Having an event of “epic magnitude” is nothing new for Disney – they certainly have perfected that skill in many ways over the years. This year was no exception.
On November 25th, Disney decided to preview its new movie, The Princess and the Frog, in a format it has used here at the El Capitan Theatre for many years – the movie, show, and “experience” combination. This year, however, they decided on a twist to the format…. they would hold it at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA and hold a sister-event at the Zeigfeld Theater in Manhattan, New York City!
The Princess and the Frog – The Ultimate Experience!
Of course, you know what this means – my children saw billboards everywhere in our neighborhood. It was pretty much a given that we were going. Therefore, I decided that if I got sucked in, someone I knew would be likewise sucked into the New York City one. Thus, the plan to tell you all about our different experiences was born!!!
Andrea Marchese and I plotted the course of action. Our mission: to see what was the same and different about our experiences. We both have families with two girls, albeit hers are a couple years older than mine. I was keen to see how Disney would pull off the same event in two very different locales.
First – the tickets. (This is the boring, but important part that has no photos….)
Once we decided on our day, we looked online for tickets. The pricing was the same, you just had to choose whether you wanted Los Angeles or New York – one slip of the mouse click and you were begging on the phone with Disney for a refund on non-refundable tickets… Once you chose the day, you needed to review the theater and choose your seating type – the Royal (VIP) reserved seating or the General Admission, which was all other seats in a first-come, first-serve seating.
We both wanted General Admission. Price value is different to everyone, but when we both reveiwed the benefits of Royal vs. General, we thought just getting the reserved seat, the lithograph and some Mardi Gras beads wasn’t worth the extra $20. Had they thrown snacks in, maybe yes, but they didn’t.
When we booked, we suspected that the online seating charts were not going to be very reliable for our theater, so we called the ticket line and were able to get the seats we wanted (the online showed none available for Thanksgiving Day). Andrea’s experience with the online was much better. Her theater seats were more accurately reflected in the online booking engine and she got what she wanted. Either way, our tickets were mailed to us (with a parking permit for the Los Angeles showing) and instructions.
My thought is that if they do another experience like this, you should call to verify availability, if you don’t see what you want online.
Second – showing up.
We were to check in at the Studio Gate 45 minutes to 1 hour before our showtime to allow for walk time between the buildings. Oops…. I didn’t read that part. We got there 15 minutes ahead. We had to be guided to our parking spot in the Zorro Garage, then follow the Frog Prints on the ground to the Check-in Building.
This served as the holding pen/refreshment counter/wristband pickup center. It was filled with props from Pirates of the Carribean, The Chronicles of Narnia, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and Pocahontas. Once we were done in this area, we waited to be walked in groups to the Theater.
As we followed the frog prints on the ground, we were guided on our way by Cast Members wearing bright green The Princess and The Frog shirts and light pointers (kind of like mini-lightsabres from Star Wars). We were the first show of the day – 10 AM on Thanksgiving, so everyone welcomed us to the event in a cheery fashion.
When we got to the theater building, Mickey Mouse was waiting to greet us on a photo opportunity stage. This was a really nice touch. It also gave us something to do while one parent checked the camera (although we all got in the photo).
Camera and bag checks were performed by dark uniformed security – and a very large man. He was sweet as punch though. Once at the door, the adults were swept with a metal detector, just to make sure no recording devices were being brought in.
Andrea and her family took the train into the City and walked to the Ziegfeld Theater. Once there, they checked in and got in the line for General Admission. Once the theater opened, they were admitted. Andrea had her camera check-in points outside the main theater room, but no purse search. They got the wand treatment, as well. Disney was really trying hard to make sure nobody was planning on filming this for leaking prior to the debut of the film.
Third – the film.
I’m not going to discuss the actual movie in this blog. You just need to see it for yourself. Really. You won’t be sorry. We loved it. Now go see it, since I couldn’t get off my butt and put this blog out before the movie release. But, read the rest of the blog first. After all, you’re sitting here anyway.
Fourth – the Ultimate Experience.
Both of us had to go to another building to do the Experience portion of the event. Andrea’s was about 6 blocks away at the Roseland Ballroom and mine felt like it was 6 blocks away, since I had my Thanksgiving dinner heels on. Big mistake. It really was about a block or so to Soundstage 3 – home of one of Disney’s two water-tank filming soundstages.
My venue was divided into three sections and the soundstage entrance was imagineered to look like a theater entrance. When you entered, the central room was done in Bayou decor – draped with kudzu from the ceiling. There were nine Disney Princesses, each having their own little meet and greet “stage”, which was themed to their movie. My girls were actually the most excited to see Ariel, Mulan, and Pocahontas. They never get to see Pocahontas and they really like her a lot.
Of course, the central stage was set for Tiana, who was most gracious. She had the longest line in the place – thanking everyone for coming to see her story and really spending time with the guests when they finally reached her.
As they were waiting in the Princess lines, my husband and I scoped out the rest of the experience. The area was divided into rooms with long black curtains for walls.
The room to the left had archive items – costumes, vintage collectibles, and current hot movie items (High School Musical, Hannah Montana, etc).
There was also an Animation Class, where guests learned to draw Prince Naveen in his frog form, a free photo opportunity with a green screen background, and a craft area.
In the back corner was a merchandise shop, where they had a couple deals on the Wii and Nintendo DS games, as well as toys, costumes, books, and sountracks.
One of the things I thought was an amazing and classic Disney Touch – one that most people would have never noticed – was the hanging of a giant chandelier in this room. A nod to a scene in the movie, where Tiana describes the interior of her restaurant.
The room to the right contained the games, a food booth offering Burbank’s own “Yummy Cupcakes”, and a seating area with tables.
The games were twists on standard carnival darts and a bean bag flip. The Voodoo Spin was a velcro dart game where you tried to stick your dart on a voodoo doll. The Leap Frog had a lever that you placed a bean bag frog on. Once you flipped the lever, your goal was to land your frog on the lilypads. I think we were supposed to be given tattoos or something for playing, but the poor Cast Members were so overwhelmed by flying frogs and sweeping darts that they must have forgotten. I know Zoe beaned at least two Cast Members as they were ducking to pick up frogs! (Oh, the maternal embarassment and internal laughter!) They were really good spirits about it though!
The most popular activity in this area (besides the cupcake shop) was the Bayou Adventure. This was an obstacle course for the kids to run. They were released, about 4 at a time, onto the lilypads, through the swamp kudzu, past some zig-zag barriers, through a bayou shack, and then they had to swing across an alligator infested swamp canal. Our canal actually had little alligators in it – the toy kind of course. My husband had a keen eye – I never would have spotted them in the darkened room.
Andrea’s family entered the Roseland Ballroom, where the event was held in several rooms. This added interest and some challenges to the event. Because of the room configurations, some of the areas filled to capacity. The largest held the Princesses, and the Games of Chance and Challenge.
The venue creatively used the bar to host the Games, as a natural divider for the patrons to play from. Both Andrea and I thought it was a great use of space and the game booths were really nicely done.
Other rooms in the Roseland held some of the other event activities. One held the Bayou Adventure – which was hosted as more of a free-play area and a craft station to make tiaras. Andrea’s girls really enjoyed this area.
Another room hosted the Animator sessions. Andrea noted that the room filled quickly, but it looked like a great session.
This experience also contained an Archives exhibit, with costumes and memorabilia from Disney movies, as well as a collection of vintage, Disney-licensed merchandise. Andrea’s daughters loved the High School Musical costumes.
The New York Experience did not have food at the Experience venue, like the Los Angeles experience did, but boasted the ability to stay as long as you liked. Two hours after we entered the Los Angeles Experience, they announced that they were closing, thus allowing for breaks between the audiences. Andrea did not witness the same thing in the New York event.
The Los Angeles Bonus: The Studio Tour!
As we wandered around, we noticed that the cart that hosted the lithograph pick-up for Royal Seating patrons had a sign on top of it and a host of helmeted, riding crop-bearing VIP Tour Guides from Disneyland around it. We had only but to ask – they were hosting free, 20 minute walking tours of the Disney Studios! This was not listed in the flyer for the event and frankly, doesn’t come about much at Disney. Therefore, we went ahead and signed up and dragged the kids along.
The tour guide escorted us into the backlot, among the soundstages. As we passed another returning tour group, she took their crop and escorted us to the Original Animation Building.
It was there that we walked the central hall, viewing original storyboards and background art for almost every classic and modern Disney movie. The centerpiece was the inlayed Steamboat Willie, made of various marbles and other materials.
From there, we walked to Legends Plaza. This open plaza sits near the front of the Sudios’ Alameda entrance and lies between its two most prominent buildings – the Administration Building with the Seven Dwarves pediment and the Frank G. Wells Building, which houses the Walt Disney Company Archives.
Here in the Legends Plaza, you find the original Partners sculpture of Walt and Mickey, and it’s companion sculpture of Roy and Minnie on the bench. Duplicates of these sculptures, by Blaine Gibson, can also be found in the Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World, while only the Partners statue is placed in the hub of Disneyland Park. There is also a 7 foot replica of the sculpture awarded to those members of the Walt Disney Company that achieve Legend Status.
From there, we entered the Frank G. Wells building. The Archive exhibits in the lobby showcase a variety of costumes, the Hats Off to Disney display (featuring headwear from many classic Disney movies and television shows), and a range of collectibles. It was a nice tease to what lay behind the locked Archives doors.
We then turned a corner into a bright hallway, which exhibited one of the few existing multiplane cameras, patented by Disney. The opposing wall featured an array of interesting exhibits on its development and animation.
As we walked back to Soundstage 3, we reflected on many of the vital buildings around us that made the Disney company a leader in its industry. Lastly, we were told to look upward to the top floor of an unmarked building. The windows, there, gave us the location of Walt’s office. A simple view, but nonetheless, an important one.
The tour really capped off and gave an additional great value to what we thought was already a rewarding morning. Some may feel in this economy that the price we paid was unreasonable for what we got, but interestingly enough, we felt the value in the effort of the experience. It required a lot of manpower and coordination to accomplish such a fantastic time. Andrea and I both felt it was well worth it.
If you would like to hear our conversation, please follow the below link!