REVIEW: D23 Celebrates Pixar Pier Gold Member Exclusive Event With Imagineer-Led Tour
Earlier this week I wrote at length about the Pixar Pier Premiere event, a $299 “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” that in fact wasn’t really exclusive or VIP-style at all. Today’s review covers the D23 Gold-Members-Only “D23 Celebrates Pixar Pier” event that took place on the morning of Sunday, June 24th (the day after Pixar Pier opened to the public), and was priced at $82 ($75 plus a mandatory bogus $7 processing fee, which really ought to simply be included in the price of the ticket). I was fortunate enough to attend both, so I feel that I am uniquely qualified to bring you a full review of this event as well as a comparison with Friday night’s Pixar Pier Premiere event.
While Disney announced the $299 Pixar Pier Premiere event about five weeks in advance, the D23 Celebrates Pixar Pier event was only announced 12 days prior to the event date, with tickets going on sale June 12th. Was this intended to direct more people to the pricier event? Or maybe to discourage people who were not already planning to be in the area from booking a special trip? Or maybe just because D23 doesn’t plan things too well in advance? In any case, as anyone who has attempted to buy tickets to a smaller D23 event surely has experienced, the tickets sold out within seconds of becoming available. Was the speedy sell-out due to the much lower cost of this event compared to the $299 Pixar Pier Premiere? Or was it because fewer tickets were available? Or maybe because this did appear to be much more like an “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” in which guests would be taken on a tour of Pixar Pier by the lead Imagineer on the project. Actually all of these likely played a part in the quick sellout.
As with the Pixar Pier Premiere, this event, not unexpectedly, had a bit of miscommunication as well, but thankfully D23 handled things well and it was not an issue. Several days prior to the event, attendees received an email instructing us that event check-in began at 6:30 AM at the front gates of Disney California Adventure, and that the Mickey and Friends parking structure would open at 6:00 AM to accommodate us. That didn’t actually happen, so some guests had to park at the Downtown Disney lot and pay the hourly charge. D23 quickly took care of these guests and validated their parking, which was great customer service.
We arrived at the front entrance of the park around 6:40 AM to check in, which went smoothly. The event was scheduled to begin at 6:45 AM but we actually didn’t get started until after 7:00 AM for some reason. A quick count of the guests indicated that there were only 50 tickets sold for this event. Even though it was not advertised as such, this was much more the “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” that Friday was not, it just happened to be the day after the land opened to the public instead of the day prior. This wasn’t really an issue though, as we all would have the opportunity to ride the three attractions in Pixar Pier. We were each handed wireless earphones to be used to listen to the Imagineer as he led us on the tour. We walked as a group to bridge marking the entrance of Pixar Pier, where we met up with our Imagineer tour guide, Pixar Pier Producer Jeffrey Shaver-Moskowitz.
Jeff was a great host and gave the audience quite a lot of detail on the design and planning of the Pixar Pier area and the four neighborhoods that make it up. As we walked toward Lamplight Lounge, Jeff gave us a surprise: we would be able to tour the new eatery before it opened to patrons that day! Although I had already been to Lamplight Lounge twice this weekend, it was a great benefit to be able to tour it with an Imagineer and take plenty of photos with no guests present. Jeff explained the backstory of the restaurant and took us inside the secret room, dubbed “The Office,” which also has a secret patio with a great view of the Incredicoaster.
After spending at least half an hour admiring the amazing restaurant, it was time to head to the Incredicoaster. Jeff explained the origins of the arch over the entrance to the neighborhood as well as the thought behind Jack-Jack’s Cookie Num Nums. We were then escorted through the FastPass entrance and aboard the ride. It was at this point that I realized D23 overlooked something. With the tour starting at 6:45 AM, I had assumed that we would have exclusive access to the park until it opened to the public, which was scheduled as an 8:00 AM opening that day. It was rather apparent that the D23 planners didn’t realize that Sunday is a Magic Morning day and Disney California Adventure actually opened at 7:00 AM for Disneyland Resort hotel guests. That meant that we were a group of 55 or so people trying to navigate through a somewhat crowded Pixar Pier area, and essentially cutting in line to ride the attractions. This was not so much of an issue with the Incredicoaster and Toy Story Midway Mania, which are relatively high-capacity attractions, but was an operational nightmare at Pixar Pal-A-Round. The low capacity and slow load process of the former Fun Wheel meant that guests who thought they were next in line to board actually had to wait an additional 20-25 minutes to actually ride. I felt really bad that these people got up super early to take advantage of Magic Mornings to beat the crowds, but were now forced to wait as our entire group cut in front of them in line.
We also rode Toy Story Midway Mania and had a chance to hear from Jeff about some of the design touches added to the land. He explained that the Pixar ball that appears to be “floating” on water is actually made up of 11,000 pounds of marble and granite, and the water supporting it is under 1 million pounds of pressure. After our hour-long tour of Pixar Pier, we headed back to Paradise Park for a group photo.
Jeff answered a few more questions from the group, and then said goodbye. At this point it was around 8:30 AM, and I felt that we had really gotten our money’s worth from the event. A small group of 50 guests given an hour-long tour led by an Imagineer of the newest addition to Disney California Adventure was definitely worth $75. But there was more to come! We headed back to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa for breakfast, which was a catered affair in one of the conference rooms at the hotel. We were treated to breakfast sandwiches with bacon or ham, egg, and cheese on ciabatta bread, muffins and pastries, a gorgeous fruit platter, and coffee and juice. Each attendee was also given a nice gift – an insulated tumbler with the “D23 Celebrates Pixar Pier” logo on it. (This was one of those Tervis knock-offs that Disney seems to be selling more and more lately. They are definitely lower quality than an actual Tervis, are not dishwasher-safe, and it frustrates me that Disney does offer authentic Tervis products in some cases and these knock-offs in other cases, but yet sells both at about the same price point.)
Overall, this event was very enjoyable. The highlights were exploring Lamplight Lounge with no guests (more photos at the end of the article), and hearing Imagineer Jeff explain that California Screamin’ was a good coaster but lacked theming and thus really did not belong in a Disney park. From a value perspective, I felt like the event was a great value. The hour-long tour led by an Imagineer was alone worth the price, and on top of that we got a nice breakfast and a not-a-real-Tervis insulated tumbler that would be around $20 at Disney theme park prices.
There were a few snafus, which is to be expected, including the parking issue and starting about 20 minutes late, but these weren’t a big deal and were handled well. The biggest issue for me was the loss of the exclusive feel of the tour because the event was scheduled on a Magic Morning. It would have been much better had we started at 6:00 AM to enjoy the hour with Jeff in an otherwise-empty land. But that was an oversight I could live with, considering the price, and the fact that this event was never advertised as an “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event.” Maybe those who planned the $299 Pixar Pier Premiere should have been invited to this event so they could compare their event to this one, since D23 Celebrates Pixar Pier actually felt much closer to an “exclusive, VIP-style premiere event” than the $299 I paid to wait in line for food two nights prior.