the ocean, right? Also, I think that if done correctly the show could be a hit, I mean they actually are planning it, not just taking two months to build like LuminAria. Well rumor has it that this show is going to debut in 2004, possible to accompany the opening of TOT. I'll let you know if anything pops up.

Let me fill in what I have heard, the scuttle butt is that this is not slotted for '04 just yet, as they are still talking about doing it for summer '03. That decision hasn't been made, but if I were to bet I'd say '03 looks like a good choice.

Of course while it has an ocean theme, it still doesn't really have to do much with the park's California designs does it? ;)

By the way, a really cool fireworks show for Halloween didn't make it for this year at Disneyland. Steve Davison (who assembled the well received Believe fireworks shows) had dreamed up a Halloween edition - (Believe in Ghosts?) - featuring a visit from the Disney Villains. Hopefully he will get to do this show next year. Except for DCA's LuminAria, he seems to understand what it takes to put on a good show.

 

Mr. Issac's Disneyland Photo Tour

As I was working away on today's update, I got a very kind e-mail from reader Issac:

Hi Al! I was taking some photos around the resort the other day and I'm sending some of them to you incase you want to use them for a DIG Update. These are just a few things I noticed and took pictures of over the past few days (I love my camera !).

I wrote back and thanked him for his offering, especially since I didn't get a chance this past weekend to visit Disneyland myself. I knew the readers would appreciate the photos, so below are his shots, with his commentary describing them for you.

There's a new backdrop in front of the Sword In The Stone in Fantasyland.

It's very well detailed and nicely colored. I guess a big blue wall with a giant pole [all that's left of the Carrousel] sticking up from the ground doesn't look too good when Merlin tries to find a new king. :D

Also in Fantasyland, it's a small world remains closed now until July 25th. You can see work being done to the canals the boats go through but no air gates.

The facade is still faded. Maybe if they wait longer, it'll turn white again (Hey, white does NOT fade. Think of the money they'll save ;-) )

The entrance to old Country Bears Playhouse in Critter Country has a large sign in front with some familiar faces talking about the Bears leaving and a new attraction opening next spring...

...and there are new litters of small critters...

A nice thing I noticed the other day was Captain Hook and Mr. Smee on the Columbia sailing ship...

...I don't recall ever seeing these characters on the ship except during Fantasmic!, so it was a pleasant little surprise to me.

Inside Tomorrowland, trees have gone up all around the remains of Cosmic Waves.

It's no longer listed as an attraction :-( yet people still love to push on the giant marble and sit on it

The Observatron nearby hasn't moved for the past two months now. What used to "come to life in a orchestration of motion and sound" or whatever the hell the line is...

... is now just another defunct Tomorrowland attraction...

There's more photos I want to share but it's late so maybe another time. But before I go, I found a little sign that's to help motivate the cast members...

In case it's hard to read, it says "SMILE....THE WORLD IS WATCHING" Bye for now!

Thank you for the tour Mr. Issac!

 

Universal thanks

A quick note: Universal Studios has painted out the word "attraction" from all the Spiderman billboards it has up all over L.A. and replaced it with the word "show."

That was a very good idea - now people won't be confused when they see all the ads. Kudos to Universal for truth in advertising.

 

We'll have another D-I-G update for you soon!

 

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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.


QUICK UPDATE 6/10 - DCA Emergency Concert Series | Spiderman, the Musical at Universal II

 

DCA Emergency Concert Series

The Disneyland Resort Entertainment department has spent the last two weeks quickly drafting plans for an emergency "summer concert series" at the new California Adventure park (DCA). These plans are still very tentative at this point, and Cynthia Harriss has given the directive to act very quickly on this plan. But as of now the plan is for DCA to host its first summer concert on the upcoming 4th of July weekend.

They have been quickly trying to round up "top name" bands to headline these DCA concerts, but trying to pin down major headliners this late in the game has already started (and after the summer touring / county fair season has been locked in) has proven to be very difficult for them. (They are in the middle of some promising talks with The Beach Boys - who did help open DCA - but nothing is for certain yet as far as the band goes.)

In what seems to always be "standard operating procedure" for this troubled park, the Entertainment Department is rush designing a new venue for these concerts in the "Golden State Amphitheater" across from the Golden Dreams movie. Currently, the amphitheater area is used as a performance venue for the acrobatic troupe that performs there a few times a day. The amphitheater was also the home of a temporary stage for the ABC Super Soap Weekends the Park hosted this past April, as well as helping to provide seating for the LuminAria show last holiday season.

The concerts Team Disney Anaheim (TDA - the resort's management) has in mind however would be on a much larger scale than any previous event held in this area, and so major changes will be needed to accommodate the expected crowds. A stage is planned to be built out over the water of Paradise Bay itself, opening up more of the amphitheater area to seating. In addition, large sets of bleachers are to be constructed in a semi-circle around the amphitheater, and are currently planned to hold an additional 2,200 viewers. Fitting these attractively into the walkways (and not interfering with the Electrical Parade) should prove interesting. The whole area could look just as delightful as bleacher filled Pasadena does just before the Rose Parade (except of course this would be up for months, not just two weeks).

The challenge of designing and building such a large facility, and in such a short amount of time, will prove daunting to the Disneyland Resorts Entertainment and Facilities departments. Much like the rushed Electrical Parade and LuminAria presentations, this entertainment concept is being hobbled together quickly to counter recent sagging attendance at DCA.

It is no secret at either Burbank or Anaheim (or within the theme park industry) that while Disneyland park's numbers recovered quickly after 9/11 (and are pretty much now back to normal), the DCA numbers continue to show declines from last year's comparable figures, sometimes as much as 20% on key days! (And don't forget, most of those turnstile clicks are lesser spending annual passholders on top of that.) It isn't very encouraging to say the least.

And all of this last minute mess (as super expensive this latest project will turn out to be) could have been avoided if they had built this park properly in the first place. When I think of the millions lost and not banked, all thanks to Paul Pressler's total inability to understand the theme park industry, and Michael Eisner's apparent loss of interest in this area of the business... sigh.

 SuperSoap panel discussion at the Golden State Ampitheater - photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix
 SuperSoap panel discussion at the Golden State Ampitheater - photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

As you may remember, the Golden State Amphitheater itself was also a last minute addition to DCA, as the space was originally planned to become home to the "California Workplace" factory tour concept that Eisner droned on about so much to the press in the mid and late '90s. As late as 1998, the amphitheater area was still slated to contain two long narrow buildings that would house industry sponsored displays and exhibits. The buildings were titled "Workplaces West" on WDI site maps. The buildings were also visible on DCA maps given out to the public at the Anaheim Resort Preview Center in 1997.

However Disney had a very tough time convincing California companies (such as breweries for example) that a DCA exhibit would be in their best interest. Only Robert Mondavi, Boudin Bakery, and Mission Foods signed on to the concept by the time the bulldozers were grading the area for the new Park. By 1999 Disney was beginning to give up on wooing any other California companies or industries to the Park - the bread baking and tortilla making are all that's left of that still born, and much industry ridiculed concept. (The empty San Francisco row houses nearby were also supposed to contain an industry exhibit or two, but were built anyway to try and flesh out the weak "Bay Area" theme around the Golden Dreams show.) Fast forward to this coming summer however, and that unloved amphitheater area will now be used to build a larger concert venue around, with seats for more than 2,000.

Currently this concert series is tentatively planned to run on Saturday nights through the end of August. TDA is so hopeful that this "headliner concert" idea will pull in the crowds that it is now very seriously considering spending the extra labor hours and keeping DCA open until 10 pm on weekends beginning on Saturday, July 13th. In a previous column we told you how Disneyland had actually expanded its planned summer operating hours from an 11 pm closing time back to a more traditional Midnight closing time for the rest of the summer. But DCA has kept its trimmed down operating hours of 10 am to 9 pm, with the Hollywood area remaining closed entirely until 11:30 am. If this summer concert idea is able to get off the ground however, look for an extra hour of DCA operation from mid-July through the end of August.

Again, this development is the ultimate rush job, and it has not been determined who (if anyone) Disney will be able to sign as talent for these concerts. The entire goal behind this plan is to have bands and talent big enough to convince the Southern California locals that a 45 dollar ticket to DCA is worth it, even though there aren't nearly as many rides, attractions, shows, evening entertainment and dancing as Disneyland has next door for the same price. (And don't believe everything you hear from Disneyland's PR department when it comes to no park ticket discounting after June 16th. That may be half true for Disneyland itself, but I can almost guarantee some kind of continuing promotions for DCA - it is really that bad folks.)

If it all comes together as planned, the suits are hoping the DCA concerts could echo Disneyland's entertainment programs in the '60s and '70s, when big name talent performed for summertime crowds at no additional cost over the regular Disneyland admission price. Back then however, they started to book this type of summer entertainment years before Memorial Day. (And with all those Radio Disney teen bands signed to Disney's own pop labels already booked solid this summer, they can't even do the synergy thing.)

Wish them luck on actually signing the big names they want this late in the season, getting the Beach Boys are one thing, the Captain & Tennille, Freddy Fender, Kansas and Hall & Oates (who all now either play Gardena card clubs or the county fair circuit - and are about the level of talent now available on this short of a notice) are quite another.

 

Spiderman the Musical at Universal, II

More than a few of you who either work at, know someone, or heck may actually even be in the new Spiderman show at Universal (which I reviewed last week) wrote to tell me why the show didn't follow the movie that closely.

It seems like Universal only has the rights to use the Marvel comic book version of Spidey, and not the movie one. That's why (for example) the Green Goblin doesn't have on the cool suit worn the movie, and why they can't replicate scenes like the upside down kiss.

Maybe Universal should pony up a few bucks and work out something with Columbia Pictures? The audience isn't going to know the reasons why things look so wrong, just as I had no idea they were restricted in what they could do / not do. It makes Universal look bad, you know?

I'll check back on the show in a few weeks and let you know if they've made any progress - I do hear they are working on it.

 

We'll have another D-I-G update for you soon.

 

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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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DCA Emergency Discounts

6/25 UPDATE - DCA Emergency Discounts | Budget tickets, budget acts | LuminAria 2.0 | Mr. Issac's Disneyland Photo Tour | Universal thanks

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QUICK UPDATE 6/10 - DCA Emergency Concert Series | Spiderman, the Musical at Universal II

 

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