When the Mouse calls and wants your participation in a focus group, what do you do? If you are a Disney Nut like me… Why, you answer the phone, of course. Or reply to the email in this case, which I did immediately!
For an investment of two hours of my time and participation in a focus group, Disney was kind enough to put me and a guest (my lovely wife of course) up at the Grand California Hotel for the evening, and two one day park hopper tickets. Still figuring out what I’m going to do with the tickets, since Pam and I are both PAP holders. Additionally the participants of the focus group were treated to reception hosted by Disneyland Resort President, George Kalogridis, and a VIP viewing of the new World of Color show at DCA.
Before I go too far, let’s deal with the 800 pound gorilla in the room. I am most confident that you all are anxious to know the focus group topic. Honestly, I signed a non-disclosure agreement and take that action very seriously. Additionally, I do not want to do anything that might prevent my invitation to future focus group events. Even if I was not bound by an NDA, the topic of discussion is in such an early concept phase, that even if it were to come into being, it would probably look very different than the concept we discussed. All I can say is that it is an idea that is being explored as part of the re-Imagineering of Disney California Adventure, and for the true Disney fan, it sounds really cool. Enough said.
So our trip began at zero dark o’clock (5:00 AM for those of you not familiar) from San Jose. I prefer driving to Disneyland because by the time it takes, prep, transportation to and from, security, etc, driving is only a little bit longer. Besides, it gives me the opportunity to stop and put flowers at my Grandparent and cousin’s graveside in Camarillo. So awhile back, on Facebook, I posted a comment that about traffic sucking in L.A. I have since been corrected so I’ll put the correctly version here now: If you are driving in L.A. between 12:01 AM and 11:59 PM, traffic SUCKS!!! However, my new route sucks less than my old route. Well, I can say now that my new, new route sucks even less than my old new route, and a lot less than the old, old route. While I love coming in from I-5 southbound and see the Disneyland sign, and then driving in on Disneyland Drive, it’s really not worth the extra 2 to 2 ½ hours travel time. I come down 101, but this will work even if you use the 5 as well. Take the 405 south. While the traffic does slow down at some points, it is nothing like the STOP and go on I-5, and it doesn’t seem to matter the time of day. So take 405 south to 605 north and just stay in the right land. If you go to Disneyland very often, you’ll recognize the exit. Yup, that’s right, Katella. Once on Katella it’s about 9 nine to the “Happiest Place on Earth!” It is just a little over 90 miles from Camarillo to Disneyland, regardless of the route you choose. Using I-5 the travel time is 3 ½ to 4 hours or more, depending the proportion of STOP to go. So far, the two trips using 405 that travel time is reduced to a 1 ½ to just over 2 hours.
We arrived at the Grand California about an hour before the scheduled check in time. So we checked our luggage with bell services and the car with the valet, and headed off to Downtown Disney for a quick stroll, where yours truly pulled a stupid stunt. I grouse regularly about people with cell phones not pay attention when to their surrounding when they are engrossed in cells. I recently joined the 21st century by trading in my 10 year old TREO for a new HTC EVO Shift. Yup, I was walking down the hallway leading from the GCH to DTD and was paying more attention to my phone then my surroundings and missed the 3 little steps halfway done the hall. Stumble, stumble, and roll! While I never dropped my phone, I did manage to bruise my ribs. Right in the same place I did a few years ago, when I did something else stupid. Go figure!
Later in the afternoon, during check-in for the focus group I was pleasantly surprised to see a few familiar faces. Two faces that should be recognizable to any D23 member, Steven Clark, and Jeffrey Epstein (the Disney Geek), but they disappeared rather quickly. I did, however, spy a person I know through D23 and the Walt Disney Family Museum, Diana. Diana and I first got acquainted while waiting in line for a Mouseketeers meet and greet at the Museum in November, and then my wife and I had the pleasure of having Diana as a dinner companion during the D23 Disney and Dickens event at the Tam O’Shanter in December. I spoke with a Disney cast member while waiting to check-in, because I really wanted to know how I managed to get chosen for this event. As I said, I know it is partially luck of the draw, but I also know that I was doing something that got me into the pool, and I want to keep doing whatever it was that got me included this time. I was told that the pool of possible attendees was draw from DVC (that’s the Vacation Club) and from the D23 membership rolls. Great, I’m a DVC member and a D23 member, and I easily keep doing that… Well, at about 5:00 PM we were ushered into a meeting room in the Grand California Conference Center, and our guests went off to do whatever they pleased for the next two hours. After listening to Disney VP in charge of DCA and several other dignitaries talk about some other re-Imagineering work going on at DCA and this new idea, which I still can’t talk about, we broke up into 7 groups to discuss and possibly plus this new idea. As we introduced ourselves around the table, there was one thing that was clear… Everyone in my group was a serious Disney fan. After two hours of very interesting discussion, we broke for the evening festivities.
As we were being ushered into the room for the reception, I started to move to the Conference center entrance around the corner to get my wife to join me. As I have experienced with Disney over time, and a real contributing factor to why I am a really big fan, the Disney Cast Members always seem to be one step ahead. I was interrupted by a Cast Member and told that my wife was already inside. Way to go Disney! Again… Just inside the door was George Kalogridis introducing himself and shaking hands. I have said this before, and will say it again, I am always a bit surprised (even though I probably should be any more) just how friendly and approachable Disney people are with guests. I’ve experienced it at Disneyland, Studio Events, and the Museum. Yes, I know, they need to do that because they are promoting something. But, I do think I a pretty good judge of character and what is going on around me, and I don’t get the impression (as I have from others) that they are doing anything because they have too, to the contrary, my impression is they genuinely enjoy what they are doing. So I got a chance to spend a few minutes with President of the Disneyland Resort and thank him for the invite and the wonderful perks. I think I also told him (I know I told somebody) that I would have gladly participated without the perks.
Next I spotted Steven Clark, and made my way over to him. Steven Clark, for those who may not know, is the head of D23. I was able to introduce myself to him as I had only seen him on stage at a few events prior to this one. To my surprise, again I’m not sure why any more, he seems to know that I was one of D23’s charter members. We talked briefly about the coverage I’d seen of The Disney Dream’s maiden voyage and that I thought Mr. Iger looked more relaxed dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt. All I’d seen him in previously was button up suit and tie, and he’d always looked to me to be a bit uncomfortable. Steven confirmed that Bob is more often than not dressed more casually on the lot. Since I use every opportunity to cross promote, I was wearing my Museum hat, complete with two of my most important pins, and my Mousetalgia Carpe Kingdom button. It was about now that I noticed Pam waving at me at point to where she was sitting. When Steven noticed the hat and asked, I told him that I am at the Museum at least once a month, most months more. No promised were made, nor secrets divulged, but I expect to see some of the D23 Cast Members in San Francisco in the not too distance future. We also talked about the Disney and Dickens event and how much Pam and I enjoyed it, and what a treasure D23 has in one Ms. Laura. We talked for a few minutes longer, and then I had to excuse myself as I was sure the Pam thought I had abandon her.
Pam and I sat with another couple, we had met during the Disney and Dickens event, and enjoyed some fine hors d'œuvres, explaining to our spouses that we could really talk about what we’d discuss in the focus group. It was nice to find someone else taking the NDA as seriously as me. As we sat there, I noticed another familiar face, The Disney Geek – Jeffrey Epstein. I have met Jeffrey at a couple of D23 events, and routinely comment on the Facebook feed for the weekly Disney Geek broadcast. So I excuse myself, luckily Pam know me well, and went over to say HI! It was while I was speaking with Jeffrey that I discovered my invite to the focus group was courtesy of D23. Jeffrey also commented on my hat, and made no promise or divulged any secret, but left me with the impression that we would be seeing D23 at the Museum in the future. I am still lobbying for an appearance of Dave Smith at Museum. I finally got a couple of minutes to visit with Mary Nivens, the Disney VP in charge of DCA. I thanked her for the focus group invitation and for the attention that DCA is now getting and so richly deserves. I know that the Imagineers do all that they can, but, they still have to work within the budgets they are given. Suffice to say for now; the previous leadership at the Disney Company did not value what the Parks bring to the Disney equation. But, I’ll have more on that in later postings. Needless to say, I think DCA has a true champion in Mary Nivens.
Finally to round out the evening’s festivities, we were ushered out to one of the VIP viewing areas at The Paradise Pier Lagoon for a viewing of DCA’s new show “Wonderful World of Color”. While we were waiting for the show to start, I notice Steven and Jeffrey standing behind us. So I was able to go over and show off my latest D23 acquisition which I had forgotten earlier. A few days before heading to Disneyland, a package arrived from D23. It was the most recent addition of D23 quarterly magazine, and enclosed was gift, a D23 watch. With the silhouette of Mickey down in the corner the watch sports only two numbers, the 2 and the 3. I wonder why those numbers were selected. J Very Cool gift! Anyway, the lights dim and the show starts. This is the first chance we’ve had to see the show, and let me say, ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!! Columns of water shouting at least 100 feet in the air, little columns of water dancing around the periphery, all the colors of the rainbow (some time even appearing to come together and mix to create new colors), and sprays fanning out to create projection screens displaying all our favorite Disney characters. Even the lights of Screamin’ and Mickey’s Fun Wheel play in the show. These words are completely inadequate to explain the show, it is a definitely something you’ve got to see. The only thing I can say is that it brought back every happy memory I ever had as a child.
So if you are a Disney fan, keep doing what you do, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there a little. You never know what can happen. Oh yeah, join D23, so far for me it was been SO Worth It!
And yes girls, Dad will make sure you get to see World of Color.
Your comments or questions are always welcome. If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org