Wednesday, 6th August 2008

End of 15th Anniversary set for 7th March 2009

It began 493 days ago. The 15th Anniversary Celebration of Disneyland Resort Paris has certainly rolled on for longer than we all expected — being extended for another year as it was with ‘The Celebration Continues’ — but, as the final end date has now been announced, it’s a worrying concept.

No more Disney Characters’ Express, no more Candleabration. No more Lumière banners at every turn or ’15s’ on everything in sight. We are now really, truly in the home straight on this epic — and, we have to say, wonderful — celebration.

The date it all ends, as confirmed by the latest Autumn/Winter 2008/09 official brochure: 7th March 2009.

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What will happen in the parks that day? Nothing is announced yet. It’s the days after, those three lonely weeks before the start of a new season in April 2009, that will be the most interesting.

Disneyland Resort Paris certainly feels to have settled nicely into its 15th Anniversary overlay, and so removing every tiny mention of the celebration — from merchandise through to advertising and all those napkins, cups and decorations between — will be a big task.

What won’t be removed? Well, unsurprisingly the expensive and incredibly popular Disney’s Once Upon a Dream Parade is here to stay. And don’t expect the Casey Jr. train and character meet ‘n’ greets of Disney Characters’ Express to go far. The concept of a main show on Central Plaza is also ready and waiting to be used again.

But, for the 15th Anniversary Celebration as we’ve known and loved it for so long, that we watched grow from those first logos and concepts through to the incredible launch night fireworks, time is running out.

You’ve got just 7 months exactly to “live your dream”, one last time…

[Images © Disney]

Tuesday, 5th August 2008

FASTPASS and Crush, the (inevitable) return!

We reported the introduction of a second crush at Crush’s Coaster in Walt Disney Studios Park with the testing of FASTPASS tickets for one week in July. Then, we gave it an analysis so thorough that even Jaque’s Boat Cleaners would be proud. Ultimately, we accepted that the introduction of some kind of FASTPASS system at the popular yet capacity-starved attraction might just be inevitable — if only to stop the tide of complaints and questions from confused, queueing guests.

And the operations managers of Disneyland Resort Paris? They’re not quite so sure. Which is why, from 18th to 24th August 2008, the full FASTPASS tests will return again!

This information comes from member Chti Greg on Disney Central Plaza forum, who provided the original forewarning of the July tests — and just happens to work as a cast member on the attraction itself.

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So, if you’re headed to Marne-la-Vallée’s little piece of the Australian reef this month, you might just be able to test the timeslot system for yourself. Yes, that’s important — test it.

Operations are apparently just as hesitant about adding FASTPASS full-time as the fans who complain it will cripple the attraction’s regular queue. So, they’ll have another chance to test it fully again and perhaps, just perhaps, convince themselves once and for all that it will or won’t work full-time.

[Pictures: DLRP Today]

Wednesday, 30th July 2008

FASTPASS and Crush, unworkable or inevitable?

Some called “Hurrah”, others called “Horror”. For Disneyland Resort Paris, this is just about the debate of the last twelve months — should Crush’s Coaster offer FASTPASS?

First, the arguments. If you’re a pro-FASTPASS visitor, you might be shocked at just how strongly some people feel against the system. Here is a way to let people spend the time they would be standing in a line enjoying themselves elsewhere in the park. You get your ticket, return at the time, and are guaranteed a shorter wait. Sounds pretty great all-round.

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Capacity issues

The big issue, that anyone against the system will tell you, is this: FASTPASS does not add capacity. It sounds obvious, but many — particularly those “everyday” guests in the parks — assume that if an attraction has FASTPASS it can, somehow, automatically accept a much greater number of people through its turnstiles every hour. Of course, not true.

What happens is that, whilst the flow of people through the FASTPASS queue is regulated and steady in accordance with the attraction’s actual capacity per hour (or throughput) thanks to the timeslots, the people deciding to join the regular queue can end up waiting longer.

“But it’s not our problem, they could have got a ticket too” you could say. True, they could — but not everyone can. Usually it’s only between 40 and 50% of all the guests going through an attraction each day. There will, always, be a vast majority who have to grin and bear the queue if they’re to get on-board.

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“Well then, why not make the attraction FASTPASS-only, so that everyone needs a ticket?”. Sure, that would guarantee you a ride with a guaranteed shorter wait, but here you threaten to destroy completely the logistics and operation of an entire Disney theme park.

Disneyland in California learnt this to its peril in the early 2000s, when the much-maligned old management seemingly added it to everything in sight, answering the call of unknowing guests and hoping for significant increases in food and merchandise sales as people waited.

How much is too much?

In fact, those increases failed to materialise, because when you get a FASTPASS ticket you rarely think “right, now let’s go spend some money whilst waiting” — usually, you still want to actually ride an attraction.

Case in point — during the tests at Crush’s Coaster, the normally-sedate Flying Carpets Over Agrabah suddenly began to accumulate queues of between 75 and 90 minutes every day (equalling the Coaster itself), as guests grabbed a ticket and then went straight to the first nearby attraction.

With FASTPASS tickets in everyone’s hands, the walkways become crowded to the extent where the park capacity actually decreases, things become worn before time and complaints actually rise.

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Surprisingly, it seems it is in Disney’s interest to keep you IN the queues, so that more people can get into the park and more people have a good time. In the end, the new management in California removed FASTPASS from “it’s a small world”, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Tours and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh — and it still remains at no less than 8 attractions there.

It’s not all bad — the system can work great on attractions that are designed with it in mind, or built with a big enough capacity that they can easily cope with both ticket holders and regular queuers. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, with its two huge loading floors, is a good example. Similarly, Space Mountain: Mission 2‘s two platforms mean that trains can be “prepared” in advance so that the throughput of trains stays steady and right up to the maximum capacity.

And now we arrive here — Crush’s Coaster. The E-Ticket that isn’t.

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Joining the Crush

For all intents and purposes, this attraction IS considered by guests to be as important as Big Thunder Mountain or The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It’s a classic Disney “weenie” as you step toward Toon Studio, it’s a roller coaster, it’s based on the most successful animated movie ever made and it’s a LOT of fun. But it also has a capacity of just 960 people per hour, and that’s with turtle shells filled right up with 4 people departing regular as clockwork every 15 seconds.

Crush’s Coaster was never meant to be such an important attraction in the fabric of the park. But, whilst Toon Studio waits for its real high-capacity E-Ticket, it is always going to be. On this one, Imagineering simply struck gold with an idea and didn’t realise before it was too late.

The comparisons to Peter Pan’s Flight across the way are spot on — a popular film, a great concept, with a low capacity and ‘E-Ticket’ status that wasn’t intended. Part of this, interestingly, seems to come from the conclusion of guests that FASTPASS equals a must-see attraction.

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The only way to truly solve the Crush at Crush would be to build a second track for the coaster — which won’t happen. Or perhaps to build a second loading platform inside, to make sure its’ throughput stays steady — which won’t happen. Short of demolishing it (which again, won’t happen), FASTPASS begins to look like a good option. And that’s what the regular park guests think, too.

Questions and answers

If you’re reading this between the hours of 10am and 7pm, we can guarantee unquestionably that right now, in Walt Disney Studios Park, a Cast Member will be being asked “does Crush’s Coaster have FASTPASS?” or “why doesn’t Crush’s Coaster have FASTPASS?”. Maybe someone will even be making a complaint at Studio Services.

So now we find the real reason for these tests — they’re never going to make 100% of people happy with the situation at Crush’s Coaster, but if they can make 40% of people happy — and then tell the rest that “yes, we do offer FASTPASS, but they’ve all gone, it’s very popular, sorry”, then that seems to show, to these people, that Disneyland Resort Paris are trying to handle the situation.

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In that sense, it almost seems inevitable. Hand out around 3,000 FASTPASS tickets each morning, and that’s 3,000 happy guests that otherwise would have faced a grumpy 90-minute wait. Cast Members finally have the ability to say the system IS offered, but all gone for the day.

It seems like a good solution, but there’s bound to be a negative somewhere… The 5,500 other guests who can ride the attraction each day, perhaps? Not only are they now waiting for slightly longer than before (since people pick up a FASTPASS who might not have otherwised bothered to ride at all), but they’re in a queue with fewer people and having to watch 30-or-so giddy FASTPASS riders walk right by every few minutes. So, for the “other 60%”, it begins to look less appetising.

And of course, we shouldn’t forget that for the recent tests Crush’s Coaster effectively commandeered the FASTPASS machines of its neighbour, Flying Carpets Over Agrabah. Not only does this throw off a little the themed environments Disney usually promotes, now the Cast Members at the actual entrance have to just replace their “there’s no FASTPASS, sorry” with “yes, FASTPASS is right over there”.

Workable or manageable

If the system is ever offered permanetly at the attraction, surely a more workable solution for the tickets would be needed? Unfortunately, the area around the attraction has been limited terribly by the original design. The entrance is often a bottleneck that could give even the area in front of Big Thunder Mountain a run for its money.

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The area is so cramped, that the regular queue line practically never fits within its original boundary, running away around the palm trees in front of Flying Carpets, or even extending across Toon Studio in the mornings. The queue line itself isn’t anywhere near big enough, with the look and appeal of a sandy cattlepen. Many would agree it could do with having a touch more in common with the colourful, interesting, palm-filled entrance of the attraction.

Perhaps, rather than making guests’ wait for the attraction more enjoyable by giving them a return FASTPASS ticket, the answer could be to make their wait more enjoyable in the actual queue line?

[Pictures: DLRP Today.com]

Note: Several pictures were taken on a day in August 2007 when it was announced in advance that the attraction would be closed for maintenance, used here since the lack of guests gives a better look at the true amount of space around the attraction.

Tuesday, 29th July 2008

FASTPASS tests Crush’s Coaster, for one week only

It’s the morning after Bastille Day, the date: 15th July 2008. As guests made their way into Walt Disney Studios Park, rushing off toward Crush’s Coaster as quickly as possible, they were met with a sudden, unexpected dilemma — queue up, as normal… or get a FASTPASS ticket.

Overnight, the overwhelmingly popular spinning roller coaster in Toon Studio became the proud owner of its very own FASTPASS system — courtesy of Flying Carpets Over Agrabah.

Had over a year of complaints and requests from guests, not to mention the short-lived tests earlier this year, finally caused operations to cave in and add the advance timeslot system to the low-capacity attraction? Not quite.

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From the outset, these tests had a specific start and end date — 15th to 21st July, one week only. For the set-up, new, flat signage was placed above the Flying Carpets Over Agrabah FASTPASS return times, reading “Crush’s Coaster Fastpass Tickets Distribution” in the colours and style of the attraction. To the left, the Flying Carpets Over Agrabah logo itself was covered over by an arrow pointing specifically to this attraction’s slightly displaced entrance.

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Original sign (15th July) / Altered sign (16th July onwards)

Join the queue, and you’d discover the machines looked exactly the same as always. Look upwards, and the changes begin. No longer were the times ticking very slowly by as they would with the old Flying Carpets tickets — now, you’d see the timeslots cycling through up to every 30 SECONDS, right before your eyes.

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The morning “crush” at Crush’s Coaster was effectively split in two for the week, with guests rushing out of Disney Studio 1 to join either the regular line or the FASTPASS distribution. Eventually, the two rather awkwardly met right in the middle of Toon Studio, and trailed back further, side-by-side!

We’ve got a videoclip of the two queues meeting, which we’ve set to some music from Finding Nemo itself for some added amusement… is there a FASTPASS for the FASTPASS distribution yet??

Finally get to the front, and you’ll become the proud owner of the closest thing to Disney gold-dust — a real, printed Crush’s Coaster fastpass ticket!

Unlike the tests earlier this year, this week-long trial attempted to test the system as fully as possible, so the tickets were authentic and customised to the attraction.

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And when you returned to the attraction at your set time, how was that experience?

The entrance, fresh from other recent changes, was roped off into two distinct lines — one headed by a Cast Member checking FASTPASS tickets and allowing guests through (though only every few minutes, not constantly), the other, as usual, stretching off to the right right around the palm tree ‘Oasis’ area.

The themed sign seen earlier this year, pointing out the two lines, had returned for the occasion.

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Pass the Cast Member, and you’d be walking down the first part of the line, divided in two, until you reach the turnstiles and beach hut. Here, your FASTPASS would be taken by a second Cast Member and you’d turn immediately left to join the queue at the entrance to Studio 5 — as the hoard of waiting guests in the regular queue area stared intently. Rather than being mixed naturally, their queue was completely halted as a new group of FASTPASS guests were allowed entry every few minutes.

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Photo: Chris500, Disney Central Plaza forum

From here, you’d have a wait of around 15-20 minutes before you’re on-board a turtle shell and speeding around the EAC.

Back outside, and would you be thinking of getting another ticket? You’d have had to think again — all tickets were completely gone on every day of the test before even 12:30pm, such the demand and limited number made available. With a poor hourly capacity of around 900 to 1,000 guests, 40% of this was reportedly made available as FASTPASS tickets — that’s just 30 tickets per each specific timeslot.

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Maybe you’d have wanted to queue up in the regular line to enjoy the attraction again? Would the wait really be as horrific as you’d expect when 40% of the capacity is eaten up by the FASTPASS system? Not quite — the queue time indicator appeared to stay relatively steady at 75 to 90 minutes throughout the week. With the ticketing system in place, you were basically waiting the same length of time with fewer people in the queue.

Several members on the French forum Disney Central Plaza have also reported that the operations team intended to test several changes to the system throughout the week, such as increasing or decreasing the amount of tickets given out or even staggering their distribution throughout the day — an initial load at 10am and another at 2pm, for example.

Now that the tests are over, the signage put back to normal and the extra queue line gone, however, there is no word about when or even if the system will return. Was this a test that ran its course and gave the operations and Imagineers the research they needed, or is it something that could be rolled out whenever park capacity reaches a peak?

As always… watch this space.

Or, if you’d like to be a little more involved, vote in our Question of the Week — simply asking “Should FASTPASS return permanently to Crush’s Coaster?”. If you can’t make your mind up, don’t worry — remain seated with your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the website, because we’ve got a full analysis of all the pros and cons of FASTPASS at Crush coming right up…

Update: You can now read the follow-up analysis to this article here.

[Pictures & Video: DLRP Today.com]

Tuesday, 29th July 2008

Goofy new bellhop joins the ranks at Tower

If you’ve had a chance to look through the merchandise at Tower Hotel Gifts yet, you’ll know that Disney characters dressed up in the recognisable maroon uniforms of the Hollywood Tower Hotel bellhops are more than just slightly popular. But so far, we’ve never been able to meet… a life-size one.

Step up to the elevator doors, Goofy! Disney’s infamous disaster zone is undoubtedly the perfect fit for the accident-prone hotel, now arriving every day this Summer next to the dried-up fountain for photos and autographs with his fans — in the full Tower of Terror costume.

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“Aw gawwsh, which way is the hotel again?!”

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Pins, plushes, T-shirts and more have all been dedicated to Disney characters dressed as bellhops over the years at the other two Hollywood Tower Hotels in California and Florida. Never before though, has one worn the costume for real. Another “petit exclu” for Walt Disney Studios Park!

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Though times are not published in advance, you should be able to find Bellhop Goofy to the left of the attraction entrance every afternoon at the Studios, with appearances often right up until the park closing time of 7pm.

[Pictures: DLRP Today.com]

Tuesday, 29th July 2008

Have a one-on-one with Chef Rémy, the living character from Ratatouille

Rendez-Vous des Stars Restaurant may well still be the highest class restaurant at Walt Disney Studios Park, and only a buffet restaurant at that, but this Summer it gained one significant selling-point that is sure to win over even the most stubborn critic — a new chef.

The Stitch Phone, Lucky the Dinosaur, Turtle Talk with Crush, Muppet Mobile Lab, Stitch Encounter and Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor… It’s funny to think that Walt Disney Imagineer’s latest creation has arrived exclusively at this humble Production Courtyard eatery, just a few metres from their last installation — Stitch Live!.

Now, since the Imagineers have stayed true to the film, Chef Rémy doesn’t talk directly to you — he merely squeaks. But, as this cute little Audio-Animatronic sways from side-to-side to the tune of “La Vie en Rose” (also note the Pixar connection to WALL-E) or even jabs his pointed nose left and right to a modern disco song, your heart will melt…

Rémy is not only the exact, perfect size he should be, the Imagineers have clearly used the actual computer models from Pixar incredibly well.

Look closely at his face, the drawn-out body and particularly his eyes, and this is almost as good as stepping inside their computers alongside the real thing.

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Only Disney and Pixar could create a turn of events that has them pushing a rat on a trolley around the tables in a restaurant, to smiles of delight from guests…

Could it be a test for the rumoured future Ratatouille attraction in Toon Studio? Perhaps. What it does prove is that Walt Disney Imagineering can create incredibly small, life-like animatronics that hold up remarkably well to close viewing.

We aren’t zooming by this one on a mad-dash dark ride or splashing by on a boat with plenty else to distract us. Chef Rémy is there, on the platter in front of us, with kids getting as close as possible, right up to his face, and he still seems real.

Real and incredibly cute.

[Pictures & Video: DLRP Today.com]

— The video above is also available to download via the DLRP Magic! Video Podcast.

Tuesday, 22nd July 2008

Café Cafés unveils its new logo logo

Sometimes these days, you really think you’re seeing things at Walt Disney Studios Park. You have to look twice. A 75-minute wait for Flying Carpets Over Agrabah? The billboard finally removed from Disney Studio 1?

Over in Production Courtyard, however, Nescafé’s new signage for its ‘Café Cafés‘ …err… café really will make you do a double-take. Installed just last week, it arrived just days after fans were wondering whether the old signage above the location, reading ‘Rendez-Vous des Stars Restaurant’ would confuse guests into thinking that this small new coffee stand is infact that restaurant.

Problem solved — replaced by Café Cafés!

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Though the name itself is perhaps somewhat strange for a location that borders so closely on the park’s “Hollywood” area — and indeed may become part of it in the future, the signage has clearly been designed with a few quirks of the building’s art deco style in mind. The rounded letters, stylised drawings and old-fashioned white supports all lend it a good overall style.

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Now, fans may suggest, the ‘Chef Rémy’ sign for the restaurant next door should be moved or removed to avoid clashing with the new signage below.

Inside the semi-circular area still surrounded by construction fences, countless wires hang from the ceiling and work continues throughout the week. It is as yet unknown whether guests will be able to walk inside this area to order, or what kind of seating — if any — will be provided.

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The new refreshments stand is due to open in August, as listed on the latest park guide. The guide also gives an interesting clue about its products. We’re used only to small paper cups of Nescafé, perhaps with a squirt of cream on top, around the parks. If this listing is anything to go by, however, Café Cafés will be the first location to sell flavoured coffees.

[Pictures: DLRP Today, Photos Magiques]

Tuesday, 22nd July 2008

Waiting game at Studio Tram Tour goes electronic

Since the attraction, full name Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic, said goodbye to its billboard-style entrance façade last year and welcomed a new fully-themed Hollywood hills tunnel entrance, it has been completely without the electronic wait time sign that can be found at almost every other attraction.

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Now, as a final touch to the Hollywood Boulevard project, the small planter to the right of the tunnel has been fitted with a bright yellow, diamond-shaped roadsign to display exactly how long you’ll have to wait for your date with Jeremy Irons.

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Currently, it has yet to be fully-functional, the old magnetic board by its side still in use, but it shouldn’t be too long before it begins posting up those lengthy 5 and 10 minute queues…

[Pictures: DLRP Today]

Sunday, 20th July 2008

Studio 1: Returned to glory, by a billboard?

In our last report on the iconic entrance building’s plight, we discovered scaffolding climbing up its façade again. Not for a new billboard, we believed, but for a long-awaited refurbishment. Correct! What we would not have expected, for a building treated so badly by Euro Disney SCA over the past five years, would be a brand new –temporary — covering for the building.

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A huge fabric/tarpaulin covering, hiding the scaffolding completely, decorated with a huge image of the building itself. See it from a distance, and you can’t even tell it’s there — Disney Studio 1 looks as if it’s back to its glory days already!

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As you get closer to the park, the effect of removing the second ‘Cars’ billboard truly becomes apparent. For the first time in years, we see beautiful reflections in the glass at the front of the building and the entire Place des Frères Lumière finally once again feels like the extravagant, beautiful, sunny entrance plaza to a true Disney theme park it should be.

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But wait — it gets better. Around the back of the building, we can spy a match-up we’ve been waiting years to see. The façade of Disney Studio 1… and a “Wet Paint” sign!

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The turquoise/green doors and ‘Studio 1’ signs were repainted here last week. There’s currently no word whether the huge wall of scaffolding might also move around here to repaint the arguably much worse-looking walls above, but let’s hope so.

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To decorate the giant soundstage — at the time of construction, the largest in Europe — with a huge temporary façade during its refurbishment obviously shows that this first image guests receive as they step through the turnstiles is indeed very important. The same way Fantasia Gardens is a beautiful and inviting entrance to Disneyland Park, designed by the Imagineers because of their realisation that Europeans liked to be enchanted a little before parting with their money, Front Lot should be a glossy and relatively commercial-free area.

So, let’s keep it this way, please. No more billboards!

[Photos: DLRP Today]

Sunday, 6th July 2008

2 Parks, 1 Plan – Meet the new, single park map

Some might say it’s a way to save paper. Others might say it’s to coax more people across to the Studios. The more romantic might even say the “love” theme of The Enchanted Fireworks brought them together at last.

In fact, several months in the planning and design, yesterday saw the launch of a brand new park map ready for the Summer season. As expected for a while now, big changes lie in store for us. There are no more “Little Park Guides” and no more blue or pink covers. No longer will each park have its own, unique leaflet to guide you around.

Meet the new… Plan des Parcs. Two park maps… in one.

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The pocket size of recent years is ditched in favour of a size more similar to the maps pre-2003, a regular leaflet size, which folds out across five sheets horizontally and double the size vertically. This seems like a big park guide, but then it does need to cover two entire Disney Parks:

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It’s a landmark day for Disney theme parks, the first time two parks have ever shared the same plan. But why? Well, imagine this scene…

You’re visiting Disneyland Resort Paris just for one day. Naturally, you pick Disneyland Park to spend all your time in and stroll straight past the entrance to the Studios. What’s in there? No idea. As you pass through the turnstiles and pick up your map, you get a full guide to Disneyland Park, and nothing more. That other park across the way looked like nothing more than a series of giant yellow buildings — there’s no way of really knowing what lies beyond the imposing Disney Studio 1. You can’t be blamed for missing such top-rated classics as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, CinéMagique or Crush’s Coaster.

Now, with the two maps in one, a visitor just stopping by at Disneyland Park opens their map to find a whole new park at the top, with plenty of rather interesting sights. Attractions themed to new films like Cars and Finding Nemo, not to mention truly special experiences like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Stitch Live!. You’d want to hop over and check it out, wouldn’t you?

Rather than keeping visitors in the dark about what lies within the park next door, it does indeed make much more sense to advertise it to all, make the most of its great guest satisfaction scores.

Are there bad points? Sure. Beyond the fact that converging the parks like this might make their individuality a little less special, the new design has for some reason completely dropped the descriptions for some of the major attractions. How are first-time visitors really meant to know what happens in Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom Manor or Art of Disney Animation? The restaurant listing also exposes a real horror for Walt Disney Studios Park‘s dining, listing its limited number of eateries in one category, alongside entire lands at Disneyland Park.

The good points and the positive effect this double park plan should have on guests’ awareness of the two, separate parks, especially now Walt Disney Studios Park has some top-notch themeing along with great attractions, will far outweigh any niggling negatives. Last month we consolidated our two cumbersome Entertainment Programmes into a single, simpler leaflet, and now we only have a single park map to carry around.

Not that we need a map to find our way around Disneyland Resort Paris, of course, but we still have that collection to think of…

[Photo credit: Mouetto, Disney Central Plaza forum]

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