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Monday Mouse Watch : Vegas veteran wades in on “Disney’s World of Color”

Monday Mouse Watch : Vegas veteran wades in on “Disney’s World of Color”

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Construction continue on “Disney’s World of Color,” that $40 million fountain show which is supposed to be up & running at DCA in the Spring of 2010.

Construction Fence outside of Disney's California Adventure World of Color
Photo by Shelly Smith

For months now, Disneyana fans have been looking on as 1200 nozzles (each with its own individual LED lighting unit) were installed in Paradise Bay. They’ve also been “Oohing” & “Aahing” at all the concept art for this 25 minute long night-time water pageant that is currently on display in that theme park’s “Blue Sky Cellar.”

Mind you, the folks in the Team Disney Anaheim building are also very excited about Steven Davison’s latest extravaganza. But not for the reasons you might think.

To explain: As fun as “Fantasmic!” may be to watch, this Disneyland favorite is also surprisingly expensive to operate. With its onstage cast of 49 costumed performers plus 60 Cast Members in offstage support positions … When you factor in the cost of pyro & propane, Disney Parks & Resorts reportedly has to shell out $75,000 each time “Fantasmic!” is presented.

Disney's Fantasmic Cast
Copyright Disney. All Righst Reserved

So when it came time to create a night-time water pageant for Disney’s California Adventure … Well, in addition to being a show that could dazzle a significant number of Guests at the same time (Each presentation of “Disney’s World of Color” should be able to accommodate upwards of 9,000 people), DLR officials also wanted “World of Color” to have a significantly lower head count / payroll than “Fantasmic!” currently does.

More to the point, DLR officials were hoping that DCA’s new night-time water pageant would be “plug and play” (Translation: Once all of the infrastructure was in place, all 1200 lights & nozzles have been installed and “Disney’s World of Color” had been properly programmed, all it would theoretically take to present this water pageant each night would be some tech hammering on the “Start” button).

But is it that a realistic expectation? Is it really going to be that much easier / cheaper to present “Disney’s World of Color” versus “Fantasmic!” ? To get an answer to that question, last month  I journeyed to Las Vegas. Where I then met with Gene Bowling, the front feature manager for the Bellagio Resort & Casino.

The Bellagio Dive Crew gets ready for a maintenance dive
Dive teams make regular repairs on all of the underwater equipment used in the Fountains at Bellagio show.
Copyright 2009 MGM Mirage. All Rights Reserved

Which – I know – is kind of a vague sounding job title. Simply put, Gene is the keeper of the Fountains at the Bellagio. He’s the guy who rides herd on a team of 33 dive-certified employees who operate and maintain this wildly popular Las Vegas attraction.

And while Mr. Bowling is obviously proud of the Fountains, he makes no bones about what a maintenance monster this show can be.

“We’re always doing preventative maintenance on this show,” Gene explained. “From 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. each day, we have teams of people out in the water changing light bulbs, checking all of the 1248 nozzles, finding out which pieces need to be pulled or replaced due to corrosion.”

The Bellagio in Las Vegas
Copyright 2009 MGM Mirage. All Rights Reserved

That’s the thing about a fountain-based show. There’s all that obvious stuff that you have to deal with (i.e. the clarity of the water in that 8 ½ acre lagoon. Bowling has two guys on staff whose main responsibility is to make sure that all 22.5 million gallons is kept clean & clear) plus all the less-than-obvious stuff.

“ You have to remember that Las Vegas is built out in the middle of a desert. Which means that – whenever water blows out of our lagoon – it isn’t coming back,” Gene continued. “Which is why we have anemometers all around the resort to tell us when we need to dial back our show.”

Truth be told, the Fountains at Bellagio has four different modes. With little or no wind, Bowling and his crew can proceed with the full-blown version of this Resort’s water pageant – where the Extreme Shooters in the lagoon can send bursts of H20 460 feet into the air. But as the wind speed begins to pick, Gene and his team have the ability to lower the height of some of the fountains featured in the show. Which means that the folks watching out along Las Vegas Boulevard then don’t get drenched by a heavy wind-blown mist.

The Bellagio tall fountains
Copyright 2009 MGM Mirage. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of wind and water … According to Disneyland Resort insiders, Steve Davison hopes to have most of the hardware for “Disney’s World of Color” installed & operational (More importantly, to have Paradise Bay refilled) by October of this year. So that – as the Santa Ana winds begin to kick up -- his team can then do some crucial after-hours tests on DCA’s new water pageant. See how high the fountains can go on windy night before the Guests who’ll be standing in that new still-under-construction viewing area then get soaked.

Anyway … To get back to the Fountains of Bellagio now … To hear Bowling talk, while a night-time show built around light and water may please the public and appear simple on the surface to operate … Truth be told, the behind-the-scenes effort involved with maintaining a show of this size like this can be pretty costly. More importantly, manpower intensive.

“My advice (to the folks doing Disney’s new show) is to get the very best people they can,” Gene concluded. “We’ve got the cream of the crop working here on the Fountains at Bellagio. Which is how we’re able to deliver a top-quality show day in and day out. But you have to have a talented group of workers who are really motivated in order to stay on top of a fountain show of this size.”

Disney's World of Color Concept Painting
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which makes it sound like “Disney’s World of Color” may not be the less-costly-to-maintain, easier-to-operate show that the Suits were initially looking for.

Your thoughts?

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  • While I agree that the maintenance on the water show will be significant in cost, remember that live performers, pyro, etc. along with the maintenance that needs to be done to keep Fantasmic going is a more significant cost. As for things like water clarity... that was already being done for the lagoon at DCA. No, the water fountains can not be ignored, but the overall cost of operation will be less than an entertainer-based performance.

  • This is Disney we're talking about, which treats maintenance like an afterthought, and even then the crews are sent out only after guests complain that the joint's starting to look ratty.

  • Although this show will need a bigger maintenance crew than Fantasmic, Fantasmic still needs a maintenance crew.

    So Fantasmic has 109 cast members (including maintenance?) and World of Color has 30-40 maintenance guys and 4 or 5 techs. That seems cheaper to me.

    Although I heard the nozzles were on a lift so that Disney won't need dive teams to fix them and they will be easier to maintain.

  • Yes, some of the nozzles will be on lifts. The ones that are will the the smaller nozzles that "whip" back and forth and around. The Bellagio has similar fountains and they, too, are on lifts for easier maintain. The "extreme shooters" that Jim mentioned (the top of which are seen in the article) are huge, heavy tubes that are bolted to pipe infrastructure beneath the water and not on lifts (due to their weight, presumably). On an episode of Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe assisted in removing one of them and transporting it "backstage".  It was quite a task to do so. Disney is still going to need a team of divers for maintenance, assuming they have the "big guns".

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