A landmark’s landmark
In the frenzied planning for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, ideas flew. Maybe we can tie this to our cousins at ABC, someone suggested, like “Extreme Makeover: Disneyland Edition.”
Imagine the scene: hordes of Magic Kingdom visitors waiting for the unveiling of a spruced-up Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Disneyland’s signature landmark.
The idea didn’t pan out, but as park officials prepare for today’s launch of Disneyland’s 18-month, 50th-anniversary celebration, dubbed the “Happiest Homecoming on Earth,” they are still likening it to a major makeover.
“If you had been here a year ago and then you were to come back now and see what’s been done, there isn’t a single attraction that hasn’t been updated,” Disneyland Resort spokesman Duncan Wardle said. “There isn’t a single facade that hasn’t been painted.”
In addition to the bejeweled castle, gussied up with three shades of pink paint, golden crowns and royal banners, there are two new parades, new fireworks, two new attractions and, in July, the reopening of Space Mountain, the venerable, frightfully dark indoor roller coaster that has been closed since April 2003.
Disney officials originally expected the castle’s face-lift to take three months, but instead, Wardle said, the project was whittled down to six hours. Workers were to complete the final touch-ups to the 77-foot castle by 4 a.m. today.
For those who are slaves to their scrapbooks, the park has added 50 new “Kodak moments.” In addition, 34 huge photo mosaics composed of thousands of images submitted by vacationing families are on display around the park.
There will be signs of the golden anniversary -- whose official date is July 17 -- at every turn. Vehicles from the original 1955 attractions including Autopia and Mad Tea Party will be painted gold, as will as the Main Street Carriage and Mark Twain Riverboat.
To finish the refurbishing, the park closed Wednesday -- the only time besides President Kennedy’s assassination and 9/11 that it shut down for reasons other than horrible weather.
More than 1,000 members of the media have been credentialed to cover the opening week’s events, and 85 news crews were set to film Wednesday evening’s celebrity-studded “Gold Carpet” event.
“I’ve worked for the company for 17 years -- including through the opening of Disney Cruise Line, California Adventure, Disneyland Paris -- and I’ve never seen anything that’s generated this amount of news interest,” Wardle said.
Park aficionados complain that Disneyland, the event headliner, is getting the short end of the corporate stick, with fewer new “E-ticket” attractions than its mammoth-sized Orlando counterpart, Walt Disney World.
But with an unprecedented worldwide media blitz, Disney officials are hoping for a bump in attendance at all of its attractions, including California Adventure, which opened in 2001. It has suffered from lackluster reviews, a drop in tourism post-9/11, the economy and gas prices.
Among the new Disneyland attractions:
* Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters -- an interactive, “Toy Story"-inspired ride that allows park visitors to fight the evil Emperor Zurg by shooting at targets. In June, a Web-cam component will be added that will team Disneyland tourists with online players at home.
* Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years -- a retrospective hosted by Donald Duck and actor Steve Martin, who worked at the park while growing up in neighboring Garden Grove. The attraction, which temporarily replaces “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” on Main Street, will feature never-before-seen footage of Disneyland’s opening day.
* Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams -- a twice-daily parade that will highlight classic Disney stories, including “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pinocchio,” “Lion King” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The parade’s seven new floats will serve as rolling stages for 100 performers.
* Remember ... Dreams Come True -- a fireworks show that will feature new routines by Tinkerbell and a soundtrack that highlights some of Disneyland’s most recognizable songs and phrases, including sound snippets from rides such as Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Disneyland Railroad.
* Space Mountain -- The classic roller coaster will be relaunched July 15 after a two-year renovation. The coaster will sport new rocket vehicles, a custom soundtrack and upgraded special effects.
* Block Party Bash -- a street party and musical parade at Disney’s California Adventure with the Pixar Film Pals, characters from “The Incredibles,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life.”
* Disney Magic -- For the first time on the West Coast, one of Disney’s two cruise ships will dock at the Port of Los Angeles, for cruises to the Mexican Riviera. The seven-day cruises run from May 28 to Aug. 20.
Officials at the Anaheim/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau said hoteliers have reported increased and earlier bookings in anticipation of the 50th-anniversary party.
On MousePlanet, www.mouseplanet.com, a website devoted to all things Disney, travel bookings for May are up 30% over last May, and July bookings are already up 40%, said columnist Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
And at Kingdom Magic Vacations, www.kingdommagictravel.com, which specializes in Disney travel, office manager Leslie Harris said it’s hard to gauge whether people are coming specifically for the golden anniversary, but that one thing is for sure: “This is a massive, massive marketing venture. I don’t know if they’ve ever had a campaign like this.”
Disney’s campaign is intended to drive business to all of the company’s 11 parks worldwide. Today’s kickoff festivities will be celebrated with the simultaneous launch of new attractions at every park.
The merchandising monster that it is, Disney will also roll out collectible pins, watches, serigraphs, clothing, antenna balls and every other conceivable souvenir to be stamped with the 50th-anniversary logo.
And those black mouse ears? You can buy those in gold too.
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What’s new at Disneyland
Disneyland kicks off a 50th anniversary campaign today in hopes of drawing visitors to the Anaheim theme park this summer.
New attractions include:
* Dreams Come True fireworks display above Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
* Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters space ride features laser gun shooting gallery.
* Parade of Dreams down Main Street U.S.A. features 50 Disney characters.
* Space Mountain roller coaster rebuilt and rehabilitated, and opens July 15.
* 50th anniversary exhibit recounts park history.
Sources: Disneyland, ESRI