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On October 9, the Disneyland Resort gave an official farewell to Paul Pressler in the form of a reception hosted by Cynthia Harriss. The invitations went out just a few days prior via e-mail to everyone with a resort e-mail account, although every cast member (CM) at the resort was officially invited. Thanks to this particular setup, the event was understandably attended almost exclusively by salaried management types from Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) out back and the Parks, as many of the hourly CMs didn't even know it was happening.
The reception was held in Disney's California Adventure (DCA) Hollywood and Dine food court, and those in attendance were quite impressed with the spread offered for Paul's farewell. Of course, the irony of hosting this "Farewell Pressler" event in a mothballed food court located in a deserted corner of the company's most struggling theme park was probably lost on many of those in attendance. However the irony didn't slip past those who went to the reception and then wrote to me about it afterward.
What was even more bizarre than the location, however, was the rather unique theme that was chosen for this party. The Hollywood and Dine food court was decorated with large signs and props from The Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic as a witty jab at Paul Pressler, who suddenly left Disney to be CEO of The Gap. There was fresh sushi prepared in front of a 15-foot-long Old Navy sign, sirloin sandwiches, and artichoke ravioli being dished up by chefs beneath a giant Gap logo, and the dessert of the day was bananas foster offered in front of a large and very authentic-looking Banana Republic sign.
Since many of the managers in attendance haven't been to an official company Christmas party since December 2000, and since even modest entertaining at work is now strictly forbidden under the new austerity plans mandated by Burbank for the last 18 months, the modest, yet gracious, food being offered was quite a shock to those in attendance. No one could really believe that all of this expensive food was being offered, since that type of entertaining and the budgets to go with it had been banished in Anaheim a few months after DCA opened.
By the way, the modest Christmas party thrown for park managers at Dave & Busters has been cancelled again this year. When it was killed off last year in the wake of September 11, no one complained, and everyone seemed to understand that these were very unique circumstances that required everyone to chip in. Even the longstanding tradition of receiving a Christmas card in the mail from Michael Eisner was stopped last year. But the Christmas Party has been cancelled again for this year as simply a cost-cutting maneuver, and that has many managers grumbling.
As if morale among the salaried cast who haven't had a raise in almost two years could get any worse, the TDA and Burbank execs decided to keep right on trimming what little extras were left. You can be sure, however, that the execs continue to be wined and dined on the company's nickel. In fact, there is a second and much more lavish farewell for Paul Pressler planned for this week. This real farewell is being held on the Mark Twain and in the Blue Bayou, with lots of champagne and a four-course meal to fete the departing Pressler.
But the food at the Hollywood and Dine party was just the start. The large room had been cleared of all tables and chairs, and had been set up with dozens of small banquet tables to nosh around. The perimeter of the room was lined with expensive plasma screen television sets, with a small stage set up along one wall. And off in a corner was an odd bit of whimsy, where a "photo location" had been set up with a cardboard cutout of Paul Pressler himself dressed in casual khaki pants and a denim shirt. Never mind that Paul Pressler was actually at the party himself, along with his wife and two children, party guests were invited to stand next to the cardboard Paul and have a "farewell photo" taken of themselves by two photographers with Polaroid cameras.
But wait. Before you take that picture, make sure you are dressed correctly! Believe it or not, there was a clothes rack full of Gap sweatshirts and jean jackets that guests were expected to put on for their photo. Just imagine these TDA folks struggling into big Gap sweatshirts, and then huddling around a cardboard Paul Pressler for their souvenir photos. Many of the TDA cubicles now proudly display these bizarre Polaroids.
Once everyone had snacked on sirloin and sushi, had their picture taken with a faux Pressler, and stopped by the Banana Republic bananas foster buffet, it was time to start the show. Cynthia Harriss took the stage and said a brief speech of thanks and introduction. The plasma screens then flickered to life, and the party guests were treated to a specially produced video in honor of Paul.
It wasn't a predictable This Is Your Life-type honorarium, however. Instead, it was a bit of a cynical and witty roast that had a Disneyland TV crew going to South Coast Plaza to visit The Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores there. Gap employees were interviewed with predictably hilarious results, and the salesclerks were even convinced to do their best impression of a dancing Small World animatronic doll while they sang "It's A Mall World After All" for the camera. The party audience roared with laughter through the 10-minute video.
Once the video was shown, Cynthia took the stage again and presented Paul with an honorary Golden Spirit of Disneyland award, as well as a specially commissioned Eric Robison "100 Mickeys" print. Paul then took to the stage, along with the Fab Five Disney characters, and gave a short speech of thanks. His family and longtime Disney secretary were thanked profusely, and the ceremony took a turn to the emotional as his secretary cried in the audience. Before you knew it, though, Cynthia took the microphone again and wrapped up the presentation with lots of hugs and thank-yous to Paul. And then it was back to more mingling and noshing.
The event was definitely surreal for those in attendance, and surprisingly bizarre. The obvious amount of money that was spent on the reception was cause for much discussion, and later in the week, the rumor floating around TDA was that Cynthia paid for most of it herself. At the event, Cynthia Harriss was her usually charming and gracious self, and she was responsible for coming up with the wacky and witty tone for the event. However, many noticed that it was a bit heavy handed when it came time to thank Paul for his contributions. And several different party guests surmised that this was the beginning of a campaign by Cynthia to ensure her contacts with Paul remain intact, just in case an opportunity for her comes up at The Gap in the near future.
The buzz continues to spread among the salaried cast members that Cynthia and the other lower level executives that Paul Pressler brought to Disneyland in between 1997 and 1999 will shortly be leaving Disney themselves, and this bizarre and splashy farewell reception fueled those rumors. At least the salaried lower and middle managers got a free meal out of the deal, since they won't be getting anything from Disney for Christmas this year.
Tower of Terror construction photos
The view above is from the nearby Hyperion Theater. Below is from the entryway to the farm, er, Bug's Land area. Both photos, as well as the others in the column today, were taken last Sunday, October 13.
Too Much Genie?
Speaking of the Christmas season, word continues to leak out about the upcoming Aladdin show for DCA. The Entertainment folks have been giving presentations about the show to different groups of managers the past few weeks, in addition to the satellite press conference they held as part of the Flik's Fun Fair festivities. [You may want to take a gander at Sue Kruse's report on the press event on the site in case you missed it.]
What's interesting is that not everyone is as excited about this upcoming show as the Entertainment folks are. Other managers from other Park operating divisions were cringing in their seats when the Entertainment folks cheerily announced that this would be a 40-minute show. Since many theme-park visitors in this day and age have shorter attention spans, the thought of asking the average family at a theme park to sit in a theater for 40 minutes sounds like a big mistake to some of the Park managers with years of theme-park experience under their belts.
People routinely get up and walk out of 15-minute shows like the Tiki Room, MuppetVision, and the Country Bear Jamboree. And there has actually been an increase in visitor comments the past few years from people who feel 15-minute-long attractions such as the Mark Twain, the Sailing Ship Columbia, and Pirates of the Caribbean "take too long," and want them sped up.
When you add in 10 minutes for waiting outside the Hyperion Theater, and 10 or 15 minutes for "loading time" of the theater before the show starts, you have just over an hour that you will be asking DCA visitors, few as they are, to commit to seeing this new Aladdin show.
What also has some fellow Park managers eyeing the Entertainment folks suspiciously is how lavish the Aladdin show is planned to be. The long roster of Broadway talent being flown in from New York and Europe to get this show rolling has raised eyebrows to say the least. ...There were several high-ranking managers, however, who felt the Entertainment folks were being a bit "hoity-toity" with this new project, and are privately questioning if this level of European sophistication will be lost entirely on the average red-blooded American tourist family with small children.
And, the Broadway actors and actresses who have been moved to Orange County from New York and Los Angeles for this show, while their operating department is being asked to cut staffing and capital investment for yet another year, have also many quietly asking, "Just how much does this all cost?"
The Entertainment folks are genuinely excited about this upcoming show, and they don't seem to be embarrassed in the least that this is obviously a big-budget production with a level of sophistication unlike anything Disney has ever tried in the past.
It will be very interesting to see how it all pans out come December, that's for sure!
The parks have been busy, as you may have noticed last week. The return of Haunted Mansion Holiday, as well as the opening of Flik's, and the Columbus Day holiday brought in the crowds.
Last Saturday, DCA saw 18,700 through the turnstiles, of which 6200 were annual passholders (APs). Disneyland did a total of 52,000 that day, of which 10,000 were APs. The numbers help tell the story of how important the AP total is to the DCA count. It's clear that the new area isn't pulling in visitors off the street whereas the Mansion makeover is, but frankly, Disney had modest expectations for this new addition.
It's unclear what will happen in the next two weeks with the World Series nearby. Will it drive attendance? Will it siphon it off? We'll just have to see.
Meanwhile, the transformation of the California Adventure "Bountiful Valley" farm area into Bug's Land is now complete - with character statues replacing all the crops that used to be so lovingly displayed in the areas between the movie and the new play area.
Doesn't it look more and more like Fantasyland over in Disneyland?
Warning: Avoid Cafe Orleans
I guess it's no secret that since VP Mike Berry, who used to head up food at the Disneyland Resort, moved on, that things have gone downhill inside the berm when it comes to dining quality. Now I am having some very serious concerns about safety - after a rather disturbing event last Sunday lunchtime at the Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square.
It'd been a while since I'd eaten at this location - normally the choices the last few weeks had been either the Plaza Inn (where the fried chicken is getting saltier and smaller, and the vegetables apparently more canned), or the Whitewater Cafe at the Grand Californian (which delivers better quality food and value, but has a very limited menu).
Since we wanted to ride the Mansion that day to see and hear more of the recent changes to the makeover, we decided to eat in New Orleans Square during our Fastpass wait, with half the party heading over to the French Market, and the rest splitting off to the Cafe Orleans (shown below).
First surprise at the Cafe was that they had discontinued the Annual Passholder discount, which was no real problem, since this was my fault for not checking in advance. I was unhappy, but hey, they don't want to encourage any of my future business, so what can I say?
Second surprise was that they no longer offer a lower price if you want soup in a regular bowl instead of a bread bowl. When I asked for this, no one had warned me, so I ended up paying $7 for half the product, as no exceptions were to be made. In the past this was good for about two dollars off.
Final surprise was the most unpleasant of all, and the reason I suggest you avoid eating any of the food at this location. My dining companion had ordered a sandwich with bacon in it, and upon his getting ready to bite into it found that the bacon was not cooked at all!
Rather than risk any problems with uncooked pork, he took the sandwich back to the serving line at the French Market, where we had ended up joining the rest of our party, and the rather appalled manager was kind enough to exchange it for something else they had on hand.
What concerns me about this is: A) How could standards have slipped so much that raw bacon could be placed on a sandwich, and B) how many people (possibly up to now) have been eating this?
This disturbed my dining companion enough that he lost his appetite, and frankly, with several dismal meals in the recent past that we had (including some really awful entrees at both the Pizza Port and Rancho del Zocalo) we're now going to dine off-property in the future.
As a matter of fact, a few days back we had tried the new replacement for Acapulco across the street from Disneyland: an outpost of the Mimi's Cafe chain. Although the food is not gourmet, it is of better quality and value; enough so that it is well worth the very short walk out of the esplanade across Harbor Blvd.
The Mimi's Cafe there is managed by Debbie Eldridge, and is located at 1400 S. Harbor Blvd., and their phone number is (714) 956-2223.
I'll return when Disney gets serious about the quality and handling of the food again in the resort. I suggest after this recent experience that you also consider the alternatives.
You just don't serve raw bacon, period.
Paint, no Paint!
They've been awfully good about all the lights on Main Street, and have been working on the street's facades to both clean the windows and polish the plastic in all the lighted signs.
There is also more paint going up in ToonTown. Below is Goofy's House...
...but hopefully they can get to the rest of the peeling paint around the park, like the walls behind ToonTown (below):
...the Golden Horseshoe over in Frontierland (below):
...and the Star Trader shop over in Tomorrowland (below):
Let's hope there's even more progress with the upkeep soon.
Good News in Fantasyland
Like the headline says, here are some good things going on in Fantasyland. The carrousel continues to go back up (below)...
...and it looks like someone, somewhere in either Anaheim or Burbank, came to their senses with the safety tape on the drinking fountain steps in the castle courtyard (below)...
...looks much better, doesn't it?
We'll have another D-I-G update for you soon. See you at Disneyland!
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