The small village of more than 20 Disneyland departments needed renovation and reopening of It’s a Small World for Christmas after flooding that threatened to block classic boat trips for the entire holiday season.
Disneyland is expected to reopen next week, according to Disneyland officials.
Disneyland Operations Project Manager Joel Medina and Skating Systems Manager Jason Tomlin helped lead the Small World project team, which was quickly assembled after the underground technical room was flooded while the water attraction was being filled.
The flooding occurred in the early morning of November 10, shortly before Small World Celebration was due to debut on Christmas Day 2021 at Anaheim Theme Park.
“I don’t think you could have planned for this to happen at the worst possible time,” Tomlin said during an online video interview.
The initial shock of the Small World flood was followed by mistrust and denial.
“Once the water levels went down metaphorically and literally, we got some clarity on what we needed to do,” Tomlin said. “We had to really go to scale that we had never done before in such a short amount of time.”
The ride’s “brain” was damaged when an 8-foot-deep service room beneath the Little World loading and unloading station filled with water, submerging electrical equipment and motion controls that power the cargo station’s water pumps and conveyor belts.
The fix, which usually takes months, had to be completed in weeks if the holiday version of It’s a Small World was to open during the Christmas season.
First step: pump out all the water from the underground service room.
An industrial-grade dehumidifier the size of an Autopia car was lowered by crane into the Small World loading station to remove moisture from the maintenance room as quickly as possible.
“We just opened all the panels and turned on the dehumidifier for 48 hours,” Medina said during an online video interview. “It really dried up the space.”
After assessing the damage, the crews figured out what can be saved and what needs to be replaced. Then the race began to find spare parts and deliver them quickly in the face of supply chain problems exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We go to other Little Worlds and other attractions around the world at Disney parks and ask, ‘Hey guys, do you have this part and can you get it tomorrow? Tomlin said.
Heavier items such as engines and gearboxes had to be lowered by crane into the relatively narrow confines of the underground storage facility.
After all the new components were installed, they needed to be tested and inspected.
This small world was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and sent back to Disneyland after the international exhibition. The popular water attraction with a catchy theme song has been recreated in Disney theme parks around the world.
It was a worldwide effort – from France to Florida and China to Japan – to re-launch Small World at Disneyland.
Operations 24/7 had to contend with park visitors during the day and after hours at special events such as the stage set in front of Little World for nighttime filming.
“Right now, you have an ABC Holiday Special filming and you’re 20 feet away trying to get the equipment in and out,” Medina said.
For the past three weeks, the Small World team has met daily seven days a week at 7:30 am to assess progress and plan next steps.
“We had over 20 different departments working on this,” Medina said.
In total, over 75 Disneyland employees worked on the Little World redevelopment project.
“It literally takes up the village and we had to talk to almost everyone in this village in such a short amount of time.” Tomlin said. “It’s an exclamation point to all of this: the scale of what we’ve done in such a short space of time, in which so many people have participated.”
Disneyland teams worked around the clock to renovate and discover Small World as quickly as possible – and completed the project, which would normally take months, in about three weeks.
“The small world is Christmas at Disneyland,” Tomlin said. “This theme really brought the team together for a common goal.”
“It’s just one of those attractions that don’t quite look like Christmas if they don’t work and guests cannot enjoy it,” Medina said.