Disneyland reopens Toontown, designed to be inclusive of ‘every single guest’
The cartoon-inspired land has long been a haven for Disney’s younger park guests, offering character meet-and-greets with the likes of Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto, as well as kid-friendly coasters and play areas.
The reimagined Toontown honors the space that first opened in 1993, keeping existing structures like Mickey and Minnie’s houses in tact, albeit with a paint touch-up. But there’s also quite a bit of new infrastructure for kids to explore — with an eye toward inclusivity.
At its core, Toontown’s revamp is all about intention. Imagineers have designed a space for all kids, crafting accessible play spaces, plus quiet areas and shady spots so that its youngest parkgoers have a place to exert their pent-up energy or decompress.
The redesigned land, which opens to the public March 19, is entirely wheelchair accessible, including its slides, and is visually and auditorily approachable for kids who are easily overwhelmed by loud or bright sensory stimuli. The entire land has been repainted in softer colors, and some areas feature more subdued, spa-like musical scores.
“We want every child to know that when they came to this land that this land was designed for them,” said Jeffrey Shaver-Moskowitz, executive portfolio producer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “That they were seen, and that this place was welcoming to them.”
Shaver-Moskowitz said the Imagineers spent time looking at children’s museums and water play spaces to see how kids engage and developed different stations throughout the land to cater to different types of play patterns.
“We know a day at Disneyland can be hectic and chaotic, running from one attraction to another, one reservation to the next,” he said. “We wanted Toontown to not only be exciting, but also decompressing and relaxing and welcoming.”
With that in mind, the Imagineers have introduced more green spaces within the land, places to have picnics, sit and unwind, or play freely.
“We really wanted to take a look at Toontown, knowing how important it was for so many of our guests for many generations growing up and the so many memories here that are connected to the land, and make sure we don’t lose any of that,” Shaver-Moskowitz said. “But, bring a lot of new magic.”
‘Thinking of every single guest’
When guests enter the new Toontown, they will pass through Centoonial Park. The area is anchored by a large fountain, featuring Mickey and Minnie, as well as water tables for kids to dip their hands into, and the “dreaming tree.”
The live tree was selected from the Disney property for its cartoonish limbs and leaves. Around the trunk are sculpted roots that kids can climb over, crawl under and weave through.
“One of the main play functions for little ones is learning the concepts of over, under and through,” Shaver-Moskowitz explained during a media tour of the land earlier this month. “So you’ll see some of the roots are big enough for little ones to crawl under, some of them can be used as balanced beams for little ones who are learning to get their feet underneath them.”
(There is a wheelchair accessible path that navigates through the roots, too.)
Centoonial Park is also situated next to the El Capitoon Theatre, home of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride. Riders are invited to the premiere of Mickey and Minnie’s latest cartoon short “Perfect Picnic.” However, hijinks ensue and guests are whisked away for a ride on Goofy’s train, entering the cartoon world.
The El Capitoon Theatre exterior of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
The trackless ride has no restrictions on height or age, allowing even the littlest Disney guest to join in.
Continuing through the land, guests will see Goofy’s new play yard, which wraps around Goofy’s house and features a sound garden, filled with musical bridges and melons, as well as Fort Max, a climbable clubhouse with attached slides.
Shaver-Moskowitz said the roller slides were chosen for the space so littler guests, who often have less mobility in their legs, don’t get stuck at the bottom of the slide. There’s also more space at the bottom of the slides to accommodate guests who need time to get back into wheelchairs.
“We are trying to make sure we’re thinking of every single guest in here,” he said. “Making sure that every little one who comes to play here feels like we’ve designed the space for them.”
Also outside is a small cordoned-off area for babies to crawl around and experience the area safely.
Goofy stands outside his new How-To-Play Yard at Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland.
Inside Goofy’s house are a series of games that kids can play to help Goofy cultivate honey from the beehives on his property into candy. Here, little parkgoers can sort candy by flavor and color and watch as a kinetic ball machine activates all around the space.
Extra care was taken to ensure that the sound of the air compressors pushing the balls around has been suppressed, said Shaver-Moskowitz, in an effort to make sure that those with sensory sensitivity won’t be overwhelmed and can still enjoy the experience with their peers.
In a separate area next to Goofy’s new play yard is Donald’s Duck Pond, a water experience for kids. Imagineers intentionally separated this space from the play yard so that parents could better monitor their children around the water elements.
Donald Duck stands outside the new Duck Pond at Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland.
Shaver-Moskowitz noted that the previous design of the land meant that kids would occasionally run back to their parents soaking wet, having wandered into the water play place.
Donald’s Duck Pond features a tug boat that spits out water, spinning water lilies, balance beams and rocking toys. Inside the boat, kids can help Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby with a leak in the hull, turning wheels and levers to push the water outside.
Pack a picnic
The Imagineers have also revamped the food at Toontown. New restaurants such as Cafe Daisy and Good Boy! Grocers offer a wide variety of selections and flavors for young parkgoers and more mature palates.
Michele Gendreau, director of product optimization for food and beverage, explained that the team wanted to make eating easy by creating hand-held food that can be munched on the go.
The menu at Daisy’s café features “flop over” pizzas, hot dogs and wraps. Here, adults can grab a cold brew coffee or honey-mango sweet tea. For dessert, there are mini doughnuts covered in cinnamon sugar.
“Kids want to eat what their parents eat,” said Gendreau, highlighting kid-friendly versions of traditional pizzas.
At Good Boy! Grocers, guests can pick up grab-and-go drinks, snacks and novelties. The roadside stand offers up the “perfect picnic basket,” including up to three snacks and a drink. Kids can choose from a variety of options, from hummus and pickles to granola bars and apple slices.
Baskets are set up at multiple heights to allow even the smallest guests to select their own items, giving them a little autonomy when it comes to meal time.
Merchandise from Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland.
Parkgoers can scoop up picnic blankets, T-shirts, toys and other exclusive Toontown merchandise at EngineEar Souvenirs.
Additionally, meet-and-greets with fan favorite characters return to the land. Guests can take photos with Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald Duck, Daisy, Pluto, Clarabelle and Goofy. And for the first time at any Disney park, Pete will make an appearance, causing mischief around the neighborhood.
Virgin Orbit scrambles to avoid bankruptcy as deal talks continue
CNBC | Michael Sheetz
The rocket builder paused operations last week and furloughed most of the company, as CNBC first reported, while it sought new investment or a potential buyout.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart and other senior leadership held daily talks with interested parties through the weekend, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss internal matters.
During an all-hands meeting last week, Hart told employees that the company hoped to give an update on the situation as soon as Wednesday.
Meanwhile top talent is already hitting the job market: Many of Virgin Orbit’s approximately 750 employees are looking elsewhere for openings. That talent ranges from executives to senior and lead engineers to program managers who are actively searching for and finding new jobs, according to a CNBC analysis.
While a door remains open to avoiding bankruptcy, people close to the situation describe a sense of panic as the company struggles to get a deal done. One possible buyer balked at a proposed sale price of near $200 million, one person told CNBC — a price just below the company’s market value as of Friday’s close.
At the same time, Virgin Orbit is bracing for a potential bankruptcy filing as soon as this week, one person said. Virgin Orbit hired a pair of firms — Alvarez & Marsal and Ducera Partners — to draw up restructuring plans in the event of insolvency, CNBC has learned. Sky News first reported the firms had been hired.
A Virgin Orbit spokesperson declined to comment.
Shares of Virgin Orbit have continued to fall since its pause in operations, with its stock slipping to near 50 cents a share in Monday trading.
The company developed a system for sending satellites into space that uses a modified 747 jet, which drops a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing midflight. Its last mission suffered a midflight failure, and its rocket failed to reach orbit.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, with a rocket under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 jetliner, takes off for a key drop test of its high-altitude launch system for satellites from Mojave, California, July 10, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters
The company was spun out of Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic in 2017 and counts the billionaire as its largest stakeholder, with 75% ownership. Mubadala, the Emirati sovereign wealth fund, holds the second-largest stake in Virgin Orbit, at 18%.
But the company has struggled to sustain its cash coffers. It went public in December 2021 near the tail end of the SPAC craze and was unable to tap the markets for fundraising in the same way as its sister company Virgin Galactic, which built its cash reserves to more than $1 billion through stock and debt sales.
Virgin Orbit aimed to raise $483 million through its SPAC process, but significant redemptions meant it raised less than half of that, bringing in $228 million in gross proceeds. The funds it did manage to raise came from Boeing and AE Industrial Partners, among others.
Virgin Orbit has been looking for a financial lifeline for several months. Branson was not willing to fund the company further, people familiar said, and instead shifted strategy to salvaging value.
Since the fourth quarter, Virgin Orbit has raised $60 million in debt from the investment arm of Branson’s Virgin Group — giving it first priority over Virgin Orbit’s assets. Around the same time, Virgin Orbit hired Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to explore other financial opportunities, ranging from a minority-stake investment to a full sale.
George Mattson, who sits on Virgin Orbit’s board of directors, has been heavily involved in the process of selling the company, people told CNBC. Mattson spent nearly two decades as a banker at Goldman Sachs, before co-founding the SPAC called NextGen, which took Virgin Orbit public at a $3.7 billion valuation.
Virgin Orbit disclosed in a filing Monday that it had approved a severance plan for top executives, if they are terminated “following a change in control” of the company. The plan covers Hart, as well as Chief Strategy Officer Jim Simpson and Chief Operating Officer Tony Gingiss, and includes paying out base compensation and annual bonuses. In the event of termination, Hart would receive a cash severance equal to 200% of his base salary, which is $511,008, according to FactSet.
Foot Locker touts ‘renewed’ Nike relationship as it reports slide in holiday-quarter profit
Shares of Foot Locker fell more than 2%. The sneaker and athletic-apparel retailer also reported quarterly earnings Monday morning.
During the holiday quarter, which ended Jan. 28, Foot Locker posted just under $2.34 billion in sales, slightly lower than a year earlier. Its profit for the period came in at $19 million, or 20 cents a share, compared with $103 million, or $1.02 a share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, earnings per share were 97 cents, down from $1.46.
For the current fiscal year, which will include an extra week, Foot Locker expects sales and comparable sales to be down 3.5% to 5.5%, with adjusted earnings per share of $3.35 to $3.65.
The retailer plans to close about 400 under-performing mall stores but said it will open around 300 new format stores.
Since Dillon took over as chief executive of Foot Locker in September, she’s spent a “great deal of time with Nike revitalizing our partnership” after Nike moved away from wholesale channels to focus on building out direct to consumer sales.
“Of course, Nike is our largest brand partner and the leader in the industry. From day one I’ve been welcomed to the industry by John and Heidi and their team,” Dillon said of Nike CEO John Donahoe and Heidi O’Neill, its president of consumer and marketplace.
Dillon, the former chief executive of Ulta, said Foot Locker and Nike have “re-established joint planning, as well as data and insight sharing.”
“The fruits of our renewed commitment to one another will begin to show up in holiday this year as we build increasing momentum to 2024 and the 50th anniversary of Foot Locker,” Dillon said.
For the past several years, Nike has been working to grow its direct to consumer business and with it, cut partnerships with numerous wholesale accounts so it could grow its e-commerce channels and open new stores.
However, like other retailers, Nike was stuck with a glut of inventory brought on by pandemic-related supply chain challenges over the last few quarters and relied on those wholesale partners to move that product out.
During its fiscal-second quarter that ended Nov. 30, Nike’s wholesale revenue was up 19% for the quarter after it’d been effectively flat over the previous several quarters.
“We’ve been starving the wholesale channel for six to eight quarters because of supply constraints and so as we had supply constraints, we were prioritizing adequate inventory levels within NIKE Direct and so we’re seeing strong demand as we go back into our wholesale partners with available supply,” Matthew Friend, Nike’s chief financial officer, explained to investors during an earnings call in December.
In January, when asked about Nike’s direct to consumer plans during an interview with CNBC, Donahoe spoke about the importance of an omnichannel model.
“Our strategic wholesale partners, partners like Dick’s Sporting Goods or Foot Locker or JD, are very, very important because consumers want to be able to try on products, they want to be able to touch and feel,” Donahoe said. “And so we’ve invested in strengthening those strategic relationships.”
While Nike was glad to get rid of that extra inventory during its last quarter, Foot Locker is now dealing with its own glut of shoes and apparel it’s struggling to get off the shelves. At the end of its fiscal fourth-quarter, inventories stood at $1.6 billion, about 30% higher than the year ago period, although down slightly from the fiscal third quarter.
As part of its new strategy under Dillon, Foot Locker is revisiting its store footprint in a bid to drive revenue and acquire new customers. While it plans to close about 400 underperforming mall stores in North America, it plans to bolster its new format stores from about 120 to more than 400 by 2026.
The new formats include Foot Locker’s community stores, power stores and its house of play concept.
New Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan takes over nearly two weeks earlier than expected
He’ll lead the coffee giant’s annual shareholder meeting Thursday, marking his first public address as its chief executive.
After being named incoming CEO in September, Narasimhan has spent months learning about Starbucks’ business, including training as a barista. The official transition was expected to happen April 1.
Before his appointment, he was chief executive of Reckitt, which owns brands like Lysol, Durex and Mucinex. He also previously worked at PepsiCo and McKinsey.
Narasimhan takes the reins from Howard Schultz, who is ending his third stint in the top job.
“Today, I am entrusting you all with Starbucks – something that holds a place in my heart second only to that of my beloved family,” Schultz wrote in a letter to company leadership that was viewed by CNBC.
Schultz returned nearly a year ago after former CEO Kevin Johnson surprised investors by announcing his retirement.
This time around, Schultz suspended the company’s buyback program for months, pushed back against baristas’ union plans and announced a new strategy to keep up with how the company’s business has transformed.
Since Schultz returned April 4, Starbucks stock has risen nearly 8%, bringing its market value to $113 billion. The S&P 500, meanwhile, has fallen more than 13% over that time.
Despite stepping down earlier than anticipated, Schultz is still expected to testify in front of a Senate panel on March 29 about the company’s alleged union-busting activity.
In September, Schultz told CNBC that he’s never planning on coming back as Starbucks’ chief executive again.
Investors have been putting pressure on the company to make sure that never happens. On Thursday, shareholders will vote on a proposal from SOC Investment Group, which represents pension funds sponsored by unions, that would require the Starbucks board to start succession planning at least three years in advance.
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