California Misadventure

When it opens early next year, Disneys California Adventure is likely to be a lot like the crowded, strip-malled state for which it is named

Eisner's main reason for building a second gate at Disneyland was to turn the company's Anaheim holdings into a vacation destination like Walt Disney World. But why would folks from the East Coast fly all the way out to California just to see shows they'd already seen years earlier in Orlando?

Then there are the capacity concerns many Imagineers raised about attractions featured in DCA's Paradise Pier area. Putting it simply, these old-fashioned carnival-style rides load and unload very slowly. Even with their expected painfully short ride times (example: guests will supposedly have just 90 seconds to spin around on the "Orange Stinger"), there'll still be huge lines over in Paradise Pier.

Why? Because on opening day, DCA will have only 22 rides and attractions. But Disney's own attendance projections show that, on a typical summer day, 30,000 guests will wander around DCA looking for things to do. Think about it: What guest is going to be happy about paying $40-plus to get into DCA, only to stand in a two-hour-long line to ride "King Triton's Carousel"?

This is what worries the older Imagineers: during that first crucial summer of operation, guests will undoubtedly exit DCA—having spent most of their day standing in very long lines for all-too-short attractions—and go home to tell their friends and neighbors what an awful time they had at Disney's new theme park.

The expanded Disneyland Resort can't afford to develop a bad reputation with Southern Californians. The Mouse is counting on these folks—who made up almost 60 percent of the 13 million guests who visited Disneyland last year—to fill DCA's shops, restaurants and shows. If the new park fails to catch on with state residents, it could be in for some real trouble.

Mouse Trap

This brings us to what many senior Imagineers view as DCA's biggest flaw: its potential lack of appeal to the very people Disney needs to drive up attendance at its new park. Realistically, how many real Californians will be willing to fork over $42 to visit a fake Golden State? More important, how many of these people will be willing to come back to DCA after their initial visit?

According to the Mouse's own attendance figures, the average Southern Californian visits Disneyland twice a year: once during the spring or summer and again during the holiday season. With its minimal number of rides and attractions, can Disney's California Adventure theme park expect anything approaching this level of guest traffic?

Realistically, no. Privately, Eisner has evidently acknowledged that Disneyland's second gate could be in for a rough couple of years. He is also reported to have said that he is aware the Mouse may be forced to spend millions of dollars soon after the park opens to increase DCA's ride capacity, thus erasing any savings Pressler and Braverman may have achieved by penny-pinching on the project.

That said, Eisner also reportedly claimed that he expects DCA to someday grow into a worthy companion to Disneyland, all the while making a ton of money for the company. Knowing that its second Anaheim theme park will be under intense media scrutiny, Disney officials have stated that should DCA get just 7 million guest visits during its first year of operation (just more than half of Disneyland's average annual attendance), they'll be very happy. That will provide more than enough bodies to fill the park's shops and restaurants.

And that, of course, is the whole point of DCA: to build, as cheaply as possible, an attraction that will not leak visitors—a mousetrap, if you will. In the old days, when parking was ample, guests were free to leave the park for off-site, non-Disney venues. No more. The expansion has chewed up nearby parking, leaving visitors in the park with a simple lunch-time choice: hike almost half a mile outside the park to the enormous parking garage (a six-story, 10,000-car-capacity monument to the auto that opens on June 27) or hang around inside DCA. At closing time, patrons will pour out of both parks, competing for trams ferrying them back to the garages, and then sit through the traffic crawl—or (Disney may be excused for hoping) hang around the nearby Downtown Disney Rainforest Cafe or House of Blues.

There's irony in this sort of planning: the city of Anaheim and Caltrans are spending nearly a billion dollars on road improvements and beautification of the area surrounding Disneyland in the expectation that patrons will lay out cash in surrounding businesses. But if Disney has designed the park correctly, that will not happen. Most of the cash will go right where Eisner always intended it to go: straight into Mickey's pocket. Oh, area hotels and motels will undoubtedly benefit from the large number of guests who will now stay overnight while visiting the Disneyland Resort. And Anaheim and Orange County will automatically get 15 percent of every dollar spent on lodging. So that will add up to a nice chunk of change. But area shops and restaurants may find cash scarcer—particularly after Downtown Disney opens on Jan. 12, 2001. That's the day we'll start to see the real impact the expanded Disneyland Resort has on the local community. And it ain't gonna be pretty.

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