Since Laura was in a week-long training class at work, I (Lee) had the opportunity to take her place at a press event Disney put on for Southern California media to get a look behind the scenes at all the changes coming to the Disneyland Resort this Summer - especially the opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land at California Adventure.
This is Part One!
The first half of the event took place in what Disney calls its Cast Showcase at California Adventure. This is an immersive education venue that Disney built to familiarize all 22,000 Disneyland Resort cast members with all the changes taking place around the Disneyland Resort. The Showcase is currently occupying the soundstage venue at California Adventure that is used to hold Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. For those who have been through the Narnia or other "behind the scenes" exhibits for various films that have been installed at Disney Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, this has the same sort of feel. The Cast Showcase is supposed to run for 20 days.
Our visit to the Cast Showcase began with a welcome by Tom Staggs, Chairman Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Tom said that Disney recognized that California Adventure was not living up to its potential and began a five year program to remake the park. Highlights so far include extensive changes to the Paradise Pier area, the Little Mermaid attraction, and the World of Color show. The re-imagined entrance and hub for California Adventure, Buena Vista Street, and the new 12-acre Cars Land complete that five-year effort. He explained that the Showcase covers not just the changes at California Adventure but also at Disneyland and Downtown Disney. It is not just about attractions but also about merchandising, food and beverage and entertainment. He remarked that when they re-open California Adventure it will finally be a worthy and complementary neighbor to Disneyland. Re-open was a deliberate choice of words - Disney views the magnitude of the changes and the shift in the story of California Adventure to be significant enough that they are considering this a second Grand Opening for the park.
Tom then circled back to talk about the Disney cast members who he said are the key to bringing the worlds that the Disney Imagineers build to life and to the guest experience. He said that the cast members will visit the Showcase because they love what they do - they are Disney fans and they want to know as much as possible to help their guests.
As his parting shot Tom shared a secret - along with all the other changes coming June 15th, there will be a new segment in World of Color featuring Pixar's latest animated feature 'Brave'.
From here on out the Cast Showcase experience was what the cast members will see. The first room includes displays on the renovated Matterhorn - including one of the new ride vehicles - on the Mad T Party dance party coming to California Adventure (replacing ElecTRONica), and the new Fantasy Faire "Princess experience" area coming to Disneyland.This area also features a kitchen set for the "The Happy Chef" who acts as the master-of-ceremonies for this area of the exhibit. She is putting on a cooking demonstration making a celebratory cake and with each ingredient she adds to the cake there is a video segment from a Disney executive talking about an aspect of the changes. The first video is from George Kalogridis, President of Disneyland Resort, who greets the 22,000 cast members and Imagineers of Disneyland Resort and welcomes them to the cast showcase. He tells the cast members that this is the second largest expansion in the history of the Disneyland Resort and that "the happiest place on Earth just got happier."
Artist concept drawings for the new Fantasy Faire "Princess experience" under construction at Disneyland
A signboard explaining changes that will be coming to the Pixie Hollow character greeting area in Disneyland this Fall
Another of the video segments talks to all the changes taking place in Downtown Disney. Those changes include the extensive renovations to the Disneyland Hotel including replacing all the electrical and plumbing, expanding the rooms into the former balcony areas, and upgrading the furniture, carpet, and fittings. Other highlights include the renovated Lego store (we are getting giant Lego sculptures like those at Walt Disney World), the new Wunderground Gallery (Disney collectables), the new Earl of Sandwich restaurant (yea!) and the expanded La Brea Bakery.
The next video segment highlights the recently completed renovations to the "400 block" of Main Street in Disneyland. These changes include complete interior remodels of all the shops and restaurants, most in the Victorian style. The candy store now has a candy kitchen that is twice as big so guests can see two kinds of candy being made at once. The shops have more room for guests to move around and more cash registers to shorten waits to check out. The service area at the GIbson Girl ice cream shop has been moved back into the shop so the queue will now be inside instead of spilling out onto Main Street.
The new Matterhorn ride vehicles
The segment highlighting changes within the Parks included a section on the Matterhorn. This is the first time it's been scaffolded since it was built which allowed them to paint it a new color and add new "snow", and is the first major rehab since 1978. The new ride vehicles are each two connected cars, each with three individual seat compartments instead of the single (shared) set compartment. They are building a new load area to support both a single rider line and load/unload for guests who need "assistance". The Matterhorn re-opens on June 15th.
The changeover from ElecTRONica to Mad T Party in the Hollywood area of California Adventure is almost complete - with a new central stage and the new House of Cards that replaces Flynn's Arcade. The featured act for the Mad T Party is the Mad T Party Band that includes the Mad Hatter and Alice as band members. They will perform for twenty minutes out of every hour and tunes the rest of the hour will be provided by a DJ (see the picture with the glowing bunny ears). There will be professional dancers featured at the House of Cards along with, if Glowfest and ElecTRONica are any indication, lots of dancing guests.
Costumes for Alice and the Mad Hatter
The Mad T Party DJ's costume
Artist concept for the main stage for the Mad T Party
Some of the merchandise that will be available at the Mad T Party
Special food items that will be for sale at the Mad T Party
The drinks available at the Mad T Party come in very interesting cups
There has been no formal announcement made that we are aware of, but there is a note on the map of California Adventure entertainment below, that reads "Daytime fountain show - our famous Paradise Pier fountains perform, dance and play - in the day".
This map highlights the live performers and character "meet and greet" opportunities around California Adventure
We then moved to the second room in the exhibit - this one decorated like 1920's Los Angeles to highlight the new Buena Vista Street. Our host for this area was an actor playing an old time radio announcer - complete with impressions and sound effects. Various video segments, along with the static displays, told the story of Buena Vista Street and what guests can expect. Buena Vista Street represents Los Angeles as it was in the 1920's when Walt arrived with little more than "his suitcase and his dreams". Buena Vista Street actually starts with the entrance to California Adventure - the entrance turnstile area has been rebuilt to look like the Los Angeles' Pan Pacific Theater . The shops on Buena Vista street have been themed to have a connection to the young Walt Disney (Mortimer's Produce, Clarabelle's Ice Cream, Elias and Company) and the story is that they may have served as the inspiration for some of Walt's early stories and characters.
Buena Vista Street ends in a new hub area with a new "partners" statue and a beautiful fountain that front the Carthay Circle Theater. Just in case you don't know the connection, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in 1937. This Partners statue features a much younger Walt Disney and an earlier version of Mickey Mouse. The Carthay Circle Theater building will house three restaurants: a lounge downstairs that serves appetizers and "small plate" dishes, a full table service dining room upstairs that seats 200 inside and 56 more on the balcony, and the Club 33 associated private dining room - 1901.
The fountain at the center of the new California Adventure hub. Image copyright ©Disney.
Running up and down Buena Vista Street and into the Hollywood area will be the two Red Car trolleys - based on the Pacific Electric Railroad trolleys that used to run in Los Angeles. Some interesting trivia for this attraction - the cars are based on the original Pacific Electric Railroad cars but are brand new and they are actually battery powered (so all the overhead wires are just set dressing). Their numbers are 623 (for 1923, the year Walt arrived in LA) and 717 (for the 7/17/55 opening day of Disneyland).
Photos of various merchandise items that will be available in shops on Buena Vista Street
There are several new entertainment acts that have been created for Buena Vista Street. Five and Dime is a jazzy band (the Five) with vocalist Dime, who will perform from various locations using their car as their stage. The Red Car News Boys is a six-member group that will serve as the singing ambassadors of Buena Vista Street and may remind some of Disney's 'Newsies' movie and musical. Fans of the street performers in Disney Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World should enjoy the "Citizens of Buena Vista". These four characters include a policeman, a directionally-challenged messenger, a photographer and a slightly crazed dog lady and they will have impromptu interactions with guests making their way down Buena Vista Street. Guests will also regularly see Goofy dressed in a 20's era zoot suit on Buena Vista Street.
Artist concept for Five and Dime. Image copyright ©Disney.
A Red Car News Boy
Tomorrow "Cars Land" so be sure to check back!
The previous post in this blog was Disneyland Paris: Magic on Parade!.
The next post in this blog is Disney California Adventure Press Preview Part 2 - 5/10/12.