Somehow eight weeks have already flown by since the wonderful long weekend I spent at the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center!
Shortly after the Expo I shared photos from the Expo's Golden Anniversary tribute to MARY POPPINS (1964) in Part One and Part Two. Next year, an off year for the Expo, marks 50 years since MARY POPPINS first opened in theaters, and the Expo celebrated Disney's most beloved live-action musical in grand style.
I had intended to post additional photos and comments on the Expo much sooner than this, but preparing not one but two children for the college year, a trip to Arizona, attendance at the World 3-D Film Expo, MouseAdventure, and other events meant suddenly a lot more time seems to have gone by than planned!
That said, the next D23 Expo won't be until 2015, so there's plenty of time for a leisurely look back at this year's Expo, where Disney made some significant improvements over the 2011 experience. We felt that Disney had really paid attention to the problems of the last Expo and worked hard to rectify those issues in 2013.
The Expo did still involve joining the queue at 6:30 a.m. each morning in order to be promptly admitted to the Convention Center show floor when the doors opened to D23 members at 8:00, but we came well-prepared with books and the time passed quickly. I was able to do quite a bit of reading for my Summer Reading List while we waited!
Exterior signage was much better this year, with the lines for D23 Members and General Admission tickets clearly marked, as well as the separate line for the opening program in the Arena. There was far less confusion than in 2011, which got things off to an excellent start.
In 2011 Disney failed to optimize its usage of social media, with Expo guests consistently Tweeting the status of lines and event closures far ahead of Disney providing official info. 2013 was a whole new game for Disney in this regard, with an official smartphone App which did an outstanding job sending immediate "push notifications" regarding availability of StagePasses, which were another big improvement.
StagePasses were FastPass-style tickets which guaranteed admission to presentations without having to sit in holding rooms for hours in advance, the 2011 convention's biggest problem. Since conventiongoers are generally also fans of Disney theme parks, I think people understood the StagePass system quickly due to its similarity to the FastPass concept used in the parks. Our experience was that the lines for StagePasses generally moved fairly briskly. What a relief to obtain one for a program and know that as long as we arrived at least 15 minutes before the show we'd be "in"! This freed up our time to do other things instead of waiting in line.
There was a large airport-style electronic board continuously updated with StagePass availability. It proved very difficult to photograph, but I include this snapshot just to give an idea of what it looked like.
Our only criticism of the StagePass system was that obtaining a StagePass required having the Expo passes for everyone in your party. My daughter had to have her pass with her in order to enter the big movie presentation in the Arena on the first morning, where among other things, she enjoyed seeing Angelina Jolie's live appearance introducing MALEFICENT (2014); because that show ran significantly over schedule, I was unable to obtain our StagePasses for the Broadway and Beyond concert before they were all gone.
Disney needs to rethink the process for 2015 and have a separate barcoded pass that can be used to obtain the StagePasses, so that the person obtaining the passes for a particular group can more easily do so. The new system was a great idea, it just needs a couple tweaks to make it more user-friendly.
Fortunately Disney also made a wise choice in only giving out StagePasses for roughly 75% of capacity for each event, so if you really, really wanted to see something you could still get in a line if you missed out on a StagePass. Disney also increased event capacity this year, which was another positive change. The Broadway and Beyond concert was one of the top things on our "to do" list at the Expo, so we got in line for the concert early and were relieved we had no trouble obtaining seats!
The concert, featuring five stars of Disney theatrical productions singing the music from Disney's stage shows, was very memorable. The singers were Ashley Brown (MARY POPPINS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), Heidi Blickenstaff (THE LITTLE MERMAID), Merle Dandridge (AIDA, TARZAN), Josh Strickland (TARZAN), and Alton Fitzgerald White (THE LION KING), accompanied by a small combo.
Composers Alan Menken and Richard Sherman were both in attendance, which made the experience even more special. Sherman was moved to tears by Brown's performance of "Feed the Birds." The concert was one of the highlights of the Expo for us.
Our first day also included unexpectedly having the chance to chat with animators Eric Goldberg and Adam Green while in line for lunch...
...and shopping at our favorite Expo store, Mickey's of Glendale.
I've coveted a mug with the WED logo for years. And suddenly, there it was, in the Mickey's of Glendale Imagineering store!
Our most significant criticism this year regards something that is at least partly out of Disney's hands: the Anaheim Convention Center food concessions. Since they have a monopoly on the most convenient food, there is zero motivation to provide anything approaching decent service. They were completely unprepared -- how do you run out of paper plates at lunch on the first day of a convention? -- slower than molasses, and at times the service bordered on surly. My daughter finally gave up on receiving the french fries she had ordered with her burger, and the animators we'd been talking to in line had similar difficulty being served. And for the food we could finally get, we paid astronomical prices!
On the second two days of the Expo, we instead walked over to the food court at the hotel next door, where the employees at the tiny Baja Fresh served the long line as fast as they possibly could, and even smiled when doing so.
Disney really needs to try to exert some sway over the food situation at the Convention Center, or else be allowed to set up their own restaurants inside the hall.
I plan to share more on the Expo in a future post.
For more thoughts on the Expo, please visit the Disney Tourist Blog and AllEars.Net. A big photo recap was posted at MiceChat.
Related links on past Expos: I attended one day of the 2009 Expo, recounted here and here, and all three days of the 2011 Expo, described on August 19 and 30, as well as September 9, 2011.