Last month, we took a look at the current state of Walt Disney World. Now, it’s time to do the same for Disneyland. It was a long, cold (well, not really, but metaphorically) winter and spring at Disneyland Resort, with large portions of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure “down” for the months leading to the kickoff of the Diamond Celebration.
Normally, the beginning of the year is a slow time in terms of crowds at Disneyland Resort, and consequently, it’s a window filled with refurbishments. This timeframe was extended and the attractions and areas refurbished more ambitious this year, with most of the projects continuing even through the busy Spring Break and Easter seasons.
This all culminated in the kickoff of the Diamond Celebration on Memorial Day weekend, and for locals, I think it’s safe to say the “colder” winter and spring were unequivocally worth it. We cover all of the details specific to the new entertainment in our Ultimate Guide to the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration Guide, so I don’t want to fixate on those here, but I do want to cover the state of Disneyland, aside from that, in this post.
So, what’s going right and what’s wrong at Disneyland Resort, Stardate Summer 2015? Let’s take a look…
First up, Disneyland (Park). Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom. More or less, the current state of Disneyland is “awesome.” There’s very little for me to fault here, as I think Disneyland is firing on all cylinders. Aside from the new entertainment and plussing of old attractions, the park essentially received a top to bottom refresh, with everything from the facade of ‘it’s a small world’ receiving a refurbishment to Critter Country being totally closed and spruced up.
It seems like much of the park received, at minimum, a spit and polish. The end result is Disneyland looking the best I’ve seen it look in years. What follows is a couple of complaints and their depth of treatment far outweighs these couple paragraphs of praise, so I want to reiterate for emphasis: Disneyland is looking the best I’ve seen it in years. It’s really a joy to be in the park right now during the Diamond Celebration, and this far outshines my quibbles that follow.
I stated above that I didn’t want to fixate on the Diamond Celebration entertainment here since I already reviewed all of the new entertainment, but there’s one way I think is necessary: operationally. While the new entertainment has pretty much been an unmitigated success, it has drawn larger crowds and caused operational headaches from just before the start of Paint the Night until about 45 minutes after the Disneyland Forever fireworks.
During this time, Disneyland’s quaint intimacy becomes a noticeable liability. Not only is the park difficult to navigate and Main Street beyond crowded, but there are bottlenecks that are essentially impenetrable. To their credit, Disneyland Cast Members do a good job of directing traffic (sometimes to the dismay of guests as they have to backtrack considerably to reach destinations), but there simply isn’t enough capacity in the popular areas to accommodate the number of guests who desire to be in those areas.
Getting whatever Marvel thing is coming to Innoventions open ASAP would help, but also drawing guests to other, uncrowded areas would be good. For example, Big Thunder Ranch could offer some basic nighttime entertainment. Likewise, the idea of having a line form for Peter Pan’s Flight in Frontierland during the fireworks creates chaos once Fantasyland is cleared, but not reopened for regular guests, so why form such a line? (I witnessed this firsthand as the area behind the rope was a logjam for 20 minutes after the fireworks as Cast Members slowly allowed the Peter Pan’s Flight line to enter Fantasyland.)
Given the smash success of both Disneyland Forever and Paint the Night, the crowds are unlikely to die down anytime soon, so hopefully some “quick fixes” can be announced at the D23 Expo and opened shortly thereafter. Ultimately, though, being “too popular” is a good problem to have.
One recent change that has been controversial has been the new-look Disneyland Band that debuted on Disneyland’s anniversary, July 17, 2015. For those who don’t follow Disneyland closely, basically, what happened here is that the style of the band was changed and old members (who were previously often “lifers”) had to re-audition to keep their roles. From what I surmise by looking at the band, few, if any, did keep their roles. In watching the new band, my takeaway is that the new performers are very talented, but the change was unnecessary and inappropriate.
The new-look Disneyland Band now features much more audience participation and skews younger. It’s almost akin to a pep rally, which is funny, because Disneyland already has an All-American College Band. It’s almost as if someone in management saw a spreadsheet noting that the Band wasn’t mentioned on enough guest feedback surveys, and issued a memo with buzzwords like “family-friendly” “high energy” and “interactive” in it. The problem with this is that not everything needs to be an E-Ticket attraction or the highlight of every guest’s day. Some things–like area entertainment–is minor and insignificant for many guests.
Moreover, management needs to remember that “family-friendly” and “classy” are not mutually exclusive terms. It seems all too often, when the above-mentioned buzzwords appear, the resulting change is a dumbed-down product that is–in my mind–below the caliber of what belongs in a Disney theme park. That something will be popular with guests should not be sufficient to deem it inappropriate for a Disney theme park. If it were, we’d have a Duck Dynasty Live on Stage! attraction in Epcot. Oh wait, we do. I almost forgot about the lumberjacks in Canada.
Suffice to say, this new Disneyland Band may have all the talent in the world, but in attempting to appeal to a younger demographic, it wholly lacks the classiness found in the previous Disneyland Band. The old act was a perfectly befitting act of Disneyland and the ambiance of Main Street USA, whereas the new act would be an appropriate opening act for a New Kids on the Block concert.
The inescapable fact, though, is that me being able to devote 4 paragraphs to complaints about entertainment and another 4 to crowds during nighttime entertainment without any other real grievances to speak of, aside from the obvious “Tomorrowland Problem”, means that Disneyland is doing pretty well. As I speculate on what the future might hold–I think substantial Star Wars and Marvel announcements are possible for the D23 Expo–I realize that not only is Disneyland the best park in the US, but also one with an incredibly bright future.
Disney California Adventure
Maybe I should have titled this post, “The Disneyland Resort Praise-Fest” because Disney California Adventure is also looking awesome. Or, at least, better than it did over the winter months. DCA definitely has more room for improvement, but it’s in pretty good shape, overall.
The big thing here is the changeover of Condor Flats to Grizzly Peak Airfield. This started with Smokejumpers Grill, which we previously reviewed, and continued with the rest of the land. This was done spectacularly well, and I’m a huge fan. It really scratches me right where I itch with the continuation of the National Parks motif found in Grizzly Peak. Yosemite National Park is my second favorite place in California and the nods to it with the things like the John Muir quotes and decor make my day.
What doubly impresses me is not just the high level of the makeover, but that it could easily be viewed as a superfluous project. It doesn’t add an attraction, gift shop, or restaurant. The “only” thing it does is beautify an existing land, which probably doesn’t move the needle in terms of attendance. As I complained above about the Disneyland Band change seeming like a “spreadsheet” change, it’s only fair to point out that this is the kind of change that would have never happened if the parks were being governed solely by spreadsheet. Kudos to Disneyland Resort management for allocating the money to Grizzly Peak Airfield. It’s probably not a reason why anyone will plan a trip to Disneyland Resort or spend more money while there, but it’s an important thematic change that improves the park as a whole, and heightens the broader guest experience.
This leaves DCA with two big weaknesses as far as I’m concerned, with the biggest being Hollywood Land. Aside from the national treasure that is Schmoozies, Hollywood Land is sort of a mess. I don’t think the whole ‘Frozen’ thing was a runaway success as expected (which is why Mad T Party is back), and Hollywood Land remains a jumble of temporary entertainment and architecture that doesn’t really come together as well as it could (this is one area where Disney’s Hollywood Adventure has a clear advantage). Hollywood Land has been the subject of perpetual rumors of the next E-Ticket addition, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before something is announced. Perhaps the D23 Expo? I think a “Hollywood that never was, and will always be” theme could work well here, but wouldn’t be opposed to a wholesale redevelopment of the land. I’m already preparing a grassroots #SaveSchmoozies campaign, in case of the worst.
The other area that I think could use help, but is probably unlikely to receive anything in the near-term, is Paradise Pier. The irony here is that after the first stage of the Disney California Adventure 2.0 development, Paradise Pier was one of the best-looking areas of the park. It received a decent amount of attention then, and was looking better than ever. Now that other areas have seen more (and more recent) work, Paradise Pier is showing its age and weaknesses.
Most of what I think needs to be done here is placemaking, and I suspect that will happen once the expansion pad over where Maliboomer was located is finally used. I know nothing, but there haven’t even been weak rumors about that happening anytime recently. Here’s hoping Disney has a surprise announcement, and changes come sooner rather than later. Personally, I don’t think things are that bad in Paradise Pier, so I’m fine waiting on these changes if other big things are happening elsewhere. We can’t have it all, all at once.
From my perspective, things are looking pretty good at Disneyland Resort. While I do expect major Marvel and Star Wars projects to be unveiled at the D23 Expo that will be serious expenditures, I think most of Disney’s attention in the US will be devoted to Walt Disney World (which, frankly, needs it more) in the next 5+ years. Obviously, Disney has the resources to attend to both at the same time, and largely, I think they will. I’m hopeful that Disneyland Resort also addresses its parking and infrastructure issues.
Also, they really need to fix all the targets in Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters so I can better hone my skillz. Oh, and they should also get some more goats. And another thing…would it be too much to ask to sell soft serve ice cream somewhere in Disneyland (park)?! 😉 Yep…as you can see, things aren’t too bad right now for Disneyland fans.
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What do you think about the current state of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure? Are you excited about the future of the parks? What would you like to see happen? Star Wars? Marvel? If you have additional thoughts or any questions, please share them in the comments!