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MousePlanet Mailbag for October 13, 2005

Compiled by Stephanie Wien, Mailbag editor

We receive considerable feedback regarding our site. Although we cannot publish them all, the following may be of interest to our readers. If you have any general thoughts, questions, or comments, contact us at our Mailbag here.

Feedback for David Koenig (Mouse Tales)

MouseTales author David Koenig received a lot of feedback on his article about how Disney can keep the 50th Anniversary momentum and breathe some life into the ailing Disney's California Adventure park (DCA) (link).

Ed De Leonardis writes:

Appreciate & enjoy your commentary on Disneyland's 50th and DCA's poor performance. I'm a long time Disney fan, now living near Pismo Beach. I closely followed earlier expansions, and Walt Disney World. Although I enjoy parts of DCA and the Grand Californian Hotel is a masterpiece, it took me a while to figure out why DCA doesn't work. Walt knew it over 50 years ago, and the DCA planners/designers overlooked his philosophy, “I just want it to look like nothing else in the world, and I want it surrounded by a train.” Unfortunately, as you noted, DCA looks like everything (Magic Mountain, Universal and Knott's) else.

Kim Goldsworthy tries to decode “Disney Geek speak,” and writes:

You wrote: “Certainly concern must be growing that DCA will never be able to stand on its own‹a necessity before Disney will ever invest in a third gate on the strawberry fields.”

I must ask, “Third gate? Strawberry fields?” Please translate into English.

Hi Kim – About five years ago Disney acquired acres and acres of strawberry fields kitty-corner from DCA across Harbor & Katella and adjacent to a large cast member parking lot. Disney's hope was, once DCA is a success, that they'd build a third theme park on the strawberry fields. They're still waiting and, unless DCA suddenly takes off, nothing will happen to Site Three, or they'll turn it into something less ambitious, such as hotels and a water park. That would be a shame, since they'll never have enough contiguous land to build a third gate elsewhere in Anaheim.

David Lieberman writes:

I found your article about why people don't go to DCA interesting. And while I agree that certainly as far as size and number of attractions and not as much themeing are a reason it isn't as good, I think some of these people who haven't actually visited have some misconceptions and are missing a number of great attractions that aren't “carnival rides” or “thrill rides.”

As a seasonal Walt Disney World cast member (did the College Program) and one who lives on the West Coast the rest of the year, I know both Disneyland and Walt Disney World well.

Soarin' Over California obviously is just a big Disney hit. At Epcot it has ridiculously long lines now. Muppet Vision 3D and It's Tough to be a Bug are 3D movies of great Disney quality. Almost up there with Philharmagic. Unfortunately a lot of people skip over these shows not noticing them.

Tower of Terror would have done much better if they kept the full design of the Disney-MGM studios version where it is an insanely huge hit. Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular I think is one of the best theme park shows Disney has, and probably the best theater too. Totally worth seeing. And the tortilla factory and bread factory are kind of nice cultural things, sort of Epcotish.

The animation building is just stunning. The lobby is amazing. The interactive area is lots of fun, and now that they have Turtle Talk with Crush, that whole place to me is an excellent Disney attraction. I also trust Monsters Inc. will be good. The problem is that these parts of the park aren't as visible as say, California Screamin' (which is a great smooth roller coaster, and nice when the music works) and everything else in Paradise Pier.

I think all they need to do to fix DCA is throw out Paradise Pier and start over with that. And add something behind Tower of Terror. Also, these true Disneyland lovers who never visit need to at least give it a try. It's better than the parking lot that used to be there... but just not a full day's worth like Disneyland is. When I spend a full 16 hour day visiting disneyland... only about 4 hours are spent at DCA... but let me tell you... I enjoy those 4 hours and wouldn't ever want to miss it. So basically DCA isn't worth throwing out... it just needs improvements in certain areas. It's worth visiting if you're a frequent Disneyland visitor. It's a great supplement to the park...it just doesn't stand on its own... yet.

And I totally agree that the Universal and Six Flags market is completely different than Disneyland's market and that Disney needs to stop trying so hard to reach out that audience and reach into the audience that is into what disneyland is.

Hi David – I agree with everything you say. I enjoy most every individual component of DCA, yet they don't add up to an appealing whole for an awful lot of people. And it sounds like a lot of that are the fault of the “carnival” rides; they do overpower the rest of the park. I can't imagine, however, Disney ever pulling out California Screamin'.

Matthew writes:

I don't get why nobody likes California Adventure? When I first heard about it, I couldn't wait to be there to try it out and see. I was online many times a week checking out previews and videos of the park. We knew about it being built from a previous visit. Seeing the whole parking lot gone, seeing new mountains and coaster building slowly. It is a whole new addition. People complained of lack of rides. Hey, it opened with the same number of rides that Disneyland originally started with. Look at the parks in Florida. Smaller and they work great.

I love Grizzly River Run, Soarin Over California, California Screamin, Muppets, and at that time, SuperStar Limo, Mulholland Madness, and more. It was also great to finally get a chance to see the famous Electric Parade for the first time. Since our last visit, many new things have been added and wish had money for trip during the 50th celebration to see all the new things. My god, there is more there in Disney California Adventure now then when it first opened when we were there, so why still all the complaints?

I also am looking forward to seeing the Monsters Inc. which replaced SuperStar Limo. Disneyland itself has also added so much more with more being built. Too bad they couldn't bring back the Rocket Rods, remember those?

Hi Matthew – I don't think adding attractions will solve DCA's problem. It's already made a believer out of you and me. It has to convince people who have never been there to give it a try.

Larry Spinak writes:

In your examples in the article, the disinterested people either knew nothing of their own about the place, or had heard negative things about it from others. You said yourself that the marketing department seems to have forgotten DCA altogether. What Disney needs is an active effort to show DCA in its best light, and for those people who appreciate the park to be more vocal about it.

I think there's also an element of “Mouse Guilt.” The subconscious thinking is that if you admit to liking DCA, you're somehow being disloyal to Disneyland. Even when people have nice things to say about DCA, they often preface it, “Well, it's no Disneyland, but...”

Much of the same care and thought and creativity went into creating the rides and environments in DCA. There's so much to enjoy and appreciate. It's like a hidden gem parked directly in front of Disneyland. The fact that the park is usually empty is a strange bonus. Strolling along, you feel like the park has been opened especially for you. While we're on that topic, the uniform high level of friendliness and service we've come to expect from Disney Cast Members is abundant at DCA.

Hi Larry – I also enjoy DCA, but for reasons deserved or not, it has a “black mark” over it for many people who have never visited it before. I fear DCA can add E-ticket rides infinitum, but it won't do any good unless there's some fundamental shift in how the park is perceived by the casual Disney fan.

Stewart J Dimon writes:

As always, another wonderful article. We are a NorCal family that likes to visit the Magic Kingdom 1 or 2 times per year. Since DCA opened, and since we always have a Park Hopper or AP—we always visit DCA (albeit not on the first or last day)!

It's a fun place; one of the nice things is that it is not as crowded as Disneyland. It has some things that Disneyland doesn't—Taste Pilot's Grille has a Topping Bar—none of the “burger” places in DL have that. I am not a thrill ride person—heck, I don't even like Soarin'(!)—but the family does.

DCA is a nice place to sit and relax while on vacation. I do like the ambiance of the “Golden State” and “Hollywood Backlot” areas—plus there are things for “ride wimps” like me to do (movies, wine tasting, shows, eat!). I still say that one of the biggest problems that DCA has is that it is right across the esplanade from the greatest single theme park on the planet (in my opinion)—Disneyland. Put DCA up here in the Bay Area—the place would be packed!

Gina writes:

I am 47 and the mother of 10 kids and 5 grandkids. We have been coming to Disneyland for the past 10 years, 11 counting our November trip coming up. Our grown kids and younger ones love DCA. You make it sound so bad. We go for 5-6 days and spend at least 1-2 in DCA. It has more wide open space. Soaring over California and the Grizzly River Run are great rides. My kids love Jumping Jelly Fish, Tower of Terror became another great. It's a nice relaxing park to see things and relax. No, it's no Disneyland with the class it has but its not as bad as you make it.

Hi Gina – My only question: How do I personally make DCA sound so bad? Myself, I enjoy DCA, but financially, objectively it has been a bust. People are staying away in droves (evidenced by your own perception that, despite DCA being a fraction of the size of Disneyland, it has “more wide open spaces” ). So I decided to ask these people why. If more people had the passion for DCA that you and your family have, Disney wouldn't be in the pickle it's in now.

Mike Phillips writes:

From your article on 9/13/05: “Chuck's favorite activity had been to just walk around. ŚWe wouldn't go to ride rides. We'd mostly go to look at stuff and people watch. But it's so crowded now, that's no fun anymore.' Instead, he finds it much more comfortable (and affordable) to hang out at entertainment-themed malls similar to the Irvine Spectrum.”

So he wants it more affordable and less crowded? Me too but, how can you have both? Great article as always!

Hi Mike – The answer is, at Disneyland at least, you can't have both with the current AP-centric model. Disneyland has only been able to raise its admission price to $56 because it makes up the difference in turnstile clicks with cheap AP's. The park is now artificially crowded, so once-a-year visitors are, in a sense, getting less enjoyment out of Disneyland today for $56 than they did 10 years ago for $34. So, why would someone like Chuck, who thinks Disneyland has become a poor value, want to pay the same amount of money for a park that offers even less?

Stanley Schwarz writes:

I agree that Disney's California Adventure is a complex matter. Some have suggested making DCA a part of Disneyland Park, thus reducing the worry about paying for tickets. Still others maintain that DCA needs an attraction like Pirates or Haunted Mansion. An attraction with plentiful audio-animatronics.

Hi Stanley – DCA will never become part of Disneyland; your operating costs would remain about the same, while eliminating your greatest source of potential revenue.

And what I got out of talking to these people who have never visited DCA is that you can add all the new attractions you like and it won't help. People's entire perception of DCA must be drastically changed, and 10 Haunted Mansions won't accomplish that.

Ismael Flores writes:

I found your article interesting, but I could not help notice that none of the people you spoke about when talking about DCA are the age target for the park. If you do a bit more research you would find that younger people or better yet tourists feel much different about DCA.

I recently met some people while visiting a heavily packed park this past three day weekend. These two groups of people one from the Netherlands and one from Tokyo had a very different opinion about DCA. This group actually felt that the park was very enjoyable and had many Disney qualities. After questioning them about the obvious views of the outside world that people comaplained about, they said it did not deter from some of the great qualities of the park. They also explained that several parts of Tokyo Disneyland are very visible from outside the park and that the outside is also visble from inside the park. Tokyo Disney Sea was described as being very beautiful but extremely lacking of things to do and said that not until something more is built that they would not attend again.

I was surprised to hear similiar comments from the group from the Netherlands. This group spent eight days at the Disneyland resort here in Anaheim. This was the first time they had ever spent that much time. They mentioned that normally they were going to spend only three days at the resort then would have have gone to Universal and Sea World but actually changed their agenda after having an enjoyable stay.

I was suprised to hear that the things they enjoyed the most was the small things like the tortilla tour and the simple but yet enjoyable movie about wine making.

So could we say that DCA is a failure if it is adding stays? Is it fair to quote people that do not fit the intended target of the new park? Has this park really struggled this past summer or is it doing its job?

Hi Ismael – DCA's problem, for the most part, does not seem to be people who visit the park and often enjoy it. It appears to be the people, thousands upon thousands of them, who (for various reasons mentioned) haven't been or otherwise have no interest in ever going to DCA.

To answer your directly:

1. Yes, we can say DCA is a failure if it's not adding enough stays. Certainly there are people spending an extra day on Disney property to see DCA, but not as many as Disney would like.

2. What is the target market of the new park? Based on how it was initially designed (lots of full-service restaurants, alcohol, few characters, nothing for small children, wine-making movie, factory tours, lots of movie-based attractions, Six Flags-type thrill rides), the park seems to have been intended for middle-aged Disney fans possibly with teenage children, pretty much the people I spoke with. Granted, the park has shifted directions a couple three times over the years, and it would have been nice to hear from someone in their 20s or 30s.

3. Yes, the park has struggled this summer. The lack of crowds make this painfully obvious.

Garth writes:

Normally, I enjoy your reports and thoughts on Disneyland and DCA, but I have to object to your recent article about DCA. My objection with your article is the fact that you acknowledge that Disney intentionally went after the competition, yet you don't talk to anyone representing the competition's demographics in your article. Especially Magic Mountain, which is aimed at thrill-ride enthusiasts, who tend to be younger. Your article doesn't talk to anyone under 40. I know it's hard for some of you to believe, but there are those of us who genuinely enjoy DCA—everything from the thrill rides, to the themed areas like Bug's Land and Redwood Adventure area, to the more adult options like the napa wine region. Granted, it could use work, but the rides are fun, the park has some nicely developed corners, and it's a nice change of pace from Disneyland. I would love Disney to put more into the park to draw more people, because the place deserves more. It's not a perfect park, but it is fun.

Hi Garth – That Disney intentionally went after the competition's audience has been discussed and documented by me and others for the last five years. Now you don't really believe that anyone at Disney would go on the record as saying they purposely targeted the competition's customers, do you?

That there are hundreds if not thousands of people who enjoy DCA, myself included, was not the point of the article. It's that there aren't enough of us. If your favorite TV show has poor ratings, you don't need to interview the minority of people who love it; you need to talk to the majority of people who aren't watching and find out why.

Kirk Reynolds writes:

Thank you for your article on Disneyland's end of summer “second wind.” I have to say that you are right on the money with many of your observations. I will be visiting Disneyland next week (Sept 20-23) for my late summer vacation and small family reunion. It has been 3 years since I visited Disneyland after leaving Southern California behind for home ownership in Las Vegas. I have not visited Disney, one of my favorite places, during this time because of all the neglect under Pressler and the sea of construction walls from last year.

I purposely scheduled my vacation around the 50th anniversary and chose September, in part, because of my eligibility for vacation at my new job, and the fact that once the kids are back in school, the crowds are lighter. I was also waiting for everything to be neat and tidy once more. In the past, during Disney's “5-year” anniversary years (25, 30, 35, etc.) the party did, in fact, chug along for an entire year.

I am now learning that during my 3 day visit next week, that the fireworks show I have heard so much about will not be offered (I am there Tues-Thurs), as well as the Haunted Mansion closure for Nightmare makeovers. The park is also only open until 8PM. The weather is still rather delightful this time of year and I expected at least 9 or 10 PM. Once again, certain Main Street locations are also under tarps. I can't help but feel that what was touted as an 18 month long celebration was really only in full swing for 3-4 months. Have I missed the party already only 4 months into it? I recall visiting Walt Disney World in 2000 for their year long Millennium celebration, which did manage to keep attractions open year long, and I visted in late April! Surely our family will still have a pleasant visit, but I feel at this point it will be just for the sake of visiting Disneyland and not especially for any 50th activities.

I looked into adjusting my hotel reservations from Tuesday to Thursday to Wednesday through Friday to catch the fireworks Friday, but the hotel is now sold out (I made these reservations months ago, when I assumed the fireworks would be a regular birthday gift to guests). Walt understood that families spent a lot of money and planning on their trips and never wanted to disappoint them. I think they dropped the ball on this with all these after summer shut-downs and cutbacks. Is this a celebration or a renovation?

I also wanted to address the problem of DCA. In many ways, California Adventure suffers from the same lackluster problems that plagued Las Vegas's own MGM Grand Adventures park, now defunct. Both parks were grossly under designed for the context in which they were placed. DCA was miles away in themeing from its magical neighbor Disneyland, while MGM Grand was severely simple compared to the immersive theatrical endeavors just down the street at Treasure Island, Mandalay Bay and “Star Trek: The Experience” (A truly wonderful piece of themed design).

So what was the solution to an under-designed park in Vegas? Close it down and build on top of it... a hotel guests-only water park... replaced the original park entrance... one of the only remnants is the monorail, which can still be seen to the left of the property. This just goes to show, that we are not stuck with DCA, nor do we have to remodel it. It can in fact be destroyed, at cost of course, and re-shaped into something useful.

Jake Taylor writes:

First of all, huge fan of your books! Got all three of them and can not put them down. What amazes me is that Disney has gone this far working the way it has. It angers me to see how the employees were treated 50 years ago and how they are treated now. I know a couple of Disney employees, you either hate it or love it. There really is no in between.

DCA, that place is terrible. I have been there 3 times, all times I have never paid for. I think I either won tickets from a local radio station, or I recieved them from work. (Ex-ABC radio employee). I don't believe it's worth $56 to get into that roadside carnival. Soarin' Over California is by far the best ride they have there!

Second will have to be the Hollywood Tower of Terror. From the get go, California Adventure should have been just an added land. That would certainly justify a price hike to Disneyland, which is already 2 arms and 2 legs to get in, plus a house mortgage to pay for the food. Those are my thoughts... when are you coming out with “even more mouse tales?”

Thanks, Jake! This year I came out with a completely revised, thoroughly expanded version of the original “Mouse Tales.” It has about 70 entirely new pages of crazy stories, more photos, and an hour-long audio CD. And—if you act today!—you can get a nice discount at Amazon.com or a personally autographed copy at MouseShoppe.com.

My next book, a “Mouse Tales”-type book about Walt Disney World, should (hopefully!) be out by the end of next year.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact David here.

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